Creationism and censorship of evolution: US and UK

The fight against creationism never ends, and won’t until faith is no longer with us.  But one would at least expect it to wane in the UK, where religious belief is less pervasive. Still, there are those odious “faith schools” approved and funded by the British government, and there, it has been reported, creationism still has a redoubt.

As HuffPo and the British Humanist Association report, a secondary school for Jewish girls in Hackney, a part of London, have blacked out questions about evolution on the important “OCR” exam because such questions supposedly violate the students’ faith.

HuffPo:

A Jewish secondary school has been criticised for hiding questions in an exam paper because they were at odds with its beliefs.

The OCR exam board, which investigated claims that pupils at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in north London were being prevented from answering certain questions in their obscuring questions in a GCSE science paper, said the action was “not good exam practice”.

But it added that its inquiry concluded that no student gained an advantage by the school’s actions, and it did not penalise any candidate.

It is understood that following the investigation, OCR, other exam bodies, the Department for Education and the schools inspectorate are looking to see whether there should be clearer guidelines for faith schools on how to deal with a situation where they are faced with questions in exam papers that are at odds with their belief system.

The matter was referred to the exam board – one of the biggest in England – by the National Secular Society (NSS) earlier this month.

The NSS raised concerns that teachers at the school had been “blacking out aspects of question papers” and asked for an investigation.

It is thought that the obscured questions may have related to an issue at odds with the school’s religious beliefs.
Yesodey Hatorah school, which is rated outstanding by Ofsted, serves the Orthodox Jewish Charedi community in Stamford Hill, north London. Members of the community do not have access to television or other media, such as the internet, and aim to live modest lives governed by the Torah.

Most Orthodox Jews reject evolution. At TAM this year, I met two ex-Orthodox Jews who had been brought up to reject evolution and, in both cases, studied the subject to be able to attack it more effectively. And in both cases they became convinced of evolution’s truth, which undermined their faith, and then left the religion. Both young men were obviously deeply pained at their decision, since it cut them off completely from their peers and family.

Curiously, the HuffPo article doesn’t mention that this brand of evolution-censorship is also on tap at a Muslim school in England. The BHA mentions it, though:

Meanwhile, Al-Madinah School, a Muslim school in Derby, has advertised to parents in its prospectus that ‘Sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous material will be censored or removed completely. If and when teachers are required by the curriculum to convey teachings that are totally against Islam (Darwinism, for example), the Director of Islamic Studies will brief the relevant teachers and advise accordingly.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed alarm at the findings.

Al-Madinah has been subject to previous controversy for actions that seem clearly illegal, even under British law:

Meanwhile Al-Madinah School, a Free School that opened last year, has recently come under scrutiny for a large range of issues including that girls have been required to sit at the back of classrooms, female members of staff have been forced to wear a hijab (whether Muslim or not), and because the school denotes a huge amount of time each week to religious observance. As a consequence the Government has recently written to the school asking it to change its behaviour in 17 different places, or face closure.

My understanding is that “faith schools” are supported by the British government.  Does that government really want to be in the business of censoring what students learn about science? That would clearly be illegal in the U.S. (as would the whole concept of faith schools), and scientists should be up in arms about this. I would expect, for instance, that the Royal Society would issue a strong statement denouncing the censorship of evolution.

****

Well, this censorship of evolution is business as usual in my country.  A reader called my attention to a public school in Indiana where creationism is being taught in high-school biology classes. (This, of course, goes on in many places, but there’s no easy way to find out where.) Have a look, in the letter below, at how one teacher not only has her students read ID materials and watch “Expelled,” but passes out handouts blaming evolution for “Communism, Nazism, and Eugenics.” And this is Indiana, not Mississippi!

That reader brought the matter to the attention to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which has contacted the superintendent of the school system harboring the creationist teachers. The FFRF has also contacted the ECHO Resource Library of the NewTech Network in Napa, California, where the teacher deposited some of her creationist teaching materials.  They could, unwittingly, be downloaded and used by other teachers.

Here’s the FFRF’s letter to the Superintendent of the Adams Central Community Schools in Indiana:

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38 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    If you haven’t, fellow readers, joined FFRF, do so now. It will be among your best civic acts.

    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Or NSS in the UK; BHA if you’re humanistically inclined!

      /@

    • Richard Olson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      FFRF benefits from any size donation; if you agree with its goals, backing the organization financially is one of the best ways available to help implement those goals; you get the opportunity to get their daily freethinker e-mail, a bargain at any price (you may be able to sign up for it without donating, and if so you should).

      • Richard Olson
        Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? “Freethought of the Day” is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

        If you would like to be placed on the “Daily Freethought” e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, visit the site or email info@ffrf.org and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.

        - See more at: http://ffrf.org/news/day/#sthash.S2ABcdTx.dpuf

  2. Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Oh, no. Not again again.

    b&

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Deja vu.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      again, again, again, again…..like looking in a mirror with a mirror.

  3. Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    “My understanding is that ‘faith schools’ are supported by the British government.”

    Regrettably, that is the case. The BHA and others campaign against this. (Clarification: Not all faith schools are state schools, but recent legislation has encouraged faith schools amongst state schools. But there have always been faith schools; one of the primary schools I might have gone to 47 years ago was Bilton Endowed CofE Primary School; my being – ostensibly! – a Roman Catholic ruled it out.)

    “Does that government really want to be in the business of censoring what students learn about science?”

    No, it doesn’t. IIRC, evolution is part of the curriculum and so must be taught (and examined!); teaching creationism in science lessons is explicitly forbidden (albeit only because of advocacy by the BHA or NSS or both – I forget which).

    /@

    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      * But there have always been faith schools in the state system

      • Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        What is particular appalling is that faith schools are subsidised with public funds, even though a far greater proportion of the British public are actually non-religious in comparison to the USA population. Faith schools run quotas on allowing non-believers in, so in neighbourhoods with a good faith school and poorer non-faith school the children of the non-religious run much higher odds of receiving an inferior education. The is NOT a rare occurrence. If the “non-religious child” is one of the “lucky” ones to get into a faith school he/she is certain to face some religious indoctrination. In the more fundamentalist religious schools the childrens scientific training is also highly perverted, if not just their world-view. And all of this with tax moneys that often comes from non-believers. Americans should thank their lucky stars for the first amendment to the Constitution.

  4. Matt G
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Another issue in the Jewish school case is the fact that the school tampered with the test, which is apparently illegal (in addition to being unethical). Someone at Dawkins’ website made this point.

  5. francis
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    //

  6. David Duncan
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    The school blacked out some answers – presumably the correct ones – “But it added that its inquiry concluded that no student gained an advantage by the school’s actions, and it did not penalise any candidate.”

    I don’t understand how this is possible. If students can’t select the – presumably – correct answers then they are disadvantaged compared with students at other schools.

    • jeremyp
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      The article says the school blacked out some questions, not the answers.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

        No student was *advantaged* (except, possibly, in a very indirect and diffuse way, students of other schools who had a wider selection of questions to choose from). In that respect, students at the Jewish school were DISadvantaged, though possibly no more so than at any other school whose course, for whatever reason, hadn’t fully covered every topic.

        This would be why the exam board didn’t penalise any candidate.

        (Still sucks, though)

    • eric
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      That was my thought too. It may not have made a difference within-group, but across groups it sure does.

      Aren’t the OCRs something like the SATs, i.e. used to help determine university admissions? I’d be royally ticked off if I were a parent and found out my kids’ school was preventing her from answering some of the questions.

      On top of the obvious, there’s also the question of sexism. This is an orthodox women’s school – do the orthodox men’s schools do the same, or is evolution something the men are allowed to discuss but not the women?

    • Nick Evans
      Posted October 14, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      The school blanked out the questions, not the answers. This may have disadvantaged the children, depending on what the format of the paper was. For instance, if they had to answer 2 out of 6 questions but could only see 5, they would not have been disadvantaged as much as if they had to answer all of the questions.

      For what it’s worth “OCR” is the name of one of the commercial companies which sets exams in the UK. These particular exams were GCSEs – so taken at the age of 16, before kids decide which 3 or 4 subjects they will focus on in their last 2 years of school.

  7. ladyatheist
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Indiana is more like Mississippi that you know. When I moved here it was like moving back in time 50 years and moving to Tennessee (many of the people I’ve met here are from Tennessee or the children of migrants from Tennessee)

    • Jeff D
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Well, the ostensible or apparent accuracy of “Indiana is more like Mississippi . . .” is sensitively dependent on where in this state a Hoosier lives. Many parts of the southern half of Indiana do resemble (geologically and culturally) many parts of Kentucky or Tennessee. But if a Hoosier lives in a large Indiana city or in a college or university town, one finds fewer peers and neighbors who fit the cultural stereotype of the rube or hick from Tennessee or Mississippi. Some of this state’s problems (meth labs and their customers) are spread pretty uniformly.

      Having said that, am I surprised that a school in Monroe, Indiana (population under 1,000, in northwest Indiana, about half an hour south of Ft. Wayne) is allowing a couple of teachers to teach ID/creationist twaddle? No, I’m not.

  8. Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    “Most Orthodox Jews reject evolution.” If this is true (it was not in my own, orthodox, youth), it is both sad and ironic. Maimonides, a codifier of orthodox practice, argued at length iver 800 years ago against biblical literalism, on the grounds that the Teaching (Torah) had to be given in language appropriate to those receiving it.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      I think fundamentalism in Judaism has followed the same trajectory as fundamentalism in Christianity and Islam, unfortunately

    • Posted October 15, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I don’t know anything about Orthodox in general, but I have it on the authority of one of their rabbis that the Lubavitchers do. I asked about this in a sociology of religion course (guest lecturer, the rabbi) years ago and was given the most incredible (and sad) example of religious syncretism imaginable – he mentioned, favourably, old favourites like Denton and Ham.

      • Posted October 15, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, and the abominable Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya), of Atlas of Creation, has links with like-minded rabbis in Israel.

        Time was, such people were marginal fringe. Now they are gaining influence as their less absurd co-religionists peel away, and what remains becomes more polarised.

  9. Posted October 13, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I used to teach at an Orthodox Jewish School in North London–although not the one mentioned. This was a few years ago–rules may have changed. Back then I was told that students were allowed to put “This is what my Rabbi teaches about X” on papers. X could be–the age of the universe (Physics), the age of the earth (Geography), or Evolution (Biology & Psychology)

  10. staffordgordon
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    The geneticist Steve Jones who lectures at UCL, University College London, tells of “Biology students” disrupting and walking out of his lectures as soon as evolution is mentioned.

    Our daughter was at Imperial College London reading Biochemistry and similar things happened there.

    Laurence Kraus threatened to cancel a talk he was due to give at Imperial because the students were being sexually segregated apropos of seating arrangements.

    In all these instances Islam was the Blind Faith in question.

    I’m sure I don’t have to point out to anyone contributing to this forum the quote from Theodosius Dobzhansky: “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” As you will all be aware he was a Nobel Laureate Geneticist.

    The renowned Professor of Chemistry and author of almost 70 books Peter Atkins has written that “Those who deny evolution and natural selection deny themselves the ability to understand the function and structure of the living.”

    However, I’m sorry to have to say that I think the struggle against Blind Faith, which engenders superstition and ignorance, will be a long and difficult one, but it is imperative that it be undertaken in order to protect children from its affliction.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Another example that shows the worst thing for progress is isolation and segregation. I know this is problematic, but I would prefer that the state mandate only secular education and no separation of the sexes. I imagine you’d have a lot of children who would leave their religion since peers exert a powerful influence and perhaps those that did not, would subconsciously influence others in their isolated community.

  12. Paul Sanderson
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Hello Jerry

    Maybe a bit of a good news story. We had creationism infect home via the school as well not so long ago. Story here:
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926

    End result was we got the church kicked out of school.
    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/school-bosses-kick-out-extremist-2257795

    Keeping eyes peeled and ears to the ground in case any of the other chaplains/religious who have unfettered access to our kids decide they want to preach against Evolution.

    Nagy Iskander sits on the South Lanarkshire Education Committee and is a Young Earth Creationist, and one of Ken Ham’s most active creationists in Europe aparently… so the story probably will carry on for a while yet.

  13. bonetired
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    And the Derby school has had a major shot sent across its bows by HMG:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-24440529

    According to the NSS “more than a dozen other applications to convert private Islamic schools into state-funded free schools have been vetoed by the DfE.” and that Ofsted has done more than 20 emergency inspections at Islamic schools.

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/09/more-revelations-about-the-derby-muslim-free-school

  14. David Wilkins
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    “My understanding is that “faith schools” are supported by the British government. Does that government really want to be in the business of censoring what students learn about science?”

    Regrettably, I think faith schools in the UK (where I live, incidentally), are part of a history of compromise regarding religion and public life. They are also often framed as being about ‘parental choice’.

    The school in question is being challenged on their decision but – again, in a very British way – not directly by the government but by the quasi-non-governmental body responsible for regulating the exam system.

    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/oct/11/jewish-school-censored-gcses-evolution

    • Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      The politics of faith schools is complex; a coming together of a long tradition of church provision of schooling, mistrust of government (especially local government)which would otherwise be directly responsible for the schools, and the popularity in upper middle class parents of introducing social selection in State schools through the back door.

      Publicly funded schools teaching creationism as science, or failing to teach evolution, are in breach of contract. Deplorably, this may well leave room for schools to teach evolution for the exam while telling students,as a matter of faith, not to believe it.

      I welcome this particular incident as an expose’ of that latter reality, in a way that the Government, much as it would like to, cannot ignore.

  15. Leigh Jackson
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    For a school to be able to censor exam papers, would make a complete mockery of the system. The school deserves, and I assume will receive, a good rap over the knuckles from the Department for Education for trying it on.

    That FFRF letter is a joy to behold.

  16. Matt G
    Posted October 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone read “Hower’s Hints”? In addition to being laced with BS, it is poorly written. How did he become qualified to teach anything, much less science?

  17. Posted October 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Syed Atheist.

  18. Jim
    Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    I live in the UK, and government-funded faith schools incense me. Basically I’m paying for kids to be brainwashed.

    It happens because our privileged, religious, half-witted twat of a Prime Minister sees a financial saving, and seems not to understand the damaging repercussions.

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 1:02 am | Permalink

      You (and others) might want to pay to help the BHA’s campaign against faith schools.

      /@

    • Posted October 14, 2013 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      Jim, don’t be naive. David Cameron (1st cl hons, Oxford) knows exactly what he’s at, and the entire faith school/free school/academy scam is a way of buying the support of parents who want back-door selective schooling but don’t run to the cost of private schools. Hence the cynical saying, “on your knees to save the fees.”

      Ant, ty; done that.

  19. Wall Dodger
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Was shocked to see the letter is written to the new Superintendent of my school district here in Indiana, when I contacted her office ,was ignored, reason they thought I was the one complaining. They seem to think they are above the law. I can’t even express my views at the local board meeting that is coming up .. Their legal Rep. seems to think I was going to say bad things about the teachers. Any suggestions on what I could say, if I could go.


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