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Background Info

We petition the Scottish Parliament to instruct the Education Secretary to issue guidance to publicly funded schools and colleges to prevent the teaching of creationism1 and related doctrines as viable alternatives to established science. Nothing in this request precludes the discussion of such doctrines in their proper place, as part of the study of ideas, neither does it nor can it infringe on individual freedom of belief. For purposes of clarification, we respectfully offer provisional draft language that would meet the case.

The most remarkable thing about this petition is that it is necessary. Evolution, meaning the common descent of living things and their change over time, is, and has been for generations, the unifying concept of the life sciences. It is so recognised by all major scientific Academies and by repeated references in the Curriculum for Excellence, and is endorsed by numerous religious authorities.2 The deep time necessary for this evolution had been recognised by Scottish geologists over a century earlier. There is wide agreement that Scotland’s future prosperity depends on science-based industry, including in particular our strong tradition of biomedical research.

Yet over the past few decades, this established science has come under attack, inspired by the importation from the US of the doctrines known as creation science, flood geology, and Intelligent Design. These maintain, respectively, that scientific findings should be judged according to their compatibility with biblical literalism, that the entire geological record is the product of a world-wide flood and other events within the past few thousand years, and that the repeated operation of mutation and selection is incapable of generating new significant information. All of these doctrines require the wholesale rejection of modern biology while some extend this rejection to cosmology, geology, and planetary science, along with much of present-day physics and chemistry. Nonetheless, we know that they are being presented in schools as viable alternatives to these established sciences.

For many years, voices within the educational community have been asking the Scottish Government for guidance on how to deal with these threats. In reply, the official answer from Government ministers and from the SQA, as documented in Section 4 above, has always been that such matters can safely be left to the judgment of individual teachers and school Heads.

This places school Heads and other teachers in an impossible position. In around a quarter of Scotland’s local Education Committees, to whom they have to answer, one or more of the unelected representatives of religion is openly creationist. Schools, in the nature of things, rely heavily on the voluntary services of church chaplains and other volunteer visitors, who are not themselves trained as teachers or as scientists, and we have come across numerous cases where such people are enthusiastically proselytising creationists. Heads, teachers, and indeed parents concerned for the scientific integrity of their children’s education needs to be able to point such volunteers towards clear official guidance specifying what is, and what is not, admissible.

The present situation places an unreasonable responsibility on teachers for the unaided monitoring of tendentious materials from creationist sources and of the activities of visitors and individuals such as volunteers and Chaplains who are not formally part of the teaching staff. There are even anecdotal reports of school science teachers negotiating (!) with their colleagues in Religious Education to ensure that creationism is not taught as true doctrine. Thus there is no doubt that guidance we seek is necessary. Moreover, as long ago as 2010, such guidance was requested (see Section 4 above) by the teachers themselves through their representatives in EIS and the Association of Secondary Teachers. Events since then only underline the need for these requests.

We know that present arrangements have led to unacceptable, even scandalous, situations. The distribution of Young Earth creationist and explicitly anti-scientific materials in primary schools last September led to a national scandal7 that has now attracted international comment.8 We know of openly creationist individuals, some without any explicit qualifications, who serve as school chaplains or as members of school chaplaincy committees, and as such have direct influence, but only on the conduct of Religious Observance, but on the development of the Religious and Moral Education programme. In one case, we found three separate creationist churches represented among the chaplaincies of the same Central Belt local authority. A volunteer organisation, which carries anti-scientific Young Earth creationist materials, has buses visiting schools, and offers teaching materials in Religious Education at both primary and secondary levels.9

In all these cases, and no doubt in many others that have not come to our attention, people with the best of intentions will be bringing creationist convictions into schools, and creating an atmosphere where it is difficult or embarrassing for teachers to challenge them. Thus one reason why guidance is needed is to support the teachers themselves against pressures.

We have no wish to restrict the discussion of creationism as part of the study of religious or other ideas. We therefore suggest as a possible model the following language, which loosely follows the lead of that now in place in agreements between Churches and the Department for Education in England:
Pupils must be taught about evolution as firmly based science, and not presented with ‘creationism’ as scientific fact or as a valid alternative to evolution.

‘Creationism’ here means any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution. Pupils should also be taught about the age of the Earth on the basis of established science, and not presented with Young Earth scenarios as credible alternatives.

This guidance is not intended to inhibit discussion of beliefs about the origins of the Earth and living things, such as creationism, in Religious Education and other cultural studies, as long as they are not presented as valid alternatives to established science.


1 Creationism here means the separate creation of different living kinds. No objection is being raised to discussion of the overall belief in God as the ultimate creator. Similarly, by Intelligent Design we mean the oft-refuted claim that natural processes cannot generate the kind of new information required for evolution. This claim should be distinguished from the respectable philosophical position that sees the operation of the Universe as a whole as the working of Providence.
2 For endorsements by scientific societies see e.g. http://royalsociety.org/document.asp?tip=1&id=4926 (Royal Society),
http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11876 and http://nationalacademies.org/evolution/ (US National Academy of Sciences), http://www.interacademies.net/10878/13901.aspx (67 separate national academies from China to Peru and spanning counties dominated by all three Abrahamic religions).
For religious endorsements see e.g. http://www.biologos.org (mainly Evangelical), http://www.cin.org/jp2evolu.html (Catholic), http://www.churchofengland.org/our-views/medical-ethics-health-social-care-policy/darwin/malcolmbrown.aspx (Episcopalian), http://theclergyletterproject.org/ (Evolution Sunday and Clergy Letter Project; mainly US; inter-denominational, over 11,000 clergy),
http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6764 and links therein (various). See also http://ncse.com/media/voices/religion
For summary of scientific evidence, see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ and for refutations of creationist quote mining see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quotes/mine/project.html and of other creationist counter-claims (e.g. denial of intermediate forms) see http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html and links to primary literature therein.
3 http://hillfootsalvabaptist.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=noah
4 http://www.aoglarbert.org/our%20beliefs.html
5 http://www.bridge-church.com/about-the-bridge/
6 http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2013/04/10/reaching-scots/
7 For content analysis of these books, see http://wp.me/p21T1L-7U. For press reports of the incident, see e.g. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/parents-outrage-extremist-religious-sect-2254926, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/school-heads-removed-in-row-over-radical-christian-helper.22143814, and  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-24077924
8 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zimmerman/creationism-at-its-most-e_b_5582955.html
9 We were advised that it was inappropriate to name individuals in this section, but documentation is available on request

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