Joining with prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough has called for a ban on the teaching of creationism in public schools in the UK. Creationism posits that an intelligent creator, or God, created the universe and all that is contained therein as recounted in the biblical accounts of the universe’s origins. Anti-scientific and quite unproven, creationism posits a matter of faith as an object of science, which Gordon Brown’s government warned against during his occupancy of 10 Downing Street. The British Science Association and other prominent scientists have called for a ban on the teaching of creationism or ‘intelligent design.’ Richard Dawkins urged people to stop calling evolution a theory when, he argues, in the modern parlance it is all but established scientific fact. The real problem is religious fundamentalism and the anti-scientific attitudes that the faith-based creationism and intelligent design entail, which is contrary to the stated aims of much of modern science. Positing faith alongside science creates more than a few problems for both fields, namely, one relies upon a lack of evidence while the other necessitates a preponderance of evidence in order to be accepted. The danger is in stymying the development of science by trying to tailor it to fit a faith-based model. Not only is this an inherently flawed approach but it also commingles two radically different approaches to the origin and evolution of life.

[The Telegraph]

  • Ellery Curtis

    Creationists are constantly trying to push this dogma into science classes. Their arguments consist of faith based principles, pseudoscience, ignorance, distortion, and/or lies. They should just let science teachers teach science and leave indoctrination (I mean teaching of course) religious beliefs to parents and churches.

    The part of the evolution vs. creationism debate that I find particularly maddening is when the creationism proponent begs the question “oh, it’s absurd to think that the human eye just randomly found its way to being in its current complexity!”. Never mind that evolution is based on natural selection. Natural selection is a non-random process that guides the change from for example, the primitive eye structure to a more complex ocular structure. The creationists intentionally, boldly, and repeatedly use that word “random” with gusto every time.

    As a scientist myself (clinical pharmacist) my understanding of evolution even after taking college level biology and biochemistry was fairly limited. As a matter of fact, until recently I would perhaps not have blinked when hearing someone say evolution is based on random occurrences, or would not have thought twice about the “monkey and a typewriter” analogy so commonly used. So using that analogy and repeating the words random when describing evolution is a powerful tool for creationists – it is working (http://www.gallup.com/poll/21814/evolution-creationism-intelligent-design.aspx).

    Why is it working? Because in school many times (at least the ones that I have attended growing up), we are barely taught evolution in its purely scientific form. It was taught very quickly and without really teaching the clear evidence based case for evolution, calling it just a “theory”, and sometimes teachers going as far as teaching ID alongside: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District).
    Mostly, however, teachers just teach a very half hearted version of evolution that in my view does not challenge the student to question their version of their own existence. And it is certainly easier to teach or perpetuate creationism than it is to discuss the evidence in greater intricate detail needed. I will reference you a great blog post from my favorite skeptical blog and it will quickly show how defending evolution to those with a baseline understanding is a real undertaking – much easier to just spout out “random” and hope that no one vets your error(s) – (http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/ten-major-flaws-of-evolution-a-refutation) . The currently faithful are indeed much less likely to be critical of claims made by “their side” – confirmation bias and acceptance of logical fallacies is almost a sure thing when taking to, as Dawkins calls them, “faith-heads”. Their whole belief system is in peril of casting doubt upon it otherwise.

    Creationism relies on the assumption that there is a god, and the evidence to prove this claim would be completely faith based or philosophical at best. It is highly non-scientific to try and teach creationism within a classroom. I like how Wikipedia put it:

    “The teaching of religious doctrines, such as Creation Science and Intelligent Design, relies upon an understanding of and belief in the supernatural. This is in direct opposition to the principle that science can only use natural, reproducible, testable forces to explain phenomena. This could lead to the disabling of students’ abilities to develop the critical thinking skills necessary for all scientists.”

    Teaching creationism is essentially teaching religion and faith within a science class. It has no place within public schools due the restrictions set forth within the constitution.

    I suppose there is some legitimate fear to be had among some monotheistic religions to keep this argument going or push for the teaching of ID alongside evolution. The assumption is that by teaching students pure science based evolution, that more of them are likely to be non-believers, secular, deists, or something else that may not attend the corresponding church later in life. Perhaps there is some truth to this? But that is still not an argument to teach pseudoscience and religion in science class. People can still be convinced from their parents and in their places of worship to believe in God. They have the freedom of religion, to spread it, to practice it, to teach/indoctrinate their own children as they so please (as long as it is outside of state/federally funded institutions). In the end, even with the embrace of evolution as fact, it does not entirely compel you to not “believe”. The previous pope believed in evolution unequivocally – yet he clearly was a “believer”. So chill out creationists trying to teach this stuff in science class. Chill because you are spinning you’re wheels trying to move against the constitution, the Supreme Court, and the foundations of the scientific principle, and the mountain of evidence to date.

    • This article is concerned with teaching creationism in the UK but your points are still completely valid. If it cannot be subjected to the standard criterion that other scientific endeavors are then it cannot be taught as science. Just as science cannot pretend to the metaphysical neither can religion pretend to the terrestrial. They are wholly separate fields which have each served humanity in completely different ways. Sadly, one dilutes the other in the admixture and the truth and utility of both are lost in the process.

  • Ellery Curtis

    “Just as science cannot pretend to the metaphysical neither can religion pretend to the terrestrial”

    I am rather interested in how Dawkins and other scientist have addressed this point. Stephen Jay Gould had termed this idea of “non-overlapping magesteria” – that science deals with the empirical realm and the like, and religion deals with the meaning and morals.

    What I have asked myself is “is it possible that there is not a god? Is there any probability that we are in fact here due to immutable physical forces of the universe?”

    I believe it probable at some level that there is no such thing as metaphysical…that is unless we define metaphysical as that which we have yet to comprehend (for example perhaps “dark matter”). If I put myself in that frame of mind, then ask myself what expertise theologians have in addressing the meaning and morals in our life, then one can argue as Dawkins et al have that theologians have no more credibility in describing the meaning of our existence than a fairyologist has describing the shape and color of a fairy’s wings.

    It is rather annoying that “religion” asks of us to clearly prove the exact details and principles that dictated our creation (which to some degree that have done and continue to pursue) and yet they are as a whole not asked to produce any form of evidence to support their claims…we must only except dogmatic claims…we must accept that there is simply another realm…a metaphysical realm that conveniently can only be read about all sorts of sacred texts.

    Lucretius wrote 2000 years ago basically describing a naturalist’s version of creation and our existence in “The Nature of Things”…I heard one harvard alumnus Stephen Greenblatt summarize this ancient writing as:

    “… moving randomly through space, like dust motes in a sunbeam, colliding, hooking together, forming complex structures, breaking apart again, in a ceaseless process of creation and destruction. There is no escape from this process. … There is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design.

    All things, including the species to which you belong, have evolved over vast stretches of time. The evolution is random, though in the case of living organisms, it involves a principle of natural selection. That is, species that are suited to survive and to reproduce successfully, endure, at least for a time; those that are not so well suited, die off quickly. But nothing — from our own species, to the planet on which we live, to the sun that lights our day — lasts forever. Only the atoms are immortal …”

    You just have to listen to the quick story with Greenblatt, its just very fascinating to me. http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/09/19/140533195/lucretius-man-of-modern-mystery

    What an amazing thing that such a story of the universe was actually popular on the scene 2000 years ago. I believe that any person living today has doubt about the metaphysical when you consider this possibility.

    Having said that, I tend to reject the idea that science has no place in defining why we are here…only when one assumes the existence of the metaphysical can we make such a distinction of mutual exclusivity…but if we have any doubt about such, there is overlap I would think.

    Of course if you think there is no overlap, then you likely simply have absolute faith, unwavering, certain, no doubts. Such blind faith is hard for me to accept without accepting any probability of an alternative…..thus my relative agnosticism.

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