Scotland refuses to ban teaching of creationism

Schools in England and Wales aren’t permitted to teach creationism, but for reasons that I can’t fathom, the Scots refuse to join them. This came to light when, as reported by Scotland’s Sunday Herald, the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) discovered that a group of American creationists “had been working as classroom assistants at a primary school in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.” (Note: it’s not clear whether this group actually taught creationism as science.)

The SSS petitioned the Scottish Parliament requesting explicit guidance on this issue (i.e., banning creationism the same way it’s done in the rest of the UK), but were turned back with this disappointing statement by a government official:

Tim Simons, Head of Curriculum Unit at the Scottish Government’s Learning Directorate, has written to the parliament’s petitions committee that there are no plans to introduce ban guidance called for by the SSS.

Mr Simmons [sic] said: “I can (therefore) confirm that there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education authorities to prevent the presentation of creationism, intelligent design or similar doctrines by teachers or school visitors.

“The evidence available suggests that guidance on these matters is unnecessary.

“However, Education Scotland will continue to monitor, through the school inspection process and by other means, any instances where schools are not ensuring the teaching of science is based on well-established science and scientific principles.”

This makes little sense. If they’re going to “monitor schools” to ensure the teaching of “well-established science,” wouldn’t it be useful to have some standards about exactly what is considered well-established science? In fact, the “safeguards” that Simmons mentioned in his response are wholly inadequate:

“Safeguards include; school managers having oversight of curriculum planning and resources; local authorities with robust complaints procedures, independent school inspections and the development of curriculum materials through a collegiate approach that provides for early identification of any inappropriate material.”

These are useless if school officials or teachers either don’t care whether creationism is taught or actually favor its teaching. SSS chairman Spencer Fildes gave the appropriate response:

The government’s submission is not only disappointing but at the same time short sighted and evasive, and fails to recognise the issue.

“It would seem they are willing to openly endorse the teaching and discussion of creationism in what they call ‘context’ but are unwilling to explicitly state it is forbidden even in the science class.

Frankly, I’m baffled at the Scottish government’s response, or lack of response about this issue. Naturally, it brought great joy to American creationists. Over at Answers in Genesis, for instance, evangelist Ken Ham called it “good news” and “a victory for academic freedom” in Scotland. I wonder if he’d say the same thing if “academic freedom” meant teaching astrology or Holocaust denial to schoolchildren.

If you’re a Scot and want to protest this annoyance, or are simply someone who favors good science education for all kids, you can write to to Fiona Robertson, the director of Scotland’s Learning Directorate, at Fiona.Robertson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk. [UPDATE: Paul Braterman in comment #5 gives a better address to write to.  Please drop a line or two to that address if you want to help.]

I’ve sent a brief email (below)  expressing my concern.  I would hope that if Ms. Robertson got, say, 300 emails on this issue, she might contemplate rectifying this problem. Even a short email would be useful, so do write her if you feel so moved.

Dear Ms. Robertson,

As an American professor who teaches evolutionary biology, I was deeply disappointed to read in The Herald of Scotland that your country’s education directors refuse to ban the teaching of creationism to schoolchildren. (See the article at http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/schools-creationism-ban-rejected-by-scottish-government.114739893).
As the author of a popular book on the evidence for evolution (Why Evolution is True), I am fully aware of the massive evidence for evolution and the complete absence of evidence for any creationist views, which invariably stem from Biblical literalism. Creationism is thus a purely nonscientific view based on religion, and I’m saddened that Scotland won’t take even a minimal stand to ensure that its children are not indoctrinated with such bogus “science”. The truth of evolution, I’ve found, is not only fascinating, based as it is on mountains of diverse but congruent evidence, but also deeply enlightening, showing us how our own species, and other species as well, came to be. It is the true story of our origins.
I hope that Scotland, like England and Wales, will have the resolve to explicitly establish some guidelines about what Tim Simmons, head of the Curriculum Unit, called “well-established science.” Without an explicit statement that creationism is not well-established science, schools are at the mercy of whatever their teachers want to impart about the origins and diversity of organisms.
Thank you for your consideration.
Cordially,
Jerry Coyne
Professor
Department of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago
Chicago, IL 60637  USA
h/t: Katie

 

52 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      //

  2. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Oh, no. Not again.

    b&

  3. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Some people believe in ideology no matter how outdated and archaic. Has always been that way and always will. At the end of the day, they’ll probably apply what they’ve learned from creationism as much as say, graphing a parabola in Math.

  4. Jim Knight
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Perhaps this is just one more way for Scotland to show its “independence” from the rest of Britain.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      I doubt directly, though the Scottish education system is completely separate from that of the rest of the UK. Little differences like different numbers of years in school, ages for leaving school, completely different exam systems (England/Wales pupils typically take 3~4 subjects before university over 2 years, while Scottish pupils would take 6 or even 7 subjects, but typically only for a year each.
      That’s from when I last had to deal directly with the two systems ; both systems have changed since, but I don’t know how much (no need to deal with them). Broadly they’re comparable – the candidate’s next decade or so of work experience and personal recommendation is much more important than any exam results.
      If the “No” consortium had suggested merging the Scottish system into the English one, then I suspect we’d have a date for independence now (probably 2015-11-30). It would have been political suicide for them.

      • Rob
        Posted January 1, 2015 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        This is a good point. Scotland has always had an education system distinct from that of England and Wales, even before the devolution of the 1990s. Indeed, the education system has been a vital tool for nationalists in the promotion to generations of young people of the idea of Scotland as a proud and separate country. Therefore, any hint of a suggestion that Scottish Education should be brought into line with those in England and Wales is not likely to meet with a favourable response from the current SNP administration. I suggest when sending e-mails it is best not to discuss Scottish education in the context of the rest of the UK.

        • Aaron Gray
          Posted January 1, 2015 at 6:05 am | Permalink

          This is nonsense! To suggest that the Scottish education system has been used as a platform by the SNP to promote nationalism is nuts. Where is your evidence in support of such an outlandish claim?

          • Rob
            Posted January 2, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

            The point is it is not a good idea to use the idea of solidarity with England as a reason to persuade the, currently Nationalist, Scottish government. This is not really the forum for discussion of the importance of the education system to the rise of nationalism in Scotland. Although the evidence for it is extensive – admittedly mostly theoretical and anecdotal, but you don’t get much better than that with social science.

  5. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The most useful place to write is the Petitions Committee, who are still considering the matter, at petitions@scottish.parliament.uk citing petition PE01530.

    If you are a parent, scientist, educator, and/or have seen the effects of creatinist teaching, mention that.

    As to what happened at the state non-denominational school in East Kilbride near Glasgow, Churches of Christ creationist books saying evolution is a lie and radiometric dating a trick to discredit God were distributed to all children in assembly. More at http://wp.me/p21T1L-7U and http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/parents-against-creationism-two-big-victories-in-one-scottish-town/ But the Scottish Govt pretendcs there’s no problem. Full background at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      East Kilbride near Glasgow, […] and radiometric dating a trick

      Oh that is absolutely hilarious!
      East Kilbride is where the SRRC (Scottish Reactor Research Centre) is. Which is a centre of excellence for (amongst other things) radiometric dating.
      So, I take it that the gum-flappers are taking the “rogue headmaster / board of governors” line on this.
      I’ll speak to Sis-2, who is down at that end of the country. But since her youngest left school over a decade ago, she probably doesn’t know much about it either.

  6. brian faux
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    message sent from Wales- I`ve got young relatives in the heather.

    • P N Ganly
      Posted January 5, 2015 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Actually, you have!

  7. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Good one, Jerry! Yup, they were handing out Kyle Butt’s books to the primary school kiddies, trashing evolution and showing people riding the dinos. That’s not all. Other schools were at it too. Every one of the 32 education committees in Scotland have unelected religious affiliates sitting on them, including some creationists. When they moved the headteachers from this school, they enlisted a creationist chaplain! If they can’t get into schools, hi-tech Christian Challenger buses park outside and hand out the literature to kids that way.

    • Dawn Oz
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      That’s just awful news! Its the land of my forebears – great brains, lousy skin. T’would be interesting to know the history of how these people gained such power and over what period of time?

    • R. R. Besch
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      That is your problem committees made up not of teachers, but laymen and women. You won’t find this happening in Finland now will you? They have teachers, highly educated ones running every part of it. Not ideological laywomen and men messing it up.

  8. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    The correct address to write is petitions@scottish.parliament.uk It is worth doing so, especially if you are a parent, educator, recent pupil or student, and/or have seen the effects of creationist teaching.

  9. Posted December 28, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Note to Jerry: Its Simmons not Simons and Spencer Fildes not Paul Fides.

    • Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Fixed, though the Simmons/Simons thing is erroneously spelt both ways in the Herald.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        Erroneous spelt makes a tasty cracker! 😉

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          Erroneous spelt is a good addition for your emmer-gency lunch box.

          • Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            And it’s a really rockin’ garage band!

            b&

  10. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Very sad business for Scotland. Apparently they want to join the race to the bottom along with Alabama and Texas and many others. Suggest they get an institution like freedom from religion to work on this. Most likely the Dawkins foundation will also have something to say on this matter. Good job prof. ceiling cat

    • Filippo
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Well, if I correctly understand it was my Scottish ancestors who settled in and brought their religious culture to bear on that area of the U.S. south of what became the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of Florida.

  11. Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The God Extinguisher and commented:
    Interesting… that creationism CAN be taught here in EU.
    I thought reason, logic and science was leading in schools but as usual, the religious organisations sneak their way into the system, ignoring laws and rules when it suits them and fill kids heads with nonsense.
    Probably without the parents knowledge and will.

  12. Rob
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Well, how nice that they “monitor” the schools. Once monitoring discovers a problem, what happens to the children who were exposed to creationism? What is the plan to correct the confusion planted in the students’ understanding of science?

    • Filippo
      Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Lyndon Johnson said of the U.S. Presidency: “It’s like being a mule out in a hailstorm; you just have to stand there and take it.” So it would seem for Scottish students, and so it was for my public school/general life experience in the U.S. Bible Belt Appalachian South. One strives to stay under the radar screen of inquisitorial religioso authoritarians until one graduates from high school and has the opportunity (and resolve and courage and perseverance) to get the heck out of Dodge.

  13. Douglas
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I emailed these concerns to my MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament). His usual very efficient reply was as follows:

    “Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your concerns.

    Creationism has no place in science class and is not taught in either the non-denomination or Catholic systems.

    Clear guidance already exists on this and was recently re-emphasised by the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, my SNP colleague Dr Alasdair Allan MSP

    With regard to religious education, the belief systems of a variety of faiths are explored.

    I hope you find the above reassuring.”

    I have no reason to disbelieve him.

    Douglas.

    • Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, creationism is not taught as science in the science classroom. It is merely presented as true (not merely as an idea to be discussed) in school assemblies, and (especially in its ID disguise) as viable intellectual material in Religious Education, often by visiting speakers or school chaplains. That is why our petition does not mention science classes as such but asks for ” official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time” with no such limitation.

  14. Posted December 28, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Nucella's Blog and commented:
    We tend to think that the teaching of creationism as being a problem in some American schools. The problem is rather closer to home than that.

  15. Scientifik
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    >”Schools in England and Wales aren’t permitted to teach creationism, but for reasons that I can’t fathom, the Scots refuse to join them. This came to light when, as reported by Scotland’s Sunday Herald, the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) discovered that a group of American creationists “had been working as classroom assistants at a primary school in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.

    And that’s how American creationism became a global problem.

  16. Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism and commented:
    Our petition http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance continues to gather international attention., appearing here on Why evolution is True, a mass audience blog run by Jerry Coyne, author of the book of that name, one of my favourites on the topic.
    The Scottish Government statement is not the end of the matter. the Committee will be discussing it again in January, and the fact that a civil servant, not a Minister, signed the statement may mke it easier for the Government to think again.
    So, especially if you are a parent, educator, or pupil/recent pyupil in Scvotland, and above all if you have witnessed the damaging effects of creationist rteaching in any context, please send a short (one or two paragraph) submission the Petitions Committee at petitions@scottish.parliament.uk citing Petition PE01530

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks to Jerry and Paul for your good work on this topic.

  17. Mark Joseph
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    E-mail sent.

    I used Jerry’s as a template, but changed the obvious paragraph to “Though only a layman as regards evolutionary biology, I have studied and do understand the conclusive and irrefutable evidence for both the fact of, and the explanatory power of biological evolution. Furthermore, I have extensive first-hand experience with the intellectual depredations that creationism, always based in biblical or koranic literalism, has in closing a developing mind. Creationism is not in any way scientific, and persists only as a tool for religious fundamentalists to maintain control over the thinking of young people.”

    I also added a quote from the Sensuous Curmudgeon: “There are no creationist accomplishments in biology, medicine, pharmacology, agriculture, or any other productive field, nor will there ever be any. The track record of creation science is indistinguishable from that of astrology.”

    And concluded: “Please reimagine the same situation arising because some group was trying to get phlogiston theory, astrology, alchemy, geocentrism, or Holocaust denial taught in the schools. Creationism’s scientific status is the same as any of these. I am of the opinion that measures should be taken to prevent outside forces from damaging the academic integrity of the schools.”

  18. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    This all comes back to the special status religion is given in public life. As several have pointed out, this would not be an issue if the subject was alchemy instead of chemistry, astrology instead of astronomy, homeopathy instead of germ theory, or levitation over the theory of gravity.

    Religion continues to teach it has all the answers and we are required to respect that opinion of themselves so that even when they are teaching lies to children, it’s actually considered disrespectful to call them out on it. It’s time there was a change.

  19. Filippo
    Posted December 28, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    sub

  20. Mark
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    Letter written to the Petitions Committee, Fiona Robertson, my constituency and regional MSP’s and my MP.

    Eagerly awaiting their responses.

  21. Posted December 29, 2014 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    And this in the homeland of David Hume, for crying out loud!

  22. Posted December 29, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I have sent an e mail to the address posted by Paul Braterman. Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  23. R. R. Besch
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    If they want to actually teach their version of Creationism they must do it the Evolution does. No mention of Evolution, just the facts that fit how things are in biology, geology etc. I don’t think they can without attempts to trash talk Evolution.

    • R. R. Besch
      Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      “Do it the way Evolution does.”

  24. Alistair
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    “As an American…” Wish that had been at the beginning

  25. Posted January 1, 2015 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    It’s not a victory for “academic freedom.” It is a victory for magical thinking.

  26. ayaeywtb
    Posted January 1, 2015 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Scotland has an entirely separate curriculum from England, creationism isn’t part of the science curriculum and so shouldn’t be taught as science in local authority schools. Schools are regularly inspected and any school teaching creationism as science would score badly. It’s unnecessary to ban it.

    • Posted January 1, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      The problem is not alleged teaching of creationism in the science classroom. It is well-documented presentation of creationism (generally of the Young Earth variety) as true elsewhere. Note, I and the petition I helped draft say “presentation”, not “teaching”, as it is usually visitors and chaplains,not teachers, who do this. For how bad it can get at its worst, see Reviewed: Young Earth Creationist books handed out in Scottish primary school http://wp.me/p21T1L-7U and for how embedded creationists are in the Scottish educational power structure see Petition to Abolish Church Seats on Scottish Education Committees; 9 Good Reasons to Sign http://wp.me/p21T1L-8W

  27. benedictsnow
    Posted January 3, 2015 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    It took me long enough, but I finally got round to sending an email off. As a PhD student of a scientific subject and 11 year resident here in Scotland, I find the response (or lack thereof) highly disconcerting. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    • Posted January 3, 2015 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Thanks. I hope the parliamentary clerks will find themselves very busy when on Monday they return from their break.

      • benedictsnow
        Posted January 27, 2015 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        I’ve now received a reply; I feel that it’s not entirely satisfactory, and I’ll consider sending a reply when I get the opportunity, but I thought you might appreciate me posting it here, even if it is a little long-winded:

        Thank you for your enquiry of 3 January 2015. I am replying on behalf of Fiona Robertson, Director of Learning following her interim response to you dated 8th January 2015.

        Statutory responsibility for the delivery of education rests with education authorities and schools. However, there is a national framework in place which teaching professionals in state schools use to plan learning under Curriculum for Excellence, the 3-18 curriculum in Scotland. This guidance, set out in the Principles and Practice papers and Experiences and Outcomes for each of the 8 curriculum areas, does not identify Creationism as a scientific principle. Likewise, Education Scotland, the Government’s agency responsible for supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education and for inspecting individual establishments, does not identify Creationism as a scientific theory or a topic for inclusion within the curriculum and consequently is not part of science learning and teaching. In contrast, evolution is specifically highlighted as part of the science curriculum. As set out in the Concept Development in the Sciences paper, available on the Education Scotland website, learners are expected to be introduced to evolution at the second level, from the upper primary years onwards, when they will learn to relate the physical and behavioural characteristics of living things to their survival and extinction. The concepts of species diversity, distribution and adaptation for survival are further developed at third and fourth levels through the secondary years.

        Curriculum for Excellence, aims to equip young people with the skills necessary to evaluate attitudes and beliefs critically, and to be able to develop informed views on a range of issues. Similarly, all teachers are required to adhere to a series of professional standards which are designed to ensure that children and young people are helped to respect diversity, appreciate others have different views, understand different views, perspectives and experiences. In appropriate contexts, such as Religious and Moral Education, teachers may explore and debate issues such as Creationism with young people.

        Teachers will always be at the forefront of the delivery of the curriculum. On a daily basis they exercise professional judgement as to what should or should not be included in lesson planning, and they are adept at responding appropriately to difficult and challenging questions from pupils. Parent Councils too have a role to play in offering views about the standards and quality of education provided by schools, which could include voicing concerns about the contribution to school life of external speakers or visitors where necessary. A complaints process is also in place under section 70 of the Education Scotland Act, where parents, carers and young people are able to make a complaint to Ministers where there believe there has been a failure of statutory duty.

        We know that guidance from the Department for Education in England does not prevent discussion of beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things, such as Creationism, as long as it is not presented as a valid alternative to established scientific theory.

        The Scottish Government or Education Scotland have not received any requests for guidance or support on addressing the issues of Creationism, or similar ideas, from teachers, school managers or their Education Authorities. This includes seeking guidance on the value or otherwise of inviting associated external speakers into classrooms. We and Education Scotland will, however, continue to monitor this through independent inspection, and other on-going engagement with practitioners and schools, including science teachers.

        In summary, there are a number of safeguards in place that are designed to ensure that young people receive a balanced education. These include:

        – a robust and independent school inspection regime,
        – the positive influence on school life of Parent Councils,
        – education authority and school management team oversight of what is being taught and presented within the school as a whole,
        – a robust complaints process, set out in statute, and
        – an independent body established to set the professional standards expected of all teachers – the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

        I hope you will find this helpful.

        • Posted January 27, 2015 at 4:07 am | Permalink

          Events are moving fast (see here: http://wp.me/p21T1L-sz ) What you quote is the official reason for inaction (the real reason, of course, is fear of offending creationist voters). But 8 members ofthe Scottish Parliament have signed a motion in support; it is becoming clear that the defenders of science are voters too.

          The Petitions Committee meets this morning. There is much interest here in the outcome.

          • benedictsnow
            Posted January 28, 2015 at 3:55 am | Permalink

            Now that’s a little more encouraging. Thanks for passing that along — I really must find a way to become better informed about such things…


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