British creationism

In yesterday’s Independent, barrister Andrew Zak Williams discusses the latest obstacles Brits face in getting evolution taught in the classroom.  These include not only the rise of faith-based schools but the government’s seeming reluctance to allow evolution to be taught at the primary level.

There are also some LOLzy and defensive quotes from intelligent-design creationist Michael Behe:

Dr Michael Behe is the biologist whose theory of Irreducible Complexity forms the supposed scientific basis of ID. I asked him about the consensus in many quarters that it is not scientific. While genially admitting that I had “hit a nerve”, he defended its credentials as a science. “Science is just using physical evidence and reasoning to come to a conclusion about nature,” he says. “The definition of science is supposed to help us investigate nature and if it of itself becomes a barrier, it won’t serve a useful purpose.”

Not many of us reject ID simply because the “definition of science” says that we can’t investigate the supernatural.  We reject ID because it’s a superfluous hypothesis with not a shred of evidence in its favor.

Dr Behe believes that although the scientific community is presently allergic to ID, this will change after a generation or two. “As scientists retire,” he says, “the ones who are very antagonistic to ID will be replaced by those other scientists who have grown up hearing and wondering about it. And so I think that the atmosphere will change.”

If there were a heaven, and we could collect on postmortem bets there, I’d bet Behe a substantial sum that the atmosphere won’t change. (This presumes, of course, that Behe and I would wind up in the same place. He might go to Hell for lying . . .)


  1. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Michael Behe is a good person engaged in a fraudulent enterprise. I have no doubt that he takes pride in the sacrifice of his scientific career that he has been willing to make in the service of preserving theism. And he would never take that bet. He knows better. Behe is a scientific Joseph Smith, reading golden plates he knows not to exist.

    • Sili
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Michael Behe is a good person engaged in a fraudulent enterprise.

      A good person? I think ERV would disagree with that.

      And if he’s a good person, why compare him to Smith?

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        A good person? I think ERV would disagree with that.

        Fair point. I was thinking of how he relates to colleagues, and forgetting how vicious he can be to others.

      • SLC
        Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        In case people here are unfamiliar with the issue raised by Mr. Sili, Abbie Smith of the ERV web site on Scienceblogs challenged Prof. Behe to a debate on the evolution of HIV. The good professor declined on the grounds that Ms. Smith was a mere graduate student and thus not qualified to engage in a debate with him. Of course, the real reason is that research on HIV is the topic of Ms. Smiths’ proposed dissertation and, in fact, she knows a lot more about the subject then he does.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the explanation, I was wondering!

  2. Posted April 8, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Here is an audio recording of an event I recently attended at Wolverhampton University in the UK entitled “Evolution – Factor or Fiction” – also known at other venues as “The collapse of Darwinism and fact of creation”

    Here is the event advertised on the Harun Yahya website

    As you can see this 1.5 hour misrepresentation of the facts of evolution followed by 30 mins of question avoidance was hosted in three universities in the UK and one college.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      Do you know why universities and colleges in the UK pander to creationism in this way? I t seems extraordinary.

      • TheRationalizer
        Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        The universities and colleges allow student bodies use of their rooms for extra curricular activities and interests. These events were organised by students’ Islamic societies, in short they were a reassuring pat on the back accompanied by “there there, uncle Oktar will make the nasty evolution go away!”

        Apparently they rarely get involved with student events in order to keep the peace, but two members of staff were quite appalled at what they heard.

  3. AT
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    the atmosphere will NOT change.

    Religion is first and foremost indoctrination and uses the natural tendency of children to believe their parents simply because they _know_ that their parents lived longer and therefore experience more and _must_ know better

    Once children grow up to the point of being able to understand logic and argument there is no other way but to reject religion as waste of time

    Religion can only hold its grasp on the society only until scientists go into government and make sure general population is _properly_ educated in reasoning.

    Of course it will not happen any time soon and may not happen for very long timee but it is an inevitable process and therefore we can be sure that at some point in the future religion will only be in history

  4. JD
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Michael Behe could careless about the state of public school education. His mandate is clear — push the ID shitocracy on behalf of the Discovery Institute.

    Don’t believe me? Watch the end of the video documentary “Flock of Dodos” (linked below to the exact time)

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      First, thank you for the time specification! Secondly, WTH? Presumably the schools he cares about are copacetic already, so why doesn’t he just STFU?

      • SLC
        Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Actually, although Prof. Behe is a Roman Catholic, he apparently doesn’t think much of the Catholic schools in Bethlehem, Pa. either as he has chosen to home school his 10 children.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Ten?! More likely, he can’t afford the tuition.

          And why do I suspect there’s a Mrs. Behe doing most of the “schooling?”

  5. JD
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    my bad, I guess it did not work to the exact time — move the time ruler to 5:55

  6. daveau
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    “Science is just using physical evidence and reasoning to come to a conclusion about nature,” he says. “The definition of science is supposed to help us investigate nature and if it of itself becomes a barrier, it won’t serve a useful purpose.”

    Yeah. I guess if evidence and reason don’t support your pre-concieved conclusions, you could always just make shit up.

  7. helen
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    The Department for Education has said it is “crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact” (21 March 2011)

    The British Humanist Association is not content, and wishes evolution to be taught in primary school.
    “The Department of Education’s reply indicated that this would be too prescriptive. However it went on to discuss creationism and intelligent design (ID), saying that, because they are not scientific, they do not form part of the national curriculum and should not be taught in science class.”

    Teaching evolution at the primary level? Come on, be reasonable. The UK official position is clear, and the BHA is sulking; it got its point and wants more. Is evolution taught at the primary level in the US? Don’t cry wolf if there is no wolf to be seen.

    • Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Is evolution taught at the primary level in the US?

      That’s a weird argument. Why would you possibly want to use the US as the leading example for education policy – especially when it comes to evolution?

      • helen
        Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:49 am | Permalink

        I’m only saying those from the US should not complain about the UK.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      “Creationism will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences,” said its leader Gareth Morgan. “Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory. We believe children should have a broad knowledge of all theories in order that they can make informed choice.”

      Oh, yeah, that is really reassuring!

      • helen
        Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        Why want evolution te be taught at the primary level?

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          Why want reading or math taught then? Science is just slightly important as well, not just for particulars but for exposing children to a world view that explains how to arrive at conclusions and how to think critically. Though at young ages children are mostly taking in info, not analyzing it, the info they take in should be of the sort that will serve as a foundation for the development of higher level thinking skills.

          At young ages is when kids are asking all the “whys,” not to mention believing whatever they’re told, and if the only answer they’re hearing (and hearing loudly, repeatedly, and reinforced with all sorts of emotional hooks) is god-did-it, you’re merely setting up a lot of misconception that will have to be undone before real analytical learning can start.

          Evolution is the primary organizing principle of biology, (and, in a looser sense, of many other disciplines). Why shield kids from one of the best tools for making sense of the world?

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I’m teaching my son at the primary (1st grade) level. Evolution is a wonderful narrative. There are some excellent kids books about it:

      Our Family Tree, An Evolution Story
      (which pulls no punches on where we came from and is for really little kids. He’s heard this at bedtime since he was about 3. He totally gets it.)

      Evolution, How We and All Living Things Came to Be Also excellent and pulls no punches — until the last page that’s leans NOMA for a paragrpah or so (and I skip that part when I read it to him.)

      He has a shelf full of real fossils, can ID more birds by both sight and call that the vast majority of adults, has seen many wild animals nose to nose, including a short-tailed weasel with its prey (a vole) clamped in its jaws. His favorite movies are the Planet Earth, Blue Planet, and Life series from BBC2.

      Kids love it and totally get it. When he gets older, we’ll discuss and read Dr. C’s WEIT and Dawkins’ books.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        So make me feel guilty about how I raised my kids, why dontcha. :-)

      • Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        There are CHILDREN’S books about evolution??

        This is awesome! I can cease worrying so much about how I’ll introduce my future children to the concept. You have made my day better with this information.

      • Posted April 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        I love that first book. My daughter does too. I still read it to her sometimes–she’s 2nd grade (in between reading Pullman and Shakespeare to her!). Her favorite part is the picture that shows Eohippus.

        She totally gets evolution and often wants me to ask her “evolution questions”. Sometimes we look at the Tree of Life Web Project to find out how organisms are related.

        • Posted April 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Discussing evolution comes so naturally. When she asked “Why is such and such this way?” The answer is because it evolved that way and we try to find out more. No quick and easy answers like “goddidit”. Real and accurate answers.

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

            Couldn’t agree more! And it’s important for parents to set the stage in the early years, as the schools (US) aren’t touching it with a 10′ pole.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Are you really trying to claim that no children of primary school age, which means children 11 or below are not up to understanding the basics of evolution ?

      You seem to have a pretty poor opinion on the intellectual capabilities of children.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Teaching evolution at the primary level? Come on, be reasonable.


      How can you not teach evolution when you teach biology? Biology is evolution. Evolution doesn’t have to be taught at a college-level of detail. Primary students can easily follow simple change-over-time diagrams or fly experiments that show selection for a certain character, e.g. Primary students are already gaga over dinosaurs. Just throw in a little science along the way.

      The earlier the principles are introduced the better, considering the huge headstart the churches get with all their fairy tales.

  8. Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    “the ones who are very antagonistic to ID will be replaced by those other scientists who have grown up hearing and wondering about it.”

    Which is why they spend more effort in propoganda than in science. Which is also why ID isn’t harmless.

  9. Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Sigh. It’s so tedious, isn’t it? It’s really quite simple: supernatural = imaginary. There’s nothing wrong with imaginary — it enriches our lives greatly — but bad things happen when it’s conflated with real.

    Real facts comport with other real facts and lead to a more complete understanding of the real world. Imaginary facts can easily be in conflict with real facts, and with other imaginary facts, and believing in them almost inevitably leads to real conflicts, holy wars and so forth.

    It may be easier, in the short term, to believe in imaginary facts, but real progress, both material and moral, can only be sustained by those who believe real facts.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink


      Supernatural = Magic

      And: Magic explains nothing.

      Magic is incapable of explaining anything.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        But unfortunately, too many think magic answers everything.

  10. Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    If Behe’s “influence” continues to be taken seriously by the general public, the atmosphere may succumb to irreducible fog.

    • helen
      Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

      The Independent gave Behe a forum just by paying attention to an unnecessary whine by BHA.

  11. Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    If there were a heaven, and we could collect on postmortem bets there, I’d bet Behe a substantial sum that the atmosphere won’t change.

    Go carefully there. It might turn out that Templeton was deciding who had won.

    Note to Behe: I am not allergic to ID, and I am not antagonistic to ID per se. However, I am antagonistic to religious special pleading being falsely presented as science.

  12. JBlilie
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    As one of my heros put it:

    Hell is only half-full, there’s room for you and me.

    Warren Zevon, RIP

  13. NoAstronomer
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    “the ones who are very antagonistic to ID will be replaced by those other scientists who have grown up hearing and wondering about it.”

    I would take the bet too. If Behe thinks the current set of scientists are allergic to ID he should just wait till the next generation arrives. The new folks are going treat ID like last weeks garbage. Frankly they’ll be wondering why our generation paid any attention to it at all.

  14. Posted April 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Creationists like Behe are like me the other day frantically searching the house for my IPod Shuffle so I could drown out the incessant nattering on the bus ride into work.

    I knew that it was in the house, so I found myself looking in the same boxes 2 or 3 times–believing that maybe it just escaped my attention the last time I looked.

    After a while I did the rational thing and just gave up, confident that my original hypothesis was wrong (and it was; it was in the car). Behe, though, just keeps going back over and over and over again to the same boxes, desperately trying to find the creator . . .

    . . . which may also be in my car. I need to clean it.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating so that people don’t think the problem here is that these guys are dumb: Behe and his droogs know that they’re peddling bullshit. They’re con artists. (We really got trouble right here in River City, with a capital T and that rhymes with D…)What remains unclear to me is whether they are motivated by a commitment to buttressing theism, or whether they just realized that there are people who will pay good money for this shit. Human experience suggests the latter.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted April 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        I’ll go with the latter, too. The sense I have is that his disingenuity started when his funding ran out.

    • Posted April 9, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      to the same boxes, desperately trying to find the creator . . .

      . . . which may also be in my car. I need to clean it.

      I dreamed they locked God up
      Down in my basement
      And he waited there for me
      To have this accident
      So he could drink my wine
      And eat me like a sacrament

      John Prine, “Saddle in the Rain,” 1975

  15. 386sx
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    We reject ID because it’s a superfluous hypothesis with not a shred of evidence in its favor.

    That’s after extending the courtesy of disregarding the utterly wrong-headed creationist arguments IDers put forward all the time. (They’re always getting the Cambrian explosion wrong, and they’re always inflating probabilities, as a couple of examples.) After mercifully forgetting about the dumber flat-out creationism type stuff, what’s left over is still a superfluous hypothesis with not a shred of evidence in its favor.

  16. Hempenstein
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Behe, having made an ass of himself at Dover, is at best delusional. At worst he is an intellectual fraud.

    If anyone is aware of any other academic department that has posted a disclaimer in re. the views of a member of their own department, please post. And for those who aren’t aware of this, have a look. I can’t imagine a greater academic humiliation:

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      You don’t get the martyr complex?

    • SLC
      Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t checked on this but it would not surprise me if the Un. of California Medical School in San Francisco had posted something along those lines about their nutcase professor, Peter Duesberg, the quintessential HIV/AIDS denier.

  17. Tim Harris
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    What infuriates me about that article is that Williams quotes Behe and a set of assorted creationist ‘educators’ as though they have something valid to say, and then makes a few gestures towards ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ in such a way as to suggest that that the latter are monolithically boring and dogmatic whereas Behe and his boys are bright and newsworthy. Could not Williams have quoted a scientist? The journalistic ‘framing’ of this problem is so often wholly irresponsible, and Williams’s article adopts the same approach.

  18. anotherJoe
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    If you visit the Lehigh site mentioned above, be sure to click on the page of Prof. Jill Schneider. Her discussion of the role of evolution (and of Behe!) in her department is great, and includes:
    Q: What is Michael Behe, an enthusiastic spokesperson for intelligent design, doing in a university biology department?

    A: He was tenured in the Department of Chemistry for his scientific research on unusual conformations of DNA (published in top journals and funded by the National Institutes of Health). It was not until later that he shifted his focus. Dr. Behe and I both joined the Department of Biological Sciences in 1995 (I came from psychology while he came from chemistry). Around that time, I eagerly bought and read Dr. Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box , anticipating that I would find his challenge to evolutionary theory intellectually stimulating and provocative. I did not. He graciously autographed my copy of the book, and I invited him to give a seminar in our department in the hope that lively, high-level intellectual debate would ensue. It did not. ID bored us in the first five minutes, and here we are, ten years later. We hesitated to make a public response because it seemed impossible, literally impossible, that anyone would see ID as a serious alternative to the theory of evolution. As we predicted, the overwhelming majority of scientists dismissed ID as nonscientific. What we failed to predict is that the creationists and their ID compatriots would take their case to America’s children, local school boards and scientifically illiterate politicians.

    We stand by our principle of academic freedom. Professor Behe maintains his position as a senior faculty member by teaching biochemistry to undergraduates and fulfilling other university service obligations. Our biology department, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Science agree that ID is not scientific and should not be presented as science in any science curriculum. We have made no attempt to suppress his points of view.

  19. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Bet you can’t say “superfluous hypothesis” three times real fast.

  20. Sigmund
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Behe understands very well the consequences of exposure to new ideas. His own son recently outed himself as an atheist and claimed his reason for leaving catholicism was brought about after he decided to investigate the ‘opposition’ and bought and read ‘The God Delusion’.

  21. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted April 9, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    A few years ago, Behe spoke here at KU as a part of a humanities lecture series on science vs religion (Dawkins, Ken Miller, Os Guinness, Eugenie Scott, Judge Jones of the Kitzmiller case also came.) My wife attended the Behe thing without me.

    She is science aware generally, but not in any detail on the ID schtick, so this was her first exposure to their rhetoric. She was appalled. “Is that the best they have? How can anyone be deceived by such transparent nonsense? Even I could see through this, and I don’t know anything!” She couldn’t believe it. All alone she said “Boo!” at the end of his talk while others politely applauded — she couldn’t help it in the face of the childish, fallacious absurdity of his presentation. I proudly tell folks “my baby booed Behe.”

  22. Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    I sent the Independent article to Rachel Wolf, advisor to the Minister of Education and inspiration behind he Free Schools system. I asked her “What are you doing to stop this kind of thing in your Free Schools? If you let a SINGLE creationist school get away with it, you don’t deserve one iota of support from anybody.


    Her reply was encouraging:-

    Dear Richard,

    Obviously (although occasionally journalists get confused by this) there is a difference between a group applying to be a free school and a group actually being allowed to be a free school, so I’m not sure what exactly this article is saying.

    However on your question – effectively there are four things that can be done on free schools – all of which are being done:

    Application stage

    1) You have to give a full (much fuller than in any previous system to set up new schools) description of your curriculum and its content. So if you plan to follow a creationist curriculum, your application will be turned down.

    2) Due diligence checks are done on any member or director of the company (i.e. those who will be trustees or governors of the school) to make sure they are suitable to run a state-funded school.

    School opening stage

    1) Ofsted (the same inspectorate that investigates all state schools) inspects the school against the curriculum in the application form – so again, if they are found to be teaching anything creationist, the Government intervenes.

    This is precisely the same as any school now – if it decided to ignore the national curriculum and start teaching something else, Ofsted inspections are the route by which it is picked up.

    2) Results and qualifications are reported – and in particular the new EBAC which was introduced by Michael Gove actually tells parents and others, FOR THE FIRST TIME (unbelievably) whether children are actually being entered for and getting science GCSEs (or equivalent e.g. the IB or iGCSEs). So you can see if pupils are being taught the national qualifications and are passing them.

    Too many people simultaneously attack free schools for being creationist (which they are not and I would publicly denounce if they were) and defend the existing status quo – schools which have completely failed to teach children science GCSEs and curricula and exams which are closer to reading comprehension than anything you or I would call science, because they fundamentally believe a massive proportion of the population are too stupid to learn it.

    I am doing this because too many children are being let down – I had the opportunity to do Natural Sciences at Cambridge because my school taught me. Other schools, particularly those for the more deprived, do not. That is an indictment on our education system and what I believe free schools can begin to change.

    Best wishes,


    • Sigmund
      Posted April 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I would class that as a positive reply.

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