Don’t make me keep saying this

Another of those polls that make you worry about the quality of some teachers and wonder what all the endless inspections they have to undergo are supposed to have achieved. A MORI poll found that

More than a quarter of science teachers in state schools believe that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons, according to a national poll of primary and secondary teachers. (From James Randerson in the Guardian)

This is pretty much what the Teachers TV poll suggested in November. Maybe it’s the same poll and the Guardian’s confusing breaking news with news that Randerson already wrote about months ago. I can only hope so.

Steve Jones and Dawkins responded, using phrases like “very depressing” and ” a national disgrace.” Quite.

Teaching “the controversy”, again

Almost a third of teachers think creationism should be taught on a par with evolution, according to the Times.

Of the 1,200 questioned, 53 per cent thought that creationism should not be taught in science lessons, while 29 per cent thought it should.

OK, a third is some serious rounding up from 29%, but the 29% figure itself is quite scary. It suggests that 29% of teachers are either stupid or batshit crazy, which isn’t encouraging. After all, these people have made their way through years of school and higher education to get to become teachers.

It’s certainly evidence for how far ID /creationism has penetrated the UK.

Hoping to find that the poll was conducted by AIG in a few church schools, I am shocked to find that this comes from Teachers TV (to which the Times added an ill-advised pedantic apostrophe, not used by the station itself.)

As you might expect from the name, Teachers TV is mainly worthy but dull (Key stage x in subject blah) but it sometimes has some fascinating content. (I’ve accidentally caught programmes on neuroscience and Turkish tiled architecture, when randomly clicking through the cable channels.) They are currently featuring “Evolution week” on their site. So these poll results don’t seem to be skewed in favour of a creationist agenda.

Which makes the 29% depressingly possible. Worse 18% of a sample of 248 science teachers (albeit a small sample, skewed by respondent bias) thought evolution and creationism should have equal status

Teachers TV interviewed Dr Adam Rutherford (podcast editor for Nature)

Dr Rutherford says that science teachers with those views need retraining or should be taken out of the classroom if they refuse to change their opinion.

That seems as uncontroversial as saying that a domestic science teacher who can’t boil an egg should be retrained or sacked.

However, it brought up quite a furious response in some comments on the Teachers TV site (among the rational ones, that said that phrenology and astrology weren’t taught in science classes either.)

For example, edinburgh4 said that his/her creation group had PHD-qualified speakers and:

the idea that unintelligent design (naturalism) can be falsified while at the same time intelligent design cannot is logically untenability [sic] and morally dubious. If a design did not come from an unintelligent source there is only one conclusion left. Excluding special creation from discussion leaves evolution as the only option this is hollow victory. More and more the public are seeing it as such.

oeditor replied, disputing the “qualifications” of these speakers:

Professor McIntosh may talk about birds but he is an engineer, not a biologist. Nor is he a geologist, as can be seen from his claim that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s flood – “probably in matter of hours”. He isn’t a historian or a linguist either, despite having produced a DVD claiming that the Chinese ideographic script provides evidence of the Tower of Babel.
What he is – and he proclaims this proudly – is a committed Christian who believes that the biblical account of creation in Genesis is to be taken literally and that it happened about 6000 years ago. Everything he and his fellow creationists claim stems from that one premise and nothing else.

Nullius in Verba said

The issue is not whether Creation should be taught in science lessons. The issue is how genuine scientific thought and debate should be encouraged. Stifling the debate as Adam Rutherford suggests is a recipe for tyranny and there is a great danger of insisting that atheism is the only paradigm in which to conduct science (patently not true when one considers the greats like Faraday and Boyle of earlier centuries).

It is even more disturbing that teachers don’t seem to have a basic grasp of logic than that they think it’s reasonable to teach creationism in science classes.

This “stifling the debate” is a common but deeply flawed creationist argument. There are a million to the power of a million possible theories about the nature of life.

Indeed you could produce alternative theories about anything. I could try to get a cup of coffee by standing on one leg, putting a cat on my head, facing magnetic north and chanting “Ding McChing.” It probably wouldn’t work but who knows if they haven’t tried it? If I was undergoing barista training for a chain of coffee bars, I wouldn’t expect them to allow that as an alternative to switching on the machines, grinding the beans and so on. Or if there was really relativist manager who’d let the trainee baristas discuss their own theories, wouldn’t they have to try out the sacrifice of a young goat with a silver knife, if someone else liked that idea? of course, you might have to wait a few millenia for a double espresso.

I can’t see the difference here at all. Some theories have been proven to work through experiment. Until there are theories that work better, it would be slack not to teach people the ones with the empirical backup.

I think Terry Pratchett has at least one (science?) degree. In his Diskworld books, a flat earth is carried on the backs of giant elephants standing on the back of a turtle. What if some of his readers don’t understand the concept of “fiction”? (Not unlike the average fundy) Surely this theory should be discussed in science classes? Respectfully, as a legitimate alternative to geography, in case any of the students’ parents believe it, of course.

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Update
Read more about this on the excellent Opinion of a Minion blog

Big Bang Confuses Creationists

Now I know this isn’t Earth-shattering news, and hopefully anyone literate enough to make it to this blog will already understand the basic principles of the big bang, but I was reading through FSTDT (as always) and this comment drew my attention:

whats funny is science is catching up with the BIBLE! GOD spoke all things into existence Genesis is spot on, just? check out “big bang acoustics” you can actually find an audio tape of the “early” universe. I don’t agree with the “20 billion years ago nothing exploded part” but the fact that sound has a vital role in the creation of the universe is as it is written! Amen! (source)

Interesting as this is one the few “fundie” comments that seems to accept the existence of the “Big Bang” – sadly combined with some stunning lacks of knowledge and logic, but you cant have everything.

It got me wondering why so many religious types do their best to deny the “Big Bang” as a figment of imagination.

Even the name “big bang” was coined as a derisory put down for a theory that Fred Hoyle felt had too much “God” in it. It has the potential to support all manner of primitive creation myths – although it does undermine the chronology of certain sacred tomes.

In a nutshell then, given how this could really fit in with a “creator,” why do so many creationists hate the idea of a “creation event?” Are they really so lacking in basic logic?

(obviously the answer seems to be yes, but I still have some residual hope for humanity…)

Church says “Sorry,” believers furious

(I know it was a week ago, but I missed this first time round)

It seems that the Church of England has decided to apologise to Charles Darwin for heaping abuse and disbelief on him in the mid 1800’s. From the Daily Mail [Online version]:

The Church of England will tomorrow [14 Sep 08] officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

Wonderful. I know decisions are slow in large organisations but this is a bit weird. It has taken them almost one and a half centuries to decide to say “sorry, we were wrong.” Still, better late than never I suppose. In this instance, it is no better or worse than people apologising for the slave trade. It is just one of those things organisations need to do so they can feel better about themselves.

The Mail article continues:

In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

Now, this isn’t actually all that bizarre. Well, if you are a Christian anyway. Look at it from the truly faithful’s point of view. Darwin isn’t dead in the secular sense – he is just no longer on the Earth. He is either in Heaven or Hell so an apology to him personally is actually totally appropriate. If you really believe in an afterlife, why cant big old Charlie be reading the Church of England’s newsletter and watching their cermonies. I mean, the man was a minister after all…

As even the most dense of lifeforms could have predicted, such PR stunts dont always attact postive commentary. Take this bit of ironic waffle:

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Poor old Ann, it isn’t even a good parallel but then, she is a tory minister so you cant expect too much. The thing that interested me the most, though, was why on Earth should she care? She is no longer CofE – she defected to the evil Catholicism. What makes her opinion on an organisation she spurned remotely valid? (Add to which, that is possibly the LEAST flattering photograph of a living person I have ever seen).

The only good “professional” comment comes from the National Secular Association (no suprise there, then): [Emphasis mine]

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text. However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

I couldn’t agree more. (continues below the fold) Continue reading

CofE apology to Darwin

Despite it being so late as to seem silly for the Church of England to apologise to Darwin for not believing in evolution, it’s still a good idea, given the efforts by creationists to hijack their religion.

There’s nothing on the Church of England’s website and it won’t let me in to the testbed area but The Times, the unpleasant Daily Mail and even more deeply unpleasant Conservapedia think the CofE is about to launch a pro-Darwin site.

Or as the morons at conservapedia – who think this is “socialist Britain” 🙂 and that Christian Voice is a “leading Christian organisation” – say:

The Church of England sides with the Darwinists, misrepresenting biblical creationists in the process.(from conservapedia)

Anglican leaders fear that “noisy” advocates of a literal interpretation of the Bible – especially in the United States, where even the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is a vocal supporter – are infecting the perception of Christianity worldwide. (from the Times)

Nice one, Church of England. Bravo. The same goes for the Roman Catholic Church where it has spoken out for science. Both major Christian denominations recognise that the Enlightenment happened. They also claim the adherence of most of the Christians on the planet, mercifully.

It’s one thing to have to disagree with their philosophies about the nature of the universe and the ultimate ground of being. Let a million flowers bloom, etc… It’s another thing altogether when religious institutions that underpin many people’s beliefs about the world give themselves over to arrant anti-scientific nonsense, like the disturbing stuff from fundamentalists.

The Scientific Method

(hat tip: post by SurfinSeaOtter on FSTDT)

Dawkins on Darwin

Richard Dawkins is presenting a short Channel 4 series on Darwin. It’s mostly pretty damn good. It’s clear and enthusiastic and really enjoyable. I was really pleased to see that Dawkins opposes the faux-evolutionary nonsense that is used to justify predatory capitalism.

However, I’ve got to put in a couple of gripes, just to stop this blog being suspected of mere sycophancy:

Why does he keep referring to Darwinism? There is no Darwinism. Dawkins must be getting too many trolls and, absent-mindedly, paying attention to them.

There is also some justice in Libby Purves’ argument that Dawkins has set up too simple a choice between believing in evolution and believing in god(s). In the first programme, he addressed a collection of school students who had been led to believe that accepting evolution ran counter to the religions they were brought up in. So, they didn’t believe in it. He showed them some clear evidence and some of them felt obliged to question their faith. Libby Purves argued that this was a bit of a false example, as there are huge numbers of god-believers who accept the evidence for evolution.

Dawkins’s response seems a bit lame to me.

She goes on to say, “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists.” I expect it’s true that the few believers Libby Purves meets over canapés are not creationists. But “most believers”? Most believers in Bradford? The Scottish Highlands? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Arab world? South America? Indeed, North America? Polls suggest that more than 40 per cent of the British population are creationists. For the subset who call themselves believers, the figure must be considerably more than 50 per cent. Please don’t say “most people”, when what you really mean is Islington and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Well, stop there Dawkins. “Polls suggest..” What polls? Please don’t say “polls suggest” when what you are really presenting sounds like made up numbers.

Most people know bugger all about evolution, let alone have views on it.

But, assuming that Libby Purves is talking about the UK, most people that I know who have any views on evolution take it for granted. In fact, I have never knowingly come across an outspoken creationist. And I certainly don’t live in Islington or Hampstead. Nor would I recognise a canape if it leaped off a silver salver and bit me on the nose. In fact, as a non-Islington-resident prole, I sort of resent the implication that proles are stupider than the rich.

Anglicans and Catholics don’t have any problem with the theory of evolution, for a start. So the mainstream UK religions aren’t encouraging people to doubt it. South America? Big place. Mostly Catholic, so I assume that evolution is generally accepted there.

What’s left? Basically North America and Islam. I don’t know enough about the many shades of Islam to judge on this one, although I am pretty confident that most muslims are as unknowing and uninterested in evlutionary theory as most other people. I do think I know that North America is bursting with people who don’t understand accept evolution.

I have to agree with Libby Purves when she said “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters.” I completely agree with Dawkins that there more than enough of these idiots and that they have to be opposed. But, I don’t think it’s always wise to help them talk up their anti-science madness by presenting a false dichotomy between accepting science and believing in deities. It’s accepting the terms of reference of the creationists, their idea that there is a “debate” between ID and evolution.

This “debate” can only benefit the nutters. Scientists don’t have to accommodate the creation myths of the vikings or the yoruba by constantly “debating” whether evolution or the mixture of fire and ice or the formation of dry land from water is true. (In fact, these myths seem far more logical and metaphorically “true” than the middle eastern creation myths.) Why waste too much time and effort challenging the myths that come from the middle east?

Still, whines over. Bloody good tv overall, to be honest.