Fun And Games II

From: Steve Drew (
Date: Fri Mar 22 2002 - 22:56:00 GMT

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    Hi All.

    Two articles from the Times Higher Educational Supplement.

    Bit long but interesting.

    Creationists bid for status on campus
    Section: NEWS
    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
    Emmett added.

    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'

    anti-science message.

    "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?
    Section: FEATURES
    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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