Sunday, 4 December 2011 "Should creationism be taught in schools?"

Back in June Channel 4's daily two-minute opinion film-clip slot,, covered intelligent design. I blogged about it at the time, and we covered it on the Skepticule Extra podcast. A couple of weeks ago the subject was "Should creationism be taught in schools?"

Monday's clip was 18-year-old student Sam Scott Perry:
Young Earth Creationist Sam Scott Perry believes the world is only between 6,000 to 10,000 years old and that dinosaurs roamed the land with humans. Sam thinks creationism should be included in schools in order to allow children to make up their own mind.
He believes that humans were formed from dust by God because that's what the Bible says, and wants creationism to be taught in schools in the interests of "fair and objective science." From these and other comments it's clear he has no notion of what science is — he admits that he gained his A* in GCSE Biology by writing the answers required even though he doesn't believe they are true. He believes humans walked with dinosaurs because dinosaurs are land animals and the Bible says that land animals and humans were created on the sixth day. This, according to Sam Scott Perry, is "logical". He also floats a weird conspiracy theory that creationism is not currently taught in schools because of fears it might convince people the Bible is true. Are his views typical of 18-year-old creationists? Perhaps not, but Channel 4 naturally go for the extreme case with which to start off this series.

Conspiracy theories are picked up by Tuesday's contributor, Stephen Law:
Stephen Law is a Lecturer in Philosophy who believes creationism is scientific nonsense. Stephen says it is wrong to teach children something he thinks is quite clearly false.
"Creationism is pernicious scientific nonsense." Stephen Law states simply that teaching creationism as fact is teaching things known not to be true, and goes on to suggest that clinging to the Biblical story of creation in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary could be interpreted as symptomatic of mental illness. (He has pointed out elsewhere that he didn't intend to imply that all creationists were mentally ill.)

Randall Hardy of "Creation Research" is another creationist who thinks that children should be allowed to make up their own minds:
Creationist Randall Hardy wants children to be taught that God made the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Randall thinks evolutionists and atheists fear Creationism being taught in schools because children will find it convincing.
Creationists often play the "academic freedom" card, but in schools it's not appropriate to teach something that isn't accepted science. Otherwise the science curriculum would be full of phlogiston theory, the luminiferous aether, the four humours and all sorts of other unscientific stuff like alchemy and astrology. Students are free to investigate pseudo-science after school — they can even go on to study it at university. Randall Hardy displays appalling ignorance of evolution when he talks of cats bringing forth cats, dogs bringing forth dogs. He's also wrong when he claims people when they are born believe naturally in a creator. Leaving aside the fact that the existence of a belief has no bearing on whether that belief is true, what children are born with is an innate tendency to ascribe agency (to inanimate objects as well as people and animals). This is an evolved instinct — it supports evolution rather than creation.

Next we have Rev Canon Rosie Harper, who says that creationism is based on a literal reading of the Bible, and is an unnecessarily narrow viewpoint:
Reverend Canon Rosie Harper believes teaching creationism to children is selling them short. Rosie thinks literal interpretations of the Bible are dangerously wrong-headed and risk bringing mainstream Christianity into disrepute.
She doesn't want creationism taught in schools, but she's one of those wishy-washy Anglicans about whom one might say, "there but for the grace of God goes an atheist." In this debate however, she's on the right side.

Laura Horner is the founder of CrISIS — Creationism In Schools Isn't Science:
Laura Horner is an Anglican and the founder of CrISIS; Creationism in Schools Isn’t Science. Laura started the group after a creationist movement visited her son’s school. Laura believes creationism discredits religion as much as it discredits science.
She's a Christian who believes creationism is bad religion as well as bad science, and makes the important point about valid science being falsifiable, while creationism isn't.

Saturday's clip was by Abdul Aziz, a maths teacher:
Muslim Abdul Aziz is a Maths Teacher who believes evolution is not convincing as a scientific theory. Abdul wants creationism presented alongside evolution in the classroom, so that children get the opportunity to make up their own minds.
He claims that belief in evolution is based on a "leap of faith" and comes out with the usual creationist micro/macro-evolution objection. His whole argument is one from ignorance — it appears he's never read a book about evolution (I'd suggest The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins). He also says (like Randall Hardy) that children should be allowed to make up their own minds, which from a teacher is a shocking misunderstanding of what education is about.

Finally we have Michael Reiss, who does not want to see creationism taught in schools, but he's not averse to it being discussed (though thankfully not as a science in science lessons): 
A Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, Michael Reiss welcomes open discussion of creationism in the classroom provided it is made clear that it has no scientific basis whatsoever.
He complains that some materialist scientists can't understand what it's like to have a religious faith. What he's implying, I think, is that a hard-line atheistic attitude is alienating children with creationist beliefs, to the extent that they will not be open to the scientific evidence. Michael Reiss made similar comments when he was the Royal Society's Director of Education, which caused a bit of an uproar, and shortly afterwards he stepped down from his post. Although the website makes no mention of it (except, someone has noted it in the comments), Michael Reiss is a minister of religion.

Creationism does seem to bring the wackos out of the woodwork, as the comments on these clips show. I posted a brief comment on the first clip, and found myself in a protracted exchange with a user named Phillip, who — though extremely polite — seemed to have no conception of how to distinguish what's true from what's false.
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