Creationists target schools and universities in Britain
A figure associated with a controversial creationist movement which claims to use science against evolution is visiting Britain on a lecture tour that will include several schools and universities, the Observer newspaper has reported.
The initiative, which will be welcomed by religious fundamentalists, comes as teaching unions are warning that creationism - which opposes evolutionary biology through a literalist interpretation of the Bible rejected by mainstream Christian scholars - may be creeping into Britain's classrooms and lecture halls.
John Mackay, an Australian geologist who makes contested claims that the Earth's crust provides evidence for the biblical flood described in the book of Genesis, will tour the UK this month.
Scholars point out that there are two different creation stories in the Book of Genesis, that they are highly figurative in nature, and that they aim to portray the relationship between God and the inhabited world, not to offer a modern theory about its origins.
The Observer says Mackay has already been signed up to speak at meetings in St Andrews, Bangor and Northamptonshire universities.
He plans to give further speeches at a number of secondary schools, including one on the Fylde coast in Lancashire, as well as visiting sympathetic British churches.
Randall Hardy, described by The Observer as Mackay's spokesperson, expressed dismay that evolutionary advocates like Richard Dawkins had declined invitations to debate the issue.
For their part, many mainstream scientists say that it is better to refuse to dignify anti-scientific arguments with attention ñ and point to the deliberate tactic of creationists and their ëintelligent designí cousins in seeking ìcredibility by associationî with recognised academics.
ìMost of the people who make a hue and cry about creationism are out-and-out atheistsÖ They don't want the issue to be debated,î said Mr Hardy.
But Simon Barrow of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia says that this is ìdemonstrably untrue.î
He points out that the overwhelming majority of mainstream theologians and Christians also reject creationism as a distortion of their faith, and recognise evolutionary biology as ìan established and essential part of modern scientific endeavour.î
ìTraditional theologians have long argued that God makes the world in such a way that it makes itself, allowing room for both contingency and order,î he explained. ìDivine creativity and response to a universe open to freedom and love is much more intelligent than limited notions of ëdesigní which reduce it to a product,î he claims.
Adds Barrow: "Creationists and IDers keep saying, 'teach the controversy'. But there is no such controversy among those with a proper grasp of science and theology. The call for 'debate' is a phony way of keeping discredited ideas alive and distorting the search for truth."
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently warned that creationism should not be taught in schools. He called it a ìcategory mistakeî made by Christians without adequate theological understanding.
Britainís largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, last week demanded new laws to prevent the teaching of creationism in science classes.
In the United States fundamentalist religious believers are undermining science education by seeking to kick evolution out of the classroom. Church leaders say that this is opening Christianity to misunderstanding and ridicule.
Humanist organisations in the UK are also concerned about creationism. ìThe authorities must put a stop to these groups sneaking into schools,î says Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society.
He claims that ìthe secrecy surrounding this visit means parents and pupils have no say in whether they want to be part of this barmy creationist agenda.î
Earlier today, Canon John Hall, chief education spokesperson for the Church of England, backed the Archbishop of Canterburyís anti-creationist stance ñ but in a way which some may find too muted.
He said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that faith schools, under fire from both secular and religious critics, should avoid teaching particular ideas about how the universe came into being.
Scientific philosophers such as Michael Ruse, an agnostic, have argued that evolution should be taught free of both religious and atheistic connotations, since it is interpretable in a number of ways and is not value-laden in terms of metaphysical belief.
But Ruse has also criticised leading Darwinian advocates like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for inadvertently encouraging creationists - through their lack of understanding of mainstream religion, and by confusing the advancement of science with anti-religious propaganda.
Creationism has its origins as a twentieth century movement in Britain, but it has never taken off in the way that it has in the USA, where American evangelicals have often been swayed by fundamentalist ideologues.
In Britain evangelicals who have become senior scientists, like leading geneticist Professor Sam Berry, have strongly opposed creationism.
Leading scientists and Anglican Bishops lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair to outlaw creationism in schools back in 2002. They have received an equivocal response.
The Roman Catholic Church also officially accepts evolutionary theory as compatible with Christian belief, though it has been a matter of argument in the past.