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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.

  • Guest

    Funny, you theists cannot keep your ideas to yourselves either.  I find it inconsistent that you call materialism ‘evil’.  If you are an theist, you have no basis for calling anything good or evil except some cherry-picked ideas put together by glorified sheep-herders.The issue is science. But theism, believing that something exists outside of the physical world is an unprovable pre-sumption, and this is why theism is pushed on young children who are more easily persuaded by your nonsense at that age

  • Guest

    word.

  • Anonymous

    They don’t engage Judeo-Christian thought at all. They simply write in a very preemptory and “final” way that is designed to sway the weak-minded. They are “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    See: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

    The existence of God has been debated for millennia. Be a true intellectual and admit this is an open question.

  • Guest

    ” that makes no sense: surely one should be an atheist, regardless of what others do or believe, if and only if one finds it intellually and moirally convincing, just as with any other belief ?”
    No. No. No. I am banging my virtual internet head against the wall, seriously.
    Atheism is a response to theism. Atheism cannot exist without theists. But theists can certainly exist without atheists. TheTheist makes the claim, “We believe there is, at least, one God.” Atheists respond to that claim, “Why do you believe that?” If the atheist finds the theists evidence convincing and believable, he then becomes a theist.
    Atheism is not a fucking belief!! It is a response to a claim.

  • Anonymous

    What, are you like a teenager, man??

  • Anonymous

    What, are you like a teenager, man???

  • Guest

    Atheist = A person who lacks belief in a god or gods. 

  • Guest

    Atheist = A person who lacks belief in a god or gods. 

  • JLowen

    The existence of the something is only evidence that something exists. It does not imply a creator. The existence of life is only evidence that life exists. Both are self evident. A creator is certainly not. 

    Quantum science is starting to crack the something from nothing enigma..it appears “nothing” is unstable.
    Look up “Lawrence Krauss, something from nothing” on Youtube.
    You should watch it, more than once, if you are “seriously interested in thinking about the matter.”

  • JLowen

    “It ought to be clear to anyone who is not being willfully obtuse that the Abrahamic God is something a bit different than your flying spaghetti monster. For example, Christians understand the Abrahamic God as the creator of the universe, “that which nothing greater can be conceived.” A spaghetti monster, on the other hand, would need to be composed of pre-existing spaghetti. Moreover, if such monster were to fly, it would have to exist totally within spacetime, which the Abrahamic God does not.”0o
    so..what kind of spaghetti is the Abrahamic God made of?

  • Anonymous

    God is not made of anything. God was not made; God is the maker. God is the original infinitude by which beings that exist in space and time are made. God is that which all existence flows from. The answer to the question “Where did existence come from?” is God.

  • JLowen

    The multiverse was not made. The multiverse is the maker.  The multiverse is the original infinitude by which beings that exist in space and time are made. The multiverse  is that which all existence flows from. The answer to the question “Where did existence come from?” is The multiverse!

     .

  • Anonymous

    ????

  • Cjkeeffe

    Indeed, but there again not one shred of evidence to disprove the existence of God.

  • Anonymous

    If you can’t see just how ridiculous your statement is, then I feel very sorry for you.

  • Anonymous

    I find it really sad that anyone can be so estranged from reality that they can post the following –

        “not one shred of evidence to disprove the existence of God”

    Our education system really is a mess.

  • Anonymous

    Yes I agree – Dawkins simply wants to keep religion separate from science lessons. In this respect I believe he is correct. I also agree that he is candid with what he wants in terms of the state education system regarding religious teaching. Calling Francis’s argument (however much I disagree with her), a ‘straw-man argument’ is akin to calling it manufactured, or fake. I don’t like to acuse people of being liars – so I won’t do this.

    I have the upmost opinion of many atheists; Stephen Fry being one, and Christopher Hitchens being another. Richard Dawkins, (who’s books I have read and enjoyed), can, and is violently anti-religious and condesending towards those who have a religious belief.

    Regardless of who you think is factually right, you must admit that I am correct in calling out his behaviour as how I have described – watch this video and tell me otherwise:

    Now that was cruel – and there is really no excuse for such behaviour in my eyes.

    It is up to him to keep his attitude to other human beings (so much for being a ‘humanist’) in check, and not to demean then – and then we can stick to arguing over the issues themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Yes I agree – Dawkins simply wants to keep religion separate from science lessons. In this respect I believe he is correct. I also agree that he is candid with what he wants in terms of the state education system regarding religious teaching. Calling Francis’s argument (however much I disagree with her), a ‘straw-man argument’ is akin to calling it manufactured, or fake. I don’t like to acuse people of being liars – so I won’t do this.I have the upmost opinion of many atheists; Stephen Fry being one, and Christopher Hitchens being another. Richard Dawkins, (who’s books I have read and enjoyed), can, and is violently anti-religious and condesending towards those who have a religious belief.Regardless of who you think is factually right, you must admit that I am correct in calling out his behaviour as how I have described – watch this video and tell me otherwise:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…Now that was cruel – and there is really no excuse for such behaviour in my eyes. It is up to him to keep his attitude to other human beings (so much for being a ‘humanist’) in check, and not to demean then – and then we can stick to arguing over the issues themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Yes I agree – Dawkins simply wants to keep religion separate from science lessons. In this respect I believe he is correct. I also agree that he is candid with what he wants in terms of the state education system regarding religious teaching. Calling Francis’s argument (however much I disagree with her), a ‘straw-man argument’ is akin to calling it manufactured, or fake. I don’t like to acuse people of being liars – so I won’t do this.I have the upmost opinion of many atheists; Stephen Fry being one, and Christopher Hitchens being another. Richard Dawkins, (who’s books I have read and enjoyed), can, and is violently anti-religious and condesending towards those who have a religious belief.Regardless of who you think is factually right, you must admit that I am correct in calling out his behaviour as how I have described – watch this video and tell me otherwise:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…Now that was cruel – and there is really no excuse for such behaviour in my eyes. It is up to him to keep his attitude to other human beings (so much for being a ‘humanist’) in check, and not to demean then – and then we can stick to arguing over the issues themselves.

  • Anonymous

    I beleive it for its scientific merit, and scientific consensus. Some Catholics will need more than this, and I am saying that it would be irrational not to believe in evolution – based on the fact that it is described very differently in the Bible. This is because as the head of the Church surely the Vatican is a good interpreter of its own Bible text – and has come to the conclusion that evolution and a ‘old-earth’ are compatible with the Bible.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    Are the stories about Zeus myths? What about Thor? I’m sure you’d say yes. 

    Just as those stories are myths, so are the stories of the Bible. Talking donkeys? A man living in the belly of a fish? Yes. Myths.

  • Anonymous

    Cruel! Cruel? Richard Dawkins was politely giving his honest opinion (one with which I agree), having been asked for it, and I would say that it was not an opinion that he should have kept to himself. If the questioner is to be helped, then Richard Dawkins did his best to do so. What did you expect Dawkins to do in such a public forum – lie? If the questioner reflects on what Dawkins said, it is just possible that he will be able to do something about his hallucinations. Would you rather that he continued to suffer them? That would be cruel.

    You, yourself, have publicly posted your agreement with some very derogatory ad-hominem comments on this thread (and false ones in my opinion). Did Dawkins use any words as insulting as ‘pompous’ or ‘obnoxious’? No.

    One more thing: Perhaps you could provide evidence of Dawkins being violent or retract that accusation.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    Did anyone SAY they’d disproven your god? No. But someone HAD said that scientists are divided among themselves about the existence of God… 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    I agree with you! Forget teaching children the TRUTH! Let them be unable to compete with the rest of the world by believing the world was created 6000 years ago!! McDonald’s has a sign on the door that says “Now Hiring” all the time!

  • Anonymous

    Do you have an opinion on Richard Dawkins, and is there any video you would like us to watch?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    The Bible also says the Christian god is not pro-life because he caused the death of unborn child by causing women to spontaneously abort…which is the medical term for miscarriage.

    Hosea 9:11-16 Hosea prays for God’s intervention.  “Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer.  Give them, 0 Lord: what wilt thou give?  Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. . .Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.”  Clearly Hosea desires that the people of Ephraim can no longer have children.

    Good thing I’m an atheist and don’t believe all that ever happened, since I don’t believe the bible is true. Which is why I don’t want Creationism taught in school…along with stuff like this…TO CHILDREN.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    We are *born* atheists. We have no beliefs in god/s. We know nothing of the myths of man of any cultures until our guardians indoctrinate us. It doesn’t matter where we live… Louisiana (Hello! Guess who got baptized there and is having a hell of a time getting off the Church rolls!), Afghanistan, England, Zimbabwe, Brasil, etc…. We are forced-fed the religion of our culture. For most of us, the brainwashing is complete at an early age and only a reading of the bile and a study of the history of the bile can releases us from the slavery dealt to us.

    Too bad Christians still locked behind bars can’t see this. But the Washintong post releaseed some numbers yesterday that explain what is happening now, in the US. and I’m *so* happy to see it, finally.

    Still fighting the good fight…A converted atheist. 

  • Teacher

    Yes, I too am thankful, but unlike you, my God is not imaginary. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    I mistakenly Liked this when I went to reply. What are our morals based on? Humans are societal animals. What is good for us is good for society and vice versa. We work together to aid each other to promote better living conditions. To ease human suffering. To cure diseases. To provide for our poor. To make safe places for everyone. We fight for equal rights for everyone, including the right to believe as you choose, as long as your beliefs don’t impede on the rights of others. We don’t hurt other people, because it causes retaliation, bringing suffering to “the whole.” We work to provide for the “all,” so thatthere is enough for everyone, including ourselves. We know right from wrong because even pack animals have hierarchies that mean everyone works together, providing safety and food for everyone, in case you haven’t noticed. SCIENCE and EVOLUTION provides the answers. We don’t need a book to tell us how to behave, nor do we do things because we are threatened with punishments or ONLY because there is promise of reward. Even computers can follow commands. We don’t need to.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BURHLUKOXASPQBFXLIPLOGC3YU Sassy

    Atheism is not a “faith.” Faith means believing without evidence. That is what religious people have. Atheism means a *lack of belief* in god/s.

    Everyone is an atheist about Zeus because there is no evidence regarding Zeus. Or Thor Or Ra Or Iris. And atheists believe there is no evidence for the existence for the Abrahamic god worshiped by the Christians, Jews and Muslims (which is the SAME god, as much as Christians often want to deny it).

    I have a *lack of belief* in carpet-covered snakes. That is not a FAITH. There is no evidence of carpet-covered snakes. That doesn’t means that there are NO carpet-covered snakes. It just means that until one shows up, I’m not going to believe one exists. Period.

    I’m the same way about ALL gods. The Christian god doesn’t get special get special privileges. No gods do. 

    The other thing I wanted to mention was Creationism with Evolution and Noah’s Ark with the time frame and the multitude of the variety of animal species on the planet. It *just isn’t scientifically possible* for all of the species to have evolved in the amount of time it’s been since the time of flood. No way. No how. If Catholics are still believing the Flood Story…which I’m sure they do, because it was taught to me. There just wasn’t enough time. And I’ve heard the story about “the kinds” of animals on the ark? Porcupines evolving from rats? Not. On. Your. Life. So even this doesn’t work. 

     

  • Anonymous

    That is your opinion. It’s not clear how the multiverse could make itself without some type of intelligence, bu that the identification of God with nature has been around since Spinoza in the 17th c. at least. I’m not sure why you all think some zoologist with no training in philosophy or physics has solved these problems once and for all.

  • ianlogan

    I’m not aware that ‘ya ya’ is a technical term in logic. I would suggest that rather than asking others to read Goedel, you try reading him yourself. If you were to and could understand what you read, you would see that Goedel thought that it was possible to prove logically the existence of God and that in fact he produced such a proof. To quote Goedel: “Materialism is false.”

    As to your claim about the limits of knowledge: you state it but you do not argue for it. You say that anything knowable can be observed, measured or implied and that when implied the base assumptions are from measurable and observable things. Do you know that to be the case? If you claim that it is, then you have to show how you attained such knowledge about knowledge, since what you claim is neither observable nor measurable nor implied in anything observable or measurable. Your position is, technically speaking, absurd, since if we assume that it is true, a contradiction entails. If you do not make such a claim then your argument is vacuous.

  • ianlogan

    You say that the modal ontological argument for the existence of God is a word trick. Are you acquainted with any of these arguments (there are more than one)? Stating that an argument is a word trick is not an argument that it is. You have to show it is. Otherwise you will justly be accused of arguing fallaciously. So please proceed, as I will be most interested to read your analysis of such arguments.

  • ianlogan

    You say that the modal ontological argument for the existence of God is a word trick. Are you acquainted with any of these arguments (there are more than one)? Stating that an argument is a word trick is not an argument that it is. You have to show it is. Otherwise you will justly be accused of arguing fallaciously. So please proceed, as I will be most interested to read your analysis of such arguments.

  • ianlogan

    You say that the modal ontological argument for the existence of God is a word trick. Are you acquainted with any of these arguments (there are more than one)? Stating that an argument is a word trick is not an argument that it is. You have to show it is. Otherwise you will justly be accused of arguing fallaciously. So please proceed, as I will be most interested to read your analysis of such arguments.

  • Anonymous

    “Do you know that to be the case?”

    Surely ChrisW’s statement about knowledge is implied by the definition of knowledge?

  • Anonymous

    I made a suggestion in my reply to a slightly earlier post by mkamoski that he try substituting “The proof that God does not exist” for “God” in the Modal Ontological Argument. (I thought that this overcame the problem of defining God, since the same definition applies in both cases.) If Godel’s logic prooves the existence of God, then does the same logic not also proove the existence of a proof that God does not exist?

    Is there a flaw in my (informally expressed) argument?

  • Anonymous

    I made a suggestion in my reply to a slightly earlier post by mkamoski that he try substituting “The proof that God does not exist” for “God” in the Modal Ontological Argument. (I thought that this overcame the problem of defining God, since the same definition applies in both cases.) If Godel’s logic prooves the existence of God, then does the same logic not also proove the existence of a proof that God does not exist?

    Is there a flaw in my (informally expressed) argument?

  • Anonymous

    I made a suggestion in my reply to a slightly earlier post by mkamoski that he try substituting “The proof that God does not exist” for “God” in the Modal Ontological Argument. (I thought that this overcame the problem of defining God, since the same definition applies in both cases.) If Godel’s logic prooves the existence of God, then does the same logic not also proove the existence of a proof that God does not exist?

    Is there a flaw in my (informally expressed) argument?

  • Acleron

    Your definition of cruelty is bizarre. He didn’t taunt the man but gave him a factual response to the question ‘What do you think…?’. If I asked a priest what he thought of my ideas that there is no god, I would not think it cruel of him to disagree and tell me I was deluded. Though I might think it a bit cruel if I was burned at the stake for my non-belief.

    A strawman is an imaginary point that is created to either put a recipient in a poor light, to divert an audience’s attention or to be refuted to win a rhetorical point. Her argument about smuggling in atheism was manufactured and is fake. There is no concerted atheistic organisation for such a task, atheists are far too individual and to join in such an activity.I find it more than amusing that Phillips takes a known fact, the supply of so-called educational material directly to schools from creationist organisations who do have such a secret agenda and tries to smear others with the same accusation. Actually, the creationist agenda is not so secret these days after the inadvertent publication of their infamous Wedge Document.

  • Acleron

    Your definition of cruelty is bizarre. He didn’t taunt the man but gave him a factual response to the question ‘What do you think…?’. If I asked a priest what he thought of my ideas that there is no god, I would not think it cruel of him to disagree and tell me I was deluded. Though I might think it a bit cruel if I was burned at the stake for my non-belief.

    A strawman is an imaginary point that is created to either put a recipient in a poor light, to divert an audience’s attention or to be refuted to win a rhetorical point. Her argument about smuggling in atheism was manufactured and is fake. There is no concerted atheistic organisation for such a task, atheists are far too individual and to join in such an activity.I find it more than amusing that Phillips takes a known fact, the supply of so-called educational material directly to schools from creationist organisations who do have such a secret agenda and tries to smear others with the same accusation. Actually, the creationist agenda is not so secret these days after the inadvertent publication of their infamous Wedge Document.

  • Anonymous

    PS. I forgot to add that if any of the arguments for the existence of God were valid, then there would be no learned debate.

    I see that on the BBC web site, the revision notes for Religious Studies still presents several so-called arguments for the existence of God in a manner that suggests they have merit. This is a gross disservice to students. I complained to the BBC about this a year ago. If you wish to choose any of the ‘proofs’, I can supply my refutation.

  • Acleron

    1) Creationists have clearly stated that they want their silly ideas debated, it’s part of their strategy. This bit is called, teach the controversy. The next stage is getting it put along side science to give it credibility. At the same time they are being mendacious in trying to say that they are not religious although there is plenty of evidence to show that they are mostly christian fundamentalists. Any tendency to introduce anti-scientific teaching in schools is to be resisted. I for one have no wish to bequeath to the following generations a belief in superstition.

    2) Evolution is a fact. There is plenty of evidence for it, fossils, DNA sequencing even blind cave fish are only explained by evolution. And there are plenty of examples of it happening now. The Theory of Evolution deals with how evolution happend, ie its mechanism. And there is also plenty of evidence to show that it is mainly caused by natural selection.

  • Acleron

    1) Creationists have clearly stated that they want their silly ideas debated, it’s part of their strategy. This bit is called, teach the controversy. The next stage is getting it put along side science to give it credibility. At the same time they are being mendacious in trying to say that they are not religious although there is plenty of evidence to show that they are mostly christian fundamentalists. Any tendency to introduce anti-scientific teaching in schools is to be resisted. I for one have no wish to bequeath to the following generations a belief in superstition.

    2) Evolution is a fact. There is plenty of evidence for it, fossils, DNA sequencing even blind cave fish are only explained by evolution. And there are plenty of examples of it happening now. The Theory of Evolution deals with how evolution happend, ie its mechanism. And there is also plenty of evidence to show that it is mainly caused by natural selection.

  • Anonymous

    I said ‘violently anti-religious’ – not violent. I will post a proper answer later, as it is late – but i want to clear that up.

    Metaphorically, not physically. It is a term of phrase, and one which I won’t retract, as I believe it is a fair definition of his point of view – probably one he would agree to.

  • Anonymous

    Where did you do your PhD in physics?

  • Anonymous

    True. I thought he was challenging me to show that scientists were, in fact, divided. That’s all I hoped to show. Cheers.

  • Anonymous

    Studies have shown that Catholic school kids regularly outperform state school kids, and with less funding.

  • Anonymous

    Look here: http://books.google.com/books?id=zVDR2ZePzvUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=church+built+western&hl=en&ei=_x59TtDNC8HqgQeu7Kxc&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  • Anonymous

    He has studied at Cambridge and has a PhD in philosophy, which would be more useful than one in physics for the purpose of this discussion.