'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

February 11, 2011

Video demonstration of how Christian fundamentalists indoctrinate children with anti-science creationist lies

Chain The Dogma

by Perry Bulwer

Ken Ham, the Christian evangelical behind the anti-science website Answers in Gensis and the Creation Museum  now wants Kentucky state funds to create a theme park based on Noah's ark.

Watch this video for an example of how Ken Ham and his ilk indoctrinate children with Bible lies:


Now contrast that method of unthinking learning by rote with the following critical thinking method. Watch this series of videos for an example how a real scientist teaches the facts of evolution to children:








Louisiana student fighting legislation allowing creationism in science classes challenges deluded congresswoman to debate

Atheist student shunned by entire community including his parents for opposing prayer at graduation ceremony

Teen tells hearing Louisiana Science Education Act is embarrassing, students deserve to be taught proper science

American Muslim Imams join clergy movement to accept evolution and ban creationist teaching in science classes

Hundreds of fundamentalist religious schools in US use public funds to indoctrinate students with anti-science and bigotry

Creationists continue attempts to undermine teaching of evolution in Texas and Louisiana with anti-science dogma

Louisiana school board wants believers to teach creationism in science classes, thinks it will solve discipline problem

US conservative lawmakers increase attempts to legislate promotion of creationism in public schools

Biology teacher in Illinois public high school caught promoting creationism to discredit evolution

The dangers of creationism in education

Creationists weaken U.S. education system, only a quarter of high school students adequately taught evolutionary biology

Teaching evolution in science classrooms under attack in the US and UK by anti-science creationists

Ohio school district payed nearly a million dollars to fire science teacher who taught creationism

UK government insists it will not accept free school proposals from groups pushing creationist agenda over science

UK education reforms open door for untrained teachers in faith schools to indoctrinate children with creationism

Respecting a Child's Point of View

Corporal Punishment, the Abuse of Authority and the Rights of Children

Creationists weaken U.S. education system, only a quarter of high school students adequately taught evolutionary biology

Ohio school district payed nearly a million dollars to fire science teacher who taught creationism

Hearing for Ohio science teacher sacked for evangelizing and teaching anti-science shows great divide in U.S. society

Teacher Accused of Branding Kid With Cross

Ex-superintendent: Science teacher should have avoided religion

Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?

The dangers of creationism in education

Religious indoctrination thrives in B.C. private schools because education ministry does not vet textbooks or courses

Atheist group files complaint with B.C. Ministry of Education over Christian school teaching creationism in science class

Bob Jones University science textbook for home schoolers ignores science and critical thinking

Virginia school board votes to return Ten Commandments to classrooms despite Supreme Court ruling it is unconstitutional

Nebraska education administrators get mixed messages from lawyers on legality of promoting religion in schools

Vacation Liberty School uses Christian fundamentalism to politically indoctrinate children

Federal Court of Appeal asked to stop California college proselytizing and imposing religion on students

Advocacy group battles illegal Christian fundamentalist proselytizing in U.S. public schools

Fundamentalist Christian 'punk' band uses deception to evangelize and indoctrinate in U.S. schools

Radical Christian extremists aim to undermine public education by targeting high school kids for indoctrination into fundamentalist worldview

Christian fundamentalist boot-camp for kids indoctrinates them to fight 'bloody' religious war

Child Evangelism Fellowship complains it is banned from converting children in public housing project

Catholic parents upset that teen son was peer-pressured into baptism in Baptist church while on school trip

European Court of Human Rights rules crucifixes in Italian schools violates children's religious freedom to believe or not

Parental rights vs children's rights: debating the role of religious institutions in Irish education system

Church of England's proselytising plans will target children for recruitment and indoctrination

Quebec bans teaching a belief, a dogma or the practice of a specific religion in government subsidized daycares


  1. Evolution made clear for kids in “Pepper’s Special Wings”

    by: American Humanist Association November 14, 2012

    In order to give parents a fun and effective tool when teaching young children evolution and the science behind it, author Mary Anne Farah has written Pepper’s Special Wings, a children’s ebook that uses the Peppered Moth species, a recent example of natural selection, as its inspiration. see: http://www.mothscount.org/text/63/peppered_moth_and_natural_selection.html

    “Children have the right to know the truth about how life evolves and species change,” says Farah. “The well-documented story of how the Peppered Moth species eventually changed due to pollution darkening the plants where they congregated was perfect for a children’s book. The new survival advantage for moths with darker wings is an easy example to explain to children with no need to use words that may not have yet been learned, such as species, population, predation and camouflage.”

    The story of Pepper the moth covers more than just evolution, however. While Pepper’s Special Wings relates to small children about how Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection works, children will also identify with Pepper’s struggles with the recurring childhood themes of self-esteem, self-image, bullying and being teased.

    “Children will see that sometimes being different is what makes them amazing!” Farah said.

    The book is a hit with the kids who have read it. “I like the story. It shows how the moth that was teased for being different made something big and became not different,” said Rami M., 7, from Pennsylvania. “I love the pictures and colours,” said Jasmine L, 7, from Ontario. “I like how Pepper was lucky and that she had babies.”

    The book also contains questions and points of discussion parents can use to talk about the topics in the book with their children.

    “Mary Anne did a lovely job of explaining accurately how a species can adapt the way it looks as a result of changes in the environment, as well as informing readers about camouflage, predation and natural selection,” Parent Education Manager Nikki Taylor said of the book. “This was done sensitively and in a way that would not feel threatening for most children. I found this book to be very informative and age-appropriate.”

    Pepper’s Special Wings is being launched in conjunction with a new website from the American Humanist Association, KidsWithoutGod.com. The press release with details can be found here.

    The ebook is available at humanistpress.com http://shop.humanistpress.com/product/peppers-special-wings and other major online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The ISBN number for Pepper’s Special Wings is 978-0-931779-28-2.


  2. Why Are Christian Fundamentalist Parents Allowed to Deny Their Kids Basic Literacy?

    By failing to educate their kids, these parents potentially squander a child’s entire lifetime of future earnings and achievements.

    By M Dolon Hickmon, AlterNet January 23, 2014

    The appropriate balance between freedom and harm can be hard to strike, particularly when it comes to religious freedom. In an attempt to find this balance, religious conservatives have been granted exemptions from a wide range of civil rights laws and social obligations. In the last two decades, one of the exemptions they have secured in many states is the right to opt out of school attendance for their children.

    Led by a group called Home School Legal Defense Association, a network of institutions and activists have sprung up to advocate the rights of parents to educate their children—or not—as they please. Now the largest generation of home-schooled children are coming of age, and some are telling horror stories that suggest parent privilege may have gone too far.

    A recent testimonial posted at Homeschoolers Anonymous opens like this:

    It was not so much homeschooling that traumatized me as much as my mother’s mental illness. This was hidden by homeschooling, and the pain that damaged me came from the constant exposure to her psychiatric illness. I feel like someone roasted me over a fire, leaving me with burns to rest the remainder of my life, and I didn’t even know at the time what fire was.

    Nationally, the fight over homeschooling is heating up, with dramatic changes to existing laws set to be discussed in both Virginia and Utah during 2014.

    On January 8, Virginia statesman Tom Rust introduced House Joint Resolution 92, requesting the state’s Department of Education to review Virginia’s religious exemption to compulsory school attendance. Under current rules, Virginia parents who enroll as a home school must meet basic requirements, but by filing a separate religious exemption they can excuse themselves altogether from the duty to educate their children. Rust’s resolution asks the Department of Education to examine whether the exemption, which is the only one of its kind in the nation, violates a state constitutional provision that makes education a civil right.

    Meanwhile, as Virginians look to narrow their state’s exemption to ensure that all kids learn the basics, like how to read, Utah Senator Aaron Osmond has announced his plan to bring Virginia’s unfettered religious exemption to the state of Utah in the form of Senate Bill 39. Osmond told reporters that under his plan religious parents would still be subject to prosecution for educational neglect; however a review of Osmond’s proposal by the Coalition for Responsible Home Education concludes that since Utah defines educational neglect according to their state’s homeschooling requirements, parents who are exempt from those standards would also be immune from prosecution for educational neglect—even if they fail to educate their children at all.

    Religious groups have come out in support of the proposal in Utah and are also demanding that Virginia’s Joint Resolution 92 be retracted before the requested inquiry has even begun. These groups claim that the right to education is voluntary, like the right to vote, and that parents should have the freedom to decide whether to exercise this right on their children’s behalf.

    Heather Doney, executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, disagrees: “Parents have the right to direct their children’s education, but they should not have the right to deny them basic literacy.” Doney speaks from experience. As the eldest of 10 children in a devout homeschooling family, she was the only one who could read until her grandparents intervened and the children were allowed to attend school.

    continued below

  3. As with nutritional or sanitary neglect, lack of education can create lifelong hardships for those it affects. Ask any adult who has taken a college course while working full-time. Then imagine tackling years of remedial elementary, middle and high school courses while supporting yourself—and possibly a family—with a job so menial it doesn’t require a high school education. This outcome may not be the homeschool norm, but on websites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, homeschool alumni are reporting experiences of educational neglect in alarming numbers.

    Homeschooling families often portray themselves as a persecuted minority, but compared to homeschooled victims of neglect and abuse, responsible homeschooling parents are a formidable army. Represented by groups like the HSLDA, which has lawyers, publicists and media personalities at its command, these groups can easily paper the walls of a legislator’s office with letters listing their demands. But for young children who are having their futures stolen, these groups offer no solutions.

    Boiled down, most arguments for unregulated homeschooling amount to the same thing: “We must ignore the problems of abused homeschooled children to maintain the sovereignty of parents.”

    At the heart of this claim is religious homeschoolers’ insistence that God has elevated parents above any earthly authority. This is an attempt to resurrect an Old Testament-era legal theory, which afforded children no more right to life, liberty and self-direction than a sheep or a goat. It’s true thatbiblical fathers could do anything—including selling off their sons and daughters—but outside of homeschooling circles, few Americans would argue for a return to that kind of absolute parental license.

    In America, children are not possessions for parents to use or destroy. Rather, children are recognized as dependent beings whose bodies and futures are held in trust by their parents. Educational neglect is an abdication of a parent’s legal obligation of good stewardship. By failing to educate, parents potentially squander a child’s entire lifetime of future earnings and achievements. It’s difficult to imagine a more brazen theft.

    In a recent blog post, religious homeschooler Rosanna Ward summarized her own argument in favor of unregulated homeschooling:

    “I, as a parent, have the right to train up my children in the way I believe is right, including homeschooling. If someone else doesn’t like it, they have the choice not to homeschool—and they don’t even have to watch me homeschool.”

    The core of her suggestion is that when we suspect child abuse, we should simply look away. This idea is echoed when groups like HSLDA maintain that, because homeschooled victims of educational neglect are relatively few, they deserve no legal consideration.

    Ironically, while insisting that the government has no role in balancing the needs of powerless children against the rights of politically connected parents, well-funded religious groups like HSLDA vocally demand that government defend their members from an imaginary conspiracy to outlaw homeschooling. To my knowledge, no one in Virginia—or anywhere in America—is talking about banning homeschooling. Rather, conversations are about how to limit serious abuse with minimal collateral interference, while also giving victims access to justice in egregious cases. The suggestions include commonsense things, such as having parents submit a syllabus or requiring children to appear in person for yearly registration.

    continued below

  4. The final reason offered for doing nothing is that no amount of intervention can possibly prevent every instance of neglect and abuse. The homeschool alumni who are calling for reformhave never claimed otherwise. But when we see a parent slugging a three-year-old, we don’t look the other way because “some amount of abuse is bound to happen.” We don’t tell victims of other kinds of abuse to take their cases to God in the afterlife. And we certainly don’t fail to prosecute people who beat and molest because to doing so might inconvenience someone else.

    Lastly, it is worth noting the many homeschool abuses that have nothing to do with education. In the recent past, we could say that when a child was beaten, starved or molested, the way she was schooled was likely incidental. However, as homeschool loopholes have become well-known, they have attracted folks who are motivated to intentionally skirt child protections—whether to keep their victims from receiving sexual and physical abuse education, to keep other adults from seeing a child who is bruised, dirty or demonstrating behavioral symptoms, or to duck out of an already opened social services investigation.

    The tip of this iceberg can be seen in cases like that of Kenneth Brandt. By declaring his intention to homeschool, Brandt managed to effectively conceal the existence of several children he’d adopted from another state. Suspicions were raised when a child molester volunteered details about his dealings with Brandt during an unrelated online child prostitution investigation. When the full facts emerged, Brandt was shown to have gone through a lengthy adoption process with two boys and one girl before his predatory scheme finally unraveled. He was convicted of raping his adopted sons and of prostituting one of them to multiple men via Craigslist.

    In Brandt’s case it is glaringly obvious that homeschooling was integral to his crime. From murdered homeschooled children like Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz to the bloody physical torments of Christian homeschoolers Pam and Dwayne Hardy, examples of homeschooling as a child-abuse coverup abound. A handful of sensational stories have received national attention, but the majority of homeschool abuse cases do not. To bring awareness to the stunning breadth of the problem, another group of former homeschoolers—some survivors of abuse and some not—has created an online repository, called Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. There, reports of less publicized cases are meticulously collected and categorized.

    Given the severity of the problems that victims of homeschool abuse face, from the financial setbacks of illiteracy to the devastations of unchecked sexual and physical abuse, and even the risk of death, homeschooled children deserve careful, compassionate oversight backed, when needed, by the strength of the law.

    Writer and activist M Dolon Hickmon is the author of the novel "13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession." at:


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  5. Darwins Dangerous Idea - the discovery of how natural selection works, is the 'most important idea anyone ever had'

    It Is Darwin Day, a Celebration of Science and Reason

    by Rob Brooks, Huffington Post February 12, 2014

    Happy Darwin Day!

    Is that even an appropriate thing to wish somebody? Especially so close toValentine's day?

    Darwin Day, according to the International Darwin Day Foundation, is "a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin". The idea of the celebration arose in 1993 as part of the activities of the Stanford Humanist Community, then headed by biologist Robert Stephens. And in the intervening 21 years, it has proliferated, with hundreds of events listed in cities around the world.

    I'm not normally one for celebrating birthdays. Kids' birthdays are great fun, of course. And the odd 40th or 50th gives a good excuse for a party. But I know some adults who celebrateevery birthday as if it were a surprising stroke of fortune. Some grown adults even see each birthday an occasion to take an entire day off work.

    So you can imagine my ambivalence at celebrating the birth, some 205 years ago, of a scientist. Even a scientist as world-alteringly important and as genuinely beloved as Charles Robert Darwin.

    As an evolutionary biologist, and a scientist who finds great joy and meaning in communicating with the public, I am thrilled that there is a day around which so many events and seminars can be organised. That these activities celebrate evolutionary biology, science, and reason is particularly special.

    I laud the work if the Darwin Day Foundation and all the organisations and people who make Darwin Day a highlight for curious, open and intellectually alive citizens. The Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, which I direct at UNSW, has been running a veritable fiesta of the Darwinian, with a conference and public lectures last week, and a seminar by eminent evolutionary psychologist Martin Daly on Tuesday 11th.

    But it bears reflecting on the importance and modern relevance of Darwin himself.

    The great naturalist ranks among the most important scientists of all time, no less significant than Galileo, Newton or Einstein. But more than that, I agree with philosopher Daniel Dennett who argues that Darwin's Dangerous Idea - the discovery of how natural selection works, is the 'most important idea anyone ever had'.

    Darwin's discovery revealed the very process that made us who we are. Which is why evolution, and Darwin himself gets so infuriatingly up the nose of those who have the most to lose from a genuine understanding of how the world works and how humanity came to be. Paper over the cracked relationship between science and religion all you like, but natural selection changed everything about how we understand ourselves and our world. Which is why Darwin's Origin of Species was an instant bestseller.

    continued below

  6. To borrow Dennetts inimitable turn of phrase once again, the idea of natural selection is a "universal acid":

    it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.

    Darwin's impact on the world far transcends science. It overshadows the contributions of most of his contemporaries, including that other titan born on February 12th, 1809: Abraham Lincoln.

    And yet, I'd be disappointed if this celebration of all things Darwinian began and ended with the great naturalist. Because I think a focus on the person tends to undersell the science, and the importance of science and reason in general.

    Watching snippets of last week's so-called debate between the improbably bow-tied pro-science persona, Bill Nye, and the insufferable Creation Museum director, Ken Ham, I was reminded of just how much the reality-deniers depend on Darwin.

    Nye did a creditable job. With the characteristic humility of a true scientist he showed his willingness to admit what he doesn't know. His smug opponent, of course, had all the answers, and they were all to be found in one particular book. Yet I am in the camp who believe Nye did a disservice to science by going mano-a-mano with the Ham actor, lending him false legitimacy, and implying false equivalence between reason and biblical literalism.

    It irks me the way Nye, and others who engage with creationists, allow the likes of Ham to call evolution "Darwinism", and those who can comprehend natural selection and the overwhelming evidence for it "Darwinists". An over-reliance on Darwin as our standard-bearer diminishes a broad and vibrant science, giving the impression it begins and ends with a guy who was born over 200 years ago. I believe the creationists and their dullard adherents go further, implying that one white-bearded gentleman is somehow being slyly substituted for another; Darwin supplanting God.

    The beauty of an idea like natural selection is that it is true, whether or not you choose to believe it. It is true, even if nobody has yet had the idea or written it down. If Darwin hadn't done so, Alfred Russell Wallace's version might have swayed the Victorians. Or perhaps a version discovered some 50 years later.

    Humanity owes a great debt to Darwin, and the history of science followed the course that it did because of him. But he isn't the reason for the season; science does not need deities and messiahs. Darwin was merely the guy who figured it all out first and explained it to a world who were ready for the idea.

    I am delighted to celebrate Darwin's 205th birthday today. But I also think the old guy has done a good job and should not be leant upon like some deity, some final authority, the other 354 days a year.

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  7. God Darwin and My College Biology Class


    EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

    I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

    And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

    Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine. Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk.

    There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible. Stephen Jay Gould called them “nonoverlapping magisteria,” noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values. He and I disagreed on this (in public and, at least once, rather loudly); he claimed I was aggressively forcing a painful and unnecessary choice, while I maintained that in his eagerness to be accommodating, he was misrepresenting both science and religion.

    In some ways, Steve has been winning. Noma is the received wisdom in the scientific establishment, including institutions like the National Center for Science Education, which has done much heavy lifting when it comes to promoting public understanding and acceptance of evolution. According to this expansive view, God might well have used evolution by natural selection to produce his creation.

    This is undeniable. If God exists, then he could have employed anything under the sun — or beyond it — to work his will. Hence, there is nothing in evolutionary biology that necessarily precludes religion, save for most religious fundamentalisms (everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day).

    So far, so comforting for my students. But here’s the turn: These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish.

    As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.

    continued below

  8. The twofold demolition begins by defeating what modern creationists call the argument from complexity. This once seemed persuasive, best known from William Paley’s 19th-century claim that, just as the existence of a complex structure like a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker, the existence of complex organisms requires a supernatural creator. Since Darwin, however, we have come to understand that an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness. Living things are indeed wonderfully complex, but altogether within the range of a statistically powerful, entirely mechanical phenomenon.

    A few of my students shift uncomfortably in their seats. I go on. Next to go is the illusion of centrality. Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness. Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

    Adding to religion’s current intellectual instability is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the scholarly effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering.

    Theological answers range from claiming that suffering provides the option of free will to announcing (as in the Book of Job) that God is so great and we so insignificant that we have no right to ask. But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

    I CONCLUDE The Talk by saying that, although they don’t have to discard their religion in order to inform themselves about biology (or even to pass my course), if they insist on retaining and respecting both, they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines. And while I respect their beliefs, the entire point of The Talk is to make clear that, at least for this biologist, it is no longer acceptable for science to be the one doing those routines, as Professor Gould and noma have insisted we do.

    Despite these three evolutionary strikes, God hasn’t necessarily struck out. At the end of the movie version of “Inherit the Wind,” based on the famous Scopes “monkey trial” over a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, Spencer Tracy’s character, fashioned after the defense attorney Clarence Darrow, stands in the empty courtroom, picks up a Bible in one hand and Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in the other, gives a knowing smile and claps them together before putting both under his arm. Would that it were so simple.

    David P. Barash is an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington and the author, most recently, of “Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science.”


  9. A Fight for the Young Creationist Mind

    In ‘Undeniable,’ Bill Nye Speaks Evolution Directly to Creationists


    In February, William Sanford Nye, better known as Bill Nye the science guy, stepped onto a stage in Kentucky and faced down a hostile crowd in a debate that pitted evolution against creationism. It wasn’t his first time in the ring in science’s corner. In recent years, Mr. Nye has transitioned from the zany, on-screen face of an educational show on PBS, which ran from 1993 to 1998, to a hardenedwarrior for science on cable news programs and speaking tours of colleges and universities around the United States.

    In the news media, the final scorecard at the end of the science versus creationism debate was itself debated. Some said Mr. Nye won. Some suggested the in just showing up, he lost. One certainty did come from it: Mr. Nye said that it compelled him to drop everything he was doing to write a book. That book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” has just been released.

    I talked to Mr. Nye, 58, last month about bumblebees, the debate and why it made him think of death and the need to write the book. Here is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

    Q: Talk about the title, “The Science of Creation.” It seems like clever wordplay with creation science. Is that what you meant?

    A: Well, creation for me is all that we can see. It’s the universe, all the stars, and I guess now the dark matter and dark energy and you and me. And I would claim that it’s an older, more traditional use of the word creation. It’s nature.

    You bring up nature early in your book and you talk about the flight of bumblebees and how that fascinated you at a young age.

    It still does. If you ever look at a bumblebee, it’s a pretty big rig. It’s a pretty big abdomen, thorax head situation with these tiny wings. And yet they’re able to flop and fly like crazy, hover backwards and forwards, up and down, find their way to flowers, fill up the pollen basket. If you really take time and watch a bee with a pollen basket, it’s full. I mean, it’s carrying a load like a couple buckets of water slung over your shoulder. To me, it’s remarkable.

    You continue throughout the book to put yourself into the narrative. Why was it important to blend yourself into the book?

    What we all want, what engages us as people, are stories. And when you tell a first-person story, it’s very reasonable that it’s true. When you describe how you feel, no one can argue with that. It has an authenticity. For me, evolution — it’s important to understand like all of science — it affects you. It affects each of us. It affects me. So by talking about it from a person’s point of view, I’m sure it’s more compelling — if it’s compelling at all.

    From the creationist’s side of things, the Bible is called the “greatest story.” Does it seem like science has a difficult time telling a story that connects with people?

    Well it never had trouble for me. I think I just had some great teachers. For me, the stories were always about people. Science is a human idea, and the people that do science, who collect a body of knowledge or execute the method of science are humans.

    You say in the book that your concern is not so much for the deniers of evolution as it is for their children. Do you think the science stakes are higher now than when you started “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” show in 1993?

    continued below

  10. Yes because there are more people in the world — another billion people all trying to use the world’s resources. And the threat and consequences of climate change are more serious than ever, so we need as many people engaged in how we’re going to deal with that as possible. And we have an increasingly technologically sophisticated society. We are able to feed these 7.2 billion people because of our extraordinary agricultural technology. If we have a society that’s increasingly dependent on these technologies, with a smaller and smaller fraction of that society who actually understands how any of it works, that is a formula for disaster. So, I’m just trying to change the world here.

    A lot of the real action between evolution and creationism happens in the classroom, inside the schools. The scientific buffet style of your book — it takes all matters large and small when it comes to the universe and science and evolution and steps you through all of it — do you imagine a child in a creationist-friendly household managing to get his hands on the book and stealing away with it?

    A man can dream! It would be great if the book is that influential. My biggest concern about creationist kids is that they’re compelled to suppress their common sense, to suppress their critical thinking skills at a time in human history when we need them more than ever. By the time you’re 18, you’ve made up your mind. It’s going to be really hard for you, as they say in the Mormon tradition, to “lose your testimony.” But if you’re 7 or 8, we got a shot.

    It’s funny to talk about the idea of conversion, given the subject of the book. Is that something you’re after?

    Well, that would be the best case. But the other thing, for the book, is that there are fundamentals of evolution. There are principles. There are things about founders and bottlenecking of genes and altruism and costly signaling and just germs. There are just things about evolution that we should all be aware of, the way we’re aware of where electricity comes from, or that you have cells with mitochondria. I’ve just met a lot of people who have very little training in evolution.

    You talk a little in the book about how after the Kentucky debate happened, after you were done debating, you thought a lot about death, and that death was something that figured into your trying to understand why the creationist point of view may turn away from evolution. Talk a little about that.

    I think the fear of death figures prominently in creationist thought. That the promise of eternal life is reassuring to people who are deeply troubled by the troubling fact that we’re all going to die. And it bugs me, too. But I press forward rather than running in circles screaming.

    You said that you’re still scared of death, but understanding science doesn’t help you from a fear of death.

    No, if you didn’t have a fear of death, you’d be dead. You would fall off the cliff. You would walk in front of the moving train. You would blow it somehow. You better have a fear of death. But there’s another word I like to use, an English word: respect.

    And ultimately, death is a part of evolution.

    It’s the key. The key is that you can pass on improvements by having kids. And there aren’t enough resources for any population to go completely unchecked, whether the population is humans or crickets. There isn’t enough for everybody, so you compete. And this is one of Darwin’s enormous insights.

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  11. How a MIT Science Prof Is Threatening to Undo Everything the Religious Right Holds Dear

    By Paul Rosenberg / Salon January 3, 2015

    The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of. Darwin earned their hatred because he explained the evolution of life in a way that doesn’t require the hand of God. Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

    Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary.
    “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

    The notion of an evolutionary process broader than life itself is not entirely new. Indeed, there’s evidence, recounted by Eric Havelock in “The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics,” that it was held by the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, who also first gave us the concept of the atom, among many other things. But unlike them or other earlier precursors, England has a specific, unifying, testable evolutionary mechanism in mind.

    Quanta fleshed things out a bit more like this:

    From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

    It doesn’t mean we should expect life everywhere in the universe — lack of a decent atmosphere or being too far from the sun still makes most of our solar system inhospitable for life with or without England’s perspective. But it does mean that “under certain conditions” where life is possible — as it is here on Earth, obviously — it is also quite probable, if not, ultimately, inevitable. Indeed, life on Earth could well have developed multiple times independently of each other, or all at once, or both. The first truly living organism could have had hundreds, perhaps thousands of siblings, all born not from a single physical parent, but from a physical system, literally pregnant with the possibility of producing life. And similar multiple births of life could have happened repeatedly at different points in time.

    That also means that Earth-like planets circling other suns would have a much higher likelihood of carrying life as well. We’re fortunate to have substantial oceans as well as an atmosphere — the heat baths referred to above — but England’s theory suggests we could get life with just one of them — and even with much smaller versions, given enough time.

  12. Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600, was perhaps the first to take Copernicanism to its logical extension, speculating that stars were other suns, circled by other worlds, populated by beings like ourselves. His extreme minority view in his own time now looks better than ever, thanks to England.

    If England’s theory works out, it will obviously be an epochal scientific advance. But on a lighter note, it will also be a fitting rebuke to pseudo-scientific creationists, who have long mistakenly claimed that thermodynamics disproves evolution (here, for example), the exact opposite of what England’s work is designed to show — that thermodynamics drives evolution, starting even before life itself first appears, with a physics-based logic that applies equally to living and non-living matter.

    Most important in this regard is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that in any closed process, there is an increase in the total entropy (roughly speaking, a measure of disorder). The increase in disorder is the opposite of increasing order due to evolution, the creationists reason, ergo — a contradiction! Overlooking the crucial word “closed,” of course. There are various equivalent ways of stating the law, one of which is that energy cannot pass from a cooler to a warmer body without extra work being done. Legendary science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov put it like this: “You can’t win. You can’t break even. You can’t get out of the game.” Although creationists have long mistakenly believed that evolution is a violation of the Second Law, actual scientists have not. For example, physicist Stephen G. Brush, writing for The American Physical Society in 2000, in “Creationism Versus Physical Science,” noted: “As Ludwig Boltzmann noted more than a century ago, thermodynamics correctly interpreted does not just allow Darwinian evolution, it favors it.”

    A simple explanation of this comes from a document in the thermodynamics FAQ subsection of TalkOrigins Archive (the first and foremost online repository of reliable information on the creation/evolution controversy), which in part explains:

    Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder.

    However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can’t have more usable energy still?

    That passage goes right to the heart of the matter. Evolution is no more a violation of the Second Law than life itself is. A more extensive, lighthearted, non-technical treatment of the creationist’s misunderstanding and what’s really going on can be found here.

    The driving flow of energy — whether from the sun or some other source — can give rise to what are known as dissipative structures, which are self-organized by the process of dissipating the energy that flows through them. Russian-born Belgian physical chemist Ilya Prigogine won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work developing the concept. All living things are dissipative structures, as are many non-living things as well — cyclones, hurricanes and tornados, for example. Without explicitly using the term “dissipative structures,” the passage above went on to invoke them thus:

    Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order. In any nontrivial system with lots of energy flowing through it, you are almost certain to find order arising somewhere in the system. If order from disorder is supposed to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, why is it ubiquitous in nature?


  13. In a very real sense, Prigogine’s work laid the foundations for what England is doing today, which is why it might be overstated to credit England with originating this theory, as several commentators at Quanta pointed out, noting other progenitors as well (here, here andhere, among others). But already England appears to have assembled a collection of analytical tools, along with a sophisticated multidisciplinary theoretical approach, which promises to do much more than simply propound a theory, but to generate a whole new research agenda giving detailed meaning to that theoretical conjecture. And that research agenda is already starting to produce results. (See his research group home page for more.) It’s the development of this sort of detailed body of specific mutually interrelated results that will distinguish England’s articulation of his theory from other earlier formulations that have not yet been translated into successful theory-testing research agendas.

    Above all, as described on the home page mentioned above, England is involved in knitting together the understanding of life and various stages of life-like processes combining the perspectives of biology and physics:

    Living things are good at collecting information about their surroundings, and at putting that information to use through the ways they interact with their environment so as to survive and replicate themselves. Thus, talking about biology inevitably leads to talking about decision, purpose, and function.

    At the same time, living things are also made of atoms that, in and of themselves, have no particular function. Rather, molecules and the atoms from which they are built exhibit well-defined physical properties having to do with how they bounce off of, stick to, and combine with each other across space and over time.

    Making sense of life at the molecular level is all about building a bridge between these two different ways of looking at the world.

    If that sounds intriguing, you might enjoy this hour-long presentation of his work (with splashes of local Swedish color) — especially (but not only) if you’re a science nerd.

    Whether or not England’s theory proves out in the end, he’s already doing quite a lot to build that bridge between worldviews and inspire others to make similar efforts. Science is not just about making new discoveries, but about seeing the world in new ways — which then makes new discoveries almost inevitable. And England has already succeeded in that. As the Quanta article explained:

    England’s theoretical results are generally considered valid. It is his interpretation — that his formula represents the driving force behind a class of phenomena in nature that includes life — that remains unproven. But already, there are ideas about how to test that interpretation in the lab.

    “He’s trying something radically different,” said Mara Prentiss, a professor of physics at Harvard who is contemplating such an experiment after learning about England’s work. “As an organizing lens, I think he has a fabulous idea. Right or wrong, it’s going to be very much worth the investigation.”

    Creationists often cast themselves as humble servants of God, and paint scientists as arrogant, know-it-all rebels against him. But, unsurprisingly, they’ve got it all backwards, once again. England’s work reminds us that it’s scientists’ willingness to admit our own ignorance and confront it head on — rather than papering over it — that unlocks the great storehouse of wonders we live in and gives us our most challenging, satisfying quests.

    Watch lecture at:


    See the links embedded in this article at:


  14. Dawkins book denied distribution in Chilliwack schools

    by Greg Laychak - Chilliwack Times April 1, 2015

    An educational charity organization claims that its submission of a textbook to the Chilliwack school district was not fairly considered when it was denied entry into public school circulation last month.

    In late February, Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC) received a letter from Superintendent Evelyn Novak that rejected CFIC’s submission of The Magic of Reality, a textbook by Richard Dawkins, for consideration to be distributed to Grade 5 students over the March break.

    And in March, CFIC tried again to get more clarity from the district but said explanation received was still insufficiently detailed, lacking information about how guidelines were applied in the decision.

    Novak told the Times she denied the book based on the board and administration guidelines as well as referring to the Ministry of Education’s selection processes.

    Specifically, the Dawkins resource was noted to be biased and didn’t fit other guidelines the district currently considers significant considerations.

    “What we’re trying to do with our resources is certainly include Canadian content and infuse our curriculum with First Nations perspectives and literature as we’re bringing in new materials,” Novak said.

    The CFIC complains that in a school district where Gideon Bibles are still accessible via permission slips, all materials should be considered in an equal manner.

    “The question comes down to should the school board be providing materials to students from external groups,” said Eric Adriaans, national executive director of CFIC. “Whether the external group is the Centre for Inquiry or the Gideon Bible or a local Muslim organization or a Mormon organization, etc. should the school be distributing it?”

    “And if they do, are they evaluating all those options fairly, forthrightly with the criteria demonstrated and in a transparent fashion,” he added.

    In his organization’s view that is not the case.

    A post on their website links to the district’s response which does include the criteria sent by Novak, but CFIC sees it as vague and uninformative.

    continued below

  15. Novak said the Gideon Bible issue itself was resolved in 2012 when controversy sparked debate and a new policy 518 was issued by the board in 2013 that ensured a review process.

    “We actually aren’t distributing the Gideon Bible,” she said. “It is not being distributed to Grade 5 students or in our schools.”

    Novak said she wouldn’t authorize permission slips to get either the Gideon book or the Dawkins book at public district schools.

    However, Novak also said she was not sure if the practice was still happening at the school level as she hasn’t checked the situation this year, but will look into the matter when classes resume next week.

    Because of spring break, the Times was also unable to confirm whether or not bibles or permission forms are in schools.

    But Chilliwack school board trustee Barry Neufeld said the Gideon Bibles, though not endorsed by the district, are made readily available for anyone who asks.

    “Instead of sending out promotional literature to the kids our policy now is just to mention it on the school newsletter and if anybody’s interested they can contact the school and they can pick up a Gideon Bible if they want,” Neufeld said. “And I think it’s expanded, it’s not just available to Grade 5.”

    If that’s the case Adriaans and his group would like to make The Magic of Reality available in the same way, and also free.

    “Since the board has passed this policy why don’t we take a look at this as an opportunity to work with it?” Adriaans said about CFIC’s internal discussion that started the process. “I suggested that we target the March break because that’s a good time for kids to do reading.”

    Kevin Francis, host of podcast Left at the Valley with Kevin and Karen and member of the Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists (FVASH) says the district is making a big mistake.

    “The governments are cutting everything including funding to the education system,” he said. “These kids are learning with nothing, they have to steal duct tape.”

    Francis adds that Dawkins is often misperceived: the man is the most prominent evolutionary biologist of our time—he also happens to be an atheist.

    “This comes with no strings and it’s given to you at a time when the cupboard is bare,” he said. “You can’t afford to pass on something like that.”

    Francis said the book is strictly about science not atheism, which people would see if given a fair evaluation.

    “It makes no sense from an economic standpoint, it makes no sense from a scientific standpoint,” he said. “It only makes sense for them to do that from a political or religious standpoint.”


  16. Dont Believe In Evolution Try Thinking Harder

    by Tania Lombrozo, NPR JUNE 29, 2015

    The theory of evolution by natural selection is among the best established in science, yet also among the most controversial for subsets of the American public.

    For decades we've known that beliefs about evolution are well-predicted by demographic factors, such as religious upbringing and political affiliation. There's also enormous variation in the acceptance of evolution across different countries, all of which suggests an important role for cultural input in driving beliefs about evolution. A child raised by Buddhists in California is much more likely to accept evolution than one raised by evangelical Protestants in Kansas.

    But in the last 20 years or so, research in psychology and the cognitive science of religion has increasingly focused on another factor that contributes to evolutionary disbelief: the very cognitive mechanisms underlying human cognition.

    Researchers have argued that a variety of basic human tendencies conspire to make natural selection especially aversive and difficult to understand, and to make creationism a compelling alternative. For instance, people tend to prefer explanations that offer certainty and a sense of purpose when it comes to their lives and the design of the natural world and they have an easier time wrapping their heads around theories that involve biological categories with clear boundaries — all of which are challenged by natural selection.

    These factors are typically taken to hold for all humans, not only those who reject evolution. But this naturally raises a question about what differentiates those individuals who do accept evolution from those who do not. In other words, if the California Buddhist and the Kansas Protestant share the same cognitive mechanisms, what accounts for their differing views on evolution?

    In fact, there's evidence that individuals vary in the extent to which they favor purpose and exhibit other relevant cognitive tendencies, and that this variation is related toreligious belief — itself a strong predictor of evolutionary belief. But there's a lot we don't know about how differences between individuals drive different beliefs about evolution, and about how these individual differences interact with cultural input.

    A new paper by psychologist Will Gervais, just published in the journal Cognition, sheds new light on these questions. In two surveys conducted with hundreds of undergraduates attending a large university in Kentucky, Gervais found an association between cognitive style and beliefs about evolution. Gervais used a common task to measure the extent to which people engage in a more intuitive cognitive style, which involves going with immediate, intuitive judgments, versus a more analytic cognitive style, which involves more explicit deliberation, and which can often override an intuitive response.

    continued below

  17. In both studies Gervais found a statistically significant relationship between the extent to which individuals exhibited a more analytic style and their endorsement of evolution. Importantly, the relationship remained significant even when controlling for other variables that predict evolutionary beliefs, including belief in God, religious upbringing and political conservatism.

    The study also replicated prior work that has found a relationship between religiosity and evolutionary beliefs, and between cognitive style and religious disbelief: Participants with a more analytic style were not only more likely to accept evolution, but also to indicate lesser belief in God.

    These findings are consistent with at least three possibilities. The first — suggested by the clever title of Gervais' paper, "Override the Controversy" — is that all individuals have a tendency to reject evolution on an intuitive level, but that some individuals engage in a form of analytic or reflective thinking that allows them to "override" this intuitive response.

    A second possibility is that some individuals have stronger intuitive responses than others. Such individuals are likely to experience a stronger pull toward purposive thinking, a greater aversion to uncertainty and other cognitive preferences at odds with evolution. If their intuitive responses are generally stronger, they're also less likely to succeed in overriding them by engaging in analytic or reflective thought.

    Yet, a third possibility — and one I find compelling — is that effects of cognitive style interact with cultural input. Creationism and belief in God might be "intuitive" for many Kentucky undergraduates not only because these beliefs align well with basic human tendencies, but also because these are the beliefs they grew up with and that dominate their communities. What might require analytic and reflective thought isn't (just) overriding cognitive systems that govern intuition, but overriding the norms of one's upbringing and peers.

    These possibilities are neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive. The fact is, there's a lot we don't know and the reality is likely to be complex. But the new findings by Gervais — and the findings on which they build — already point to the richness of human belief. Evolution isn't controversial for scientific reasons, but it is controversial, in part, for psychological reasons.

    Understanding those reasons won't only have practical implications for science education and policy, but also can tell us something about the basic building blocks of the mind — and about how they interact with our social and cultural environment.

    read the links embedded in this article at:


  18. Charles Darwin letter repudiating the Bible heads to auction

    Blunt note stating that he did not believe the Bible was ‘divine revelation’ nor that Jesus was the son of God could fetch $90,000: ‘It is the ultimate piece’

    by Rebecca Rego Barry, The Guardian September 16, 2015

    In November 1880, Charles Darwin received a request from a young barrister named FA McDermott. “If I am to have the pleasure of reading your books,” McDermott wrote, “I must feel that at the end I shall not have lost my faith in the New Testament. My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament.”

    Darwin’s reply, penned on 24 November 1880 – exactly 21 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species – was blunt:

    Dear Sir,

    I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.

    Yours faithfully

    Ch. Darwin

    That letter is headed to auction at Bonhams on 21 September in New York, where it is expected to fetch $70,000-$90,000.

    The 19th-century naturalist and fervent letter writer had largely evaded this question since the publication of the book in 1859. The now classic text introduced his theory of natural selection, which demonstrated that species evolve through gene variation; it was a divisive proposition for Christian readers who believed that humans were made in God’s image, distinct from other animals.

    Darwin’s letters regularly appear for sale with much lower price tags – Bonhams sold one last autumn about the reproductive act among barnacles for $25,000. The letter to McDermott, less wordy than his typical missives, is, however, unique in its theological content. “If you’re a Darwin collector, it is the ultimate piece. It’s at the crux of the whole debate,” said Cassandra Hatton, senior specialist in the book department at Bonhams.

    continued below

  19. For decades Darwin had avoided publishing his ideas about evolution in order to shield his family, especially his religious wife, from any hint of scandal. On this letter to McDermott, he scrawled the word “private” across the top, a significant addition considering the provocative content. Even at the age of 71, he was wary of expressing his true thoughts about his faith. “Darwin never flaunted his disbelief, but he never denied it,” said David Quammen, author of The Reluctant Mr Darwin and editor of the illustrated edition of On the Origin of Species. He also never put it on paper quite as candidly as he had to McDermott.

    Why had the scientist finally broken his silence? A dip into the Darwin Correspondence Project hosted by Cambridge University Library, which holds the largest collection of Darwin papers, reveals that McDermott was certainly not the first to inquire about Darwin’s creed. Beginning in the late 1860s, a correspondent named Joseph Plimsoll addressed several letters to Darwin, “deeply solicitous for the salvation of your immortal soul”. In 1871, an anonymous “child of God” wrote: “Oh Man, Man, Man, why wrap yourself up in the dark theories of your own imagination; and spend your days in striving to prove ‘God’ a liar?” Similar fanmail followed.

    Perhaps Darwin was exhausted by the enquiries and the entreaties, or perhaps McDermott’s sincere appeal – coupled with an assurance that he would not publicise the answer – persuaded Darwin to tackle the subject directly. “I can only imagine what went through his mind when he got this response,” said Hatton.

    But McDermott, whatever his reaction, was true to his word. The letter remained private for more than 100 years. It was last seen at auction in 1996.

    After Darwin’s death in 1882, rumours of a deathbed conversion circulated. This letter, written less than two years before, defends against such claims.

    “There has been fog and falsehood and wishful thought surrounding the subject of Darwin’s religious belief, or lack of it, for more than a century,” said Quammen. “The McDermott letter of 1880, a real historical document, reaffirms all the other genuine evidence we have about Charles Darwin’s rigorous, courageous agnosticism throughout the second half of his life.”

    The letter remains relevant in contemporary culture as well, said Hatton, particularly while some public schools in the US are still teaching creationism. “I think it still is a very controversial topic,” she said.

    According to Hatton, the auction house has fielded “strong interest” in the letter. It will be sold alongside two other Darwin letters, a signed photograph of him, and other artifacts of science and technology including an Apple-1 computer and an Enigma machine.


  20. My Evolution Assembly. And the Young Creationists.

    POSTED BY TOM SHERRINGTON ⋅headguruteacher.com JANUARY 23, 2016

    “Charles Darwin had a big idea; arguably, the most powerful idea ever.” Richard Dawkins

    That’s the quote I used to start my assemblies this week. To me, it’s the most important and extraordinary story children should know and understand. The story of evolution, of how we came into existence as Homo sapiens roaming the Earth on a small ball of rock orbiting a star. The purpose of the assembly is to give prominence to the idea of evolution by (non-random natural selection) and to present the range of areas of science that support our understanding of it. I linked it to something current by referencing the amazing gathering of planets visible in the early morning sky. Every day this week I’ve seen Venus and Jupiter from the top of my road. Mars and Saturn are in between, albeit quite faint. I told my students that, looking at Venus, gives an idea of how Earth looks from Venus- just a small object in space, reflecting light from the Sun.

    I think we might do too many preachy moral message orientated assemblies; sometimes it’s good just to tell students something really very interesting and complicated, without patronising them.

    A key thing to challenge is the common misconception that humans ‘evolved from chimpanzees’ – or monkeys or dinosaurs…(I like to give those in the know a little chuckle with the subtle South Park reference – it seems to go safely over the heads of most students. The ‘fish-squirrel’ thing is hilarious). The idea to get across is that of common ancestors. In the assemblies I was promoting reading Richard Dawkins’ brilliant book The Ancestor’s Tale. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, telling the story of the ancestors of every living thing and how they meet up at various rendezvous points as you go back in time.

    It turns out that every living thing has a common ancestor with every other; a mind-blowing concept – but obvious enough once you get the idea that we originated from the same stock of agitated organic material in the cracks in a wet rock some 2 billion years ago. A favourite revelation is the ‘Whippo Hypothesis’ – which suggests that, from molecular evidence, hippos are more closely related to whales than they are to cows and pigs.

    Another favourite is the hypothesis that all living humans have common human ancestors that could have lived as recently as 10,000 years ago – and probably no longer than 100,000 years ago. We’re all cousins; we are family! That’s a powerful message to give; it’s literally true – not just a metaphor. The final image of the assembly is of the Earth.

    As I know from my KEGS experience, it’s inevitable that any discussion of evolution – or any brush with Richard Dawkins – will present a massive challenge to students who hold creationist views. In the past I’ve met highly intelligent students who were so heavily indoctrinated (what else to call it?), that the clash between their irrational young-Earth creationism and their rational understanding of the evidence from science actually caused mental health issues. How to resolve a deep conviction that the Bible must be telling the absolute literal truth (if life has any meaning or value) with the facts of science that render creationism null and void?

    continued below

  21. My approach in this assembly was to address the creation issue directly, at the end. I tell my students that I am an atheist but that, if they have religious convictions in any faith, they will need to find a resolution between science and creation myths for themselves. I offer them the easy-fit model that many religious scientists adopt; that God can be found in creating or governing the laws of physics – perhaps in igniting the spark that kicked the primordial molecular soup into action; that God can be found in the emerging beauty and wonder of nature as it evolved.

    But, for many, this is still a challenge. At the end of one of the assemblies, I was met by a delegation. First was a group of Year 10 girls – two Muslims and a Christian. ‘Are you saying we didn’t come from Adam and Eve?’. ‘Are you saying the Bible and Koran are lying?’ ‘God made everything; He put the dinosaurs on Earth; he put us on the Earth’. I offered that, because the science is real and verifiable, they might need to read their holy books in the context of the time they were written; to understand our need for explanations of the world around us but that now we have the science, the holy book stories need to be seen for what they are, not literal descriptions of actual events. ‘No Sir, that’s wrong; I don’t believe all this science; I believe the Bible/Koran’. We agreed that a longer conversation was needed!

    In another assembly, I saw that a Y11 Muslim student was getting agitated. At lunch, I called him over for a chat. I asked him what he thought. ‘What about the Prophets and the miracles? You can’t explain that with science. There would be no science without religion; Like you being Head of the school -without a leader there is chaos; there must be a God – someone in charge – or else there would be nothing’. This was an easier conversation, more about God vs No God than a defence of creationism per se. I told him directly that I didn’t believe in miracles – they were just stories or illusions. I talked about Galileo and how he was persecuted by the Church 500 years ago – before the science was accepted. I offered this: In 500 years all Christians and Muslims will have adopted their faith to recognise evolution. He laughed! It was a good discussion. I was trying to engage him in the ideas without dismissing his in a way that would build barriers.

    This is a tricky issue – and one that schools needs to think about. In my (one and only) book Teach Now! Science, I have this advice for new teachers of science:

    Facts, Beliefs and Opinions

    There are a number of topics in science where you may find you need to make a judgement as to how to accommodate your students’ opinions, biases and religious beliefs. Your response needs to be consistent with your school policy but perhaps most importantly, it needs to reflect a sound application of scientific principles.

    Creationism or ‘Intelligent Design’

    This is quite straightforward. Evolution is a fact. It is a theory that is supported by many layers of evidence and it can make successful predictions. It is as secure a theory as almost any other we have in science. Creationism, as we all know, has no basis in science but is promoted through religious conviction; it’s a kind of science denial.

    Confronted with a creationist student or parent, try to avoid engaging in a debate. Never fall into the trap of allowing creationism and evolution to be presented as equally valid alternative theories; no self-respecting science teacher should do this. It is quite possible to stick to the facts without engaging in a theological discussion. At the same time, remember that most religious people are not creationists; it’s important to challenge that misconception if it arises.

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  22. At my school, at every prospective parents’ evening I say: ‘We teach that evolution is a fact; because it is.’ In your school, you may need to make that case yourself.

    This refers to my last school – but I think I may also start saying it at my new school. Parents should know what to expect. The key thing is to distinguish between discussion and debate. This is hard for some students – but there are lots of ways for them to find a way forward, not least the fact that so many scientists are also religious. However, for me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the science to accommodate religious perspectives if that means sacrificing the acceptance of evidence. This applies to science and RE teachers. New Earth creationism and more subtle variants of Intelligent Design are a denial of science and I think all teachers need to be conscious of that. At the same time, as pointed out in this academic article by Roussel de Carvalho, given the imperative to engage students (and teachers) with religious views, we can’t simply brush over the issue – we need to find ways to engage students to give them the opportunity to explore the nature of scientific reasoning and how this lines up against ideas of ‘belief’.

    I once met a Headteacher who overheard me talking about the evolution of birds with another Headteacher colleague. He said ‘Oh I don’t believe in all that evolution stuff. I’m a creationist’. I was astonished – and immediately lost all respect for him. It’s just not OK to celebrate ignorance in that way. If I found a member of staff at my school was promoting creationism, ID or was offering them as credible alternatives to evolution by natural selection, I’d have words. It’s like teaching the wrong maths on purpose – to satisfy your personal beliefs.

    For me, the story of evolution – the amazing, wonderful, fascinating story – is far, far more awe-inspiring than the religious stories in any case. Knowing the journey to our current situation as the race of humans we’ve become is essential to understanding the depth of our shared humanity. One Earth; One Family; Our Common Ancestry. It’s a message worth repeating loud and clear.


    According to Alex Weatherall, (@A_Weatherall) the crew on Infinite Monkey Cage have suggested that our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) might have existed as recently as 3000 years ago. Amazing really – it puts the idea of ‘race’ into perspective.

    Something else I have been thinking this week is that the Prevent strategy might discourage some schools and teachers from addressing these issues. I could tell that I had stirred up some animosity from some Muslim boys during my assemblies. This was confirmed by other students. For some, I am an authority figure directly contradicting the teachings of their families and imams. That’s going to be hard to take. There may be teachers who fear that this has every chance of strengthening a sense of alienation or of rejecting certain Western values – two elements often associated with radicalisation. Of course RE and science lessons will allow them time to explore these things more widely than in an assembly – but assemblies are important arenas for communicating ideas. I don’t think it’s tenable to treat some ideas as too sensitive to be aired in a high status public arena simply because ill-informed irrational views are widely held. If anything we probably need to do it more often and address the faith-science conflict some students experience more openly and explicitly. The worst thing would be to be patronise them or humour them. It shouldn’t be remotely controversial to tell students that you are an atheist or that creationism is untenable given our knowledge of science.

    see charts and photos at:


  23. Darwin Day notwithstanding, evolution debate keeps, well, evolving

    by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service February 11, 2016

    (RNS) In 2005, a federal judge ruled that “intelligent design” — the idea that life is so complex it must have involved some sort of supernatural creator — isn’t science, but religion in disguise.

    Science educators heralded the decision, and many thought it spelled the end of creationism in public schools.

    They were wrong.

    This week, as scientists, educators and others mark Feb. 12 as International Darwin Day — named for British naturalist Charles Darwin, who advanced the theory of evolution with his work on natural selection — the anti-evolution camp is as active as ever.

    Opponents have managed to pass laws that permit the teaching of “alternatives” to evolution in Tennessee and Louisiana; Oklahoma and Iowa are considering similar bills. Another anti-evolution bill died on Feb. 4 in the South Dakota Senate.

    But in the wake of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District ruling, their tactics have changed. And they have been successful enough in challenging evolution education the American Academy for the Advancement of Science is devoting three hours to the issue at their annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Feb. 11-15.

    Anti-evolutionists have “come up with a policy that is vague enough to avoid court challenge so far, but specific enough that religiously conservative politicians will work to pass it,” said Nick Matzke, an evolutionary biologist who studied 60 anti-evolution bills and wrote about them in the journal Science.

    Anti-evolutionists now speak of “Science Education Acts” and “academic freedom,” with no mention of a creator or designer.

    They are also pairing origins science with other hot-button issues, such as climate change and human cloning.

    “This tactic appears to be an attempt to circumvent earlier legal decisions suggesting that targeting evolution alone is … evidence of religious motivation and, thus, unconstitutional,” Matzke wrote in Science. “An additional motivation may be the dislike of climate change research by economic and religious conservatives.”

    Matzke’s point is playing out in the presidential campaign. In December, NPR twice asked Sen. Ted Cruz, an evangelical Christian, whether he questioned evolution. Cruz linked his answer to climate change, which he doubts, and finally said of evolution: “Any good scientist questions all science. If you show me a scientist that stops questioning science, I’ll show you someone who isn’t a scientist.”

    And Sen. Marco Rubio fumbled a reporter’s question on the age of the Earth, saying “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all.”

    Meanwhile, Americans are conflicted on the subject. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found 65 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “humans evolved over time.” But 31 percent reject evolution entirely, agreeing that humans have always existed in their present form.

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  24. Proponents of intelligent design say they have no agenda and are working to promote a scientific theory.

    “Evolution is a constellation of lots of different questions and issues, and the peer-reviewed scientific literature is rife with disagreements about various parts of evolutionary theory,” John G. West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, wrote in an email interview. “There certainly is a robust debate going on about the Darwinian mutation-selection mechanism and how much it can actually accomplish. If scientists can debate these questions in their science journals, why can’t students study these questions in their science classes?

    “The question of whether nature displays evidence of design has been one of the great and continuing questions in the history of thought and the history of science,” West said. “Those who try to conflate this broader discussion of design with the narrower debate over creationism are either sadly ignorant of intellectual history or they are simply trying to avoid a discussion of the real issues.”

    Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, is having none of that. Forrest, whose testimony for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover traced the substitution of the term “intelligent design” for the word “creationism” in the textbook the Dover school board wanted to use, said proponents of intelligent design are now taking their agenda — and their fundraising efforts — overseas to Great Britain, Scotland and Brazil.

    “That tells me they don’t see their fortunes getting better here in the U.S. so they are putting in more effort over there” where no First Amendment separation of church and state precludes the teaching of creationism in public schools, she said. “I think they are realizing their star here has gotten as high as it is going to go.”

    Young-Earth creationists — people who believe God created the universe in six literal days about 6,000 years ago — also continue to protest evolution with anti-Darwin Day websites and events.

    “We want to see critical thinking — not criticism as in shaking your finger at us for what we believe, but to look at things objectively and analyze the flaws of evolution,” said Cowboy Bob Sorensen, the founder of Question Evolution Day. “This is a resource for our side of the story on biblical science.”

    There is a middle path. The Clergy Letter Project, an effort to show evolution and religion can coexist, has 14,000 Christian, Jewish and Buddhist signatories. They plan “Evolution Weekend” events on or near Darwin Day that include sermons, presentations and discussions on the compatibility of religion and science.

    “It is important for parishioners to realize that some of the very loudest voices arguing evolution is an abomination and bad science are speaking loudly but narrowly for their own religion but not for other religions,” said Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project and a biologist at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “In fact, those voices are doing damage to religion in general as well as to science.”

    (Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS)