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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

As you no doubt will be aware, death happens. It is an extremely necessary part of life. Or, as my optimistic imagination puts it: Life is a part of every death.

The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has always been afraid of death. Even most of those who say they are not do, I think, feel something: the slightest tendril of fear, of doubt, even horror, at what awaits beyond. It is something primal, something ineradicable; no matter how hard that annoying rational part of our brains may protest at the silliness of the fear — “I do not fear death, in view of the fact that I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it,” as Mark Twain had it — we are still a wee bit worried by death.

Or rather, what happens beyond it. If you are of a religious inclination you will certainly be terrified about where you are going to go — God’s grace, or Satan’s torment? (Replace Satan and God with whatever brands are popular in your neck of the woods). If you aren’t worried, then you think you are moral enough to get into Heaven: such proudness is surely a quick route — one of many — to Hell. Thus, your chances of being damned are much higher, and you should be — nay, need to be — very worried about your spiritual accommodation after death.

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Depressing news today, coming after news yesterday that the Church of England was to apologise — quite literally — to Darwin himself.

Comments in red are mine.

From the BBC, and biased towards creationists! 😦

Widely believed in the United States, creationism – the belief that God created the earth and man in six days – is enjoying a resurgence of support in the UK, say its believers and its critics.

At first glance the Genesis Expo museum, in the naval town of Portsmouth, looks like any other repository of natural history exhibits: fossils of dinosaurs and unusual rock formations.

Eve and Adam

Eve and Adam

But focus on the narrative of the information panels alongside them, and you start to realise this is a museum with a difference – one dedicated to the theory of creationism.

The revelation that US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin says creationism should be taught in schools has raised few eyebrows in the US. An estimated 47% of Americans reject outright Charles Darwin‘s theory of evolution, accepting instead the Bible’s account of the creation of the universe – as laid out in the first chapter of Genesis.

But in Britain, where a portrait of Darwin appears on the back of the £10 note, his theory of life evolving from primitive to complex structures by means of natural selection appears to be unchallenged orthodoxy.

Not so, say those on both sides of the creationist divide – a point amply proved by the existence of the Genesis Expo museum, to date Britain’s only creationist museum. The museum is the work of Britain’s oldest creationist group, the Creation Science Movement, which has built Genesis Expo to visibly challenge the theory of evolution.

In its walk-through display, fossils in glass cases purport to show that ancient animals – including man – did not evolve from lower creatures but were instead divinely created “after their kind” (Genesis Chapter 1, verse 21).

A picture of a landslide-causing volcano is used to counter the scientific understanding that rock strata took millions of years to build up. And throughout the display are scattered examples of “intelligent design” – complex creatures that “could not have evolved” as the result of natural selection. Unless you have an understanding of evolution, in which case you see quite clearly that they could…

Gravestone exhibit

Leading British scientist and author Dr Richard Dawkins has warned of creationist “brainwashing” in the UK – spurred on by an unwillingness of the authorities to offend religious sensibilities. His creationist adversaries say their ideas are beginning to gain wider acceptance within these shores as dissatisfaction grows with “materialist” evolutionary explanations of how life began. Replace the word “materialist” with the word “true”…

£10 note

Much better than the US notes with that surely unconstitutional phrase, “In God We Trust”!

Museum curator Ross Rosevear describes himself as a “Young Earth” creationist, who believes that the earth was created in six days “less than 10,000 years ago.”

Standing before the museum’s prize exhibit – a mock gravestone inscribed: “Here lies the Theory of Evolution” – he rejects as “unreliable” the scientific tests that fix the age of the earth at more than four billion years. While he concedes his convictions are intimately connected with his Christian faith, he insists the evidence presented in the displays could convince even non-believers of the “fatal flaws” in Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“All we are saying is that it is not unreasonable to present an alternative explanation of how life began,” he says. For some, it’s an explanation that has gained a surprisingly wide acceptance in the UK. A 2006 survey for the BBC found that more than a fifth of those polled were convinced by the creationist argument. Less than half – 48% – chose evolution.

And while the Church of England this week issues a formal apology to Charles Darwin, after initially denying his theory, other churches – mostly on the evangelical Christian wing – adhere to old beliefs.

Growing support

Justin Thacker, head of theology for the Evangelical Alliance, says research in 1998 found one third of the Alliance church members were “literal six-day creationists.” The other two thirds embraced evolutionary theory to a “greater or lesser degree” he says.

Ross Rosevear

British creationist and curator of Genesis Expo, Ross Rosevear

“Since that survey was done, I’d say fewer of our members are out-and-out creationists – it has become more acceptable to embrace some form of Darwinism,” he says.

But Keith Porteous Wood of the Secular Society is unconvinced.

“There is no question that creationism is growing,” he says. “It is increasingly well funded, and well organised.”

The society says Britain is beginning to follow the lead of the US where supporters and opponents of creationism have joined battle – in the school classroom. Two years ago the government sought to clarify the rules on creationist teaching, following revelations that the head of science at one of its new academies was the director of an anti-evolution pressure group.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families says creationism is not included in the science curriculum because “it has no scientific basis… but it can be discussed in [religious education] lessons”.

Creationist schools

But that ruling was questioned last week by an influential figure. The Rev Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, says science teachers ought to be willing to talk about creationism if students bring the subject up. And, as barely any news reports have mentioned, himself a vicar…

He told the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool that while making clear creationism is not accepted by the scientific community, teachers should convey a message of respect that does not “denigrate or ridicule” children’s beliefs.

It’s a sentiment that inflames the anti-creationist lobby, which sees any compromises in the classroom as a betrayal of children’s interests.

“Creationism is anti-science,” says Mr Porteous Wood. “Teaching it to children is a form of intellectual child abuse, because it gives them the wrong facts about life.” His passionate views echo those of Prof Dawkins, who last month accused teachers of “bending over backwards” to respect “prejudices” that children have been brought up with at home.

And secular groups also point out that while state school pupils are “protected” from creationist teaching, similar guidelines do not exist to cover children who attend private religious schools – Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

One such school that teaches creationism as a science is the respected Islamic Karimia Institute in Nottingham. “We teach what it says in the Koran, that God created Adam and Eve, and from them came the rest of humanity,” says institute director Dr Musharraf Hussain. “We do not teach that man is descended from a lower animal – we say that God created the different species on their own.”

This shared belief in the origins of man – and the universe – is uniting unlikely bedfellows in the anti-evolution cause. The Rev Greg Haslam, who preaches the creationist Christian creed to his 400-strong congregation at Westminster Chapel in London, welcomes the determination of Muslims to impart a religious-based view of the world.

“Science does not have to be taught in conflict with faith or religion,” he says. “I believe the current debate over creationism versus evolution is beginning to draw more and people over to our side of the argument.

“The materialist explanation of the creation has nothing to offer – if we came from nothing and go into nothing, then that encourages people to lead reckless and materialistic lifestyles. Evolution is a world-view that leads to futility. It’s no wonder people are dissatisfied with it.”

That, I think, is a matter of opinion, if not an outright calumny, but, whether or not people find the theory very encouraging or not, has no impact on how true or not it is! And the reporting by the BBC, I felt, was particularly unbiased and tendentious towards the creationist cause!

A man commenting on their site says:

I have long been at a loss to understand how it is possible to believe the evolutionary theory, riddled with holes and inconsistencies as it is, more that the creationist view. The facts we see in front of us fit the notion of a rapid creationist view far better than a long evolutionary one, and why the evolutionary theory is considered to be “science” but the creationist theory is not eludes me completely. It was partly a serious study of evolution that led me to conclude that I’d rather be the product of a creationary God than an evolutionary accident, and so embrace Christianity. I am so pleased I did, life has become so much less gloomy.

I, personally, find that evolution inspires me. Saying “I’d rather be the product of a creationary god than an evolutionary accident” does not make that view true! I’d like to believe that the noodley appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster brought me into creation, but that wouldn’t make it true. Evolution is not a belief system. The creationism view throws all of science out of the window — the age of the earth, physics, astronomy, geology, etc.

Evolution is a fact. It’s called a Theory, though. Why?

The colloquial meaning of “theory” can be used in the “just a theory” sense of “unproven”, not backed-up. There is another meaning to Theory, with a capital “T”, in the dictionary, of a systematically updated idea supported by vast and ever-growing quantities of information. That is the type of Theory that evolution is.

It doesn’t matter whether you think evolution is the most immoral, disgusting, saddening thing in the world (it is, in fact, not): it wouldn’t have any bearing on the whether or not evolution is true — and it is. Theory, with a capital, was used in a time when that secondary meaning was well-known. Now that it is not, we should not feel shy about using a colloquial word to describe evolution: fact. Most of this also comes down to a misunderstanding of what evolution actually is.

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The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.

“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still “a litmus test of faithfulness” for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

Hmm. Interesting. It’s taken them a long time, and I think it’s conveniently timed, but I think this should be very useful in stopping creationists in the school system — at least in the UK. If even the Church admits that they were wrong about Darwin, then it’ll be quite difficult for individual creationists to convince judges or school boards, I’d hope.

My instinct was to say, “so bloody what” at this news, but, let’s face it: I do believe science is incompatible with faith, but not that we should throw away such statements as this. The Church is basically saying that believing in evolution is not a bad thing, no matter about Genesis, and I think once religious people are thus allowed a fuller and more accurate understanding of evolution, it could encourage them to be more pro-science. A fuller understanding of science does death blows to religion and all forms of superstition.

So: for the first time in a while: go Church of England! (By which, I don’t mean go to a Church of England service. Because that might be very boring.)

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?

‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Yeah… but it sort of is, isn’t it? I mean, there was a time when the Church had power. Not any more. All the glories of Christianity have been reduced to “a kind of sharing”, as Stephen Fry put it.

I do find it strange that the apology is written directly to Darwin himself, though.

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You may, or may not, have heard about the ongoing censorship row in Britain at the moment. Carol Ann Duffy (who is the awesome) is a very well-regarded poet, whose poems have been in exam anthologies for years. I studied her for G.C.S.E last year (not sure what the American equivalent exam is, but I was 16 at the time), and thought she was excellent. One of her poems, Education for Leisure, after being on the syllabus for three years – during which time it was studied by many for exams – has just been removed from the syllabus following complaints from three schools. Three! Never mind that the reason for those complaints is so ridiculous as to defy language (we’ll come to those complaints in a moment), but only three bloody complaints!

Furthermore, it was suggested by the exam board that the syllabuses (or syllabi) be destroyed, that’s how dangerous this particular poem is perceived to be! (That statement by the exam board conjured up easy images of Nazi censorship and book-burning, and was quickly qualified to mean something different).

Again, an example of an offended minority pushing their way of doing things – their way of thinking – onto a majority.

The main person behind the complaints is Pat Schofield, an external examiner at Lutterworth College, Leicestershire, who complained about the poem and who welcomed the decision to ban a poem she described as “absolutely horrendous”. She described the poem as “a bit weird. But having read her other poems I found they were all a little bit weird. But that’s me”. Well, yes, that is you, and it shows that you really are a Grade A pillock (Duffy in-joke!).

Duffy writes rhyming reposte

However, the real people to blame are the exam board, AQA, who caved in. A minority of pillocks, in apposition with an organisation afraid of – God forbid – offending people, is a dangerous thing at all times. In this case, pillock refers to three people who didn’t understand that a poem they thought was glorifying knife crime was in fact doing the opposite, and had been acclaimed for doing the opposite, for years.

Yet, it’s the same thing. Censorship. Restriction of freedom. Why? For the reason that she thought it was “a bit weird”. For the reason that she – and a minority consisting of two others – didn’t like it, and thus didn’t think anyone else should read it either. And the exam board gave in.

In other cases, “pillock” refers to the museums in my England who have covered up signs next to exhibits that offended a Christian fundamentalist minority. These signs in museums – hallowed (if that’s the right word to use) centres of learning and knowledge and wonder at the sheer sublime beauty of nature and history – were covered up because they dared to say that Darwin’s Theory of evolution by natural selection actually helps scientists know about the origins of life. Apparently, this isn’t a view shared by creationists…? 😛

We need to stop being afraid of the pillocks. I would fight for their right to be allowed to say such silly things – but there is no need to actually do what the idiots say. Their tactics are tactics of fear, and – quite often – we who are so afraid of causing offence to anyone, censor ourselves. We must not let such flagrant abuses of free speech and liberty persist.

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