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Further restrictive legislation to keep Creation out of UK state-funded schools

Photo <www.expelledthemovie.com> Ben Stein

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Published: 20 December 2012 (GMT+10)

The UK Government, following a campaign by the British Humanist Association (BHA), the National Secular Society (NSS), the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), and the Royal Society, is now threatening to remove funding from free schools that do not teach evolution as a “comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidenced theory.”1 The new rules will apply from 2013. CMI has previously commented on this secular humanist campaign, and provided a time-line of recent events here. I have also offered my response.

This further ruling is now seen as a necessary move to close a loophole because the secularists fear that free schools (that is, privately-run schools2 receiving state funding) may simply not teach evolution at all to get around present legislation. Sir Paul Nurse is reported as saying that,

“The new clause in the funding agreement should ensure that all pupils at free schools have the opportunity to learn about evolution as an extensively evidenced theory and one of the most fundamentally important tenets of modern biology.

The development of the theory of evolution is an excellent example of how science works and there is a clear consensus within the scientific community regarding both its validity and importance.”3

Responding to this latest challenge

Quite clearly this campaign appears successful, but it reveals a disturbing agenda, in that secular humanists/atheists do not show respect for the beliefs of Christian students and parents. In fact, there is a tendency towards angry dismissal of Christian sentiment.4 It is regrettable that the government should heed these extremist voices. But we do need to be frank, that it is an extreme view that seeks to silence honest debate and deny human rights and freedoms to Christians, and Christian school children.

This is really quite a shameful campaign, and a hypocritical one as well, bearing in mind the humanist claim to uphold a sense of morality, including respecting differing views.5 Furthermore, Christians are falsely maligned, as this campaign engages in misrepresentation and fear mongering. Andrew Copson writes that Christians wish to “fan the flames of culture wars”, this for simply wishing to have religious beliefs respected in the classroom.6 If there is a culture war here, the aggressors are the secular humanists, as the voice of Christian creationists has simply not been listened to in this debate. Christians instead desire to build a sense of peace, equality and justice in the world.

So how should Christians respond? It was in fact the Apostle Paul who spoke about forgiveness in the face of oppression and persecution, commenting that to forgive is to heap burning coals upon an enemy’s head (Romans 12:20). The ‘burning coal’ in this context is the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit who causes men and women to reflect upon the condition of their own hearts. As Christians we are called to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” and not to be “conformed to the pattern of the world,” and in forgiving those who wrong us we publicly demonstrate the will of God in our lives (Romans 12:2).

Skills in critical thinking and the advance of science

But what can we say? Firstly, children need to have the freedom to sort the wheat-from-the-chaff in science and to develop key skills in both critical thinking and intuition, as they ask questions about what is true in science—to learn to distinguish between facts and story-telling, for example.

Michael Polanyi saw science as a human enterprise that is ultimately guided by the human conscience towards truth.7 Such thinking is integral to the higher levels of science. Children need to be able to think critically about whether theories, such as Darwinian evolution, are coherent and properly evidenced, instead of being forced to accept them without any thought or investigation. The new ruling cannot make the incoherent coherent, neither can “extensive evidence” be considered compelling evidence if it is not properly tested by the questioning of inquisitive school children. What are the Darwinists so afraid of, that they must hide their pet theory behind a legal fig leaf? No other scientific idea gets such legislative protection from scrutiny (see here).

This legal limitation upon science is also a recipe for confusion in the minds of children, whether Christian or not, because it seeks to deny the possibility of acquiring knowledge through faith. It is ultimately deeply flawed and unworkable. My own experience, as a Christian pupil within the humanist education system, was one of confusion, while later acceptance of belief in special creation and revelation led to intellectual clarity. The reason is that some knowledge claims must be accepted on grounds that are not supported by scientific evidence, as for instance, Polanyi recognised in his important book Personal Knowledge.8 The Enlightenment belief that all knowledge can arise through the sciences, involving reason and sensory experience alone (that is, rejecting the light of God’s revelation), is untenable. Instead, all of us ultimately must base our understanding of the world on prior commitments (presuppositions) that cannot be proven scientifically, whether we are Christian, atheist or whatever. The truth of our beliefs may be assessed through how we value other human beings, and the world around us: “by their fruit you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). Our worldview also should provide a framework that makes sense of the universe we live in—a ‘coherency of truth’.

Obstructing true science

Of course we accept that there is scientific evidence for mutations and natural selection on a small scale (operating within created genetic limits), but what of the bigger questions that appear to be based upon an anti-Christian narrative that is being imposed upon science? The claim for an unguided evolutionary progression of life is really untestable as well as being an oxymoron (it is effectively an argument for undirected direction). It is the big story of molecules-to-man evolution that creationists reject because it is not supported by scientific evidence, as well as being hostile to Christian faith and Christian values.

This atheist campaign and ruling effectively prevents honest and open inquiry in science classes. It could well prevent children from learning about the latest advances in biological science for instance. Such evidence includes the recognition that so-called “junk DNA” has biological functionality in the cell and can no longer be considered junk. This is incompatible with evolution (evolution needs lots of junk DNA), so will teachers be allowed to teach students about this? Will schools that teach this be de-funded/de-registered? Will teachers be prosecuted?

Furthermore, genetics, and evidence of coded information in DNA, together with its translation into protein molecules, is a highly ordered and controlled system that needs to be taught accurately, and is loosely analogous to the complexity of a modern computer system. Detailed knowledge of this would clearly create doubts in the minds of students about the efficacy of evolution to invent this incredibly sophisticated system (see here).

The school science classroom should also expose children to the evidence of highly organised ‘machine-like’ systems in cells (although the ‘machine’ metaphor is really only a weak analogy to explain what is truly going on in living organisms). This includes evidence for molecular motors such as ATP synthase and the bacterial flagellum, or the kinesin and dynein walking transporter proteins that carry other cellular constituents around inside the cell. The ATP molecule, incidentally, is essential for life as it enables energy transfers within the cell. Knowledge of such systems is vitally important if Britain and other Western nations are to excel in science and technology in the modern world, and this is just the tip of the iceberg of cellular complexity that flies in the face of the atheists’ insistence that evolution be taught as unquestioned dogma. Our desire is that the quality of science education should be raised in schools, and not held back by the philosophical straightjacket of humanism / atheism.

Human rights of Christian parents in the state education system

Also of importance is the question of the human rights of Christian parents. Their right to decide how and what their children are taught, especially in a way that respects their faith, is being abrogated. After all, Christian parents pay their taxes as much as anyone else, and have a right to be heard in discussions over the development of policy in the education system. This ruling, following the campaign by the atheists and the Royal Society, shows no respect for the beliefs of Christian parents; instead it undermines the rights and duties of parents. Indeed, it reflects a lack of respect by the secular humanists (atheists) for a free and open society.

wikipedia.org Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini
Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini

A return to Marxism?

It perhaps seems too easy to suggest that this reflects latent Marxism in our society, but there is evidence of such a common undercurrent. For instance, consider statements by Jerry Coyne. He has even recently suggested, at a meeting in Scotland, that it should be illegal for parents to teach creation to children in the home—with applause from the largely atheist audience.9 Sadly this has often been the attitude of secular humanists. As we have noted before, Richard Dawkins even likened Christian parents teaching their children of the things of God to child abuse (plus see the box heading this article).

In the last century, Karl Popper wrote two volumes entitled The Open Society and its Enemies. The second volume was critical of Hegel and Marxism, the first, The Spell of Plato10 , was critical of an affinity for the works of Plato amongst some philosophers. As discussed in a previous article Plato’s idealistic city-state ‘Polis’, outlined in The Republic, was elitist and held that a society should be ruled over by philosopher kings, with the majority populace educated merely to the level of obedient servants or soldiers. Only the elite were to be taught to think independently (Plato also favoured breaking up strong family ties). Plato’s thinking was influential in the education system of Prussia in the 19th century, and also in the development of Marxism in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 20th century. German philosopher Johann Fichte (1762–1814) asserted that “If you want to influence [the student] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.”11

Humanistic foundations of education in the US

This is also reflected in the thinking of the American humanist John Dewey (1859–1952) who saw education within the framework of collectivism and social control, while the needs of the child were considered secondary. Dewey wrote that,

“ … education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.”12

And regrettably these thoughts also permeate the thinking of modern secular humanists (atheists). In this, children are not encouraged to think for themselves, but taught only to relate their learning to sensory experience in the natural world. Thus, it is essentially a materialistic creed that stifles the development of higher dimensions of thought that transcend the material world.

“ … if knowledge comes from the impressions made upon us by natural objects, it is impossible to procure knowledge without the use of objects which impress the mind.” 13
wikipedia.org John Dewey
John Dewey

Today’s secular humanists, like Dewey, see the role and purpose of the teacher, “as a member of the community”, as directing the child’s thoughts towards the material world, “to select the influences which shall affect the child" and to direct the child in "properly responding to these influences.”14

This, then, negatively impacts education (as reported here in America). Firstly, it effectively directs the child towards materialism (atheism) and away from anything spiritual, and secondly, it doesn’t focus upon the child’s best interests to constrain him/her to think within such a restricted and unnatural framework. Children should be trained to think rationally across multiple disciplines and to consider higher dimensions. Instead, Dewey and those of a like mind want to force the child to conform to the collective needs. It ‘dumbs down’ eduction for the majority of the population. How easy it is, once resistance to such ideology crumbles, for those leaders of society who turn away from Christian principles to end up seeking social control of others. It is elitist, and within secular humanism the quality of education for the majority is clearly of less concern. Humanist Paul Blanshard stated that undermining Christian faith was more important than educational standards, writing that,

“I think that the most important factor moving us toward a secular society has been the educational factor. Our schools may not teach Johnny to read properly, but the fact that Johnny is in school until he is sixteen tends to lead toward the elimination of religious superstition.”15

A Christian vision for education

On the other hand, Christianity, throughout history, has been central to the establishment of places of learning, which is why today there are still so many church schools in Britain. Christianity has a positive vision for education based upon the principles of quality and equality for all, and a belief in the importance of sound reasoning; this, in turn, lifts children up so they can flourish in life and return a blessing to the community. However, Christian theology involves a recognition that the truly sound mind is one that is enlightened by divine grace.16 There needs to be a transcendent, spiritual dimension to education. Christians are rightly suspicious of (and reject) the elitist restrictive policies being implemented in our modern western world, and strongly supported by secular humanists.

Education also has a value that goes beyond its economic usefulness, and Christians believe that our faith must make a difference in every area of life, including the arts and sciences. Abraham Kuyper, a former Dutch Prime Minster,17 believed that no part of our intellectual life should be exluded from Christ’s sovereignity. He wrote that, even after the fall of humanity, the world is not lost inextricably, but instead,

‘The world … is the theatre for the mighty works of God, and humanity remains a creation of His hand, which … completes under this present dispensation here on earth, a mighty process, and in its historical development is to glorify the name of Almighty God.’18

A Christian approach to science is one that needs to hold in balance the spiritual and the material. The belief that science, particularly regarding origins, can be done without considering the spiritual, does not respect a Christian view of the world. Respected Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued for Augustinian science where Christians may approach science with knowledge gained through faith and revelation.19 This was the approach of most of the founders of modern science, such as Newton, so it is hardly anti-science.

It is a shame that theistic evolutionists seem to spend a lot of their efforts undermining those who hold to a literal reading of biblical creation, when they should be challenging the dominance of secular humanism in science. In effect, this is akin to opening the door to a Trojan horse, because evolutionary naturalism will eventually destroy science itself.

The Royal Society’s responsibility

It is hard for the Royal Society to avoid the charge that it sees itself in the role of Plato’s philosophers kings, dictating what children should learn, rather than considering the benefits of science to society, or the health of science and technology, in an open framework. In fact, prominent RS members seem intent on holding onto the reigns of power and effectively ‘dumbing down’ the education of children (see an instance of this here). This is tragic, bearing in mind that many founders of the Royal Society were influenced by Christian sentiments;20 although it is true that, later on, the Royal Society often played a big role in the advancement of Darwin’s ideas. For instance, this happened through the work of the secretive ‘X’ Club, and Thomas Huxley’s Reign of Terror against anyone who disagreed with Darwin.21 Instead, we believe education should lift children up intellectually, respect Christian beliefs, and encourage all children to think through matters in theology, science and philosophy.

There is a rather ironic anecdote that sheds light on the actual process of science. It is noteworthy that some leading figures in the Royal Society in the 17th century, such as Martin Lister, refused to accept the organic origin of fossils for many years, although other members such as Robert Hooke supported their organic origin, as did the father of modern geology Nicolai Steno, who based his thinking on the Bible’s account of Noah’s global flood. So flood geology, based in part upon knowledge gained through divine revelation, proved to be an important means of advancing science (it has proved to be a good heuristic22). The lesson is that members of the Royal Society were preventing advances in science, and today I would argue that the actions of the humanists/atheists and their influence on the Royal Society are in effect hindering science by advocating the flawed 19th century Darwinian idea of evolution.

In the 21st century there is increasing abundance of evidence for design in biological organisms. Just as the Royal Society eventually came around to accepting the organic origin of fossils, so too one hopes that it will one day come around to the design paradigm as knowledge of the cell increases. Eventually this campaign against creation and intelligent design will be seen to be a secular Inquisition (as reported here) that is hostile to the enterprise of science and very detrimental to the health of society as a whole and even the future of western civilisation.

References

  1. Copson, A., Free schools are exploiting loopholes to teach creationism, Guardian, 30 November 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/nov/30/free-schools-creationism. Return to text.
  2. So-called ‘Free schools’ in the UK are not local authority controlled and are non-fee paying, the initiative of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government formed in 2010. The concept was designed to enable charitable bodies and even businesses to set up schools. Return to text.
  3. Burns, J., Teaching evolution key to free school funding deal, BBC Website, 30 November 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20547195. Return to text.
  4. As Peter Hitchens observes in the introduction to his recent book, The Rage Against God, “the difficulties of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is often a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid,”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/jun/25/dawkins-atheist-school. Return to text.
  5. One of the tenets of the Humanist Manifesto III is “Respect for differing yet humane views in an open, secular, democratic, environmentally sustainable society.” Return to text.
  6. Copson, A., see ref 1. Return to text.
  7. Polanyi, M., Science, Faith, and Society, Oxford Univesity Press, 1946 (ISBN 0-226-67290-5). Reprinted by the University of Chicago Press, 1964. Return to text.
  8. Michael Polanyi was a distinguished physical chemist and philosopher of science. Personal Knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy was first published in 1958, Chicago University Press. Return to text.
  9. This information is from personal correspondence with someone who attended a meeting of the Glasgow Skeptics, 26 November 2012, see http://glasgow.skepticsinthepub.org/Default.aspx/74/Past-Events, accessed 5 December 2012. Return to text.
  10. Published by Routledge in 1945. Popper thought Plato’s position was tyrannical. Return to text.
  11. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, 1807. Second Address: “The General Nature of the New Education,” The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago and London, 1922, p. 21; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_education_system. Return to text.
  12. Dewey, J., My pedagogic creed, Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, p. 16 (First published in School Journal vol. 54, January 1897, pp. 77–80). Return to text.
  13. Dewey, J., Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education, WLC Books, New York, 2009, pp. 217-218 (The original work was published in 1916). Return to text.
  14. Dewey, ref. 11, p. 9. Return to text.
  15. Blanshard, P., Three Cheers for Our Secular State, The Humanist, March/April 1976. Return to text.
  16. This comes from the writings of people like Augustine, as well from the teaching of the New Testament. Return to text.
  17. As well as a politician, Kuyper was a respected statesman, journalist and orthodox Protestant Christian and theologian. He was the founder of neo-Calvinism and was influenced by Augustine’s vision for the City of God, the Civitas Dei coming down from heaven. Augustine wrote this work as the Roman Empire collapsed, urging Christians to put their hope in God and his kingdom. Augustine also saw the inevitable progress of the divine city, the advance of the Christian Church, extending love and values across the earth despite persecution, and culminating in the final return of Christ as the worldly systems fall into chaos. Return to text.
  18. See for instance: Bratt, J. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, Wipf and Stock (original Eerdmans), 1984, p .16. Return to text.
  19. Plantinga, A., When faith and reason clash: evolution and the Bible, Christian Scholars Review 21(1):8–32, 1991; Plantinga, A., Methodological Naturalism? In: Pennock, R.T. (ed.), Intelligent Design Creationism and its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives, The MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2001, p. 355. Return to text.
  20. See for instance Harrison, P., The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1998. Return to text.
  21. See for instance Sibley, A., Bathybius haeckelii and a reign of terror, Journal of Creation 23(1):123–127, 2009; creation.com/bathybius-haeckelii. Return to text.
  22. In this context, a heuristic is defined (see www.thefreedictionary.com) as “an educational method in which learning takes place through discoveries that result from investigations made by the student.” Return to text.