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September 07, 2004

Creationism in schools: a small price for a big reward

Posted by Christie Davies

Sir Peter Vardy, the chief executive of Reg Vardy Plc and an evangelical Christian, has given significant financial support to enable the establishment of three new well-funded secondary comprehensive schools in inner-city areas: Emmanuel College in Gateshead, the King's Academy in Middlesbrough and Trinity Academy to be opened in 2005 in Doncaster. Normally such philanthropy would not be controversial, but the schools which Sir Peter Vardy has helped set up teach creationism alongside evolution. This has led to much criticism from Richard Dawkins amongst others. Professor Christie Davies argues that creationism is a false belief, but nonetheless hopes that more schools teaching it will be established. The type of school which teaches creationism provides the type of clear moral education that inner city parents rightly want.

Creationism is a curious doctrine. Anyone who has ever studied geology can see that the most probable explanation of the origins of species lies in Darwinian evolution driven by natural selection. There may well be flaws in the Darwinian evolutionists' accounts of what is after all a historical process and in principle like all scientific theories it could be overturned. So what? There can be no absolute certainty in our understanding of the natural world and particularly of a unique historical process. It is enough to be able to say that evolution probably happened.

Why then should we permit and encourage the formation of secondary schools in which the creationist alternative is taught either in addition to Darwinism or as a substitute for it? The reason is simple. Schools in which creationism is cherished are the kinds of faith schools that succeed in instilling decent moral principles in their pupils. Creationist schools are able to generate the kind of moral authority that will combat crime, teenage pregnancy and drug addiction in amoral inner city areas and they can do this without creating political or communal animosities. Parents who want their children to be protected from the problems associated with inner city seek out schools that condemn sin. They want schools that are judgmental and moralistic. Those schools which believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis are likely to provide this.

Parents do not care about the waxing and waning of trilobites or moths that turn black in Lancashire or the species of bottom feeding sea-urchin that became extinct when its anus slowly migrated round its perimeter until it coincided with its mouth. Such esoteric knowledge does not appeal to the parents of Govan or Splott, Bon-y-Maen or Chapeltown. They know that the wages of Darwin is sin and they dislike sin. Democracy as well as reason demands that we go back to the seven days of creation and the quelling of confusion to create order. The story of the flood and Noah's Ark has a moral dimension that Darwinism lacks, for it links changes in the natural world to the need to restore moral order at a time of social confusion.

Should creationist schools spring up all over Britain and their academically successful pupils obtain a qualification in creationist science rather than on an evolutionary syllabus, it will have no deleterious impact whatsoever on British technology and competitiveness. Only a few specialists need to assume in their work that the theory of evolution is true let alone have a detailed knowledge of it. What does it matter if a computer scientist or a mechanical engineer or an inorganic chemist believes in creationism? The United States is full of such people and it does not seem to have inhibited scientific progress, technical innovation or economic growth in that materially successful country.

In terms of everyday life it is far more serious that people who understand neither probability nor causality nor astronomy nor gravitation allow their lives to be guided by horoscopes than that they know nothing about evolution. Likewise many rely on homeopathy to the neglect of more reliable remedies because they do not understand the nature of the interactions involving molecules and ions and their relation to levels of concentration. These fallacies do deserve to arouse angry Dawkins' squawkins but why should anyone feel indignant about Creationism? It is a matter of no practical significance. In any case in our post-modern world to be concerned about the philosophical consistency of creationists who know full well where to drill for oil is to be hopelessly out of date. Progress as a creed died with its monstrous off-spring the U.S.S.R. and modernity is passÚ.

No doubt I will be accused of cynically advocating the teaching of something whose truth I doubt in order to pursue social betterment, the treason of the Jesuit and the Benthamite. The critics forget that our entire educational system is based on this principle.

Even as I write colleagues in schools and universities throughout Britain are teaching on a grand scale the lie that human nature in general and sex roles in particular are infinitely malleable, a doctrine based on Margaret Mead's grossly incompetant studies of Samoa. Margaret Mead's work has long since been discredited by later researchers and the author shown up as a na´ve unobservant fool when young who later became a closed minded ideologue. Yet her work is still taught as gospel and her critics either ignored or mentioned only to be shrugged off.

Teachers and lecturers are willing to do this because they wish to uphold the myth of human malleability and the lie that men and women are interchangeable. (Genesis is more accurate on this point). Some of them know they are teaching lies, while others are so sunk in bigotry as to believe their own nonsense.

As part of the same ideological package they refuse to accept in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that the marked differences in levels of general intelligence that exist between individuals are to a very substantial extent genetic and unalterable. Those in charge of education deliberately spread falsehoods and fudge not only the truth but the very basis of truth because they see the fantasy of equality as necessary to social harmony. Ironically, it is their ideas that have led to the crumbling of our moral order that we need the Creationists to redress.

Professor Christie Davies's latest book is The Strange Death of Moral Britain, New Brunswick NJ USA , Transaction Publishers 2004.

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I am stunned by the suggestions in this column. Words fail me - almost.

What is being suggested is that schools should be allowed to teach what is demonstrably and overwhelmingly-agreed-to-be a scientifically-false and purely religious doctrine - creationism - because they can also provide the kind of 'moral education' that parents want.

Some moral education that's being provided, there. So long as we teach them not to lie or steal, we can teach them any other fables we like.

The 'so what - there is no absolute certainty . . . ' line is particularly outrageous. Would Professor Davies be so lackadaisical about this if, for example, children were being taught that the Earth is flat along with their sound moral education?

Or, for that matter, if their moral guidance included a literal teaching of the validity of large portions of Leviticus, for example?

I suspect that the Professor would be outraged if similar schools were set up which offered moral guidance every bit as positive as that offered by the Vardy schools, but which also taught the ideas of Creation which are taught by other, non-Christian religions.

The hypocrisy of the professor's position becomes clear in the last parapgraphs of his column, where he bemoans the teaching of political and social ideologies with questionable scientific basis, eg as it pertains to gender roles. This, he avers, is a Bad Thing - yet he's just done telling us that it's not merely acceptable, but desirable, for schools to teach an unsubstantiated ideology, because, he avers, their knowledge in these matters is unimportant to their lives. I wonder who gets to decide what fables may be taught to children on the basis that their truth or falsity is unimportant.

I hope beyond hope that this column is meant to be an ironic parody, but I fear it is not.



Posted by: llamas at September 7, 2004 02:30 PM

I draw a rather different lesson from these schools. The key point is that schools organised by the state are so unutterably bad that even nutters who believe in Genesis can do a better job of educating children.

It is regrettable that these children are being taught such tosh as "creationism", but in the current system the only alternatives to state-run schools are expensive fee-paying schools and church schools. Parents send children to church schools because, not being run by the state, they are not dreadful.

(There are, of course, some relatively good state schools, but not enough for the children of Middlesborough, Gateshead or Doncaster)

We do not need Genesis, but we need freedom and choice. If this only exists via Vardy, that is bad, but it is still better than no choice at all.

(The fact that state schools are propogating other false beliefs is deplorable, but at least we know the teaching is so bad that the damage will be limited).

Posted by: Andrew at September 7, 2004 03:38 PM

Why not teach that the the earth is the centre of the universe and whats more it is definitely flat? The moon mission was all a con! We woundn't want facts standing in the way of morality would we?

Pip pip! Well done Social Affairs Unit!

PS - I am not sure Turing and his spambot would like to be associated with this site either. And its brought on a rash of exclamations!!!!

Posted by: Mr D. Green at September 7, 2004 06:39 PM

There is a worthwhile argument buried somewhere in Prof. Davies's article but he absurdly spoils what I take to be his underlying case by championing the teaching of Creationism. One of the main objects of education should surely be to teach students how to assess evidence, and to attribute more weight to evidence-based opinions than to others. It is true that Margaret Mead's writings are rubbish, but two wrongs don't make a right: Creationism can hardly claim to be more evidence-based than Mead.

"What does it matter if a computer scientist or a mechanical engineer or an inorganic chemist believes in creationism?" - It matters because it shows intellectual unreliability. I don't myself want to be, for example, treated by doctors who are convinced creationists, and I could have little confidence in politicians who subscribed to such views. They may be very 'good people' in their intentions, but as they display an acceptance of dogma overruling evidence, their judgement cannot be treated as reliable.

What we need, to overcome the ills identified by Prof. Davies, is not more (or any) Creationist schools but better State schools, and better teacher training to rid our schools systems of the accumulated cant of fifty or sixty years.

Posted by: smerus at September 11, 2004 07:21 PM

Reading this article puts me in a state of theological shock. It is a deep insult to the name of God to treat Him as a useful instrument for restoring society to a more moral state. C.S. Lewis, describing how, as a young Atheist, he was confirmed into the Church of England in order to please his father, later spoke of it as "bowing in the temple of God when he thought He was Rimmon".

The pagans remaining among the late ancient Romans may have felt that their gods were deserting them; but why not, since the Romans were causing their party on Mount Olympus to be gatecrashed by a lot of grotty little emperors. Similarly, on seeing how the Church of England was more concerned with keeping the social order than with making Christians, might not God have raised up Darwin in order to ruin the street-cred of that organization (as with Galileo and the Roman Church).

Nevertheless, some of those who have already commented sound rather like outraged Dawkins-ites, who seem to regard Creationism as an evil above all others. May I in contrast denounce those whom I would call 'Concoctionists', who insist that the books of Moses were cooked up by the Jews during the Babylonian Exile, and that the doctrines of Christianity were similarly cooked up at Nicaea. Even though the doctrine of Christ's divinity was debated there, it is a fallacy to deduce from this that it was invented there. From an evolutionary point of view, it looks much more like the situation in today's Church of England, where mutant bishops are continually arising to challenge traditional Christian doctrine.

One further word to the disciples of Dawkins. He has indeed a great talent for explaining science to the public, but while not actually burying it, he wastes it by dividing his attention between Science and Secularism. In saying, in effect, that "science has shown there is no soul", he convinces many that scientists are (in the popular sense) soulless, and therefore not to be listened to. And since his hatred of Christianity is so evident, his attacks on Creationism have the effect of promoting, rather than opposing, that cause.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at September 12, 2004 04:16 PM

Anyone who doesn't believe that the purpose of education is to create the economic citizens for the benefit of the state cannot get too upset with the teaching of creationism. Those demanding that only their version of the truth should be taught, are actually supporting social engineering. Parental choice should allow all kinds of schools to flourish.

Whilst the excellent Mr Dawkins has a blind spot when it comes to religion, I'm sure even he would have to admit that the one size fits none education system doesn't work. Surely, educated people with a belief in an anachronistic myth is a far better outcome than that offered by many inner city sink schools.

A system of education that offers choice however, would probably not leave parents with the choice of creationism or poor quality.

Posted by: Jon at September 13, 2004 04:22 PM

What we're all in danger of overlooking here is that it is one thing to teach creationism and quite another to believe that schoolchildren will soak it up like obedient little sponges.

Have some more faith in the reasoning powers of the nation's youth. Creationism is so clearly problematic that it's bound to prod children into questioning their teachers' basic reliability. By pushing a fairy tale view of how the world came into being, creationist schools may actually end up developing a sceptical, independent, and probing frame of mind in their alumni.

Posted by: Dan at September 15, 2004 03:40 PM


Instead of arguing for ignoring scientific truth in teaching morals, I would be very grateful if Professor Christie Davies would tell us all what precisely the "Scientific Theory of Creation" is and how it can be tested using the scientific method.

Alan Wilson
19th September 2004

Posted by: Alan Wilson at October 19, 2004 01:19 PM

What the above comments missed as they descended in absurdity is that the teaching of morals and virtues has disappeared from from the schools and it has made things and the culture worse off.

Posted by: Steven Hite at January 29, 2005 02:32 AM

Just a couple of thoughts...

Since when was "what parents want" actually a good idea?

"Schools in which creationism is cherished are the kinds of faith schools that succeed in instilling decent moral principles in their pupils. Creationist schools are able to generate the kind of moral authority that will combat crime, teenage pregnancy and drug addiction in amoral inner city areas and they can do this without creating political or communal animosities"

Usually these schools are better funded and can pick and choose thier students... so of course students there do better than students in "normal" inner city comprehensives...

sorry, what am I saying... that paragraph is just complete bullshit...

Posted by: Tom at June 6, 2005 12:42 PM
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