Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Creationism in England

Here's a cheery article from a recent issue of the British newspaper The Guardian:


A growing number of science students on British campuses and in sixth form colleges are challenging the theory of evolution and arguing that Darwin was wrong. Some are being failed in university exams because they quote sayings from the Bible or Qur'an as scientific fact and at one sixth form college in London most biology students are now thought to be creationists.
Earlier this month Muslim medical students in London distributed leaflets that dismissed Darwin's theories as false. Evangelical Christian students are also increasingly vocal in challenging the notion of evolution.

In the United States there is growing pressure to teach creationism or “intelligent design” in science classes, despite legal rulings against it. Now similar trends in this country have prompted the Royal Society, Britain's leading scientific academy, to confront the issue head on with a talk entitled Why Creationism is Wrong. The award-winning geneticist and author Steve Jones will deliver the lecture and challenge creationists, Christian and Islamic, to argue their case rationally at the society's event in April.

“There is an insidious and growing problem,” said Professor Jones, of University College London. “It's a step back from rationality. They (the creationists) don't have a problem with science, they have a problem with argument. And irrationality is a very infectious disease as we see from the United States.”


Jones is right that the growth of creationism represnts a step back from rationality. But he is wrong to characterize creationists as not having a problem with science. They do, indeed, have a problem with science, because science accords no evidential weight to ancient, allegedly holy, texts. The students who are quoting the Bible or Qur'an on their medical exams (who fully deserve to fail, incidentally) do not believe that the scientific method represents the only proper means of investigating the mechanics of nature. They make arguments aplenty, they just aren't scientific arguments.

Later we come to this:


The leaflets are produced by the Al-Nasr Trust, a Slough-based charity set up in 1992 with the aim of improving the understanding of Islam. The passage quoted from the Qur'an states: “And God has created every animal from water. Of them there are some that creep on their bellies, some that walk on two legs and some that walk on four. God creates what he wills for verily God has power over all things.”

A 21-year-old medical student and member of the Islamic Society, who did not want to be named, said that the Qur'an was clear that man had been created and had not evolved as Darwin suggests. “There is no scientific evidence for it [Darwin's Origin of Species]. It's only a theory. Man is the wonder of God's creation.”


Of course. God created everything from water. How could it be otherwise?

The article concludes with this:


Most of the next generation of medical and science students could well be creationists, according to a biology teacher at a leading London sixth-form college. “The vast majority of my students now believe in creationism,” she said, “and these are thinking young people who are able and articulate and not at the dim end at all. They have extensive booklets on creationism which they put in my pigeon-hole ... it's a bit like the southern states of America.” Many of them came from Muslim, Pentecostal or Baptist family backgrounds, she said, and were intending to become pharmacists, doctors, geneticists and neuro-scientists.


It has been wisely said that against stupidity the Gods themselves toil in vain. I suspect that things aren't quite as gloomy as this article makes it seem. But it does provide some perspective on where the real problem in lies. Are these arrogant, ignorant students responding to some snide remarks from Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins? Or is it that their entire ability to think rationally and discern good arguments from bad has been compromised by the religious zealotry of their upbringing? Is the rejection of evolution a problem of PR, something that can be fixed if only evolutionists would present their arguments more eloquently? Or is it simply that too many people prefer the comforts of blind faith to the hard work of clear thinking and meticulous investigation?

Don't get me wrong. I think evolutionists should continue to make their case in public venues and confront creationism at every turn. What else is there to do, after all? But we have to get over this idea that there is some silver bullet, that if only evolutionists were doing some simple thing differently everything would be okay. It just isn't so. The facts are readily available to anyone willing to make the smallest effort to obtain them. Scientists have been leading the horses to water for decades. But they are determined not to drink.

15 Comments:

At 7:08 PM, Blogger PatSki said...

I don't think this is as much of a problem as the article makes it out to be. I'm English (living in the States) and a lot of my friends are doctors and in the process of becoming doctors and with one exception they're all atheists.

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

I do think it's a dangerous problem, not just pathetic. Religious fundamentalism leads to wars. So don't give up on explaining. Science is backed by quasi-religious ideas that people need to accept if they're going to continue in scientific fields. The first one is that truth is accessible through observation of the world. I don't think these beliefs, or maybe just temporary suspensions of unbelief, are necessarily incompatible with main stream religion, but definitely with literal readings. Science has to effect the way you think about your religion.

The best hope I see for sneakily educating large numbers of young people comes from the simulation games. Will Wright, the designer of Sim City was supposed to be making a sim of evolution, which would have been great. But he came out with a prototyper instead. It's called Spore.

 
At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Mel said...

I'm trying to figure out for myself why "people of faith" can go so whacko. So, here's my take.

Using "faith" to mindlessly soak up dogma in some area is a choice to reject consciousness of reality in that area. It means rejecting consciousness as such for the sake of pure fantasy.

I even found a couple of Web sites recently where the authors were ranting against "Copernicanism" and had all sorts of reasons why the heliocentric theory is all wrong.

And, we know that this madness can go to the point of killing themselves and others.

Anyway, nice post. I hope you submit it to talkreason.org.

Faith is a vice!
Mel

 
At 4:10 AM, Blogger CJR said...

"Jones is right that the growth of creationism represnts a step back from rationality. But he is wrong to characterize creationists as not having a problem with science."

To be fair, I read Jones' comment more as an acknowledgment that anti-evolutionist attack the science because they don't like the implications of it, rather than because they have specific problems with the science itself.

 
At 6:40 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Was reading your blog... Noticed you tend to typecast Christians. You've got all the stereotypes here "Faith leads to wars", "Atheism = evolution", "people of faith are irrational or mindless". Good stuff! You hit on all the soundbites.

I am a Christian and I have given some thought to evolution and faith on my blog.

The first are my pre-panel thoughts on the topic, http://dmckeon.blogspot.com/2005/10/church-and-state-evolution-id-and.html

The second, http://dmckeon.blogspot.com/2005/11/nov_12.html, are my responses to the questions after a panel discussion I participated in.

Would be interested in hearing your feedback to help me refine my thoughts on it. Please give it some thought and avoid the stereotype responses.

I don't think I'm a "fundamentalist" but I'd have to know what you would mean by that. I am not a disciple of Jerry Falwell if that's what you mean. But Jerry and Pat are hardly the official spokesmen of Christendom.

Not all Christians are anti-evolution or irrational or bent on war or all the other strawmen you've leveled here. Not all proponents of evolution are or need be Atheists. I actually find that scientists and engineers more readily accept Christianity than do the loose post-modern social science types. At least scientists, to your credit, do value rationalism, and the notion of truth. Personally I find evolution and Christianity actually may reinforce one another.

Darwinism is not science it is a worldview. Intelligent Design is also not science it is a worldview. To me the argument is not so much about science but about the philosophy of science that both entail. "Does stuff happen" or "Is there a purpose or design in nature"? Those are philosophy not scientific questions. Science is neutral, as all but the old diehards realize by now. My hunch is that is what people are really arguing about even if its not articulated exactly that way with respect to ID.

The study of how material phenomena change or transform is evolution. So, yes, science incorporates evolutionary processes within its proper sphere. Please don't go beyond that, to pretend that it accounts for all that we can know to be true as human beings. Our range of knowledge extends far beyond empiricisim, which is the inherent limitation of what science actually can tell us.

Science (including social sciences) is empirical and looks at distinct, verifiable phenomena. Of course transformation occurs. This doesn't necessarily mean you then need to reduce knowledge to only that which can be known empirically.

-DJ McKeon

 
At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Will Wright, the designer of Sim City was supposed to be making a sim of evolution, which would have been great. "

Already done. It's called Sim Earth :) Was out ages ago.

Back on topic, I amsurprised that creationism is so strong in England.. I thought Europe was tending toward the secualr side.

Here in Canada there is little talk of creationism that I see, except fo the occasional report from the US.

 
At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Mike Russell, MD said...

I agree that it is probably important not to let the demonstrated value of the scientific method of inquiry get caught up in discussions of religion/theology/sprituality. Science and rationalism in general is a way to determine what is emperically true, what works, how the forces of "nature" operate, etc. The goal is to understand and, at least to some extent, harness these forces to the betterment (subjective, I know) of man and "the planet" in general.

I am a physician and have participated in and published the results of scientific inquiry. I have also wondered, as do most of us I suspect, what the "purpose" of human (or any other) life, nature, the world, etc. might be. I have concluded that "nature" is too wonderful not to have spiritual meaning. I need make no effort to "prove" that. To me, it is obvious. What I want is for all students, indeed all people, to have the profound experience of recognizing that for themselves. That recognition is only profound, though, when one has the ability to rationally digest the true from the false, the "believed" from the known and concludes for ones' self that the universe is indescribably and unfathomably marvelous.

Dogma causes conflict. A deeply spritual appreciation of the universe and the role of man within it cannot, it seems to me, result in anything other that reverence for the world and each other.

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger A. L. C. said...

If Adam & Eve was the first humans in the world, they committed incest, or not? HAHAHAHAHA.

Easy-objection for those people that actually believe in god or creationism.

 
At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jones is right that the growth of creationism represnts a step back from rationality. But he is wrong to characterize creationists as not having a problem with science. They do, indeed, have a problem with science, because science accords no evidential weight to ancient, allegedly holy, texts.

Or, I might add they have a problem with science when it either cannot or will not legitimize/prove their personal experiences of faith ("Christ is real to me. I feel him every day in my life", alleged answered prayer, etc.).

Yet, in an ironic sort of way, religionists (of which creationists are a subset) are very fragile and insecure people. Otherwise, why would they so desperately seek the "approval" of science, which they publicly disparage?

 
At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been wisely said that against stupidity the Gods themselves toil in vain...Are these arrogant, ignorant students responding to some snide remarks from Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins? Or is it that their entire ability to think rationally and discern good arguments from bad has been compromised by the religious zealotry of their upbringing? Is the rejection of evolution a problem of PR,...

I tend to think history moves in cycles (waves), much like a pendulum swings back and forth -- except history works within different timeframes/scales (i.e. microcyles, macrocycles, etc.).

I believe a surge in worldwide fundamentalism (of all stripes) is part of a macro-pendulum swing in response to general principles and advances of The Englightenment (social, medical, scientific, etc.).

On a micro-scale, it has been seen in "brush fires" e.g. the Scopes Trial and the modern creationist attempt to re-package itself.

I would not be surprised if humankind were to enter another Dark Age of sorts, although this time the consequences could be fatal to human race given the weapons of mass destruction that exist today.

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm a "fundamentalist" but I'd have to know what you would mean by that. I am not a disciple of Jerry Falwell if that's what you mean. But Jerry and Pat are hardly the official spokesmen of Christendom.

But, they are the de facto spokesman because that is all people hear on TV and radio. When mainstream versions of religion start to speak up and condemn the likes of Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, the claim that there is a rational Christian majority is hardly believable.

All these mainstream Christian bloggers who hate stereotypes: Where are YOUR leaders speaking out? Not just in a negative way against the extremists, but also in a positive way on behalf of helping the poor and homeless, feeding the hungry, etc.?

Where is your socially-conscious William Jennings Bryan, who fought for the "least of these" and against the powerful wealthly interests?

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Dear Anonymous (whoever you are),

Let me suggest that where ever you live, look through the Yellow Pages and pick out either a conservative Presbyterian (PCA), Bible church, Lutheran, or Baptist church. Then go to the website look at the statement of faith. If it is orthodox, i.e. we believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Trinity, etc... go there for 3 weeks. If you're into science, view this as sort of your own little experiment. My hunch is that you would be surprised how much goes on inside a Bible believing church in terms of outreach and social activity.

You're living in a world of stereotypes. Liberals help the poor, conservatives hate them... Atheists are rational, people of faith are irrational... blah!blah!blah!

I once was a Marxist myself. As an economics major I thought "life is social, it's driven by economic forces - man!" Than I went through a Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand stage, followed by a Paul Johnson stage. Suggest you broaden your reading list. Read Augustine's "Confessions" Chapters 11-14, anything by Alistair McGrath, John Polkinghorne, Rodney Stark, I could go on and on... Stop with Falwell, Robertson, and so on. If you're unaware of others it's because you're not trying.

I suppose you could also listen to Mars Hill Audio (www.marshillaudio.org) for general culture, Ligonier Ministries (ligonier.org) for an understanding of Christian theology, or even Alistair Begg (www.truthforlife.org) for practical Christian living.

Sent with hope...

-Dennis

 
At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am medical student and biology is my passion. Last year when some of my muslim class-mates expressed a belief in creationism i was shocked! I could not see how anyone rationally could not accept evolution.
A year later, after many debates, seeing me explaining away so many misconceptions of theirs, I realise that you can not use rational agruments successfully against religious dogma. This is because faith and science are fundamentally different direct opposites. Faith is something that by definition does not require evidence, science requires evidence (for a scientist faith is a vice). Although it may be fun to see how quickly you can get a fundamentalist to cry "because it is" it is ultimately pointless, years of indoctrination has robbed these poor souls of their WILL to think, who want to burn in hell after all!

 
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