Scientists decry creeping creationism in Britain

According to yesterday’s Guardian, a group of scientists that include David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Paul Nurse (head of the Royal Society), Lewis Wolpert, Helena Cronin, and Colin Blakemore, have banded together to fight creeping creationism in Britain, both in schools and elsewhere:

A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is “unacceptable” to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not. The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are “touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science”.

“Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools,” the scientists say.

“There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type.”

The scientists claim organisations such as Truth in Science are encouraging teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching.

“Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.”

Free schools and academies were not obliged to teach the national curriculum and so were “under no obligation to teach evolution at all,” it added.

You can find the statement and the list of 30 signatories here.

I was surprised to learn not only that evolution is not a mandated part of the national curriculum, but also these two facts, which seem more characteristic of the US than Britain:

Curiously, the Telegraph article on the same issue has this description:

The naturalist [Attenborough] joined three Nobel laureates, the atheist Richard Dawkins and other leading scientists in calling on the government to tackle the “threat” of creationism.

Why is Dawkins identified as “the atheist” rather than as “the biologist”? After all, Dawkins has written far more about biology than about atheism, and that’s how he got famous in the first place.  Moreover, Wolpert,  Attenborough and Paul Nurse (and probably others) are atheists too.


  1. Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Hey, since every single time Francis Collins is mentioned in the media he’s identified as “the evangelical Christian Francis Collins,” I’m fine with it.

    Oh he’s not? Hmmmm, interesting… Well, it’s not like he’s written any books about science and Christiani– oh. Well then.

  2. Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Why is Dawkins identified as “the atheist” rather than as “the biologist”?

    Because The Guardian is a newspaper, not a research journal. They want to sell their newspaper and their advertising.

    A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is “unacceptable” to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not.

    They would have to ban philosophy, which uses a lot of ID style thinking.

    Banning it altogether seems to be going too far. People will think about the possibility of design, whether taught or not. Let’s not try to censor thought. Keeping creationism and ID out of the science class should be sufficient.

    • bric
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      It was in the Telegraph (a somewhat different kettle of fish); in the Guardian Dawkins is called ‘a scientist’.

      • Llwddythlw
        Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        I searched the Grauniad’s archives for references to Richard Dawkins in 2011. Quite often his name is given with no epithet at all, which shows just how well known he is in Britain.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      “They would have to ban philosophy, which uses a lot of ID style thinking.”

      And I thought I was harsh on philosophy!

      [goes back to optimize keyboard parameters for more bold and LOUD]

  3. Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    To be fair, I think there actually are a number of valid places for Creationism in public schools.

    At the top of the list would be in logic classes, as a prime example of circularity / question begging: Who created the creator? Closely related would be set theory, at the same time as the proof of the uncountability of the reals.

    Next up would be anthropology. Do a survey of all superstitions of human origins, ancient through modern.

    Also important would be civics: Dover v Kitzmiller makes an excellent case study of the Separation Clause.

    And it would even have a place in a science classroom — in the history of science. Creationism deserves a passing mention alongside alchemy, astrology, and the Aether as failed explanations for phenomena. One can make lots of comparisons; how experimentalism was important to alchemy, enabling it to evolve into chemistry and Aether was testable and falsified, whereas astrology and creationism are religious phenomena grounded only in ancient myth whose basic premises are trivially refuted by the simplest of observations and basic logic.

    I’m sure a competent teacher could think of even more legitimate ways to work it into the curriculum….



    • Sawdust Sam
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Richard Dawkins on the evening news magazine programme (Radio 4: PM: for those who can get the BBC Listen Again service: – 33 minutes in) had no problem with Creationism/ID being covered in RE but,naturally, not science. His opponent in the discussion was a teacher(!) of science(?) whose views were less than convincing.
      @BG – Contrary to expectation, public schools are fee-paying & private in the UK, but you probably already know that.

      • Posted September 20, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

        RE? Relligious Education? First thought – isn’t that an oxymoron? Second thought – is there any real education about religion in RE? I would think that a comprehensive course on the variety of religious beliefs would be a helpful antidote to believing in any of them. (That was my mother’s trick when I came home with bible stories.)

  4. Nick Evans
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Evolution is a mandated part of the national curriculum. It’s just that free schools and academies (which are really the same thing) don’t have to teach the national curriculum, instead agreeing with the Department for Education that they will teach a broad and balanced syllabus.

  5. Zojo
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Firstly, Dawkins is far more famous in the UK as an Atheist because he has become something of a professional spokesman for Atheism. He is the person the media turn to for a suitably caustic comment when the subject of religion arises. He used to be a scientist, but now he is mainly a self publicist – plugging his TV shows and books. If I were being unkind I’d describe him as a lapsed biologist, now media tart.

    Secondly you don’t want to get involved in a debate about the British educaton system, and what “free” schools mean for it. Honestly, don’t go there.

    RE “A poll found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school.” This doesn’t surprise me as a lot of schools have compulsory RE, and in RE you are taught that world was created in 7 days. Now good RE teachers should explain this is an allegory or metaphor or whatever, but probably quite a few don’t. Or the pupils didn’t understand that bit so forgot. It isn’t as bad as it sounds.

    As for “Ipsos Mori survey found that more than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons” – that I do not believe! I have not met anyone apart from fairly hardcore fundamentalists who would say that, and there are very few of them in the UK. Most people go to church to be christened, get married, and sometimes to be buried. That’s it. Belief in God is on a par with exercise. We believe in theory, but don’t go so far as to put it into practice.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      The numbers are so high on the “teach both” question here that I wonder if the people responding to it understood it. The most likely point of confusion is thinking that intelligent design and creationism either mean or include ‘theistic evolution’ — the vague assumption that God was somehow behind evolution, or at least didn’t mind it very much. From what I’ve seen a genial sense that people ought to be able to be both religious and scientific if they want can account for statistics which seem to imply more specific anti-evolution results than warranted.

      • RJ Langley
        Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        I have a suspicion it’s all about the way the question is worded.

        ‘Do you think creationism is a valid scientific hypothesis?’ is a lot more difficult to agree to than, say, ‘Do you think it’s reasonable to teach alternatives to evolution when explaining the diversity of life?’ even though they ultimately mean pretty much the same thing.

    • bric
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      I have to agree about that survey, I have known one or two creationists, but they stood out as freaks to all around; it would be interesting to see how the question was worded . . .
      And even I got a B at ‘O’ level in RE.

  6. ManOutOfTime
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    We’ll know we’ve achieved acceptance when nonbelievers are referred to with the journalistic construction “who happens to be an Atheist.”

    • Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      We’ll known society has grown up when believers are referred to as “who still clings to such-and-such superstition.”



    • Sastra
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      Followed of course by “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

  7. Kieran
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    We’ve been laughing at the Americans and the amount of creationists there but have taken the eye off the ball over here. Even in Ireland we’ve had a few little fights recently, John J. May’s book and a science minster going to launch. Admitedly that was gombeen politics rather than creationist policy.
    We’re seeing a rise in evanagelical churches, while people leave the catholic church doesn’t mean they’ve given up on religion.
    This means over the next few years we will see a steady rise in anti-science groups in Ireland as well.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      So it is more important to save asses than brains?

      • Kieran
        Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure I made any comment that could be construed as saving one’s ass. Sorry if I’m not clear, my point was simply we’ve been slack in our education as is shown by having our own pet creationist appear. We’ve to start promoting good science education, cause if it’s happening in England, creeping creationism, it’s either already happening or will soon in Ireland.

  8. dunstar
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I’m Canadian and if this is becoming a big problem in the UK, then I wonder if creationism/ID is also becoming a widespread problem in Canada.

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    In re.

    …calling on the government to tackle the “threat” of creationism.

    Why in hell is threat in quotes? It is a goddam threat, in the same way as viruses. Here’s an acceptable version:

    …calling on the government to “tackle the threat of creationism.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Thanks, and it is the same linked Ipsos Mori’s site.

      But I don’t see other nations. Nor this question:

      “About 54% of the 973 polled Britons agreed with the view: “Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism.””

      What I do see is if I add these Qs I get 54 % affirmative As:

      “Table 3

      TEND TO AGREE: 35%”

      Bad journalism or bad research presentation?

      • Llwddythlw
        Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        It’s in Table 5, under the category “EVO’ AND OTHER (h)” (no idea what “other” is). The number “54%” is quoted there, but I can’t relate it to any of the numbers above it. I’m a little puzzled as to what the % mean when they don’t add up to 100%, and yet the questions would appear to cover all possible answers.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          Sorry, you spotted that. I should have paged down. Still, the results seem to be pretty meaningless, based on your conclusions and mine.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Oops. Actually, it is in the last part of Table 5.

      Several problems:

      – There are no questions presented. It seems to be processed data. The data I discussed is summarized in the column next to the “teaching” data.

      – There is no description of the process behind the table.

      – The middle column sums to 100 %, the others to 83 – 84 %. No explanation.

      Strike bad journalism. But I wouldn’t know if the poll is good from just the table.

  10. Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Well, if this is going to succeed these scientists better have a clear and consistent definition for natural selection.

    Their answers to questions such as those posed here need to be well reasoned.

    • maureen.brian
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      And that’s what happens when you try to pose scientific questions in religious terms.

      People spot what you are up to and don’t think you are worth wasting an answer on – ‘cos you would make no effort to understand it, as you made no effort before posing the question in the first place.

  11. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    “The BHA says…”

    When you mentioned “BHA” with no clue as to what it means, it made me LOL. That must be a IHTOASMTIATCOTYHABYWABOL.

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Some alternatives (none correct) include:

      British Homeopathic Association
      British Horseracing Authority
      Bottom Hole Assembly (a drilling rig item)

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    “The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are “touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science”.”

    I have an idea!

    What if we claim “science is a faith”? It is, after all, what these types of organizations claim all the time.

    Then we can point out *it is the largest faith on Earth*:

    “A 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school.”

    Science has at least a 4-1 majority in parts of Europe, and so on.

    Would this be satisfying to “Truthiness in Anti-science” and “Creationist Minions Everywhere”?

  13. Bernard Ortcutt
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Do Creationist groups try this stuff in continental Europe too or are we in the Anglo-American world alone in this? We rarely hear about things outside the UK, US, Canada, or Australia.

    • Microraptor
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Good question. Based on the religious slants, I’d expect that France, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and of course Sweden wouldn’t have much problems with this sort of thing, while Portugal, Spain, Italy, and many of the countries in Eastern Europe would be more prone to it.

      Pure speculation on my part, though.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Presumably, but with varying degree of success.

      There are some hardcore creationist nuts in the Sweden-Finland region that have been inspired by, and visited by, US creationists.

      One Stockholm free school (outside the national schools) was presenting creationism as science a few years back, but got caught out; presenting religion in the curricula is forbidden in schools outside of comparative religion classes or (in their case, being a religious free school) religious meetings.

      I don’t think the problem is so severe in Norway, since it has always been hardcore evangelist. They seem to keep the secular-religious divide fairly good, and old churches doesn’t want new churches invading. But that is my idea, with no support whatsoever.

      Denmark, as always, is a mystery. Hvergang.

      [Sorry, bad joke.

      Famous image of dialogue on old danish beer can [One badly dressed and happy drunk alcoholist to another equally non-sober, in english]:

      “Hey Perikles, when does a Tuborg beer taste best?”

      “Everytime. (Danish: Hvergang.)”]

      • Dominic
        Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        Laestadianism I suppose you mean for the strange northern religious nuts.

        • Posted February 11, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          Laestadians have indeed been creationists. I say “have been” because the Finnish organization of Conservative Laestadians, the SRK, has done some backtracking lately. But the doctrine is based on the idea of a Fall into sin, and there’s no easy way to reinvent that around the reality of man’s evolutionary origins. So there is still a lot of talk about Adam and Eve.

          I discuss this at some length in my recent book “An Examinatiom of the Pearl.” Here’s a link to the specific section about the evolution vs. creation issue:

  14. Gayle Stone
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Agree, possibly they want people to think Richard is the only atheist.
    I wonder if Blair’s influence in the past has something to do with this movement. I assume that the College he was supporting is still funded by the Government. Maybe not since Blair is now Catholic much to Bush’es dimay.

  15. Dominic
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I am shocked but should not be (I have littlew knowledge of modern schools having left in 1978). This is one – the major – reason for my rising militancy as a an atheist & a passionate lover of the natural world. This is a product of immigration (not attacking immigration here) because many of those immigrants have come from evangelical, catholic & muslim communities which are not lovers of truth but rather of religious doctrine.

  16. Posted September 19, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Scanning the comments so far I don’t see it mentioned, so I want to mention that the BBC World News Service a couple of hours ago covered the same story. I was irritated also to hear him referred as “atheist” without mention that he is also a biologist and of course a professor at one of the UK premiere institutions. But then it got far far worse when they had some total imbecile and/or dishonest teacher who they just let go on and on about how evolution is being observed to happen today, and implicitly conflating evolution with abiogenesis as if evolution has an obligation to explain the existence of the universe. Dawkins only had a few moments of air time, then this other idiot goes on and on, with only pathetic attempts by the BBC interviewer to put him on the spot. They really should have gone back to Dawkins for a reply when they have not the slightest scientific competence, obviously.

    They play the BBC WNS a couple of times a day here (Seattle) on NPR, but it’s an endless two hour loop that updates slowly. It’s broadcast continuously on our HD3 subchannel and probably accessible over the interwebs too. Anyone who enjoys being irritated, should certainly enjoy this.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 20, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      I do not think my spleen would take it…

  17. Posted September 19, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    correction: about how evolution is not being observed to happen

  18. Posted September 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    We SHOULD teach Creationism alongside Evolution! We must allow our children to see what SCIENCE is and what PSEUDOSCIENCE is! As long as we are teaching Creationism in such a fashion as to display why it is NOT TRUE, I’m okay with it 🙂 But then, that wouldn’t be fair to the Christians would it? Though it would open the eyes of all the helpless fundamentalist children who are told at home that their Teachers are agents of the Devil.

  19. Posted September 23, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    All the papers had this item. I commented on The Telegraph article when there were 45 comments. 2½ days later, the comment number is over 3,020.

    It has derailed into idiocy by now but it shows how many people clog up the system by trolling. They are some really twittish religites or pretend non-religites declaiming that parents should be able to set the state curricula for schools (sigh!).

    I am so pleased that this is on the agenda. Sorry Jerry, you may have thought that this side of the pond was more rational – sob, it appears not. It is just more apathetic and that allows for fundamentalism and blind sidedness to flourish.

    And then there’s my home country Australia. Sigh, again. And I thought it was safe – I was mistaken. Idiocy abounds and fear spreads poison and woo is rife.

    So the good fight continues.

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