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Beware the smuggling of atheism into science lessons

Of course schools should teach evolution – but they should not present it as a substitute for God

By on Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Sir David Attenborough wants the Government to tackle the 'threat' of creationism in schools (Photo: PA)

Sir David Attenborough wants the Government to tackle the 'threat' of creationism in schools (Photo: PA)

I was alerted to an article in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week with the headline: “Attenborough: ban creationism in science class.” It seems that Sir David Attenborough has joined other scientists in calling for “creationism” (the idea that God literally built the world in six days, in line with the description in Genesis) to be removed from the curriculum and for evolution to be taught more widely in schools, including primary schools. According to the article: “The naturalist joined three other Nobel laureates, Professor Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, and other leading scientists in calling on the Government to tackle the ‘threat’ of creationism.”

I don’t know any Christians, apart from certain Evangelicals, who interpret the Book of Genesis literally. Certainly Catholics don’t do so. There is a long tradition in the Church of supporting scientific enquiry on the grounds that physics and metaphysics can easily flourish alongside each other. Militant atheism is a different matter. The problem in the proposed curriculum arises when atheists, such as Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, seek to replace God with science, particularly the theory of evolution.

They always like to give the impression that the scientific community agrees with them. But, not surprisingly, scientists are divided among themselves in the debate about the existence of God. According to the Telegraph report, the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, the Royal Society’s former director of education and a fellow signatory of Attenborough’s campaign, describes evolution as “God’s work”. Dr Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, is on record for stating: “As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan.”

Attenborough and Dawkins tend, as we know, to pontificate; strictly speaking, only popes can do this. Historian Michael Burleigh (a Catholic, incidentally), has put it succinctly, once commenting in an interview: “[Dawkins] writing about theology would be like asking me to write about nuclear physics.” Quite so. So what has Pope Benedict pontificated on this subject recently? Addressing agnostics in the prelude to his forthcoming trip to Germany, he says: “You ask me, but does God exist? And if He exists, does he really concern Himself with us? Can we reach Him? It is true… we cannot pick Him up like an ordinary object. We must discover our capacity to perceive God, a capacity that exists within us. We can get some idea of the greatness of God in the greatness of the cosmos.”

A friend, who is an Orthodox Christian, recently sent me a review he had written of Dawkins’s The God Delusion for the Dublin Review of Books. After carefully analysing the book and pointing out its merits, he concludes: “The theory of natural selection may help us to understand some aspects of the evolution of natural forms. With regard to more purely human concerns – morals, politics, aesthetics (those things in which we may be said to have been made in the image of God) – it has nothing of any value to contribute.”

To return to the school curriculum: by all means introduce evolution into science lessons, as part of pupils’ exploration of the natural world. But do not, alongside it, try to smuggle in atheism by the back door, as I suspect Dawkins and others would like to do. And in RE classes, show how, in the Bible, revelation employs the language of men in different ways – poetically, symbolically and so on. “Creationism” doesn’t need to be perceived as a “threat”; it should just be discussed as a form of theological language, not as science.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Herron/657206017 Michael Herron

    I always love these new age toadies that exclaim that god is in the smell of new mown grass, or that wonderful sunset. Are they totally without any analytical capabilities? Do they make all  their decisions based on gut reactions?

    Do not comment on science if you have zero background in it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Herron/657206017 Michael Herron

    I always love these new age toadies that exclaim that god is in the smell of new mown grass, or that wonderful sunset. Are they totally without any analytical capabilities? Do they make all  their decisions based on gut reactions?

    Do not comment on science if you have zero background in it.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    You are not being reasonable, and you are – of course – wrong.

    Perhaps you have heard of “Russel’s Teapot”?

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    You are not being reasonable, and you are – of course – wrong.

    Perhaps you have heard of “Russel’s Teapot”?

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    To you.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    To you.

  • Jonathan West

    I agree entirely. When I mentioned “observations” I meant it to include observing the results of experiments.

  • Jonathan West

    Climate change is a perfectly valid study – the natural process of the climate, including the effects on climate of human-induced increases in CO2 and other gases.

    It is by no means impossible to devise a test for the intervention of an immaterial being. All you need is a hypothesis for the kind of detectable intervention that the immaterial being might make, and then devise a test whose result will be different depending on whether the intervention has occurred.

    Some people have already been doing such tests. One thing the bible tells us is that prayers are answered. So there have been tests for the effects of intercessory prayer on patients recovering from heart operations. These tests have been done to the highest of standards of double-blind clinical trials, where neither the doctors nor the patients knew who was being prayed for and who wasn’t.

    So far, the indications are all negative.

  • Anonymous

    IIf the bible is not taken literally, then there was no original sin, and Jesus died for nothing. Science offers questions, furthering knowledge, religion offers “answers”, removing all curiosity.

  • Anonymous

    You assert but do not give supporting evidence nor convince why that evidence or assertion should be accepted. Given that a period of great scientific advance was when Christendom interacted with the Islamic world and especially via the University of Cordoba, and we rediscovered via the Arab world the scientific and mathematical advances from the Far East and Greek philosophy lost to the west, it seems to me the best scientific advances happen when religions and cultures interact.

  • mkamoski

    Please consider opening your eyes and seeing God.

  • mkamoski

    Please consider opening your eyes and seeing God.

  • mkamoski

    Dear ChrisW – To say that “faith != logic” is false and coming from someone who has not, apparently, taken the time to consider The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is “a priori”. It is pure logic. And it is sound. It is good enough for Kurt Godel. Please do take a moment to investigate it. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear ChrisW – To say that “faith != logic” is false and coming from someone who has not, apparently, taken the time to consider The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is “a priori”. It is pure logic. And it is sound. It is good enough for Kurt Godel. Please do take a moment to investigate it. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • Anonymous

    You really are sounding more and more desperate aearon43. Open your mind and welcome in the world of reality.

  • Anonymous

    You really are sounding more and more desperate aearon43. Open your mind and welcome in the world of reality.

  • Anonymous

    You really are sounding more and more desperate aearon43. Open your mind and welcome in the world of reality.

  • mkamoski

    Dearr Jonathan West – Please consider that it is disingenuous (at best) to teach causality and at the same time reject The First Cause Argument For The Existence Of God or the Contingency Argument For The Existence Of God. Similar contradictions come from those who accepted other laws of physics, such motion, and who in turn reject the Argument Of The First Mover. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If science is to remain consistent, then it must address these argument, which it has not. What is interesting, is that it is, in fact, a Catholic belief (for example) that liberates and has both for the existence of God and an understanding of physics/etc which means no contradiction– not so for the pure-science crows. Let’s be fair. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dearr Jonathan West – Please consider that it is disingenuous (at best) to teach causality and at the same time reject The First Cause Argument For The Existence Of God or the Contingency Argument For The Existence Of God. Similar contradictions come from those who accepted other laws of physics, such motion, and who in turn reject the Argument Of The First Mover. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If science is to remain consistent, then it must address these argument, which it has not. What is interesting, is that it is, in fact, a Catholic belief (for example) that liberates and has both for the existence of God and an understanding of physics/etc which means no contradiction– not so for the pure-science crows. Let’s be fair. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dearr Jonathan West – Please consider that it is disingenuous (at best) to teach causality and at the same time reject The First Cause Argument For The Existence Of God or the Contingency Argument For The Existence Of God. Similar contradictions come from those who accepted other laws of physics, such motion, and who in turn reject the Argument Of The First Mover. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If science is to remain consistent, then it must address these argument, which it has not. What is interesting, is that it is, in fact, a Catholic belief (for example) that liberates and has both for the existence of God and an understanding of physics/etc which means no contradiction– not so for the pure-science crows. Let’s be fair. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dearr Jonathan West – Please consider that it is disingenuous (at best) to teach causality and at the same time reject The First Cause Argument For The Existence Of God or the Contingency Argument For The Existence Of God. Similar contradictions come from those who accepted other laws of physics, such motion, and who in turn reject the Argument Of The First Mover. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If science is to remain consistent, then it must address these argument, which it has not. What is interesting, is that it is, in fact, a Catholic belief (for example) that liberates and has both for the existence of God and an understanding of physics/etc which means no contradiction– not so for the pure-science crows. Let’s be fair. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dearr Jonathan West – Please consider that it is disingenuous (at best) to teach causality and at the same time reject The First Cause Argument For The Existence Of God or the Contingency Argument For The Existence Of God. Similar contradictions come from those who accepted other laws of physics, such motion, and who in turn reject the Argument Of The First Mover. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If science is to remain consistent, then it must address these argument, which it has not. What is interesting, is that it is, in fact, a Catholic belief (for example) that liberates and has both for the existence of God and an understanding of physics/etc which means no contradiction– not so for the pure-science crows. Let’s be fair. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • mkamoski

    Dear Atwomey – Please investigate The Modal Ontological Argument For The Existence Of God. It is a logical proof. It may interest you. HTH. Thanks. – Mark Kamoski

  • Anonymous

    It is not a logical proof; it is a word trick just like so many so-called proofs of the existence of God.

  • Anonymous

    It is not a logical proof; it is a word trick just like so many so-called proofs of the existence of God.

  • Anonymous

    It is not a logical proof; it is a word trick just like so many so-called proofs of the existence of God.

  • Anonymous

    It is not a logical proof; it is a word trick just like so many so-called proofs of the existence of God.

  • Anonymous

    Try substituting “The proof that God does not exist” for “God” in the Modal Ontological Argument.

  • Jonathan West

    I could get into a long argument with you concerning the holes in the first cause and contingency arguments, but I shan’t bother. Let me just say that they are making assumptions about what the author of those arguments thought must be.

    Science proceeds from a starting point of observing what is, and then seeing what generalisations can be made from that. So, by all means discuss these issues in a philosophy class, but not please in science.

    For instance, we don”t know that there are no uncaused events which occur. Acquinas assumed that there were not, except for the first cause. But quantum theory seems to be chockful of apparently random uncaused events which can only be described in a probabilistic way.

  • Anonymous

    He has a Ph.D. in Applied Physics.

    So, yeah, he’s qualified.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    Actually, no he does not. 

    Spitzer has a business arts degree in public accounting, a masters degree in philosophy, a masters of divinity, and a masters in theology, and his Ph.D is in philosophy.

    So no, he is not qualified to discuss astrophysics or even basic physics.  In fact, he has NO science degrees of any kind, or any training or experience in science.

    I had more science classes in my BSEE than Spitzer has had his whole career.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    Actually, no he does not. 

    Spitzer has a business arts degree in public accounting, a masters degree in philosophy, a masters of divinity, and a masters in theology, and his Ph.D is in philosophy.

    So no, he is not qualified to discuss astrophysics or even basic physics.  In fact, he has NO science degrees of any kind, or any training or experience in science.

    I had more science classes in my BSEE than Spitzer has had his whole career.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KSC3BFZBI2TU5TOB7PEQEGX6EE Moh

    Glad you are not teaching at my kids school……..Unless you are teaching ditch digging. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KSC3BFZBI2TU5TOB7PEQEGX6EE Moh

    Glad you are not teaching at my kids school……..Unless you are teaching ditch digging. 

  • Anonymous

    Richard Dawkins is a cruel man who delights in pointing out the ‘idiocy’ of anyone who sees thinks differently from his own opinion.

    David Attenborough on the other hand, I believe is entirely sincere, and simply wants the best for our own children’s education. I see know backdoor effort to try and promote atheism here. 

    As Catholics we should support the teaching of evolution in schools (who have been teaching it for years – as it is excepted science). If it was good enough for Pope John Paul II and Benedict – then it does not make us any less of Catholics to support it!

    I would expect that the reason for this campaign is to try and preempt the governments new ‘free-schools’ from being run by extreme protestant groups that will seek to teach Genesis as factually correct – within science lessons. This is the case in the US were many such schools have the very same debate. 
    With, amazingly, a fair share of Catholics who choose to delude themselves also – even if the Pope clearly says otherwise!

  • Anonymous

    David Attenborough? He is very quite about his views, and produces his tv programmes in a professional way – usually very focused on simply the beauty of nature.

    I would agree with you on Dawkins – he is an unpleasant individual.

  • Teacher

    Moh:  Probably not…for I suspect your children go to public school.  I do not teach in public schools…ever.  So, you can rest assured.

  • Anonymous

    I rather think that Richard Dawkins’ criticism is aimed at those who obstinately refuse to accept facts. Facts are not opinion, and the Pope’s opinions are not necessarily fact. The justification for teaching that evolution is a fact is that evolution is a fact, not that a Pope says it happens. The justification for teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection (and its applicability to all lifeforms) is that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support it, not that a Pope supports it. Why would anyone consider a Pope to be the source of scientific information?

  • Acleron

    And more ad hominem attacks. Even if he was cruel, stick to arguing about his ideas. 

    Try reading some Dawkins and you will see that he proposes no ‘backdoor’ method of introducing atheism and secularism. He is totally up front and honest in his opinions. You may not like his opinions but argue against them rather than diminishing your own argument by arguing against the man’s personality or strawmen invented by Francis Phillips.

  • http://gristleoflife.wordpress.com/ Analog Kid

    Religious education belongs in seminary, church, and theology courses.  Creationism does not belong in public schools.  Period.   To suggest that Attenborough is trying to push some kind of atheist agenda in schools is ridiculous.

  • Guest

    so….that’s two….that’s all ya got?

  • JLowen

    Wrong. Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. Agnosticism refers to “knowledge,” while atheism refers to belief. I am an agnostic-atheist. I do not believe there is a god or gods, but I do not know for sure, and I would be open to the idea given some persuasive evidence. Even Richard Dawkins, who created a scale from 1 to 7 measuring the certitude of atheists,  labeled himself as a six. 

  • JLowen

    that’s only because they soundly thrash creationist and theological arguments with such ease and finality. Most people think that the pope is obnoxious, pompous, and arrogant, except for his deluded fan club.

  • Anonymous

    ATHEIST: 1570s, from Fr. athéiste (16c.), from Gk. atheos “without god, denying the gods; abandoned of the gods; godless, ungodly,” from a- “without” + theos “a god”

    The word “atheist” clearly means without (a) god (theos). Do not abuse language.

  • JLowen

    really getting sick of the term “macro-evolution.””Macro-evolution” is not a scientific term and even if it was, “macro-evolution” would only be describing “micro-evolution” over vast amounts of time.Evolution is an accumulative process.