Thursday, May 18, 2006


Holy Terror Evolution Man!

Today's education & careers Guardian Newspaper section carries a front page showing William Blake's picture of Newton and the headline: 'Holy terror - Creationism in British classrooms'.

Pages 4-5 is mainly taken up with an article entitled 'Trouble in Paradise' written by Tim Walker, whose main point is that 'The debate over creationism in schools was an American problem. But now the controversy is taking root in Britain.' (You should, by now, have picked up several signs of Mr. Walker's take on this subject.)

Allow me to highlight a few things that caught my attention:

'Creationism encompasses a spectrum of beliefs, from the Bible's account of creation in six days, a matter of mere thousands of years ago, to the more equivocal "intelligent design" (ID) theory, which seeks some form of accomodation with evolution.'

Its good to see a journalist acknowledging that 'creationism' has a wide range of meanings and making a distinction between 'biblical creationism' and ID. ID is indeed a 'big tent' (equivocal rather than univocal) - since it can accomodate atheists, agnostics, and theists of all stripes. However, if any theory is going to be described as seeking some form of accomodation with evolution, it should be theistic evolution (my own former position). Walker seems to imply that ID is concerned to accomodate biblical teachings with evolution - but like evolution, ID has no stake in any scripture or religious viewpoint. Rather, theistic evolutionists are concerned with accomodating evolution and scripture (and I agree with them that the bible is not contradicted by evolutionary theory, talking about 'the Bible's account of creation in six days' as Walker does implies that the creationists have the best interpretation of scripture, something I do not accept) - something that only interests religious ID theorists qua religious people rather than qua ID theorists.

Oddly enough, ID is never mentioned again.

Steve Jone's comments about creationism causing problems for medical students' understanding the way bacteria respond to anti-biotics are simply misinformed. No creationist I know of denies that some form of microevolution is active in the biotic realm. What the doubters of evolution doubt is the huge extrapolation from the observation of a mechanism resulting in small adaptations within a population to a mechanism capable of changing a single cell into a human over a long periods of time. Anyone who takes the time to read Darwin's Origin can see him shifting from 'I cannot see a reason why' this extrapolation may not be true to confidently asserting that it is true and should be given the bennefit of the doubt! This is called an argument from ignorance - a fallacy ID critics love to find in ID (sans attributation, of course, since ID theorists like Behe and Dembski are clear that they do not make an argument from ignorance).

Interesting quote from Sylvia Baker, founder and ex-head of Trinity Christian School, which teaches both evolution and creationism alongside each other. Baker holds two biology degrees, and was taught by noted evolutionist John Maynard Smith: 'While I was there, I stopped being an evolutionist' says Baker, 'You always hear there is overwhealming evidence for evolution, but no one could tell me what it was. There was a refusal to debate it when I tried to. If you couldn't find the evidence in Maynard Smith's department, where could you find it?'

Personally, I advocate the view that education should be 'worldview education', an approach which places a philosophical understanding of worldviews at the heart of the educational process and which equips pupils with critical thinking tools to engage with a variety of viewpoints for themselves.

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