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Two articles from the Times Higher Educational Supplement.
Bit long but interesting.
Creationists bid for status on campus
By: STEVE FARRAR
MARCH 22, 2002
Creationists are attempting to make inroads into the United Kingdom's
Thousands of academics are being contacted in a nationwide survey on the
origins of life. The organisers hope this will be followed by campus debates
and a conference for interested individuals.
The initiative is led by Andrew Forbes, a supporter of fundamentalist
Christian organisations that believe scientific evidence shows the theory of
evolution is wrong and that the Earth was created by God 6,000 years ago.
Scientists in the United States and Australia who have clashed with
creationists warned their British colleagues to take the threat seriously.
They said that taking part in debates could boost the creationists'
credibility and lend weight to future demands that their religious doctrine
be taught alongside scientific theories in schools.
The survey also asks whether the academic would sponsor a debate in their
institution or attend a conference, and whether alternatives to Darwinian
theory should be part of the national curriculum.
Mr Forbes told The THES that researchers in the life and earth sciences were
being targeted to provide information for scientists, "many of whom used to
accept evolution as a tenable theory but now have grave doubts".
Mr Forbes, who is director of London-based educational company Affinity
Membership Services, said responses included some against evolution. "People
are so dogmatic in their views over Darwin that there's almost a conspiracy
to stop open debate. If we're honest scientists, we have to look at all the
John Farrar, director of the Institute of Environmental Science at the
University of Wales, Bangor. He received the survey last week, said the
questions were poor, but he intended to reply outlining his support for
evolution. "I think it is vital that scientists make their position clear,
which is that creationism isn't a tenable belief," he said.
Trevor Emmett, senior lecturer in forensic science at Anglia Polytechnic
University, believes this will not be easy. He took part in a debate with
John Mackay, the international director of the Creation Research
organisation, in October. It was part of a tour, organised by Mr Forbes and
two colleagues, that included meetings held by university Christian unions.
Dr Emmett argued against creationism but subsequently learnt that Creation
Research's website proclaims: "Cambridge geologist Dr T. Emmett concedes
'evolution really gives us no answers'". He said this misrepresented his
"Whereas a reasonable-minded scientist will always admit where there is
ambiguity or a lack of evidence, they are interested only in a
fundamentalist Christian worldview and claim it is absolute truth," Dr
Tim Astin, lecturer in geology at Reading University and an ordained Church
of England priest, said Mr Mackay evaded questions during a similar debate
in November, but he felt it was worse to ignore the creationists'
"They are propagandists - but the more often they're put in public and
debated with, the more likely the truth will emerge," he said.
Creation Research's web page referred to the debates as "vital inroads in
reaching the next generation of world leaders from these influential centres
of learning and research".
Marshall Berman, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories who helped
overturn anti-evolution school curriculum policies in New Mexico in the US,
said that by making presentations at top universities the creationists could
claim they were propounding a scientifically legitimate alternative to
evolution. Only skilled orators could hope to hold their own against
well-practised speakers in such a public forum, he said.
"The academic community should take this seriously. It may be evolution
today, geology tomorrow and astronomy next week - there's a great deal of
science not aligned to fundamentalist Christianity," he said.
Ian Plimer, professor of geology at Melbourne University, Australia, has
fought a long-running battle against creationists. He said rational debate
was not possible and would add to creationists' "propaganda, sales, egos and
power". He added that any scientist who did take them on "must be prepared
to be somewhat impolite. They must also be prepared to enjoy reams of
vexation mail after a debate, as I have." He said he had received death
threats from people believed to be on the fringe of the movement.
So God took his time. So what?
By: RICHARD HARRIES
MARCH 22, 2002
When it comes to our origins, we must differentiate between 'how' and 'why'
we came to be, argues Richard Harries.
What is taught in the name of science in Emmanuel City Technology College in
Gateshead goes wider than the credibility of Christianity - crucial though
that is. With a number of faith schools being planned it poses the question
of what will be taught and how.
I have long been a supporter of faith schools. As the Church of England has
nearly a quarter of the country's primary schools and a good number of
secondary ones, it would be inconsistent and therefore unfair to deny to
other faith minorities the right to have their own schools: and this despite
the fact that the Church of England schools have always served the local
community rather than selecting pupils primarily on religious grounds.
Furthermore, although I much respect those who teach on the basis of values
derived from a secular humanism, I believe that a Christian view of what it
is to be a human being - made in the image of God and called to grow into
his likeness through growing in the capacity to love - is enriching for all
pupils. But I share the disquiet of those who now worry about more faith
schools (even though Emmanuel in Gateshead is a city technology college)
because of a fear of what might be taught and how.
To ensure children are not the victims of propaganda, they need to have a
critical awareness of their own tradition, not just an unblinkered
acceptance of it. They also need to be encouraged to be open to the truth
from whatever quarter it comes. The curricula will, I believe, need to be
strictly controlled and monitored from this point of view.
Since my "Thought for the Day" last Friday attacking biblical literalism, I
have had letters of support and some very depressing ones hostile to my
position. It is depressing because an intellectual battle that was fought
and resolved in the 1870s seems to have opened up again on the basis of a
misunderstanding of both science and the Bible.
Evolution is a theory of great explanatory power. It accounts for a whole
range of phenomena from various disciplines. Although it cannot be
rigorously tested in a laboratory, at least not yet, it is open to
modification, confirmation and even radical alteration through attention to
the evidence. It is not a "faith position" as the college in Gateshead
alleges, to be put in the same category as biblical faith.
The faith position of the Bible is that however the world has come into
being and however it has developed, over whatever period of time, there is
an ultimate purpose behind it that is wise and loving. A good many pupils in
lower-sixth forms around the country know that there is a fundamental
difference between "how" questions and "why" questions. Science addresses
the former and religions attempt to answer the latter.
There are indeed difficult questions that evolution poses to a Christian
view of the world. Most species, for example, have already come and gone.
What is their purpose in the divine perspective? Nature is too often
characterised by "eat and be eaten". Indeed, it was this, not evolutionary
theory, that led to Darwin's very gradual erosion of faith, probably never
entirely lost. Nature red in tooth and claw did not seem compatible with a
wise and loving purpose behind it all. These are the real issues for a
religious believer, not the theory of evolution as such, which properly
understood can deepen faith rather than undermine it.
Even the combination of random mutation and natural selection, which at
first glance seems an odd way for a divine creator to go on, can be shown as
indispensable for the emergence of the kind of life we value. As Arthur
Peacocke has shown, it is a combination of what is random and what is steady
that makes it possible for new forms of life both to emerge and to be
Frederick Temple, who like his son William was Archbishop of Canterbury,
said not long after the great 1860 debate on evolution that God does not
just create the world, he does something much more wonderful: he makes the
world make itself. Always respecting the independent life of the universe
that he has brought into being he, as it were, weaves the universe from the
bottom upwards: matter, life and self-conscious existence in us human
beings. It is odd that some people think that such extraordinary patience
and perseverance over billions of years to produce human life should be
thought demeaning to the divine creator.
Richard Harries is Bishop of Oxford.
Next week: Secular creationism in the US
I don't know what that last sentence means. Anyone in the US know?
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