Creationism’s on the march, folks! According to today’s “Guardian”, an obviously well funded outfit calling itself “Truth in Science” [but which might more appropriately be named “Faith in Falsehood”], has circulated all the secondary schools in the country offering a free teaching pack including two DVDs and a manual purporting to present the ‘evidence’ for intelligent design as an alternative to evolution as the most convincing theory of the origins of life on earth [and presumably of the universe]. No fewer than 59 schools have accepted the offer, to the dismay of no less a person than the chairman of the parliamentary science and technology select committee, LibDem MP Phil Willis, who is “flabbergasted” that any head of science would give sufficient credence to creationist theory to be prepared to teach it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism. A government education minister recently stated that “neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum.” However, a university professor of thermodynamics who is on the board of “Truth in Science” demurely said “we are simply putting together a different case”.
All this has, unsurprisingly, got Darwinism’s stalwart advocate Richard Dawkins hopping mad. He has established a foundation to keep God out of the class room and to prevent “pseudo-science” taking over in schools. “Truth in Science”, however, maintains that they are not attacking the teaching of Darwinian theory – they just want alternative hypotheses to be taught. Needless to say, both “Truth in Science” and Professor Dawkins’ “Foundation for Science and Reason” are applying for charitable status. The latter, at least, is not favoured by the Church of England, which senses a whiff of campaigning rather than charity about the atheist pot, while remaining silent about his opponents’ Godly kettle.
This leads me to reflect on what the distinction is – if any – between education and indoctrination. Young children, and even teenagers [like all too many adults], do not have sufficient knowledge or experience to distinguish between sound reasoning and fallacies, and alas, logic is not usually taught in schools. So children tend to believe what their grown-up relatives and their teachers tell them, and are often discouraged for questioning or criticising. I well remember the rebukes I sometimes suffered from my well-meaning and loving parents for questioning things which grown-ups had told me but which I found hard to believe. When it came to religion, my family were conventionally C of E – not atheists or sceptics, but not expecting God to reveal himself to them personally through miracles or speaking in tongues either. I was confirmed in my ‘teens, but – like most people, I suspect – experienced no holy revelation or blissful ecstasy on making my first communion. I continued to be a conventional deist into my twenties, despite the somewhat repellent attentions of over-enthusiastic evangelical types at university. [Such people have, then and ever since, put me in hearty agreement with Katharine Whitehorn’s immortal quip that the trouble with so many born-again people is that you wish they hadn’t been born the first time.]
I finally became a sceptic when, through my reforming work in the 1960s, I had contact with many religious people of all denominations. Some were truly holy people, such as the great Archbishop Michael Ramsey, whom I was privileged to talk with several times, and Archbishop Anthony Bloom of the Orthodox Church. I admired and respected them, even though I didn’t accept the premises of their faith. But there was another breed of Christians who were pharisaically self-righteous, punitive and patronising. They were right and everyone else was wrong. And some of them – such as the strident “moral majority” campaigner Mary Whitehouse - were hardened fibbers while proclaiming their devotion to righteousness and truth.
These experiences convinced me that, whether devout believers are aware of it or not, all religion is a basically political activity concerned with controlling others, conducted in a rhetoric which they find useful because being spoken to in God’s name is intimidating to many who don’t really believe in him but feel impelled to touch their forelocks to the Deity, just in case [á la Pascal].
Articulate reasoning is important to humanity, because it is what distinguishes our species from others. There are limits to reason, and to scientific knowledge. But if yet more new generations continue to be taught that it is a mistake, or even “sinful”, to stretch their logical reasoning capacities to the limit, and more virtuous to believe six impossible things before breakfast, the human race will go on being in ever bigger trouble.