Creationism in an Exeter School

The British Centre for Science Education has posted an excellent blog article (British Centre for Science Education: Creationism in the Deep South (of England)) reviewing the background to a disturbing incident at St Peter’s Church of England Aided School in Exeter.

A whole year group of year 11 children are brought together and have a man introduced to them as a scientist. He talks to them for one and a half hours about his views on what he says is a very controversial area of science. In fact he thinks the world is just six thousand years old and that the world’s scientists are biased against him and his scientific colleagues simply because they are against Christianity.  He is able to promote his web site to the kids, a web site full of more misleading nonsense claims.

This individual was Philip Bell of Creation Ministries International.  The story has received coverage in a local paper (This is Exeter: Anger after controversial creationist is invited to talk at school): the comments are quite interesting, and worth a read (in particular, the comments reveal something of the workings of those of a creationist bent).

In an era where religious schools appear to be on the ascendant in the UK, I think it behooves those in charge of our children’s education to take care that religious schools don’t permit teaching creationism as a valid ‘scientific’ alternative to evolution.  This is particularly important as the present Government’s ideological drives lead it to further deregulation of schools (such as the desire for Academies and Free Schools to be less subject to the National Curriculum).

A particularly worrying development was the response of the Head Teacher of St Peter’s Church of England Aided School, who responded to the parent’s letters of concern in which she requested her children from worship (which I understand is her right as a parent) with the following worrying statement:

You should be aware that I, having a duty of care to both of your children, shall be monitoring your actions and their consequences for the children with regard to such matters very carefully indeed.

The Head Teacher seems to be aware of his duty of care to the children attending his school.  What’s less satisfactory is that he appears to be expressing this as what could be construed as a threat, and not in a way that would protect children from fundamentalist and literalist biblical interpretations (billed as science) which not only fly in the face of science, but also contradict the Church of England’s position.

So, what is the point of the ‘National Curriculum’?

The British Humanist Association notes the alarming speed at which secondary schools in England are transferring to Academy status (Expansion of Academies Programme Continues Apace Despite Lack of Safeguards).

The Department of Education has announced that 1 in 6 secondary schools in England have now converted to Academy status (547), a large jump from January this year when the BHA reported that 1 in 10 English secondary schools were now Academies.This week, a report in the Economist magazine predicted that this could be as many as 1 in 4 schools within the year.

From the atheist’s perspective, this is indeed alarming for two reasons.

Firstly the absurd situation in which state funds are used to pay for religiously motivated schools.  This leads to difficulties for those who don’t share the two main christian faiths.  Furthermore, situations in which more extreme evangelicals seem to be able to insinuate their dotty beliefs into the mainstream can arise, particularly where discussion of origins and evolution are concerned.  One recent case involves a Church of England school in Exeter, which has become embroiled in controversy after inviting a creationist, Philip Bell, to discuss creationism (and, indeed, it sounds as though it was presented as scientific fact).

Secondly, that Academies are exempt from the National Curriculum which, if it serves any purpose, must be aimed at minimum educational standards.  As the BHA say:

Academies are able to opt out of the National Curriculum potentially leaving students attending some ‘faith’ Academies at risk of being taught that there is scientific validity to creationist myths in science lessons and of not being provided with basic sex and relationship education. ‘Faith’ academies with a religious character are able to discriminate against students from families that are of the ‘wrong’ or no religion in at least 50% of their places.

Why are Academies exempt from the National Curriculum?  The potential for serious damage to the UK educational system is really rather serious.


2011 UK Census: If you’re not religious, say so!

If you're not religious, say so in the 2011 UK census!

The British Humanist Association has been campaigning for UK citizens to accurately respond to the census question on religion.

Why should I answer the question at all? Well, this is a personal thing and I wouldn’t pressurise people into any specific answer or none.  But census data get used for all sorts of policy decisions, among them the role of religion in our everyday lives.  What tends to happen is that people confuse the cultural heritage with religious beliefs they do not hold to.

Why does it matter? The BHA has prepared a concise summary of how the 2001 census data on religious belief were used (or misused may be closer to reality.  We should not be logging ourselves as Jedi Knights as some kind or prank.  We should not say we are christian if we not longer practice the faith.  We should be upfront and truthful about our religious faith.

Goodwill to all…

Season’s greetings to the victimised former Archbishop

The Rev Dr Peter Hearty of the excellent ‘Platitude of the Day‘ website is clearly concerned that former Archbish Carey is rather upset at the (supposed) continued victimisation of christians in the UK*.  He thinks we should send Christmas cards to the poor old soul.

It’s been suggested that Lord Carey deserves a response to his Not Ashamed campaign. He’s obviously feeling a bit down, what with all this Christian persecution that’s going on. I think the idea of sending him a Season’s Greetings card, perhaps with a picture of some jolly penguins or some reindeer on the front, is an excellent way of cheering the old chap up.

Click over to Platitude of the day for more…and don’t be mean!

I think I may well just do the same…and I’m sure Lord Carey, ensconced in the House of Lords with the others who are there merely because they are senior figures of the Church of England will enjoy all those seasonal sentiments and images.

*Of course, not everyone agrees that there is any persecution.  The Bishop of Croydon disagrees (Bishop bashes Christian persecution complex).

Religous schools more likely under new Government rules?

Just a quick note to observe the report over at the National Secular Society site regarding the likely expansion of faith schools under Michael Gove (Michael Gove in religious schools rethink | National Secular Society).  Turns out that our Education Secretary’s grand vision of widespread secession of academies from local authority control has been less successful than he had intended.  To try and rescue this situation, it appears that Mr Gove plans to relax the 50% rule, which meant that 50% of the pupils in a faith-based academy must be from other (or presumably no) faiths.

This is pretty outrageous, and one wonders whether Mr Gove watched Richard Dawkins’ excellent broadcast the other week (More 4) on the dangers of faith schools.  I imagine that even if he did, it would be ignored in the big push to roll out all those Tory policies that have been waiting in the wings since 1997.


Welsh councillor gets hassle for labelling Scientology “stupid”

The New Humanist blog is one of many web sites reporting on a fracas involving criticism via Twitter of Scientology (Welsh councillor in trouble for calling Scientology “stupid” on Twitter ). The synopsis of this story is that

When Cardiff councillor John Dixon visited London last year to buy a wedding ring for his wife to be, a stroll past the “Dianetics and Life Improvement Centre” on Tottenham Court Road (just round the corner from our office, as it happens) prompted him to make the following quip on Twitter:“I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.”

This has appeared to generate a bit of a problem for poor John Dixon, as the “Church” of Scientology made a complaint to the Welsh public service watchdog. As a consequence Dixon’s facing disciplinary action.

Problem is, as someone who’s read Russell Miller’s biography of Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard (the wonderfully titled Bare Face Messiah), I’m rather inclined to agree with Dixon. It’s also why I place quotation marks around “Church”, and why I believe Scientology is complete claptrap and an exercise in generating a huge income. Herewith my modest contribution to the Streisand Effect.

On the other hand (and in a spirit of even-handedness), I suggest the core beliefs of most established religions are equally loopy.

(Originally posted at flies&bikes)

Creationism in Northern Ireland

Just a quick post as I’m cycle touring and Internet access is infrequent.
Yesterday’s Guardian had an article describing the Culture Minister Nelson McCausland’s view that the Ulster Museum should better reflect creationist views. McCausland’s reported to have said that this is a “human rights issue”, as he claims that around a third of the Northern Ireland population hold creationist views, and he thinks that the museum should “reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland in all it’s richness and diversity”. This isn’t his only slightly odd belief – he’s reported to believe that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel.
On a cultural and historical level inclusion of creationist views is perhaps acceptable – after all, in the 17th Century, Archbishop Ussher calculated the date of the Earth’s creation as October 4004 BC – but in relation to scientific exhibits such a view is risible.
McCausland’s views appear to be shared by his NI Assembly colleague Mervyn Storey, who’s reported to have been at the forefront of a campaign to promote creationism in Northern Ireland’s museums. More worryingly, Storey was the chair of the NI Assembly education committee, though by implication no longer holds that role. Is Mervyn Storey Northern Ireland’s counterpart of Texan dentist Don McLeroy?

Weep, Texas, weep…

The BBC News website reports the adoption of a right wing christian syllabus in Texas (Texas schools to get controversial syllabus).  The article lists a bunch revisions to US history, but not the creationism issue.

Students in Texas will now be taught the benefits of US free-market economics and how government taxation can harm economic progress.

They will study how American ideals benefit the world but organisations such as the UN could be a threat to personal freedom.

And Thomas Jefferson has been dropped from a list of enlightenment thinkers in the world-history curriculum, despite being one of the Founding Fathers who is credited with developing the idea that church and state should be separate.

The doctrine has become a cornerstone of US government, but some religious groups and some members of the Texas Education Board disagree, our correspondent says.

The board, which is dominated by Christian conservatives, voted nine-to-five in favour of adopting the new curriculum for both primary and secondary schools.

Cardinal Sean Brady won’t go

As The Scotsman reports (Anger as Primate refuses to resign –, Cardinal Brady won’t resign over the Catholic child abuse scandals.  Apparently

Cardinal Brady, 70, was in defiant mood outside his residence at Armagh Cathedral, vowing to stay on and lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection safeguards [my emphasis].

The irony does seem lost on the Catholic Church. But then again, a potty belief system does lead to a belief in support:

But the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh insisted that the majority of people he had spoken to over the last two months had urged him to stay.

He said: “I was on pilgrimage to Lourdes yesterday with 800 people from this diocese, and not one said they had no confidence in me. They said they wanted me to stay and continue this work.”

Like a bunch of people who believe in miracles in Lourdes are going to disagree with a Cardinal, aren’t they!  But this is the same man who was instrumental in covering up child abuse:

Dr Brady has faced calls to resign since it emerged on 14 March 2009
that in 1975 he conducted an investigation into allegations of child sex
abuse by Fr Brendan Smyth which involved him swearing two teenagers to
secrecy. Standing outside Armagh Cathedral, the 70-year-old cleric
acknowledged there were some who would not agree with his decision but
vowed to lead the Church’s efforts to improve child protection measures.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision” he said. “I have
listened to a lot of people, reflected as I said I would, I listened to
survivors, to priests, to religious people up and down the length of
this diocese and I have decided to continue in my present role, to play
my part in this diocese. “
Because I want to maintain the momentum
towards better child safeguarding and not alone that, also the momentum
towards renewal of the faith, which is essential here and a big

The bottom line seems to be that the Catholic Church just doesn’t get it.

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