A viewpoint from an Anglican vicar who is also a geologist, and seasoned critic of creationism
Truth in Science, or rather the lack of it, has been highlighted in the last few days. On 20 September 2006, an organisation using that name was ìlaunchedÖ with a website www.truthinscience.org.uk and a mailing to all Secondary School and College Heads of Science in the United Kingdom.î
The organisation, which aims to combat Darwinism, continues: ìTiS provides resources to assist teachers in allowing students to critically examine Darwin's theory of evolution. Whilst accepting that changes in gene frequencies occur over time, and that limited evolution occurs in nature, TiS encourages a rigorous examination of whether or not this can explain the origin of life and its huge diversity.î
On examination, this turns out simply to be Young Earth Creationism repackaged. The initiative has been a year or two in the planning and is well-thought out, with considerable financial backing. TiS have a board of directors, a council of reference and a scientific panel.
Prominent is Andy McIntosh, Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory at the University of Leeds and author of Genesis for Today, which is largely about the value of Genesis for ethics. It contains several appendices which I believe are full of scientific errors and misinterpretations.
Another director is Steve Layfield, head of science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead, who fervently supports teaching creationism in schools, even suggesting that the Fall of Adam resulted in lunar craters and thus should be taught as science.
Two others are John Blanchard, evangelist and author of Evolution: fact or fiction? Has Science Got Rid of God? and Does God Believe in Atheists?, which stand accused of being full of scientific distortion, and George Curry, Vicar of Elswick Parish Church, Newcastle, on the board of the Christian Institute and chair of Church Society.
All the fifteen mentioned on the website are Young Earth Creationists, and connected variously with Biblical Creation Society, Answers in Genesis and other groups. This is not apparent in the website materials, as any reference to YEC is avoided in preference to ìteaching the controversyî and presenting that ìAlternatives to Darwinian evolution as a theory of origins can be taught in Key Stages 3 and 4 under the topic of Ideas and evidence in science. These topics give pupils some understanding of the nature of scientific enquiry and how modern scientists work. ... Darwinís theory of evolution has been highlighted in KS4 as an example of how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence.î
There is an air of superficial plausibility about this, which is apparent in four lesson plans on Irreducible Complexity (Intelligent Designís catchphrase), the Fossil Record, Homology and Natural Selection. As a geologist I will only comment on the
Fossil Record Lesson Plan, where ìPupils are introduced to the three theories currently used to interpret the fossil record: Phyletic Gradualism, Punctuated Equilibrium and Phyletic Discontinuity.î These three are, of course, Darwinian gradualism, PE and essentially Six Day Creation. Both scientists and theologians contend, with massive evidence that it is disingenuous to present the last as a scientific theory.
The material on the website is carefully packaged, and its YEC roots, and thus its scientific worthlessness, may not be immediately apparent to the undiscerning. Though the ìCambrian Explosionî is mentioned (the sudden explosion of life forms spread over 10 million years some 550 million years ago), any reference to the vast age of the earth is carefully avoided.
All the ìcommitteeî appear to believe the earth to be 6000 to 10,000 years old and not 4.6 billion. In fact one cannot make any intelligent comment about the Cambrian Explosion without accepting its vast antiquity.
It is not possible to predict the outcome of this exercise. Some teachers may have already used the DVDs to scare birds from their vegetable patch. However it will give a way for the increasing number of YEC science teachers to introduce creationism into the classroom, despite the fact that it is scientific nonsense and dependent on the gross misrepresentations of standard science.
It is a concern that the authors are sure that OFSTED will not object to their ideas. The result will be to confuse students, to increase the antagonism of non-believers, and to raise opposition to faith schools of any kind.
Sadly the church, and especially the Church of England, has avoided taking a stand on these issues, possibly to avoid confrontation with more conservative members. Far too often the opponents of this pseudo-scientific nonsense are atheists, who then use this to ridicule faith. Will the church now wake up?
Michael Roberts is an Anglican priest, a geologist and author of a range of scholarly and popular articles on religion and science. He is Vicar of Winmarliegh, Glasson and Cockerham, Diocese of Blackburn, and a contributor to Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
[Also on Ekklesia: UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website 25/09/06; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish']