July 2012

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In a rather incoherent* article in the Sunderland Echo, the Principal of Grindon Hall Christian School has made interesting claims about the much-discussed ‘Creation Policy’ document (Headteacher blasts claims his city school teaches creationism – All News – Sunderland Echo)

Chris Gray, principal of Grindon Hall Christian School, slammed a report that claimed the Pennywell school was run by a group with creationist views. The report, which appeared in a national newspaper, also claimed there was a document on the school’s website stating they taught creationism as a scientific theory. However, Mr Gray said the document was removed years ago and was originally written to distance the school from those views.

It’s interesting to note that the document really was present on their web server last week, when I blogged about it. I guess, strictly speaking, since there wasn’t a link from a web page, it could be argued that it wasn’t on their website…I suppose. But Mr Gray goes on to claim

“When we applied to the Government to become a free school they made sure of that and what The Guardian has done is find a very old document that we took off the website in 2005.”

Well, that doesn’t compute, since according to the Word file’s properties the document was created by Rachel Nurse (who appears to be a school administrator) in 2007. Mr Gray also claims

“And it was first written to distance ourselves from the issue of creationism. “I don’t believe in creationism, none of my staff believe in it and so I’m hoping this will blow over.

I don’t really understand how this document could be seen as having been written to distance the school from creationism. The document has now been deleted from the School’s webserver, but I imagine I’m not alone in having a copy.

* I’m not accusing the Principal of incoherence, merely that the printed article is incoherent.

Among the three Free Schools heavily implicated in creationism that were announced recently is Grindon Hall Christian School. Over at their website (Grindon Hall Christian School – The School), we can read:

A Christian School – this means we affirm Christian truth, employ Christian teachers, hold a daily act of Christian worship and aim to have Christ at the centre of all we do.  It means we pursue excellence in everything we do, from academic life to sport and extra-curricular activities.  It does not mean we only admit children from Christian families: around 80% of our pupils are from non-faith or other faith backgrounds and all are welcome.  And it does not mean that we adopt extremist positions which in our view can often devalue the reputation of Christian education.

So this Free School feels it appropriate to not only indoctrinate non-christian children, but discriminate against non-christian teachers. Has the school turned its back on belief in creationism and an intention to teach it? Interestingly this link leads to a Word document which outlines the School’s policy on creationism. (There doesn’t appear to be a direct link to this policy from the School’s website, so one might suspect that the link has been deleted to try and hide the document. But it was still on their server on 20th July 2012 – though maybe it will be deleted – see update at the bottom of this post). In that document the school’s former anti-science policy is laid bare:

We are therefore very happy to believe that God could have created the world in six days. But we do not feel that it is helpful to affirm it as an unarguable fact.

We do not believe that the very plain evidence supporting a lengthy process of evolution needs to be challenged by Christians.

However, we vigorously challenge the unscientific certainty often claimed by scientists surrounding the so-called “Big Bang” and origins generally.

We believe that no scientific theory provides – or ever will provide – a satisfactory explanation of origins, i.e. why the world appeared, and how nothing became something in the first place.

We will teach evolution as an established scientific principle, as far as it goes.

We will teach creation as a scientific theory and we will always affirm very clearly our position as Christians, i.e. that Christians believe that God’s creation of the world is not just a theory but a fact with eternal consequences for our planet and for every person who has ever lived on it.

We will affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally.

I’ve emphasised in bold some of the text which in my view correspond to the kind of rhetoric spouted by Young Earth Creationists. In my experience there is little correspondence between the strong religious belief held by creationists and honesty. I am aware that the BHA has posted an update to their blog article, in which the Grindon Hall Christian School repeat their assertion they will not teach creationism. But like the BHA, I find their assurances rather hollow, particularly in light of the classic creationist newspeak emboldened above in that document. I would be interested to know why that document, written by Rachel Nurse (who appears to be a school administrator) in 2007 still lingers on their web server.

Will Michael Gove now admit he may well have been hoodwinked by some creationists?

Updated 24/7/12: The school appears to have deleted the incriminating file from their server. Never mind, I have a copy.

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The BHA reports that a creationist group have had their bid to open a free school has been approved. (Creationists approved to open Free School in 2013)

A group of creationists has gained approval from the Department for Education (DfE) to open a Free School from 2013. The group are behind the plans for Exemplar – Newark Business Academy, a revised bid from the same people who proposed Everyday Champion’s Academy last year. Everyday Champion’s Academy, which was formally backed by Everyday Champions Church, was explicitly rejected due to concerns surrounding the teaching of creationism. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed deep concern at the Government choosing to fund a creationist group.

This is a shameful decision by the Government, and one supposes that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, is motivated more by his ideological drive to remove education from local authority control than in any genuine interest in educational quality. The BHA further comments:

In January the group decided to bid again, this time for Exemplar Academy and without the formal backing of the church. However, the website for the new Academy was initially part of the Everyday Champions Church website; and the plans were launched at Everyday Champions Church, being described as a ‘resubmission’ of the previous bid. The group commented that ‘The school will be run on Christian values and we are proud of that. There is a huge difference between Christian values and Christian theology, which is why the original bid was turned down.’

Visit the BHA article for a comprehensive set of links. I guess we should not be surprised that a politician with a distinct prediliction for faith-based education, and who organised a vanity project to send out unsolicited copies of the bible to schools would take a lax approach to approval of even the more dubious faith-related projects.

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A new visitor centre has opened at the Giant’s Causeway, after an earlier centre burnt down a few years ago. The Giant’s Causeway is an impressive site: thousands of basalt columns formed millions of years ago. Wikipedia has a succinct overview of the geological origins of the causeway:

Some 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly,contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillarlike structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits”. In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called “ball and socket” joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools. The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today. The basalts were originally part of a great volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau which formed during the Paleogene period.

Giant’s Causeway (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, news from Northern Ireland seems to be suggesting that the local evangelicals have got their teeth into the National Trust and have their ludicrous creationist misinformation incorporated in an audiovisual display. There’s little information as yet on how prominent this is, but it has the potential to be rather a shameful embarrassment for the National Trust. The Caleb Foundation (“Promoting the Fundamentals of the Historic Evangelical Protestant Faith”) are proudly proclaiming their success in inserting their dodgy version:

As an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of mainstream evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland,we have worked closely with the National Trust over many months with a view to ensuring that the new Causeway Visitor Centre includes an acknowledgement both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and of the ongoing debate around this. We are pleased that the National Trust worked positively with us and that this has now been included at the new Visitor Centre.

I’ve blogged previously about the Caleb Foundation -The Caleb FoundationMore creationism in Northern IrelandCreationist Claims in Northern Ireland (UTV News)Creationist claims in Northern Ireland (The Guardian), and the BCSE has a couple of articles about the Caleb Foundation – Part 1 and Part 2.

At this stage, it’s not clear quite how the evangelical and creationist viewpoint is projected, but it has received some media attention. Ulster TV reports Causeway centre gives creationist view. The National Trust come across as rather naive in that report:

The trust said that the exhibit gives recognition to the fact that, for creationists, the debate about the age of the Earth is still ongoing.

A statement read: “The Giants’ Causeway has always prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.

“One of the exhibits in the Giants’ Causeway Visitors’ Centre interpretation tells the story of the part the Giants’ Causeway played in the debate about how the Earth’s rocks were formed and the age of the Earth.

“This is an interactive audio exhibition in which visitors can hear some of the different debates from historical characters.

“In this exhibition we also acknowledge that for some people, this debate continues today and we reflect and respect the fact that creationists today have a different perspective on the age of the Earth from that of mainstream science.”

It appears that the Caleb Foundation “worked with” the National Trust to ensure that misinformation was presented at the Visitor Centre. This is potentially an astonishing and appalling lapse on the part of the National Trust.

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The Discovery Institute recently published a brief book (maybe booklet would e more accurate) penned by Anne Gauger and Douglas Axe of the Biologic Institute and Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Having recently ploughed through Stephen Meyer’s effort, I am in no mood to waste further time on Discotute crud. But, lo! Over at Still Monkeys, Paul McBride blogs his way through this, chapter by chapter:

Here starts a chapter-by-chapter review of Gauger, Axe and Luskin’s Science and Human Origins, a Discovery Insititute publication that is intended to challenge–amongst other things–the notion that humans share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, and that we couldn’t have had descended from a literal Adam and Eve.

As one might expect, the religious creationist bent of the authors seems to shine through. McBride is really very thorough in his demolition of the booklet.

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