Pharyngula

Michael Reiss’s big mistake

Should creationism be taught in the classroom? It depends on what you mean by “taught”.

For instance, I recently lectured our freshman biology majors on the age of the earth. I first made up a list of facts and concepts that I wanted them to take away from the class: there were plain dry facts, like that the earth is 4½ billion years old, the Cambrian was about 500 million years ago, the Permian extinction was about 250 million years ago, etc. — the bony outline of a geological history of the earth that every biologist should know. Then there were the major events in the history of the geological sciences: names like Smith and Hutton and Lyell, the debates over uniformitarianism vs. catastrophism, the geologic column, and the practical motivation behind 19th century geological research. Then there are the general concepts students ought to know: how radiometric dating works, how the age of a fossil is determined, and what the fossil record actually shows.

Notice that I do not teach creationism — nowhere in the list of ideas that I think are important to get across will you find a 6000-year-old-earth, flood geology, polonium halos, vapor canopies, or other such nonsense. If you asked me if I teach creationism, I’d honestly and unambiguously say no, because it isn’t part of the message they’re supposed to go home with. But if you listened to the actual lecture, you’d discover that I do teach about creationism, that I mention that scientists believed that the earth was much younger in the 19th century, that this idea had a religious premise, and that greater understanding of the earth led to increasing awareness of its great age. That’s the context. It’s also useful because I’m trying to get them to do more than memorize a collection of dates and names of eras and periods, I’m trying to show them the process scientists used to figure out the age of the earth. I’m also happy to answer any questions that students may bring up, which often involve creationist misconceptions. So, sure, some creationist ideas flutter up periodically, to be shot down as erroneous, and used as examples to show how creationism has been refuted.

But I don’t teach creationism. There’s a difference between instructional content and goals, and pedagogical strategy. There is to be no sympathy given to bad ideas.

This is an important distinction that is blurred by most people who advocate that tired old slogan, “teach the controversy” or “teach both sides”. There is only one side, the pattern of the evidence. There are, of course, cases where the evidence is still open to interpretation, and there it is appropriate to present a more ambiguous answer and explain how scientists are still working to resolve the problem. But nothing in creationism falls into that category! It’s all long disproven and discarded, except by people who maintain a belief despite being contradicted by the facts. There is no scientific controversy, and there aren’t two sides.

Those who ask us to “teach” creationism are either abusing that verb in a way an educator shouldn’t, or they are asking us to give bad science a special privilege, a promotion to the status of a legitimate scientific subject that deserves to be on a science teacher’s lesson plan. It doesn’t. It is not important to specify that students must learn that some people think the earth is 6000 years old. What should be on the outline of concepts taught in science class is how we know the earth is much older than 6000 years.

This issue comes up all the time here in the US, since it is one of the common strategems of the creationists to beg for that special promotion of their falsified claims by demanding that we “teach both sides”. It’s in the news again now for the United Kingdom, of all places, because the director of education (!) for the Royal Society (!!) argues that “creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view“, and that creationism and intelligent design ought to be taught.

Michael Reiss, the director of education, is pushing this idea with a noble and reasonable intent: he thinks it is the only way to reach some students who will shut off learning if their religious biases are challenged. Unfortunately, he’s also suggesting that non-science/anti-science concepts should be specified as a course objective in science classes, he’s buying into common creationist propaganda ploy, and he’s asking for unwarranted deference for wrong ideas held for unscientific reasons by students. He argues for respecting misplaced concerns.

I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it. While it is unlikely that this will help students who have a conflict between science and their religious beliefs to resolve the conflict, good science teaching can help students to manage it – and to learn more science.

Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct. Rather, a student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one’s world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson, however well taught.

Which is exactly why his idea is so awful. Kids are getting inundated with religious nonsense at home, are getting instruction in it at least once a week, and Reiss thinks we ought to sacrifice the one hour of secular, rational, critical thinking they will be exposed to by diluting it further with religious apologetics? Please. This is more cause to be uncompromising, not less.

Just to muddy the waters further, the source of Reiss’s sympathies are clear: he’s an ordained minister of the Church of England. As Dawkins put it, “A clergyman in charge of education for the country’s leading scientific organisation – it’s a Monty Python sketch.”

It is. But we have to be careful. I would not want to suggest that there ought to be some restriction, such that the director of education ought not to be religious, because that comes too close to setting an irrelevant criterion. If we were to scratch off all CoE members from candidacy for the position, why not cross out those who play fantasy role playing games, or write frivolous poetry, or who sing Bach in a chorus, or who memorize baseball statistics? If the person in such a position can keep a proper perspective in which his hobbies have absolutely nothing to do with his work, I wouldn’t object to even a minister having that job.

A director of education who won’t even repudiate the “teach the controversy” propaganda line of the creationists, though, has exposed his own ignorance of the issues and of the necessary goals of science education, and has made his ability to keep superstition out of science suspect. Reiss is demonstrably unfit for his job, not because he plays silly games with god-belief in his spare time, but because he’s willing to pollute the science classroom with lies. That should not be tolerated, and I don’t care that he thinks it’s a way to maintain rapport with students — there is no acceptable excuse for conceding science to those who don’t understand it.


The New Humanist is running a poll on what should be done about Michael Reiss.

Comments

  1. #1 Kel
    September 15, 2008

    It was shocking to see someone so high up advocate teaching nonsense in the science classroom. It’s even more shocking that it’s happened in a country that is not meant to be ass-backward when it comes to science and religion. Is it really that hard to understand that Creationism is not science? I’m with you PZ, I can’t see any good that taking away the precious few hours that students spend in science class to teach mythology under the guise of “worldview” is going to be beneficial to society in any way, and it seems incredibly detrimental to the scientific process as a whole.

    My take on the phrase “teach the controversy”
    http://kelosophy.blogspot.com/2008/09/teaching-controversy.html

  2. #2 bric
    September 15, 2008

    Reiss claims to have been misquoted
    “Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis,” he said.

    “I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a ‘worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”
    Ironically the Church of England (to much merriment) has decided to issue a rather late apology to Mr C. Darwin for that little misunderstanding the century before last
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/2958018/Church-to-make-posthumous-apology-to-Charles-Darwin.html

  3. #3 Greymalkin
    September 15, 2008

    I still like the argument I’ve read on an atheist blog a while ago that health class should have both sides of the argument. Stork theory should be taught as an alternative theory to human reproduction. And I agree; if anyone thinks creationism has a place in science class, stork theory should also be part of the curriculum.

    Of course one other side of the argument is the multitude of other stories of how the world came into being. I think those should be included in the science class if creationism is; the Greek, Roman, Mayan, Nordic, Hindi and Aboriginal creation stories.

    Perhaps make a special little class for it, since it is now so many different versions, call it ‘mythology’, teach it for a year in every school and leave science class the actual science to teach the kids.

  4. #4 Hugo
    September 15, 2008

    pedagogical: of or relating to the practice of teaching.

    See? You learn something knew every day.

    I have to agree; there is no controversy to speak of, at least not within the scientific community. If you want to teach that the Earth is 6,000 years old, leave it for Sunday school and bible classes.

    You want proper scientific controversy: is light a particle or a wave? (That was rhetorical.)

  5. #5 Kitty
    September 15, 2008

    I’ve just posted this on another thread but it seems relevant here.

    I’ve just heard on BBC that the Church of England has apologised to Darwin.

    “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.”

    I haven’t had the time to read the whole essay but you can find it here.

  6. #6 Matt Penfold
    September 15, 2008

    Surely one of the main purposes of education is to challenge students’ beliefs ?

  7. #7 XiangYun
    September 15, 2008

    Balls he was misquoted. His original opinion piece for The Guardian is utterly unambiguous. Reiss merely follows the tactics of his co-religionists in making an assertion and then weaselling out of it when he feels the heat on his arse.

    Reiss in his own words: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/sep/11/michael.reiss.creationism

  8. #8 Owlmirror
    September 15, 2008

    Source for the clarification:

    http://royalsociety.org/news.asp?id=8004

  9. #9 Clemens
    September 15, 2008

    If the theory of evolution and, imho even more important, the way science works, there is no further need to specifically address bogus theories like ID or YEC because it then is self-evident that they are crap. They could be handled in at most 5 minutes where the teacher says: “Now that you have learned about theories, evidence, scientific method, who can point out the flaws with this fairytales?”

  10. #10 Paul Johnson
    September 15, 2008

    But Hugo, particle-wave duality is not controversial

  11. #11 Roger Scott
    September 15, 2008

    At http://royalsociety.org/news.asp?id=8004 the following appears: No change in Society position on creationism

    12 Sep 2008

    The Royal Society is opposed to creationism being taught as science. Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Society expressed in a speech yesterday.

    Professor Reiss has issued the following clarification. “Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”

    The society remains committed to the teaching of evolution as the best explanation for the history of life on earth. This position was highlighted in the Interacademy Panel statement on the teaching of evolution issued in June 2006.

  12. #12 XiangYun
    September 15, 2008

    I must say, as an English atheistic science fool, I was stunned to hear that the top education-wallah of the Royal Society holds a qualification in wishfulthinkingology.
    How is this any different from a Surgeon General with a degree in homeopathy?

  13. #13 Not you
    September 15, 2008

    I made these points I’m about to make on another blog earlier, but I’ve been up all night, it’s 8am (hurrah for insomnia) so maybe the points will come across muddled (I messed them up in the first place, too).

    Creationism has no merit, whatsoever. That much is clear to many people. So the concepts of creationism (god did it, 6,000 year old earth, irreducible complexity etc etc…) shouldn’t be taught in a science classroom…because they’re not science. They should not be taught anywhere, really.

    But the recent push for creationism in schools has changed. It’s no longer about fighting evolution or getting creationism taught as the sole theory any more, they claim. It’s about critical thinking, to promote “both sides” of the debate, to “teach the controversy” as we’re all no doubt sick of hearing. But that doesn’t work either.

    All of the pseudo-scientific points of creationism (ignoring the unprovable such as “god did it” and the flat out wrong such as “earth is 6,000 years old”), such as “irreducible complexity” are all simply criticisms of evolution. I’ve never seen “proof” of intelligent design, I’ve simply seen criticisms (or downright misunderstandings) of evolution, into which the creationist will add “…so obviously, god did it”.

    But all these points are brought up by any halfway decent teacher anyway. They simply omit the “god did it” part. By this I mean a teacher will say, for example, “at first glance the eye seems to be so complex it could not have arisen by evolution alone, but if we look closer…” and so on.

    So the only arguable benefit of “teaching” creationism, that it’ll promote “critical thinking” by giving “both sides of the debate” is *already done* in the classroom. Teaching facts by pointing out opposing viewpoints and how they’ve been overcome is a *basic part of decent teaching*, and has been for decades.

    I believe this covers the original point raised (why creationism shouldn’t be taught in schools), as well as Bric’s updated quote from Mr. Reiss. There simply is not benefit in teaching “creationism” in a classroom, or even mentioning it. By virtue of mentioning it in a science classroom, it is given weight, it lends it some kind of importance (such as “these criticisms hold so much weight they deserve to be mentioned here”) that we don’t even *consider* giving to other non-scientific views that are widely held (such as astrology). It is simply because they belong to religion that they are seen as more important for some reason.

    Man that’s rambling. I’m *really* tired. Normal people would just go lie in the dark and hope they eventually pass out, but me? I’m giving my opinions on teaching creationism in the comments section of a blog.

    It’s hard being an atheist sometimes.

  14. #14 Andrew
    September 15, 2008

    This creates a rather difficult position for the Royal Society: Keep the naive director, or replace him and create material for Expelled II…

  15. #15 llewelly
    September 15, 2008

    Man that’s rambling. I’m *really* tired. Normal people would just go lie in the dark and hope they eventually pass out, but me? I’m giving my opinions on teaching creationism in the comments section of a blog.

    Sounds tiring. Maybe it will put you to sleep after all.

  16. #16 Screechy Monkey
    September 15, 2008

    “If we were to scratch off all CoE members from candidacy for the position, why not cross out those who play fantasy role playing games, or write frivolous poetry, or who sing Bach in a chorus, or who memorize baseball statistics?”

    You left out knitting!

  17. #17 Snark7
    September 15, 2008

    “he thinks it is the only way to reach some students who will shut off learning if their religious biases are challenged.”

    So? So they will shut off learning and probably be poorer for the rest of their lives, being less educated and having less career choices. So what, it’s their choice. Instead this guy plans to diminish EVERYONE’s chances at getting a decent education.

  18. #18 Harry
    September 15, 2008

    “Balls he was misquoted. His original opinion piece for The Guardian is utterly unambiguous.”

    Since his position has been described all over the media as support for ‘teaching creationism’, I think he has been widely misrepresented. Whatever you think about his approach, it seemed entirely clear to me, reading his piece in the Guardian, that he is not advocating ‘teaching’ creationism. His position seems to me to be best described as ‘discussing creationism in relatively non-confrontational terms when it comes up in the classroom’.

    Personally, having read about this from other sources, when I read his original article I was expecting something far more dramatic; in the event, whether or not you agree with his position, it doesn’t seem to me that he’s said anything very radical.

  19. #19 Rik.
    September 15, 2008

    Bah. What’s there to teach about creationism, anyway (and when did everyone stop calling it ID)? I mean, you’d get something like “Ok, we’ve discussed evolution and all the evidence for it. There’s also people who reject all the evidence because some book that was written centuries ago says that God made people from clay.”

    Or something like that. I mean, really. Is that what they want teachers to say in science class?

  20. #20 Peter Ashby
    September 15, 2008

    And this in the context of a country which has compulsory Religious Education classes up until at least age 16. My own children reported that their RE teacher, a committed xian, banned discussion of evolution vs creation since she could not stand up to the students on the issue. Of course my kids were on message, but so were all the rest.

    I think the problem with the way evolution is taught was exemplified by Richard Dawkins’ recent TV series. He thinks that since his own deconversion was a Road to Damascus moment it will be so for others. However for me the process was much more gradual, much more evolutionary. Aged 16 I would have shut my mind to Dawkins in his evangelical mode.

    We need to exhume Dobzhansky and his maxim: Nothing, absolutely nothing in Biology makes sense without evolution. Evolution needs to pervade and seep out of EVERY Biology lesson. We keep telling the fundies about all the evidence and they don’t believe us, because they just learned biology, without evolution so did not understand it. We need to drip feed it, not snidely, just matter of factly. Either we trust the power of the message or we do not.

  21. #21 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    Reiss was a controversial selection as director of education to start with,because of his being a clergyman and all.

    Now some Nobel laureates and RS members such as Richard Dawkins have asked for his resignation,according to the RD website.
    There is also mention of a public debate of the RS being sponsored by the Templeton foundation.
    All not good things to be happening to the premier science organisation in the UK,its good that questions are asked of it now.And this Reiss fellow,misquoted or not,with his teach-the-controversy attitude,should be immediately sacked,if the RS wants to retain some credibility.

  22. #22 BobC
    September 15, 2008

    I agree Michael Reiss’ suggestion is a bad idea.

    Creationist students are likely to continue being creationists no matter how good their science teacher is. I suggest let them fail the class. Then let them repeat the class and fail it again. If they try to disrupt the class, which many creationists students have been trained to do, they should be thrown out.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if high school biology teachers didn’t have to deal with religious insanity.

    A possible solution to the creationist retard problem is start teaching evolution in the first grade. Very young children have the right to know how their species and other life developed. There’s no reason to keep the science of evolution a secret until students are too god-soaked to understand it.

  23. #23 maureen
    September 15, 2008

    Brilliant, PZ, brilliant!

  24. #24 Robert Byers
    September 15, 2008

    Well first as a YEC creationist I thank Myers for talking about creationism involvement in the origins of geology etc. In fact Geology was first engaged in the english -speaking world, with just a tiny European interest ahead, by the Scots who taught geology from creationists presumptions. The first geologists did not oppose Creationism concepts but promoted them and therefore creationism is the author of modern geology.
    Anyways Myers here tries but use of concepts to get around the simple truth.
    Origin subjects in science class are teaching something is true and other things are not true. They are not just teaching science. Myers class teaches creationism, genesis etc is wrong. Well heaps of countryman say it is not wrong. They say creationism is the truth and and more studied creationists say origin subjects are not actually the result of scientific processes anyway. They are regular studies with no claim to the prestige of science to back up conclusions.

    It is so a important controversay in the eyes of America etc. There is a divided opinion on the origins of life. To ignore one side is a absurdity. Its like teaching economics in old soviet union and not teach powerfully the claims of capitalism.
    The essence of creationism is in fact its criticisms of ideas that are contrary to the bible. Not actually putting forth creationist concepts by way of science. Creationism in schools is a reflection of many peoples beliefs in the bible and that creationism can successfully challenge evolution etc on the merits and challenge that they are actually science like true sciences.
    Censorship on such a big debate is not going to last in America. Teach both sides and let the better man win. Only the wrong side should be afraid.

  25. #25 Ferre
    September 15, 2008
  26. #26 AndyD
    September 15, 2008
  27. #27 BobC
    September 15, 2008

    Evolution needs to pervade and seep out of EVERY Biology lesson.

    Yeah. Of course. Evolution should be a major part of every single biology lesson every single day. I hear that instead it’s often just one unit that lasts one or two weeks, unless the teacher skips it entirely to avoid Christian harassment. My biology teacher (1964-1965) never mentioned evolution, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps she knew nothing about it.

  28. #28 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    There is only one side, the pattern of the evidence.

    There is only one valid side.

    it’s happened in a country that is not meant to be ass-backward

    There wasn’t ever any intelligently designed guarantee of that. :-D
    In contrast, are you suggesting that the USA is “meant” to be backwards?!

    Perhaps make a special little class for it

    In the UK there already is a mandatory subject called (variably) RE/RI/RK/RS; which, in its better previous forms, did include all manner of mythologies and hence made it rather clear (to anyone capable of thinking critically) that the modern remnants were bogus too.

    However, with the religious nutters in the UK government messing about with the curriculum (and making exams so easy they’re almost worthless) there has been a streamlining of enforced religious content which apparently removes much of the comparative side of things, leaving only the modern indoctrination stuff – especially in the evil faith schools the government set up (to which it has allowed a free pass on standards).

  29. #29 BobC
    September 15, 2008

    Robert Byers = YEC creationist = god-soaked retard.

    Grow up moron.

  30. #30 David Carnegie
    September 15, 2008

    While Reiss may have been sloppy with his chosen words I still think he has the right idea. First off, we should definitely not ‘teach’ creationism, but a teacher should be prepared to discuss should it come up. This discussion with the pupil will be important since the pupil may well see anything that contradicts his/her worldview or that of his/her parents as a threat to him/her or his/her identity.
    Simply teaching them that “all that you have been told is utter nonsense” (no matter how true that is) is the perfect way to get them to close their minds off to science forever. Micheal Reiss deserves our support.

  31. #31 XiangYun
    September 15, 2008

    @ Harry
    “Since his position has been described all over the media as support for ‘teaching creationism’, I think he has been widely misrepresented. Whatever you think about his approach, it seemed entirely clear to me, reading his piece in the Guardian, that he is not advocating ‘teaching’ creationism. His position seems to me to be best described as ‘discussing creationism in relatively non-confrontational terms when it comes up in the classroom’.”

    Perhaps you should have listened to the audio of his interview on that page:

    “what I now see my job as an educator to do is to help them [schoolchildren] to understand the scientific theory of evolution…but not to try and force it on them as THE (emphasis Reiss’) correct way of understanding the world.”

    Which is not to suggest that he would force spare ribs and sneaky serpents on the little darlings. Lord forfend. That’s the job of the parents.

    XiangYun not do quote good.

  32. #32 Svetogorsk
    September 15, 2008

    And this in the context of a country which has compulsory Religious Education classes up until at least age 16. My own children reported that their RE teacher, a committed xian, banned discussion of evolution vs creation since she could not stand up to the students on the issue. Of course my kids were on message, but so were all the rest.

    This does vary, though – my own experience (London, in the late 1970s/early 1980s) was that we had an exceptionally open-minded RE teacher who despite being the school chaplain made sure that we spent a lot of time exploring the other major religions – and then in the last two years we pretty much threw out the religious element and spent the time discussing moral and ethical issues that were actually relevant to us (sex, drugs, the law, etc.)

    Interestingly, the chaplain in question also taught biology – and I don’t recall a single instance of the two roles overlapping.

  33. #33 Sigmund
    September 15, 2008

    Who says ‘Creation Science’ can’t make valuable discoveries…
    http://sneerreview.blogspot.com/2008/09/creation-science-finally-solves-unicorn.html

  34. #34 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    David Carnegie,@ 30 wrote :

    //First off, we should definitely not ‘teach’ creationism, but a teacher should be prepared to discuss should it come up//

    A teacher should be able to defend the usual creationist garbage if it comes up in science class,but he/she should also be able to tell the pupil that brings the stuff up,that this is a science class,and that this discussion has no place in a science class,and refer it to religious studies.

    //Simply teaching them that “all that you have been told is utter nonsense” (no matter how true that is) is the perfect way to get them to close their minds off to science forever//

    I dont think any teacher would just call this “utter nonsense”,and that would be wrong not only for the reason you mention.The problem is,if a pupil brings up creationism in a science class,there is a chance that his/her mind has already been closed to rational thought.
    But if youre in a science class,youre expected to learn the science,believe it or not,and that should be made clear to the pupil.

  35. #35 Armchair Dissident
    September 15, 2008

    Unless I’m seriously mis-reading what Reiss actually wrote, and as much as I hate to side with the religious, he’s not actually advocating teaching creationism in science classes, he’s advocating confronting it, should the issue be raised, and showing why it is not science. I discussed this recently here.

    His comment regarding “world-view” is simply a recognition that kids are kids. They’re coming into a classroom with creationism as their sole reference point, even though many of them may not even be particularly religious. He’s saying that they’re wrong but they should be shown why they’re wrong.

  36. #36 Ponder
    September 15, 2008

    I was immensely worried over this when I heard about it, though some of the clarification I’ve read here has alleviated it somewhat. I’m all for Xstian creation woo being taught in RE, heck, teach all the myths, including deliberately made up ones like the FSM and the one Tolkien wrote for the Silmarillion. If a pupil asks about religion in science, the teacher can say “Ask in your next RE lesson, this is science only”.

  37. #37 echidna
    September 15, 2008

    1) Science is built on scientific evidence.
    2) Scientific evidence is evidence that can be observed, and verified by others.
    3) Holy writings are not scientific evidence.
    4) Creationism is supported by holy writings.
    5) Creationism is not supported by scientific evidence.

    Creationism has no place in the science classroom. If Reiss has a point, it is that too many children are entering science classses without the necessary foundation to learn science, and they need a remedial course in “reality” added to the curriculum.

    This should be addressed long before there are formal science classes – preferably in the first year of school, if not before.

  38. #38 Donovan
    September 15, 2008

    I say teach creationism and ID in a special science course. Yes, science. Hold the claims to scientific scrutiny, look for evidence, and rip apart their fairy tales. This could be done without resorting to attacking the belief in a god itself. A simple, “ID hypothesises that things are intelligently designed. If so, we should find no serious flaws in creation.” Then begin the long, long, long list of ‘mistakes’ evolution has made that an average person would not have.

  39. #39 David Carnegie
    September 15, 2008

    clinteas,@ 34 wrote :
    //A teacher should be able to defend the usual creationist garbage if it comes up in science class,but he/she should also be able to tell the pupil that brings the stuff up,that this is a science class,and that this discussion has no place in a science class,and refer it to religious studies.//

    We are on the same page. Discussion would include why it’s nonsense and why science works.

    //I dont think any teacher would just call this “utter nonsense”,and that would be wrong not only for the reason you mention.The problem is,if a pupil brings up creationism in a science class,there is a chance that his/her mind has already been closed to rational thought.//

    A child who has been brought up by creationist parents has most likely never had a chance to open their mind. Do not be so quick to write them off because of the bullshit they have been spoonfed; it is not their fault.

    //But if youre in a science class,youre expected to learn the science,believe it or not,and that should be made clear to the pupil.//

    Again, we are not in disagreement.

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    September 15, 2008

    His comment regarding “world-view” is simply a recognition that kids are kids. They’re coming into a classroom with creationism as their sole reference point, even though many of them may not even be particularly religious. He’s saying that they’re wrong but they should be shown why they’re wrong.

    I think there might be an issue about classroom time.

    We know that in the US some religious groups encourage pupils to disrupt science lessons, especially those dealing with evolution. I am not aware such disruption being an issue in the UK but given the way much of the creationist movement here is funded by, and has its idealogical origins in the US creationist movement it would not surprise me were it to become one.

    Essentially the teacher needs to decide if those who raise creationist objections are simply ignorant or are trying to disrupt the class. In the case of the former it would be appropriate to discuss the objections. In the latter case I do not think it would.

  41. #41 SoMG
    September 15, 2008

    I do teach the controversy, and my exams include a question about Intelligent Design. Here’s the question:

    Intelligent Design is

    a) A religious theory
    b) A scientific theory
    c) Part of an effort to make a religious theory look like a scientific theory.

  42. #42 Peter M
    September 15, 2008

    I agree that ID and Creationism have no place in the science classroom, other than perhaps a fleeting mention in a historical context, but if pupils raise the subject, it’s important to deal with it without terminally alienating anyone who holds religious beliefs.

    The best we can do is teach children to (i) think and (ii) for themselves. But maybe the best place for this is not in a biology lesson where the issues are likely to be emotive. Perhaps critical thinking should be promoted in “safer” areas where the students can apply the principles without having to confront deeply held beliefs to start with. e.g. in simple, uncontentious history – how do we actually know this? Which version is right? Is it what people thought at the time, and if not, why do we think differently?

    Then, when the thorny subject of evolution sticks its head up above the parapet, you are simply asking to apply ways of thinking that they’ve already tested and accepted.

    By “critical thinking”, btw, I mean simple logic and the ability to spot and avoid basic fallacies such as “lots of people think this, therefore it has credence” or “if I can discredit the man, then I have discredited his hypothesis”.

    BTW see great book “Bad Thoughts” by Jamie Whyte (but I’m sure there are others.

  43. #43 James
    September 15, 2008

    How do creationists/flat-earthers/holocaust deniers explain that their ‘beliefs’ are part of science? It confuses me.

    Anyone want to explain this to my fragile brain?

  44. #44 MH
    September 15, 2008

    My 2p:

    When you consider discussing creationism in schools, bear in mind that some science teachers will be creationists. How do you think they will tackle the subject?

    Leave all mention of pseudo-science out of science class. Teach pupils what science is, and how it works, and let them apply that knowledge to ideas they come across.

  45. #45 Tony Sidaway
    September 15, 2008

    When I first heard Reiss’s comments, I didn’t think they sounded too far from what Dawkins has suggested when he confronted the science teachers at Park High School in Stanmore in episode 3 of The Genius of Charles Darwin.

    The teachers had said you couldn’t challenge religious belief in the classroom. Dawkins asked why on earth not. Reiss appears to agree.

    I doubt very much whether Reiss and Dawkins are playing from the same score, but their ideas don’t sound incompatible.

  46. #46 ephant
    September 15, 2008

    My sister told me that during her first lecture in a biology class at uni, her teacher began with something like the following:

    “In previous years when I have been teaching about evolution, many students have put up their hands during class or knocked on my door and wanted to know about Intelligent Design and why I hadn’t mentioned it. This year I have decided to take their advice, and in this class I want to talk about the scientific evidence for both Intelligent Design and Evolution.

    I am now going to talk about all of the scientific evidence which supports Intelligent Design. (small pause) Okay, now that’s over with lets move on to Evolution…”

    My sister reported that no students asked any questions about ID during the semester.

  47. #47 Armchair Dissident
    September 15, 2008

    We know that in the US some religious groups encourage pupils to disrupt science lessons, especially those dealing with evolution.

    That is a genuine concern, but he’s not advocating any form of “equal time” policy, or – indeed – any respect whatsoever for the actual idea of creationism. He’s saying that when a kid mentions creationism or intelligent design, instead of side-stepping the issue by saying, “that’s religion, can’t discuss that”, call the student on it. Say, “Defend that statement with evidence”. Demonstrate that it’s not science. This is Reiss:

    So when teaching evolution, there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have (hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching) and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion. The word ‘genuine’ doesn’t mean that creationism or intelligent design deserve equal time.

    Having read the article before I read any opinions, I really can’t see how this can be seen as advocating the teaching of creationism. When he says this:

    I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution, while still introducing them to it.

    He’s not saying “creationism should be respected”, but that “the student should be respected”. And – as I mention when I commented on this myself – he also recognises, as a genuine concern, that pupils can be disruptive. But this can be true in pretty much any environment where what a child is learning is in direct contrast to their pre-conceived notions.

    I strongly suspect that the Rev./Prof. Reiss is being presented as a psuedo-pro-creationist principally because he is an ordained CofE vicar, instead of anything he’s actually written.

  48. #48 moother
    September 15, 2008

    they don’t teach woodwork in cooking class!

  49. #49 Peter Ashby
    September 15, 2008

    Peter M the problem with teaching critical thinking, not that it is generally a bad idea, is that people are just too good at compartmentalising things. If you are correct then there should be NO creationist scientists, doctors, engineer, mathematicians etc, etc.

    Besides the logic of evolution is non intuitive, which is why it took so long for someone to think of it and both of them had to be out in the field confronted by a mountain of evidence in order to do so. Evolution needs to be introduced every time that evidence is taught to the students. Why are our eyes back to front? why is there cell death during development? why are flowers? What happens when populations get too big? The whole subject should be taught as to illustrate evolution.

  50. #50 Nick Gotts
    September 15, 2008

    is light a particle or a wave? – Hugo

    The answer is, of course, “No”!

  51. #51 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 15, 2008

    Censorship on such a big debate is not going to last in America. Teach both sides and let the better man win. Only the wrong side should be afraid.

    No Byers. Science class is about teaching the best science of the day. It’s not about hashing out every psuedo-controversy. Creationism is not only not the best science, it’s not science.

  52. #52 who is your creator
    September 15, 2008

    In regard to PZ’s comment:

    “I first made up a list of facts and concepts that I wanted them to take away from the class: there were plain dry facts, like that the earth is 4 billion years old, the Cambrian was about 500 million years ago, the Permian extinction was about 250 million years ago, etc. — the bony outline of a geological history of the earth that every biologist should know.”

    Should current research replace his “plain dry facts” so that “every biologist should know” the truth …
    or should he stick with the plain dry outdated fables?

    “The precise timing of the origin of life on Earth and the changes in life during the past 4.5 billion years has been a subject of great controversy for the past century. The principal indicator of the amount of organic carbon produced by biological activity traditionally used is the ratio of the less abundant isotope of carbon, 13C, to the more abundant isotope, 12C.
    It appears that records related to carbonate platforms which are often used throughout the early history of the Earth are not good recorders of the 13C/12C ratio in the open oceans. Hence, the work presented suggests that assumptions made previously about changes in the 13C/12C ratios of carbonate sediments in the geological record are incorrect.
    “This study is a major step in terms of rethinking how geologists interpret variations in the 13C/12C ratio throughout Earth’s history. If the approach does not work over the past 10 million years, then why would it work during older time periods?” said Swart. “As a consequence of our findings, changes in 13C/12C records need to be reevaluated, conclusions regarding changes in the reservoirs of carbon will have to be reassessed, and some of the widely-held ideas regarding the elevation of CO2 during specific periods of the Earth’s geological history will have to be adjusted.””
    http://www.physorg.com/news140266859.html

    Truth is a very stubborn thing … it may be suppressed for a while, but it always comes out in the end.

  53. #53 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    @ 52,whois,

    what are you trying to say man? Is there a message in this lengthy post?
    Oh,i get it,youre saying carbon dating is rubbish and the earth is much younger,right?Well,youre not saying it,for fear of being ridiculed,so youre hiding behind this pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo…..
    Youre sad man.

  54. #54 PZ Myers
    September 15, 2008

    I’m impressed. Greg Laden predicted that creationists would be misusing that study, and right on schedule, there’s WhoIsYourCreator.

  55. #55 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 15, 2008

    Truth is a very stubborn thing … it may be suppressed for a while, but it always comes out in the end.

    And yet still does not point to a Young earth.

  56. #56 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    //And yet still does not point to a Young earth. //

    The Native Americans of 11000 B.C. would be rather confused if they were told that they preceed the creation of the earth.Well,so would the domesticated dog,for that matter.The mind boggles.

  57. #57 yodood
    September 15, 2008

    PZ, you teach the controversy with this blog every day and I thank you for it. I make a distinction between atheists and antitheists in the sense of the former indicating without god and the latter against god and all his believers. I find very few true atheists in the world because they have risen above the absurdity though surrounded by it and must be discovered, whereas antitheists, like you and I, declare themselves at every confrontation with faith in an attempt to teach the absurdity of the controversy to the absurd. The effort is as futile as getting capitalists to become symbiotic with nature, or governments to actually be of, by and for the people. This post triggered the labor pains of an embrionic post that has been gestating for quite a while, I see its head emerging now. Thanks for the inducement, I’m naming it after you though it was conceived 58 years ago through spiritual rape.

  58. #58 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    yodood,@ 57,

    I want what he is smoking.

  59. #59 SC
    September 15, 2008

    Has anyone clicked on yodood’s name? I’m afraid to.

  60. #60 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    SC,

    i did,
    and let me tell you,theres a strange world there,Im not quite sure what to say,probably best to just ignore…..

  61. #61 SC
    September 15, 2008

    Thanks, clinteas. I generally don’t click on links from people I don’t “know,” especially if they appear to be deranged, but I was curious. Come to think of it, now I’m even more curious… :)

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    September 15, 2008

    Dear “Who is your creator”

    Hi ross, how’s it going?

    At 8:04 AM eastern time you stated: Truth is a very stubborn thing … it may be suppressed for a while, but it always comes out in the end.

    And you are so right. At just before 9:00 eastern time, I’m here to tell you the following:

    The study you site (which I’ve read and commented on as per the link PZ provides above) does not call into question very many important aspects of early life on earth. The 12/13C signal is important and interesting, but it is not related to either a) the dating of early life on earth or b) the fossils of early life on earth.

    If it turns out to be correct (if Swart is right, and this is not yet verified) that 12/13C behavior in different depositional context is not as previously thought, then reanalysis will need to be done to 1) develop a new system that works and 2) apply the system to the ancient record. We’ll see what that leads us to. It may be that an entirely new interpretation of some important aspects of pre 150mya life will come out of that, and this would be very interesting. Or maybe not, maybe there will be few revisions.

    Either way, the fact that there is/was early live on this planet, and it’s dating, is not being questioned here.

    Interestingly, this result may have more impact on interpreting information from Mars and Mars rocks than on earth rocks. We shall see.

    There. The truth is out now. That was indeed quite quick!

  63. #63 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    Greg,

    you seem to be familiar with the guy,old friendship ?
    I just have the sinking feeling he will not be easily persuaded by arguments,or truths……

    SC,

    dont do it,its like watching Palins church people twitching,kindof…

  64. #64 SC
    September 15, 2008

    SC,

    dont do it

    Too late. Once I knew it wouldn’t kill my computer, “theres a strange world there” was impossible to resist. Had to watch the whole video, too. :S

  65. #65 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    //Once I knew it wouldn’t kill my computer//

    You must be using Windows.

    The insanity that is on display on the internet if you know where to look is somewhat amazing,isnt it.
    Scary,really.Im afraid McCain/Palin will actually win this election.On this thought,im out for a cig…

  66. #66 chuckbert
    September 15, 2008

    Reiss’s suggestion makes no more sense than teaching cold-war politics in a German language class.
    Students should be taught philosophy to cure their indoctrination, but wasting time for the teaching of science on trying to reach those who are determined to resist is futile and counterproductive.

  67. #67 Scott Hatfield, OM
    September 15, 2008

    You folk who have your panties in a bunch over Reiss’s statements are overreacting.

    First of all, at the risk of sounding boastful, there are few people who share my enthusiasm for teaching evolution. This year in addition to teaching five sections of Biology I’ll be drilling my school’s Academic Decathlon team on the Super Quiz topic of ‘Evolutionary Biology.’ I don’t get paid extra for this commitment. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it, and because (as Ken Miller puts it in his most recent book, ‘Only A Theory’), I am an ‘evangelist’ for science. So, I definitely want my students to learn evolution, and I want to avoid or surmount any roadblocks to that understanding.

    Secondly, in my experience I have found the best way to get students with creationist views to honestly and openly consider the evidence is to acknowledge that divergent views exist, and to encourage them to consider the evidence with an open mind. I’m not going to give classroom time to either attacking or defending specific creationist arguments (that would be both wasteful and divisive), but I am going to provide some of the context that PZ alludes to. In fact, I think good pedagogy demands that we provide some context. Part of that context is an acknowledgment that a variety of religious viewpoints via evolution exists, and that both the scientific community and the courts have largely rejected creationism as science.

    The English do not have the legacy of legal action with respect to the Establishment Clause to refer to, of course, and as I understand it most British schools offer religion classes, so I suspect that Mr. Reiss’s concerns could in principle be addressed in that fashion, as some of his critics suggest. But the same situation does not exist in North America! Some of my colleagues (and, surprisingly, many creationist critics) have argued that by even bringing up the topic of religion I am asking for trouble/stepping on the Constitution, etc. I find it strange that people who consider themselves advocates for science would adopt the same position being peddled by the Discovery Institute, and I am frustrated by those who suggest that in in this country such content could be taught in some other course, just not in a science course. These people are not living in the real world! Most high schools do not have courses in religion or philosophy. A social science course might mention ‘social Darwinism’, and a literature class might read ‘Inherit the Wind’, but that’s about it. The truth is that the only people who are likely to raise this topic outside the science curriculum are partisans, typically emissaries of the Christian right, enemies of science.

    Much more could be said on this topic and I have probably expressed myself clumsily and I need to get to work, teaching science.

  68. #68 who is your creator
    September 15, 2008

    First, Greg, I am NOT Hugh Ross.

    Second, the argument I initiated was against PZ’s teaching students “that the earth is 4 1?2 billion years old, the Cambrian was about 500 million years ago, the Permian extinction was about 250 million years ago, etc. — the bony outline of a geological history of the earth that every biologist should know.”

    The key words being, “geological history of the earth that every biologist should know.”

    From Laden’s paper, Major Blunder in Science Reporting Will Fuel Creationist Claims:
    “It turns out that a study of these different depositional environments, in the paper by Swart, indicates that the two data sources behave differently and the non-ocean bottom deposits cannot be used as they previously were. As a result of this, our understanding of the history of the Earth’s carbon cycle has gone all topsy-turvy and now needs to be re-examined.
    Science marches on. This assertion by Swart will be tested, challenged, and if he is wrong, tossed out or modified. At the same time, people will be working on reassessing the pre 150 mya record. There is a lot of work to do an if it is really true that the pre 150 mya record is borked, this means that we will soon be exposed to a new and different (presumably) understanding of early life on earth! Cool!”

    We’re excited now that we know PZ will for sure relay the controversy to his students!

    Wait, I forgot – There is NO controversy!

  69. #69 The Chemist
    September 15, 2008

    I was taught about creationism and panspermia the way PZ claims to teach about them and it was a distinct part of my curriculum in high school. I walked out of it all the better for it.

    I was taking honors Biology in a form that some Americans and more Europeans are familiar with: higher level in the International Baccalureate system.

    In that class I was taught that panspermia, while retaining some scientific credentials (we have found meteorites with amino acids present) was not a testable hypothesis yet. Meanwhile, creationism is not scientifically testable at all, and was not of concern to biology.

    This is what I was taught, it comprised about four sentences in my entire biology syllabus, no harm done, very unambiguous, in other words: I’m all for it.

    If this is what the man said, great. If he claims he was misquoted or misinterpreted, also fine. So long as his end position is acceptable I don’t give damn.

  70. #70 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 15, 2008

    Whois

    How is this a controversy?

  71. #71 clinteas
    September 15, 2008

    Scott Hatfield,@ 67 :

    //The English do not have the legacy of legal action with respect to the Establishment Clause to refer to, of course, and as I understand it most British schools offer religion classes, so I suspect that Mr. Reiss’s concerns could in principle be addressed in that fashion, as some of his critics suggest. But the same situation does not exist in North America//

    Im a bit dumbfounded by that,I was under the impression there was science classes on the one hand and religious studies classes on the other hand in US schools.

    //Most high schools do not have courses in religion or philosophy//

    Are you serious?

    And,on your note that people are overreacting over Reiss’ comments,I think the guy should be treated and measured up as a member of the RS,and if that still counts for something,they should sack him,really.

  72. #72 Arbutus Bark
    September 15, 2008

    I’m reading closely all the controversy around Reiss, and I too suspect he is now trying to wiggle out of his original intention, which was to include ID/creationism in the curriculum/lesson plan.
    For instance Reiss says: Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson. His supporters are putting words in his mouth: “Oh what he really meant was to confront the issue.” that’s not what he said – he said to include ID/Creationism in science lessons and tread softly softly lest you offend the religious-brainwashed students. He said in his subsequent article (linked above) that he came to this conclusion after teaching for many years and being unable to reach religiously-inculcated students within his 50-minutes classes.
    He hasn’t taken into account the effect solid, firm teaching may have on this students months or even years later.
    Don’t pussyfoot around bad science. Call it like it is. When students do eventually start thinking for themselves they will remember a solid science education. A good foundation in real science is better for students than pandering to their parents’ sensibilities. You can do this respectfully, as Dawkins showed in Genius of Darwin.
    Calling for Reiss’ resignation is a bold move on Prof Dawkins’ part, however it is consistent not with an “anti-clerical” stance, but rather with Dawkins’ stance that “moderate” religious people and wimpy science teachers are unwittingly doing their part to perpetuate the lies and the mis-education of young people.

  73. #73 amphiox
    September 15, 2008

    The best science texts and classes I took were the ones that took some time to explore the historical context of discovery. Historical theories were described, how they arose, how they were investigated, and how and why they were discarded and replaced by more modern theories. I always found this one of the very best ways of teaching the scientific method.

    So yes, creationism belongs in biology class. The 1800s version of creationism, which the earliest, pre-Darwin biologists mostly believed and used as their defining paradigm. The theory was found immediately wanting. Modifications were attempted, as is the usual practice when your theory first disagrees with your evidence, and ideas like serial catastrophism were introduced. These were quickly exposed as utterly ridiculous. Ultimately, subject to the harsh light of scientific method, the theory crumbled like a dessicated cracker.

    Said unit should take one to two days of class time to cover properly, and would serve as an excellent lead-up to the actual discussion of Darwin’s work itself, and why his ideas were so powerful and so rapidly adopted despite powerful opposition in some quarters.

    The modern version of creationism, of course, does not belong in science class. You could cover it in sociology studies, as an example of pathologic thinking. Creative Writing class is another place where its ideas might be helpful to students interested in learning how to write fantasy fiction.

    Modern ID should be covered only in law class as an example of something the violates the US Constitution.

  74. #74 Smidgy
    September 15, 2008

    I can actually see the argument for teaching creationism in the classroom, as long as it is the same way that PZ ‘teaches’ it – referring to it as a viewpoint that is wrong. On the other hand, by the same argument, this also means we should start ‘teaching’ alchemy, geocentrism, the flat earth theory, phlogiston theory, ether theory, etc, etc, etc, and to cover all of those in any sort of depth would, basically, be a waste of time and effort.

    Oh, and, ‘who is your creator’, you seem to be unaware of an elementary fact – carbon dating is simply not used to date things in the pre-150mya record, as it can only be relied upon to date things up to, at best, 100,000 years ago (but even that is pretty exceptional – the limit of reliability is usually in the region of 30-40 thousand years ago). What this means is that the details of the pattern of life and carbon cycle that existed 150 million years ago would need to be reassessed, if this claim turns out to be true, but by not even the wildest stretch of the imagination, does it call into question whether there was life, nor the idea that such life evolved, rather than was created. Had you read the whole of the Greg Laden article PZ supplied a link to, instead of stopping reading when you got to something that appeared to say what you wanted to hear, you would have realised this for yourself.

  75. #75 anthropicOne
    September 15, 2008

    Rev @70,

    Clicking on Whois’s link takes you to a mind-numbing blog of delusional blather and IDiocy, so I expect there will be more time-wasting debate over nothing here from this character.

  76. #76 JosephU
    September 15, 2008

    Science makes claims that can be tested.
    Creation makes claims that can be tested.
    e.g.

    Q. What does the Bible say dinosaurs ate?
    A. The Bible says dinosaurs ate grass.

    Job 40 (NIV)
    15 “Look at the behemoth,
    which I made along with you
    and which feeds on grass like an ox.
    see: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job40:15-24;&version=31;

    Q. What does science say dinosaurs ate.
    A. The article:
    Dino dung overturns objection
    http://creationontheweb.com/content/view/6006
    tells us that the Bible is correct,
    dinosaurs ate grass:

    “Recently it was announced that scientists in India discovered grass inside some fossilized dinosaur dung, found near the remains of a titanosaur sauropod dinosaur.”

    Science, creation, and the Bible are in accord.

    Let’s teach our children the truth.

    .

  77. #77 anthropicOne
    September 15, 2008

    Look at the behemoth

    “behe” moth

    Funny.

  78. #78 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 15, 2008

    Joeseph. You seem new here so here is a little advice. Don’t try and support your claims for creation using creationists websites. They are known dens of dishonestly, distortion and obsfucation.

    Science, creation, and the Bible are in accord.

    Um. No.

  79. #79 Sigmund
    September 15, 2008

    Fantastic piece of evidence there JosephU. I don’t know about the rest of the heathens here but you’ve convinced me!! What about the T.Rex eating coconuts too? I presume thats also true. Now tell me, if you don’t mind, what did the bible tell us the elephants ate?

  80. #80 minusRusty
    September 15, 2008

    Sounds like a T-shirt to me:

    “Teach the Controversy”?

    There is only one side: The pattern of the evidence.

    Support science.

    Teach evolution.

    http://www.ncseweb.org

    -Rusty

  81. #81 poschiavanus
    September 15, 2008

    I am in despair. I’ve been following this issue on various sites and I’ve just come across this article on the BBC:

    Who are the British creationists?.

    Apart from the usual suspects this is what get’s my goat:

    “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 is the BBC, for ***’s sake: what does it think its doing calling an institution like this respected.

  82. #82 Nick Gotts
    September 15, 2008

    Re JosephU@76,

    Awesome. Who can plumb the depths of creationist idiocy?

  83. #83 Jams
    September 15, 2008

    Creationism should be taught in courses that address the history of biology, the ethics of biology, some law courses, and religious studies. There’s little room for it in a hard sciences class except as contextual colour.

    Chariots of the Gods should not be taught in structural engineering courses. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow should not be taught in economics courses. Phrenology should not be taught in medical courses. The societies of Middle Earth should not be studied in political sciences (although, I have to admit, this one sounds like fun).

    Creationism is a political (slash religious) movement that has bundled together a bunch of dis-proven arguments against evolution and called itself a “theory”. Individually, those arguments do often get addressed in biology courses, but there’s absolutely no reason at all to address creationism (or Intelligent Design or whatever they’re calling it these days) as a competing theory. To do so, is to misrepresent the phenomenon (aka. lying).

  84. #84 frog
    September 15, 2008

    If I understand Reiss correctly, his suggestion is not to teach creationism, but that when it comes up, to use it to distinguish between scientific theories, and non-scientific theories; not to simply dismiss it empirically (which I agree with him won’t work), but to distinguish the underpinnings of a religious theory from a scientific one.

    I doubt that a high-school teacher would be capable of doing that, in general. So, in terms of practical application, he would be wrong. But I see little in his suggestion that is incorrect, as a general approach. You don’t convince people that their world-view is wrong by focusing on sets of observations, but by showing them that their entire manner of making observations (what they consider to be a valid observation) is wrong.

  85. #85 Heleen Oudenaerde
    September 15, 2008

    Reiss is advocating answering objections against evolution brought up by creationist kids in science class, rather than refusing to answer such questions and refer the kids to religion class. That seems sensible. I read much biased interpretation, including the one by PZ, and much media hype.

  86. #86 windy, OM
    September 15, 2008

    “I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view.”

    And world views can’t be misconceived?

    I agree with some others that Reiss is not advocating “teaching” creationism as such, but he seems somewhat confused. How would “debating” creationism and ID in science class lead to more respect and less conflict between worldviews? If it does, u r doing it wrong, IMO.

  87. #87 Heleen Oudenaerde
    September 15, 2008

    The hype about Reiss seems the product of a situation that is so polarized that anything other than the most stringent orthodoxy in pro-evolution views is automatically thought pro-creationist. The hullabaloo is typical of an: “if you are not 100 % with me you are against me” mentality. Scientists should not subscribe to that mentality, but aim at reasoned argument.

  88. #88 David Carnegie
    September 15, 2008

    @chuckbert, 66
    //Students should be taught philosophy to cure their indoctrination, but wasting time for the teaching of science on trying to reach those who are determined to resist is futile and counterproductive.//

    You are talking about children who have been indoctrinated from day one. It is not their fault they believe in myths.

  89. #89 frog
    September 15, 2008

    windy: And world views can’t be misconceived?

    Reiss: Creationism can profitably be seen not as a simple misconception that careful science teaching can correct.

    There’s a world of difference between a simple misconception (aka, gravity is a 1/r law in 3 dimensions), and a mistaken world-view (the vision of prophets is sufficient to understand how the universe is organized).

    One is attacked solely by fact – the other is a deconversion process. Reiss is right – but I doubt that a science teacher can even initiate deconversion purposely.

  90. #90 kermit
    September 15, 2008

    Robert Byers@24:
    The observation that modern geology was founded by creationists is meaningful only to historians. Their religion did not inform their science; on the contrary, one of the first significant discoveries they arrived at by applying the scientific method was that the Earth is much older than they had thought. It was scientists who were originally creationists who taught us that.

    “Heaps of countrymen say [mainstream biology and geology] are wrong.” Yes, but they base that on religious texts, not verifiable evidence. The evidence shows that the Earth is ancient, that all species of life evolved from a common ancestor (or a very few ancestors), and that natural selection and neutral drift largely explain the process.

    The “Divided opinion the origins of life” is not divided in science, but between science and those who ignore data to cling to their mythologies. I am baffled by people who can deny information because it causes them emotional stress, but I acknowledge your existence.

    Some of the classes of data that led to these conclusions include:
    Astronomical observations such as red shift, billions of galaxies no visible without modern instruments, the observed process of star formation, etc.
    Radio-isotope dating (not just carbon).
    Necessary time for certain processes to happen (e.g. sedimentary rock.
    Ice cores and tree rings (for fairly recent dates, but much older than a few thousand years.
    Nested hierarchies of morphology, genomes, vestigial structures, and behavior.
    Modern genetics would have led to these conclusions with no other evidence.
    The fossil record, which shows whole biosystems changing over time, approaching the modern forms, in some areas one on top of others, and matching the deviations expected as plate tectonics pulled the original supercontinent apart.
    There is a “fossil record” of sorts in the genes. Mutations can be traced, genetic switches followed, etc. showing much of the past paths and relationships of living species.
    Most importantly, these *all* point to the same picture.

    What do you have? Your interpretation of bronze-age myths, with no more verifiable evidence for them than the Hindu pantheon, stories of the Navajo, the Norsemen, or the ancient Egyptians.

    Maybe there is a god. But if so, he used evolution and natural processes to produce everything we see. I was first taught evolution at an adult level by a devout Christian, BTW.

  91. #91 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    This is the BBC, for ***’s sake

    Indeed. You are yourself making the same mistake of considering that institution to be a deservedly respected one when, in reality, it lacks merit (being too far gone in incompetence and dishonesty).

    It’s the BBC behaving in very much the bad way the current BBC and its staff can be expected (viz as a norm rather than as a demand) to behave.

  92. #92 Holbach
    September 15, 2008

    Joseph U @ 76

    Does the “U” stand for “Unhinged or Unsound”?
    Of course you believe that humans existed at the same time as the dinosaurs. And to think that if ol’ Rex had grabbed your ancestors, you would not be here now as dinosaur dung spewing forth insane crap.

  93. #93 windy, OM
    September 15, 2008

    frog wrote:

    You don’t convince people that their world-view is wrong by focusing on sets of observations, but by showing them that their entire manner of making observations (what they consider to be a valid observation) is wrong.

    According to these statements, his goal is not showing that these alternative world views are “wrong”:

    “I think a better way forward is to say to them ‘look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved’.”

    Reiss said he used to be an “evangelist” for evolution in the classroom, but that the approach had backfired. “I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all. Now I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe,” he said.

    If his point is that it’s a complex misconception, instead of a simple one, and that the ultimate goal is still deconversion, he is not communicating that clearly enough.

  94. #94 Jesse
    September 15, 2008

    @81

    Careful, there may be a selection bias here.

    If I were doing a story on US creationist and quoted someone from Bob Jones U, (which is “respected” in some circles) or BYU, I might get a similar quote.

    As far as I know in the Islamic world creationism per se hasn’t been an issue at all. In Islamic schools here it certainly hasn’t, though the sample size is tiny and there are only a very few that are full-day schools. (Most are after-school programs like Sunday school). And in the countries themselves, it sure doesn’t seem to be a problem if the biology graduates I see from the Middle East, Malaysia, or Pakistan are any indication. The ones I have run into have all been pretty damned smart and seem to be doing spot on work. But there may be selection bias there too.

    Another thing: my wife went to Catholic School, in the Philippines, and said that evolution was taught rather well by the Jesuits there. They never brought up any conflicts, and seemed to think the whole idea of direct conflict (at least in terms of teaching ethics and the like) was silly. I think they’d have laughed at the Darwin-to-Hitler link Ben Stein was trying for. Talking about teaching creationism in Asia gets you a blank stare, most of the time — it’s a nonissue.

  95. #95 frog
    September 15, 2008

    Windy: If his point is that it’s a complex misconception, instead of a simple one, and that the ultimate goal is still deconversion, he is not communicating that clearly enough.

    What can I say? It’s clear enough to me – if you can get people to at least entertain a different worldview, you’re 50% of the way to converting them. It’s how the entire process works – it’s how people get converted to Christianity: “Just say that you accept Jesus, that’s enough”. Just watch some of the religious channels – this is exactly their method, they don’t expect you to accept all their dogma – but if you’ll just take a bite, they hope that the drug will keep some coming back for more.

    Reiss just thinks that the drug of reality is actually quite strong. I’m not so sure.

    I recall an ethnology of a Christian group where the anthropologist found herself “believing” while studying the group. Just using their language for a while was sufficient for her to start thinking like them. She intentionally didn’t put up walls of “oh, this is all bullshit” every time she listened to them, since that would make it impossible to do a decent analysis — she had to deconvert herself afterwards.

  96. #96 Jams
    September 15, 2008

    I disagree with the generous interpretations of Reiss’ article. He isn’t simply suggesting that questions about creationism be answered in a class, but that they be treated as “alternatives to evolutionary theory”, in order that teachers may persuade more gently.

    His basis for this seems to be that some views are so entrenched in the minds of students that the honest rejection of them is a hopeless endeavor. And certainly, we all have anecdotal evidence to support Reiss’ world view. Who hasn’t felt like they’re talking to a wall in a human suit? But what exactly is Reiss suggesting? Should teachers respond to questions about creationism by saying “it’s interesting you should ask that because creationism is a valid alternative to evolution… and here’s why it’s wrong.”

    I suspect students would feel like they are being hosed. And you know what? They’d be right.

  97. #97 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2008

    JosephU (#76):

    Behemoth? Not a dinosaur, but a poetical description of a large mammal (possibly mythological, although hippopotami, water buffalo and and elephants have been suggested as models). How can one tell? Because it is described as having external testicles, which is a mammalian trait not shared by birds or reptiles.

    Of course, if you only read the bible in some modern translation in which the language has been watered down (like the NIV, which you quote), then you’re not going to pick up on this. Instead, you need to look at earthier translations which are less inclined to pussy-foot about with delicate euphemisms, e.g., the good old King James Version:

    “Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly. He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.” (Job 40:16-17, KJV)

    “Stones” is a standard term for testicles. Indeed, the New Advent version is explicit:

    “His strength is in his loins, and his force in the navel of his belly. He setteth up his tail like a cedar, the sinews of his testicles are wrapped together.” (Job 40:11-12, New Advent)

    Indeed, some commentators suggest that the behemoth’s “tail” refers to its penis, which would be in keeping with the general theme of the passage – the behemoth as an embodiment of virility and strength.

    So reading the passage in context, your “dinosaur” appears to be a large ungulate mammal with a massive erection.

    Let’s teach our children the truth.

    Since you can’t even read your own holy book with a modicum of intelligence, you’re clearly not qualified to judge on what to teach anyone.

  98. #98 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    I don’t know if UnSAnians can download from the Grauniad site (some UK outlets, eg the BBC, don’t allow non-UK people access) but they currently have an MP3 recording of an interview with Michael Reiss (from intro at 8:00 mins to conclusion of that segment at 12:25) available there.

  99. #99 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    “Stones” is a standard term for testicles.

    And the “navel” in your quote is another placental mammal trait! Hence the heresy of even discussing whether Adam (and Eve) had a navel. Religious leaders know jolly well that their fantasies and dogmas can’t withstand much scrutiny on any count.

  100. #100 windy, OM
    September 15, 2008

    What can I say? It’s clear enough to me – if you can get people to at least entertain a different worldview, you’re 50% of the way to converting them.

    Yes, this is one (generous) interpretation of what Reiss is saying. However, I have a nagging suspicion that Reiss is offering a contradictory Nisbet-ish scheme that doesn’t make as much sense as we would like (respect each world view, but debate them freely in science class?)

  101. #101 frog
    September 15, 2008

    Iain:

    Isn’t even the word “penis” an old Latin euphemism for penis, literally meaning tail? I’d assume that all the mediterannean languages used the same pattern of euphemisms – tail, feet, stones, and such. It’s at least clear that the Indo-European languages did (penis = tail, is cognate in german and greek etymology, I believe, and is currently used in Romance languages, where penis has been displaced as tail, and the new word for tail then becomes a euphemism for the old word for tail! How far can the euphemisms go? (In another 5k years, there’ll be “tail” euphemisms for tail euphemisms for tail euphemisms for penis! (Maybe we already are there?)))

  102. #102 Matt Penfold
    September 15, 2008

    Teachers in the UK are already under a fair bit (read a lot) of time pressure as it is.

    If the biology teachers need to take time out to slowly explain evolution to those who are wanting to reject it on religious grounds, what are they supposed to drop ?

    There is much to learn in looking a how something like creationism is not science, but it would take several lessons at least to do it justice. As people up thread have pointed out you would need to cover the history of science, the scientific methodology as well as the philosophy of science.

    Given many students just take “science” at GCSE doing so would take a lot of the time allowed.

    For non-Brits, GCSE’s are exams taken at 16. There is now an option in most schools to either take the traditional three science subjects of physics, chemistry and biology or do science as a single subject. The less able students typically go for the single subject option, or are forced to by the school worried about pass rates.

  103. #103 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2008

    Robert Byers (#24):

    The essence of creationism is in fact its criticisms of ideas that are contrary to the bible. Not actually putting forth creationist concepts by way of science.

    Huh. Byers says something accurate for a change …

  104. #104 Emma
    September 15, 2008

    “Reiss thinks we ought to sacrifice the one hour of secular, rational, critical thinking they will be exposed to by diluting it further with religious apologetics?”

    But he doeesn’t. I usually love the Guardian but that article was so wide of the mark it’s not funny. I was in the phone press conference before the debate (and, to the best of my recollection, Randerson wasn’t) and Reiss went out of his way to stress that that is *not* what he wants. Nor is he a creationist.

    He used to be a biology teacher, and was a (self described) “evangelist for evolution.” All he is saying is that, with one in 10 schoolchildren coming from homes in which creationism is the excepted norm, biology teachers need a better response than “you’re wrong” (or worse, “you’re stupid and you’re wrong”) when the subject comes up.

    This isn’t “conceding science to those who don’t understand it.” This is trying to get science across to *children* whose immediate family might very well be placing themunder equal and opposite pressure to conform to this antiquated world view.

    Telling children that what they are about to learn puts them at odds with the things that their parents hold dear is not likely to be a winning strategy, as Richard Dawkins’s experience with the schoolchildren in “the Genius of Charles Darwin” showed. If the great RD (pbuh) can’t deconvert a bunch of schoolkids, why should we expect biology teachers to do so?

  105. #105 Holbach
    September 15, 2008

    Even the great Royal Society is being assaulted by irrational inroads. The Dark Ages are reemerging to spread their insane slime of religion. I worry for the cause of Reason.

  106. #106 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2008

    SEF (#99):

    And the “navel” in your quote is another placental mammal trait!

    Indeed. It always amazes me how inept creationists are when it comes to reading their own bible (and how readily they impose the most insupportable interpretations on the supposedly literal text).

    BTW, how’s tricks at the old Science Boards? I glance in from time to time, but somehow never get round to re-registering.

  107. #107 EvilEvolutionist
    September 15, 2008

    I totally support the teaching of creationism in public school science classes – as long as it’s taught that it’s clearly a “perverse and aberrant lifestyle choice”.

    Evil(tm) Evolutionist

  108. #108 windy, OM
    September 15, 2008

    Telling children that what they are about to learn puts them at odds with the things that their parents hold dear is not likely to be a winning strategy

    What’s wrong with children these days? That seemed to be THE winning strategy when I was a kid. ;)

    (It wasn’t usually applied by the teachers, though. maybe we should be lurking around schoolyards and offering free tastes of science?)

  109. #109 Pierce R. Butler
    September 15, 2008

    I first made up a list of facts …

    Hah! Even Myers admits what he teaches is imaginary!

  110. #110 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2008

    frog (#101):

    Isn’t even the word “penis” an old Latin euphemism for penis, literally meaning tail?

    I do believe you’re right.

    And apparently the Hebrew term translated in Job as “tail” is also known to have been used as a penis euphemism in other contexts, so the tail/penis business seems to be a feature of Semitic as well as Indo-European languages.

  111. #111 Erik R.
    September 15, 2008

    Note that in the New Humanist poll, it is possible to vote for both “Outrageous” and “Irresponsible” at the same time.

  112. #112 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    how’s tricks at the old Science Boards?

    The old old science boards at the BBC no longer really exist. On the move from the howerd to the (less-old) dna system, science and nature were merged into content-free topics which then became more overtly just a BBC TV self-advertising strategy after another shutdown.

    The not-so-old Elmhurst-hosted science boards still exist (after some site name changes!) but are still prone to occasional creationist/quack attacks of course and, despite a slightly higher average educational level among users than places like the BBC, still suffer from rampant intellectual dishonesty (from a majority who aren’t prepared to read, comprehend and report honestly what other people have written, nor go back and check the evidence when such falsehoods are challenged).

  113. #113 poschiavanus
    September 15, 2008

    @94

    My problem is with “respected”, which is always an opinion, not sensible reportage. It’s widely used form of content-free padding, to be deprecated whether applied to BYU, Bob Jones U. or PZ Myers. Its unfortunate that the school concerned happens to be an independent islamic one, as this was not particularly germane to my point. Although, obviously, from your post, my comments could have been so construed. Its the conjunction of “respected” and teaching creationism which sticks in my craw.

    The BBC article could have made use of something more objective, such as a recent government inspection report, which is broadly positive. The school is private, the parents pay fees, so it is in a completely different category from the government sponsored academy programme which includes such outfits as the Emmanuel College in Gateshead.

    I don’t know about creationism in predominantly Islamic countries in Asia, but it’s certainly my perception that its becoming an issue in the UK. See this article by Steve Jones. Well-educated (lawyers and engineers) Muslim friends in the ’80s certainly were brought up with a creationist background, but it did not seem a big issue back then.

    I agree that the Catholic church has had a pretty positive approach to science, certainly since around 1950.

    @91 I walked into this, but I think one is allowed a little bit of relativism in one’s degree of respect for the BBC, compared, say, to the Discovery Institute.

  114. #114 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    the Hebrew term translated in Job as “tail” is also known to have been used as a penis euphemism in other contexts

    Another popular biblical euphemism for penis/genitalia is “feet” – particularly in phrases such as “covered his feet”. Which then raises an interesting possibility about the biblical fetish for the washing of feet …

  115. #115 frog
    September 15, 2008

    SEF: Another popular biblical euphemism for penis/genitalia is “feet”

    That’s also in Greek, if I recall my 3rd century plays right. So the post-Biblical Christian fetish fits as well…

    Is this game played the same in Arabic?

  116. #116 libarbarian
    September 15, 2008

    Indeed. It always amazes me how inept creationists are when it comes to reading their own bible (and how readily they impose the most insupportable interpretations on the supposedly literal text).

    I agree. They pick and choose what parts they take literally and what parts they interpret (sometimes in pretty farfetched ways).

    7 Day Creation = 7 day creation -but- A beast with 7 heads and 10 horns = The freaking U.N?

    Go figure.

  117. #117 Sastra
    September 15, 2008

    Emma #104 wrote:

    This isn’t “conceding science to those who don’t understand it.” This is trying to get science across to *children* whose immediate family might very well be placing themunder equal and opposite pressure to conform to this antiquated world view.

    But it’s still a bit unclear exactly how Reiss plans on doing this. Walk the students through the specific reasons for why their “worldview” is wrong? Gently deconstruct and deconvert in direct and explicit fashion?

    Or, do what so many others have advocated, and reduce it down to competing world views? Reiss seems to be urging science educators to “be content simply for them to understand (science) as one way of understanding the universe.” There are all sorts of ways. Some people use science, some people use revelation: it’s all in how you want to look at it.

    I don’t know about England, but in the US “discussing creationism in non-confrontational terms” (as Harry put it) is quite likely to turn science class into one of those ghastly Unitarian fellowship meetings where “all paths are valid, all ways of knowing respected, all individual perspectives accepted without judgment. Take what you need and leave the rest.”

    At least, that is my nightmare.

  118. #118 frog
    September 15, 2008

    Sastra: Or, do what so many others have advocated, and reduce it down to competing world views? Reiss seems to be urging science educators to “be content simply for them to understand (science) as one way of understanding the universe.” There are all sorts of ways. Some people use science, some people use revelation: it’s all in how you want to look at it.

    It would work, as a kind of judo move if high-school science teachers were judo masters. That’s the problem I’ve got with it. It requires a fairly subtle mastery of both pedagogical technique and philosophy of science, a combination which is fairly rare — even each one separately is quite rare.

    The trick would be to avoid the direct attack, and leave it hanging – ie, “Science has rules on how it works. Those rules lead to a development of a kind of knowledge which leads to computers, genetic engineering, clocks, and good-quality wells. Prophetic visions is another kind of knowledge, which leads to umm, well…, none of the above.” It would at least have a corrosive effect on the minds of brain-washed but bright students.

    It wouldn’t always work, but it could work sometimes. But you’d have to really be able to explain what the rules of science are, and how they really are different from prophetic visions. I sincerely doubt that your average high-school biology teacher can do that without shooting themselves in the foot.

    Better to let them figure it out by themselves, and not waste classroom time on the impractical. Just say that evolution is part of the scientific concensus, and philosophy of science – why creationism isn’t a part of science – is not a part of 11th grade biology.

  119. #119 eddie
    September 15, 2008

    Enough already with this talk of “the student’s worldview”.
    If parents and others are indoctrinating kids, then it’s a child abuse issue.
    As Dawkins says; “children aren’t born with religion”.
    Time to punish the child abusers.

  120. #120 frog
    September 15, 2008

    eddie: Enough already with this talk of “the student’s worldview”.
    If parents and others are indoctrinating kids, then it’s a child abuse issue.
    As Dawkins says; “children aren’t born with religion”.
    Time to punish the child abusers.

    That’s one of Dawkins’ more stupid comments. Children aren’t born with science either, or literature, or even a language. Everyone indoctrinates their children, explicitly or implicitly. Anyone who doesn’t is guilty of child neglect – and even that is sending a clear message to the child about how the world works.

    The point is to change world-views on a mass basis, without using violence. Reiss may be wrong in the details of this case, but he is getting at what must be done: creating an opening in people’s minds.

  121. #121 Mu
    September 15, 2008

    This is why I always liked the German approach. Teach religion in school, and you never have to explain creationism in science class. So the religion teachers have a lot of work explaining science in religion class.

  122. #122 Sastra
    September 15, 2008

    eddie #119 wrote:

    If parents and others are indoctrinating kids, then it’s a child abuse issue. As Dawkins says; “children aren’t born with religion”.
    Time to punish the child abusers.

    Punish how?

    The best remedy against ignorance is knowledge. I assume you’re advocating education.

    If parents have been foolish enough to make their religion testable (ie creationism), the consequences are that their religion will lose. And, if teachers begin to go through explicit reasons on WHY the entire approach of faith is wrong, they will lose badly.

    As for those “untestable,” relatively benign religions, I wouldn’t call such parents ‘child abusers.’ The term is too loaded, and being applied too broadly. I think the parents aren’t doing their kids any favor. To people who think the greatest gift they can give a child is the habit of faith, that’s harsh indeed.

    frog #118 wrote:

    It would work, as a kind of judo move if high-school science teachers were judo masters. That’s the problem I’ve got with it. It requires a fairly subtle mastery of both pedagogical technique and philosophy of science, a combination which is fairly rare — even each one separately is quite rare.

    I agree. What you’re much more likely to get is what I would expect from an ordained minister of C of E: separate magisteria. Not different ways of seeing the same thing, but different ways to deal with different things. Science deals with nature, and religion is what gives you morals and meaning.

    Screw ethics and philosophy. Religion is for the morals and meaning. And then they wonder why people think atheists can have no morals or meaning.

  123. #123 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    September 15, 2008

    TMI!

    That part where Mary used the expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet and then dried him with her hair? It always seemed a little incomprehensible to me, as a kid in Sunday school. Now it’s another ‘wish I could go back 10 minutes and not learn that’ moment.

    Looking back, I sort of thought the reason the story was brought up so often was to encourage us to put lots more money in the collection plate.

    Are you sure that’s what she was really doing? In front of everyone there? Well, I mean that’s what the author of that fictional passage meant people to understand?

  124. #124 Sonja
    September 15, 2008

    Can one of you credentialled scientists respond to factcheck.org regarding Sarah Palin’s position on teaching creationism in schools?

    In their summary, they say, “Palin has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska’s schools. She has said that students should be allowed to “debate both sides” of the evolution question, but she also said creationism “doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.” I also saw a CNN story that repeated this almost verbatim.

    Teaching “both sides” IS the creationist position. As far as I know there isn’t anyone pushing the position that ONLY creationism be taught in public schools — as PZ points out, they use the code words “teach the controversy”, or “both sides”, etc.

  125. #125 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    @ JohnnieCanuck #123:

    It might have been a literal use of feet on that occasion. That’s the trouble with euphemisms etc. Eg sometimes “bloody” does just mean literally bloody and isn’t anything to do with swearing. However, it could well be the case that previous readers (living much closer to the time and the regular use of that euphemism) snickered at the foot-washing passage.

    That sort of thing could even have been an intentional joke when making up such stories if not everyone was going to share the in-joke. Humans, being much the same back then, would have had the same naughtiness and sense of humour to some extent. Though the opportunities for a literate ghost-writer (scribe?) X to slip something past a too erudite overall editor Y would probably have been far fewer.

  126. #126 Tulse
    September 15, 2008

    Just to expand on a previous comment:

    she also said creationism “doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

    …which is obvious, since including it would be illegal. The whole shift to the “teach the controversy” strategy came about because creationism, even in its “lipstick on a pig” version, ID, have been declared as religious and hence it is a violation of the separation of church and state to teach it in public schools.

    That Palin suggests that an illegal activity “doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum” is not very impressive.

  127. #127 eddie
    September 15, 2008

    Thanks for the feedback, guys.

    In answer to frog: Children are naturally curious and tend to take observations at face value. This is the basis of science and this is most directly what indoctrination damages.

    In answer to Sastra: It is usual in abuse cases to move children to a ‘place of safety’ and to require their abusers to go through some behaviour-modifying therapy.

  128. #128 Jim Thomeson
    September 15, 2008

    At SIUE we have a junior level evolution course. This is required of all our secondary education biology majors. I have taught this course a number of times. I usually spent one or two lectures teaching ABOUT creationism. Many of our graduates will go into school systems where creationism is well thought of. So our graduates need to be knowledgable about creationism. I think it would be a great mistake for a high shool biology teacher to go into class with no knowledge of creationism, nor any idea how to deal with it if rears its ugly head.

  129. #129 eddie
    September 15, 2008

    Also, on the subject of pedagoguey (sp?): Aren’t teachers trained to spot the evidence of abuse? The issue could have been dealt with long before high-school biology lessons.

  130. #130 dubiquiabs
    September 15, 2008

    @poschiavanus, #113

    I agree that the Catholic church has had a pretty positive approach to science, certainly since around 1950.

    Depends on what you mean by “pretty positive”. Yes, when it suits her political purposes, the RCC will play nice to science, but just look at the RCC’s behavior on stem cell research, especially of the embryonic kind? Or research on contraception, or any science that relates to human sexuality and reproduction. One can bet one’s “tail” for a herring that the RCC will try to interfere with any science that contradicts or otherwise threatens her doctrines.

  131. #131 frog
    September 15, 2008

    eddie: In answer to frog: Children are naturally curious and tend to take observations at face value. This is the basis of science and this is most directly what indoctrination damages.

    Taking observations at face value is most definitely not science. Gravity is not “obvious” – it is extremely theory laden. Evolution is not “obvious” – it involves a huge amount of background and theory. Electromagnetism has a beautifully simple theory – but it does not just “come” from observing. Science is not about seeing data without theory – it’s about seeing theory and data honestly, with due skepticism despite your prejudice to accept what you expect.

    It’s about questioning everything – it is a doctrine of skepticism. Children do not naturally question authority – if anything, they are naturally wired to accept authority. What’s more natural than accepting the assurances of those powerful beings that ensure your feeding and security? You have to indoctrinate them to question indoctrination!

    In practical terms, it is extremely difficult to distinguish “good” indoctrination from “bad”, in such a way that the state can enforce. What you suggest is extremely frightening – that some random pencil-pusher will be deciding that what I tell my children (which is all that indoctrination is) is “abusive” and lead to my children being stripped from me. Expect my gun at the door if you try that!

    Yes, putting stupid, subservient, dishonest beliefs in children’s heads is bad, just as feeding them McDonald’s for lunch 3 times a week is bad. And sometimes people say in frustration that we should do something – but very few mean it.

  132. #132 SEF
    September 15, 2008

    the Catholic church has had a pretty positive approach to science, certainly since around 1950.

    I disagree.

    The church fakes being science-friendly only in situations when enough of its religious leadership realise they can’t get away with the lies they want to tell about reality without the church rightly being seen (by the majority of the population they want to fleece) for the retarded and evil institution it is – as per Aquinas’ rather blatant advice on concealing religious retardation from exposure. The Catholics have continued to be evil in telling lies about condoms and HIV/AIDS in places like Africa, where they still fully expect to get away with it unchallenged most of the time.

    The RCC never genuinely ceased being evil. It merely has to be a bit more cunning some of the time to camouflage itself enough to survive in advanced civilised societies.

  133. #133 JosephU
    September 15, 2008

    Regarding the statement:

    “the Catholic church has had a pretty positive approach to science, certainly since around 1950.”

    Pius XII was the Catholic Pope from 1939 until 1958.

    Some of the Catholic church’s
    “pretty positive approach to science … since around 1950″
    includes the following:

    – Genesis contains real history–
    it gives an account of things that really
    happened. (Pius XII)

    – Evolution must not be taught as fact,
    but instead the pros and cons of evolution must be
    taught. (Pius XII, Humani Generis)

    – Investigation into human “evolution” was allowed in 1950,
    but Pope Pius XII feared that an acceptance of evolutionism
    might adversely affect doctrinal beliefs.

    Quoted from:
    What does the Catholic Church Teach about Origins?
    http://www.kolbecenter.org/church_teaches.htm

    Available on-line at:
    The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation
    Defending Genesis from a Traditional Catholic Perspective
    http://www.KolbeCenter.org

    Genesis 1-11 (New International Version)
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis1-11&version=31
    .

  134. #134 Sastra
    September 15, 2008

    eddie #127 wrote:

    In answer to Sastra: It is usual in abuse cases to move children to a ‘place of safety’ and to require their abusers to go through some behaviour-modifying therapy.

    I smell troll. Bringing children up to be religious — even creationist — may be epistemically mistaken and less than optimal, but it’s certainly not the type of severe “abuse” that requires removing the children and taking the parents to a “re-education camp.” I doubt that any of us here — including Holbach, Bob C., and even you — would seriously advocate that, or anything like it. That’s a Manufactured Persecution fantasy.

    I’ll second frog in #131. And I think you’re just trying some kind of stupid experiment.

  135. #135 Paul Lawley-Jones
    September 16, 2008

    Which other cultural ‘world-views’ and creation myths are given the time of day in science classrooms? I’d wager none.

  136. #136 tresmal
    September 16, 2008

    Joseph @ 76: Science says different dinosaurs ate different things. Titanosaurs were sauropods (think “brontosaurus”*), which have long been known to have been herbivores. T rex on the other hand is still considered to have been a carnivore, as were most theropods.
    Regarding the Catholic church what has been the word from the last four popes, current one included, on evolution?

    *Yes I know it’s really apatosaurus, hence the quotation marks.

  137. #137 eddie
    September 16, 2008

    Certainly, some forms of abuse are more serious than others. You do have to consider the short term trauma ar well as longer term damage. The judicial system is usually smart enough to deal appropriately.
    Some people seem to have a line they draw where they leave victims at the mercy of their abusers. They seem to think parents own children as property, to do with what they will.
    Not trolling. Asking for genuine debate as to where the line is to be drawn.
    Does frog come from Waco by any chance?
    Well, that bit was trolling but I’m sure you get my point.

  138. #138 Sastra
    September 16, 2008

    edie #137 wrote:

    Not trolling. Asking for genuine debate as to where the line is to be drawn.

    “Psychological abuse” is distinct from physical abuse. It’s a line. I’m not aware of any laws which allow for the government removing the child from the home for psychological abuse alone, nor can I think of a good argument for it.

    Can you?

  139. #139 Froggy
    September 16, 2008

    Stop press:

    Reiss has resigned.

  140. #140 eddie
    September 16, 2008

    A couple of points:
    Yes, physical and prychological abuse are different in degree but both cause real and lasting damage and no, children should not be subject to either.
    Second, I take frog’s point about faceless bureaucracy. If there were to be ‘intervention’ then those who are involved should be accountable members of a community, acting on behalf of the community as a whole.

    I think children have rights as well as adults, but they don’t have knowledge to use them and sometimes need help.

  141. #141 JosephU
    September 16, 2008

    Sigmund (#79) asked:

    “Now tell me, if you don’t mind, what did the bible tell us the elephants ate?”

    The Bible does not tell us what elephants eat, people are able to observe what elephants eat any time they want.

    It seems that God said what a certain dinosaur (behemoth) ate was because
    some people (those alive today), would be interested in dinosaur diets but would not be able to observe live dinosaurs.

    This is one reason why God included dinosaur diet info in the Bible:
    e.g.
    “Look at the behemoth,
    which I made along with you
    and which feeds on grass like an ox.

    See: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job40:15-24;&version=31;

  142. #142 SEF
    September 16, 2008

    This is one reason why God included dinosaur diet info in the Bible

    Except the alleged god somehow not only failed to write the bible at all but also failed to know (ie when supposedly inspiring the actual bible-writers) what a dinosaur even was – in explicitly giving it decidedly non-saurian placental mammalian traits, viz external testicles and a navel. Epic fail for any would-be creator. Or, in reality rather than god-fantasy, epic fail for any ignorant and dishonest creationist, viz you in this instance, trying to claim that bit of the bible is about a dinosaur.

  143. #143 Nerd of Redhead
    September 16, 2008

    JosephU, can you show any physical evidence for your god? Some evidence that scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers can examine and determine that there is divinity present? This is a scientific blog. If you make claims, you may be called upon to produce scientific evidence. Do you have any physical evidence?

  144. #144 Chuck Wolber
    September 16, 2008

    I think the upshot of these “teach the controversy” and “academic freedom legislation” absurdities is that there is a built in poison pill. You get to effectively filibuster the classroom by bringing in *ALL* viewpoints.

    ..Chuck..

  145. #145 Iain Walker
    September 18, 2008

    JosephU (#141):

    It seems that God said what a certain dinosaur (behemoth) ate was because some people (those alive today), would be interested in dinosaur diets but would not be able to observe live dinosaurs.

    Oh, Joseph, you babbling fool. You really don’t pay any attention to anything anyone ever says to you, do you?

  146. #146 Iain Walker
    September 18, 2008

    SEF (#112):

    The old old science boards at the BBC no longer really exist.

    Ah, yes. I was there when the BBC shut them down and lied about their plans for restarting them.

    The not-so-old Elmhurst-hosted science boards still exist

    ‘Twas those to which I was referring.

    but are still prone to occasional creationist/quack attacks

    Last time I was browsing there, I noticed one ID-iot whom I recalled from the BBC religion boards had been making a nuisance of himself. I forget his moniker, but he had a big thing about irreducible complexity, a concept which he didn’t seem to understand the meaning of, and a tendency towards repeating the same distortions and misunderstandings over and over at length. Although now that I think of it, that covers most ID-iots whom I’ve encountered online, so that probably doesn’t help narrow it down.

    I’d have re-registered to do battle, but he’d already been asked to leave …

  147. #147 SEF
    September 19, 2008

    a tendency towards repeating the same distortions and misunderstandings over and over at length

    You do know that doesn’t narrow things down at all for those kinds of people, don’t you?! Especially since you only just got through observing the same thing of JosephU. It’s one of the characteristic / defining traits of the sub-species.

  148. #148 Edward Venner
    September 20, 2008

    It reminds me, of Malcolm Muggeridge’s old joke, about appointing a Butcher, President of The Vegetarian Society.
    I really do not know whether to laugh or cry.

    My sympathy rests I regret to say, with the poor brain-washed skool-kids, who understandably believe what they are taught. What are they to think if in the biology class the beliefs of their R.K. class are being contradicted.

    When I was at school (and in England their is compulsory religion until sixteen years of age) there was no problem, because the age of the universe was left blank.

    But by sixteen I had come to realise that the religion I was being taught could not be correct. Perhaps the biologists could see if there is a belief gene, because I seem to be lacking it!

  149. #149 Dileep Sathe
    November 12, 2008

    As a physics teacher and educationist, I do not find anything wrong in discussing creationism. Actually, the law of conservation of energy makes it necessary because the moment we say that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed, the question that strikes the mind of a common student is: Who created the energy that we use every moment and teachers tell us to save? In addition, the energy-mass conversion is allowed by Albert Einstein’s Relativity. So discussion is necessary.

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