How to handle creationism (British style)

The UK Education Minister has the right idea. After the pseudoscientific group “‘Truth’ in Science” mailed out teaching plans for creationism to schools in England, it took them a while, but the government has now spoken out loudly and clearly against their nonsense.

The government has already stated that the Truth in Science materials should not be used in science lessons. On November 1, the education minister, Jim Knight, wrote: “Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum. The Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum.” The Department for Education said it was working with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the public body that oversees the national curriculum, to communicate this message directly to schools.

It really is that simple.


  1. says

    I’m glad that the DfE is getting of their arses and doing something, however as Harris says, it has taken them bloody long enough. Also, I wonder about the content of the proposed letter and whether or not it is adequate. It should, in no uncertain terms, spell out that the teaching of creationism is prohibited.

    Finally, the DfE should tell McIntosh to fuck off. What right does this fringe group of cranks have to meet education officials and peddle their bullshit. None whatsoever is the answer.

  2. Tony Jackson says

    Sending slick “education packs” including DVDs to every school in the country can’t be cheap. Does anybody know where the “Truth in Science” money comes from?

  3. Mark says

    As an American, I am admittedly ignorant of much of the way your politics works but if it is anything like it is here, perhaps it is not the MP that is the creationist but the MP’s constituents.

  4. J-Dog says

    Excellent question Tony! I suggest putting the very same question to a chap that lives on Baker Street. 222B, I believe. It could be Professor Moriarty, but much more likely to be one of your American cousins, I am very much afraid. Professor Moriary’s evil, yet stupid clone, Professor William Dembski and the evil, yet stupid DI, would be my guess.

  5. Joe says

    Excellent question Tony! I suggest putting the very same question to a chap that lives on Baker Street. 222B, I believe.

    The bloke who runs the dry cleaners?

  6. Ginger Yellow says

    Mark, creationism isn’t widespread enough (or concentrated enough) to cause an MP to support it purely on behalf of his constituents. There’s probably only a handful of seats at most where YEC beliefs are held by more than single figure percentages. Scientific understanding is pretty poor in the UK, but the fundamentalist religious movement is still very young.

    What’s your comment based on, Simon?

  7. Mark UK says

    I think creationism is not a huge movement in the UK. I do think there is a real risk for ID to take hold. People in general are not very well educated when it comes to science. So, the concept that it is only fair to teach children all theories and to teach children to think critically etc are likely to appeal to at least part of the population.

    This is a country where in London almost a quarter of parents (mostly educated middle class) decided to not vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine because they would all turn autistic.

    Our prime minister thinks homeopathy is so good that it is now funded through the NHS, the public health system here. His wife is all into fuddy duddy new age stuff…

    We need to stamp on this from the start.

  8. says

    Sadly, DFES has also been unpleasantly keen on Tony Blair’s bright idea of “academies” – that is, a rich person or entity (but not an elected authority – no, sir) puts in £2m of the estimated £10m cost of a new school, for which they get 50 per cent plus one vote on the governing body and exemption from the National Curriculum as well as much else. As well as a spankin’ new school, they get the per-head funding without any of the usual government interference, and they can also apply soft selection to their intake. (Note that the other £8m comes from me.)

    Guess who’s the biggest donor to these? Sir Peter Vardy, used-car king and committed creationist.

  9. EnglishRose says

    And last week there was a flurry of ‘teach the controversy’ style letters on the Guardian’s letters page that made me despair of my fellow Grauniad readers….

  10. J L Smith says

    I can only presume the guy who lives at 222B Baker Street is an accountant who can read the accounts Truth in Science files at Companies House (unusually TiS is a limited company, not a charity). Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, lives at 221B.

    And Mark (not Mark UK) in the UK we tend to elect people for their political beliefs, not their religious beliefs. We also tend to take the piss out of the overtly religious. Blair got a healthily sceptical response when he announced that he and Bush prayed together at Bush’s ranch.

  11. tacitus says

    Since it has worked so well for Christianity in the UK, perhaps we should encourage the US government to consider doing away with the seperation of church and state.

    Let’s give the President the power to appoint church leaders and see how well that will go down with the religious right. Let’s appoint church leaders to Congress and forget all those inconvenient elections.

    Given enough time, I’m sure we shall see Christianity in America achieving the same level of success that we see in the UK. I’m all for it! When do we start?

  12. J L Smith says

    “Announced” was probably too strong. However the claims of Blair’s prayer vigil with Bush were repeated later in David Aikman’s book on Bush.

    And I remember that interview and my chief memory of Blair’s response was that he looked like he was a> pissed off that Paxman had brought it up and b> lying. But then he looked like he was lying all the way through, so it was hard to tell.

  13. Joe says

    Joe: Is it not still a branch of the Abbey National, then?

    No, the Abbey National office on the site of what would have been 221b Baker Street had any such address existed when Doyle began the Holmes stories was demolished last winter – but, bizarrely, the legally protected clock-tower remains.

    222 Baker Street is home to the Chalfont Dry Cleaners.

  14. Ginger Yellow says

    What a curious bird that Gary Streeter person Miss Prism links to is. He’s a Tory, of course, in one of the safest Tory seats. Funnily enough I found it considerably more shocking that he slagged off David Attenborough than that he did evolution and the Big Bang. You don’t do that lightly in this country.

    Here’s his record from They Work For You:

    * Moderately for introducing a smoking ban. votes, speeches
    * Moderately against introducing ID cards. votes, speeches
    * Quite strongly against introducing foundation hospitals. votes, speeches
    * Quite strongly against introducing student top-up fees. votes, speeches
    * Moderately against Labour’s anti-terrorism laws. votes, speeches
    * Very strongly for the Iraq war. votes, speeches
    * Moderately for investigating the Iraq war. votes, speeches
    * Very strongly against the fox hunting ban. votes, speeches
    * Quite strongly against equal gay rights. votes, speeches

    And here’s what the Guardian’s potted bio says:

    Gary Streeter says: From his maiden speech (05/06/92): ” We should be examining the causes of crime and seeking to rediscover in society what I would call the traditional Christian values by which people learn at an early age to respect law and order, authority, other people and others’ property. We must rediscover the importance at a young age of the family unit and of parental discipline. We have tended to turn our backs on those matters in the past 30 years. We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind.”

    Others say: Chris Hamilton, BBC News Online: “A proud and committed Christian who once set up and ran an evangelical church in Plymouth, Mr Streeter is an ambitious, loyal, ferociously on-message sometime rightwinger.”

  15. says

    Oh, and for the record, he’s not the Education Minister (who has the title of Secretary of State for Education and Skills), but the Minister of State for Schools, a junior minister in the Department for Education and Skills.

  16. says

    An out of closet creationist MP:

    Gary Streeter:
    By the way, I ought to point out that I do not support the literal theory of creationism, but I certainly do sign up to the intelligent design theory.

    I am relaxed about whether creationism is taught as one of three options to children. I have profound concerns about the “arrogance” of some scientists and people like David Attenborough who confidently claim that they know precisely what happened 9.3 billion years ago! The reality is that science changes its broad thrust every few decades and the scientific world should be humble enough to recognise that evolution remains a theory.

    Wiki Bio

    I’m more upset that he slandered St Attenborough.

  17. poke says

    I saw an interview with Vardy where he stated that he simply doesn’t care about the truth or falsity of evolution or creationism. The whole idea that a person might care whether the science taught in schools is accurate seemed amusing to him. I think to understand creationism in the UK, you have to understand the special sort of anti-intellectualism we have here, where it simply doesn’t matter if something is “scientific” or not because that’s the sort of thing “boffins” are concerned with. If you can imagine the whole jock-nerd continuum used as a criterion for truth; that’s British intellectual discourse about science.

  18. Ichthyic says

    Sending slick “education packs” including DVDs to every school in the country can’t be cheap. Does anybody know where the “Truth in Science” money comes from?

    the money mostly comes from the war-chest of one Howard Ahmanson:

    who has been the primary backer of the xian reconstructionist movement in the US for decades now.

    to think i grew up in Orange County.


  19. Mark Frank says

    It should, in no uncertain terms, spell out that the teaching of creationism is prohibited.

    I don’t think the DFeS can prohibit the teaching of anything just like that. It can only insist that the national curriculum is covered and advise on other material. That’s also the best approach. If we rely on the law to stop teachers teaching creationism then that gives quite the wrong message and may increase interest in the subject. They should stop teaching it (not that many do) because they don’t want to (because it has been explained to them that it is nonsense).

  20. lo says

    Well, PZ as you know as well it is not that simple, and the mere wording of this message in as far as tactility goes stands proof.

    It`s a shame that greater 90% of world`s population never had the chance to arrive in the 21st century, and unavoidable legacy is still dragging us down, one of those cultural artifacts being religion.

  21. Ulyanov says

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  22. says

    First-time poster here, so please be gentle. :-)

    For anyone interested – some old family friends live in the same housing complex and are part of the same church as Gary Streeter. I use the term ” family friends” in its loosest possible sense – my family refers to them as “the cult” due to the terrifying, rightwing nature of the church. They are not averse to using rather… unethical methods of spreading their word, and moreover, the church contains a number of locally prominent and wealthy individuals. I have to be careful here, but – well, yes, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this one.

    On a happier note, I wrote to my own MP recently (David Lepper – MP for Brighton Pavilion) over this issue. He wrote me back a very nice letter explaining how he supports the motion to keep creationism and ID out of schools, and also enclosed a list of other MPs who had (so far) also supported it. I don’t have the list with me as I’m at work but I can share it with anyone who is interested.

  23. says

    Yes they did take their time but at least they eventually spoke out against that nonsense. I actually feel good about my little island now. At least for that day.