Thursday, 19 March 2009

Hampshire: The Report

Firstly, if you've not read my earlier post on the subject of creationism-in-schools advice being given to Hampshire County Council, go ahead and read up. I'll still be here when you get back. All done? Good.

I have located a copy of the report I mentioned. It can be found here:

"Teaching About Creationism and Evolution in Schools"

It begins in a reasonable fashion - and in fact continues likewise until the section vaguely headed "Evaluate". Up until this point, I've not had a major problem with anything said, and in fact it sounds like a decent attempt at providing support for conducting a debate on this matter. After that point, however, it all gets a bit Disco.

For instance, it is quite insistent on the difference between creationism and intelligent design, and actually uses the words "the scientific theory of intelligent design". This is horrifically misleading, disingenuous and false. Intelligent design is not a scientific theory; it is barely an hypothesis (which, incidentally, is the word they use earlier in the report - consistency please?). Almost as bad is their use of the word "scholar" to describe such unthinking dogmatists as Behe and Minnich

What is also telling is that, despite the fact that the language being used seems to be pluralist, it is clear that the report is centered on a Christian worldview. Creationism is defined as "typically" conforming to Genesis and the Bible, whereas "Intelligent Design" apparently doesn't. There is no mention (except through the most vague implication) that other faiths involve a creation myth. I know we're nominally a Christian nation, but our non-faith schools are generally meant to be cosmopolitan in this regard.

There are numerous other reasons I dislike this report, including its quoting of William Bloody Paley and not the counter-argument from Dawkins et al; but the main question I wanted answered was: where is this debate intended to take place? In the science class, or in religious education?

I was disappointed. There was nothing there to suggest that this was being proposed as a discussion to have in a particular setting or context. It could well be that this report itself has a context of which I am unaware, and the text toward to top of the report was sufficiently indecipherable to allow that perhaps that information is contained within that section; but if this is not the case, and the debate is being offered regardless of context, then I have to conclude that the news items surrounding this report are misleading.

That is not to say that there is nothing to worry about. This report is indicative of a greatly disturbing trend in our education system: there is no doubt in my mind that this report was compiled by a creationist and that the intent behind it is to push discussion of intelligent design into places it does not belong. That being said, however, there are a few questions that still need to be asked:

1. Where are these discussions intended to take place?
2. Are they trying to get intelligent design discussed as a scientific theory?
3. How seriously is this report being taken?
4. Are there advisory bodies in opposition to, and on the same level as, SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education) that are pushing the scientific, secularist viewpoint?

I'm going to do my best to get answers to these questions, but until then I must conclude that the report is deeply worrying, but not as bad as it could be. Intelligent design is still not a part of the science curriculum, and this report doesn't suggest that it should be.


Toby Tzfanya said...

This is a thought, actually - a PSHE lesson on the creationism/evolution debate could be quite interesting to run for my students. If I looked into that, is there any reading material/other links you'd recommend as background reading?

Darkwinter said...

A PSHE lesson would be an ideal setting for this very interesting discussion. Let me do a bit of digging and I'll get back to you.

Vincent said...

This argument is an American disease. The best way not to be infected by it over here is not to inflame it by giving it any attention. We have different, more tolerant British traditions: polite tolerance. Admittedly it was not the case five hundred years ago when American colonisation started. Near my home is a monument to the Amersham Martyrs, burnt at the stake for their dissent.

I shall search your blog to try and find any valid reasons for picking on religious believers! But absolutely not to inflame any antagonism, for as already stated, I believe in "live and let live".

Darkwinter said...

I am not "picking on religious believers". I am merely arguing that what they hold to be true, where it denies proof, has no place in the science classroom.

I also do not subscribe to the "ignore it and it'll go away" treatment. If we ignore it, the people who are trying to get nonsense taught as being just as logically valid as science will have an easy time of it.

Vincent said...

I read your Hampshire posts in wrong order and see your point of view better now, & agree more.