Australia? You are at fault!

What I’ve seen over and over again is that there’s nothing creative about creationism — they repeat the same old arguments, and they’re all (except for the weird twist of Intelligent Design creationism) derived from American publications in the 1960s. And even ID is an American confabulation! So I tend to give my own country a share of the blame when I see an Australian like Ken Ham, or a Turk like Adnan Oktar.

I may have been too quick to accept guilt, though. I’m going to have to blame Australia more.

The recent revelation that creationism-teaching schools in at least nine states were receiving over $11 million of taxpayers’ money per year might have startled Americans. But that is tiny compared to the taxpayer funds pushing creationism in Australia.

Since the 1970s, Australia has ratcheted up public funding to private schools, such that, in 2013, more than 34 percent of all school students attend them. More than 90 percent of these private schools are Christian. These include a large Catholic sector, and some old, establishment schools, which parents choose more for lavish facilities and old-school-tie networks than any religious content.

Nonetheless, the fastest growth is in more strictly religious schools such as the 91 affiliated with Australian Association of Christian Schools, whose members must assent to a Statement of Faith declaring “the supreme authority of the Bible,” meaning that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are God’s infallible and inerrant revelation to man” and “the supreme standard by which all things are to be judged.” The Statement also affirms that, “in pursuit of their task, Christian schools only employ Christian teachers and Christian non-teaching staff who are able to subscribe to this Statement.”

To proponents of “inerrant revelation,” the Genesis six days of creation are a touchstone.

In 2010 (the most recent figures available), AACS schools received over $357 million from state and federal governments.

Whoa. So Australia is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into propping up creationism? I’m not buying beer for any Australians ever again, until you stop.


  1. madscientist says

    Yeah, it’s a bible-basher’s wet dream. Worse still, that crap is being pushed into public schools now. Having an Abbot running the country is going to make things even worse. He’s hell-bent on outdoing the USA at trampling on human dignity and handing state funds to the giga-rich.

  2. mnb0 says

    “I’m going to have to blame Australia.”
    As a Dutchman I feel thoroughly neglected. For one thing we have our own Bible Belt, though it’s by far not as influential as its American counterpart. For another already in 1926 a schism occurred (Geelkerken affaire) about the question how to interpret the Bible: did the Great Flood literally or metaphorically happen?
    But yeah, we Dutch have arranged things a bit better. Even the most orthodox protestant schools have to teach Evolution Theory in our secondary schools – the equivalent of Senior High School. One clue is that our religious schools are state-financed as well and thus have to accept state-curriculum.
    At the other hand you can find many a Dutch website dedicated to creacrap.

  3. Lofty says

    My boy went to a christian primary school for several years, but that’s because the alternative public schools were much, much worse. As a small non sporting child he got bullied mercilessly unless kept in a “safe” environment, and that by the head master. And the local high school was worse again. We as parents felt that christian schooling was safer than the sports mad state school system.

    By the skin of our teeth we managed to fund his attendance at an independent, non religious high school though, and he’s now at 30 and as non religious as he could be without mentioning the “A” word.

    Choosing schools is hard, and fundie christianity is merely one of the hurdles.

  4. says

    Certainly a cause for concern, though we’re nowhere near the state of the US when it comes to kooky kreationist kapers or tolerance of religious nuttery anyway (there is, after all, a reason Ham left here and went there). Christianity is of course the majority down here, but it’s nowhere near as common here to be a creationist or even a vocal god-botherer and those who are often get a raised eyebrow.

    But yes, add it to the list of things Abbott and his gang of fucking neo-con Thatcherite vandals need to be held accountable for, if not right now then at the next election (though I fear their first six months of petulant shitting-in-the-sandpit is only the beginning and even if they do get comprehensively slapped at the ballot-box, it’ll be such a big job to fix all their wrecking that the next government will throw their hands up and say “Wow, big job. Eh, fuck it,” and leave the entire political landscape shifted inexorably toward the right. Just like Obama did).

  5. ravenred says

    Blame Whitlam. In order to reintegrate the Labor party’s Catholic wing he formalised large-scale funding of the Catholic system (though de-secualtised by needs-based funding) which then got extended after an early 80s high court decision on S116 of the Constitution.

    Today there’s a basic expectation amongst Australians that there’s a right to public funding of private school educations, the vast majority of which are religious (to varying degrees).

    Once my diabolical masterplan is complete and my minions darken the skies with the beating of their cybernetic wings, this may all change…

  6. Muz says

    The gradual abandonment of the public school system is one of the more insidious things ever begun. Where ever it started, the greatest tipping of the balance occurred under Howard and it’s been a great plank of the Liberal party’s goal to privatise and christianise education by stealth.

    Luckily, for the moment, the christian organisations mentioned don’t represent a lot of schools nor very many major ones. If you grouped all the major religious private schools you probably wouldn’t see very much creationism, but you would see a lot of public money. The largest share of private schools teach the state curriculum, which is based on the federal standards.
    This gives us at least some insurance for the time being (I think funding even depends on it to some degree. Can’t confirm at the minute).
    This isn’t to say that rank outsider schools don’t exist who teach whatever they like (I know of small christian boarding schools that teach creationism only and they don’t hide it) and are probably on the rise. Nor that the curriculum system offers any real protection as ‘independence’ and ‘open competition’ and ‘back to the three Rs’ talk really ramps up whenever the Libs are in power (oh hai there….)

  7. rorschach says

    And those fine Christian schools also have the legal power granted to them to refuse to employ say, single mothers as teachers. Since we all know that such a thing makes the baby Jesus cry.

    There is still a High Court Challenge going on at this moment over the legality of so-called “school chaplains”.

  8. says

    I’ll make a rare interjection because I think I’m qualified to make some commentary here.
    I am a teacher, and am completing a Masters Honours thesis in Critical thinking skills in Australian schooling.
    Our school certainly had a statement of faith, but as such things go I recall it as very middle-of-the-road; there was certainly no requirement to biblical literalism.
    All schools in Australia must conform to the state-mandated curriculum. We’re in a time of transition at the moment, with seven differing state-based syllabuses being gradually replaced with a new national syllabus. Each state, however, have issued at various times quite explicit proscriptions against the teaching of young earth creationism:
    South Australia: “The teaching of science as an empirical discipline, focusing on inquiry, hypothesis, investigation, experimentation, observation and evidential analysis.” It does not accept as satisfactory a science curriculum in a non-government school “which is based on, espouses or reflects the literal interpretation of a religious text in its treatment of either creationism or intelligent design.”
    NSW: The syllabus requires students to “discuss evidence that present-day organisms have evolved from organisms in the distant past” and to ”relate natural selection to the theory of evolution”,
    Even our most redneck state, Queensland, issued this strong wording to all schools:
    “The Australian Curriculum: Science and the QSA Biology syllabus require students to study the theory of evolution by natural selection. This theory explains the diversity of living things and is supported by a range of scientific evidence. Topics related to this theory include: the processes involved in natural selection; describing biodiversity as a function of evolution; explaining changes caused by natural selection; relating genetic characteristics to survival and reproduction rates; and evaluating and interpreting evidence for evolution including fossil record, chemical and anatomical similarities, and geographical distribution of species.
    The Australian Curriculum: Science and the Queensland Studies Authority Biology syllabus do not recognise the following as scientific theory: creationism, intelligent design, or any other metaphysical explanations of changes over time to living things; and do not identify these as part of any science curriculum.
    In Education Queensland schools, creationism and intelligent design are not recognised as scientific theory and are not included in the school science curriculum or in the teaching, learning and assessment associated with school science programs. Creationism or intelligent design is not to be compared with or evaluated against scientific theory.”

    This said, there is some concern that the new national syllabus will not be as explicit in protecting against the teaching of Creationism.

    I can attest first hand to the interface between publicly funded religious schools and the secular content requirements, as I worked for 11 years at a non-denominational Christian, private school here in Australia. I would point you to that school’s “Teaching of Origins” statement as a good example of how that tension plays out. We explicitly rejected Young Earth Creationism, with this passage as representative of the overall tone: “Some Christians (often described as “young earth creationists”) believe that certain dating procedures and catastrophic processes support the idea of a young earth18. However, the balance of physical evidence does not appear to support a young earth. We do not believe that scripture helps us to decide how old the earth is.
    I wrote and spoke on national radio about this debate a few years ago, and the topic is perennial.
    It must be hard for Americans to digest the curious Australian way in which our (ostensibly) secular state provides federal funds for private, religiously grounded schools. Yes, there is a tension between State authorities keeping these schools on a short leash regarding the content they teach, and the more reactionary fundamentalist elements in our society who would love to see 6-day, 6000-years-ago taught openly. We have an increasing problem with home-schooling here, and this is a key concern why.
    However, and from long experience in locking horns with creationists here in Oz, I can assure you that they are an absolute laughing stock. The chief Australian creationist organisation, CMI, is a pale, ineffectual shade of its former self. Probably something to do with Ken Ham committing a fraud against them and stealing their magazine subscription list, and a very satisfying, mutually destructive lawsuit amid claims of moral failure and necrophilia. Yes, you read that right.
    Don’t worry, PZ. We’re on this. Our problem is small compared to yours.

  9. says

    Ken Ham didn’t head stateside because of any Australian intolerance of God-bothering creationist morons. His departure resulted from a schism within the creationist movement. I suspect though that the greater array of fools with money in the US was a big attraction.

    Even with a standard state curriculum, (we don’t have a uniform federal curriculum yet) creationism sneaks in to public schools. Individual principals have a lot of autonomy. Schools have to allow religious bodies access to their student for about 1hour if scripture a week. I know of one state school where a creationist speaker delivered the usual pile of bile and pseudoscience to a compulsory religious assembly. The principal forbade the understandably outraged science teachers from correcting the lies in science classes. In Queensland under the most corrupt conservative government in the state’s history the education minister ordered the teaching of flood geology and I know of attempts by a minister in one conservative NSW governemnt to do the same. Fortunately the Premier didn’t let him anywhere near the Education Department. Queensland by the way is Ken Ham’s home state and is known as the “Deep North”, an allusion to America’s southern bible belt.

    As for the influence of that loony Turk, Harun Yahya, his material is used in the Islamic schools and is very popular among Muslims. Every Muslim bookstore has a Harun Yahya section. His influence even extends into the public system. I have had discussions with science teachers who when they teach the evolution units have to contend with Muslim students refusing to study it because of his influence. I also sat in on a discussion with the manager of an Islamic school where a Muslim teacher working in the state system was giving advice on how to avoid teaching the full curriculum and hiding it from the department inspectors.

    On a final note I am now in Malaysia which in the 1980’s removed the study of evolution from the curriculum. Many private schools here including some Muslim ones teach the Cambridge syllabus which includes evolution. I’m not sure though how they deal with it but I do know the presence of Harun Yahya looms large. He is another moron we have American creationism to thank for. When he got started he received support from Daune Gish and Henry Morris from the ICR. He gets all his material from American creationist sources and re-badges it with an Islamic message. He even has a group in Indonesia translating his material into local languages. One Muslim science writer has referred to him as the largest distributor of American creationist literature outside the United States.

  10. seranvali says

    The Catholic lobby is very strong here and Abbott is a “pro-lifer” as well, so the private schools get at least as much public funding as the public schools. The standard of education itself is pretty similar in both systems but the religious right wing agenda, including the teaching of creationism and intelligent design is pushed in private schools while public schools are secular. A lot of non-Christian parents do send their kids to private schools because the facilities are much better and they feel that they’re safer than the public schools and there’s a lot of status associated with attending private schools and that makes a difference both when applying for universities and applying for jobs.

    When I was a kid I remember the diaconate at church (both my parents are liberal Christians and my father had a seat on the diaconate) having to make it very clear to one of their number that his daughter bragging about going to a private school when the rest of her age-set went to public schools was totally unacceptable and her dad had better do something about it or he wouldn’t be re-elected next year. People can get very snobbish about it.

    Personally, I think that if parents want private, Christianity- based education they should be paying for it themselves and not using public money to forward their agenda.

  11. nutella says

    I shiver whenever I see the expression “christian school”. To me that’s always synonymous with “segregation academy” as in the US south in the 1960s and 70s. (And possibly still today?) Christian teaching was just a little extra fillip to go with the whites-only policy.

  12. echidna says

    As I understand it, Ken Ham and his ilk are a product of US evangelism in the 1950’s by Billy Graham. So right back at you.

    I’ve researched Australian education history, and religion in public education was there right from the start. Australia was trying to educate every child (including convict children) from the first fleet onward, while the Bishop of London was still cautioning against education for poor children, on the grounds that there would be rising public discontent, and therefore revolution.

    The Anglican church saw an opportunity for acquiring land in return for providing a public education for all children. The Catholic Church was second on the scene, along with Irish convicts. Australian education was religious from the start. There has always been strong opposition from the churches to secular education in Australia.

  13. Antares42 says

    @garydargan, #13

    The principal forbade the understandably outraged science teachers from correcting the lies in science classes.


    I mean it’s one thing that they have to give the loons access to the children’s minds, but by what law, please, would one ban scientists from talking about good science?

    This is awful.

  14. Lars says

    When entering Pharyngula today, I got a popup ad for which, afaiu, is a scam. Just so you know.

  15. chrislawson says


    I blame Whitlam for many things, but not this. Although I disagree with the way Catholic schools are funded, it’s not the Catholic school system pushing creationism. No, that’s firmly in the conservative Protestant camp, and the big push that got these schools public funding, and the undermining of liberal religious education by letting the near-fundamentalist Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church design all the R.E. books…was 100% Howard’s work.

  16. bytee says

    I’m a bit torn on this one. I’m a rabid anti-theist, often whiling away the evenings on local chat sites to stir up the fundamentalists. Went to the ‘Celebration of Reason’ weekend in Melbourne last year. Caught PZ’s presentation. And yet all my kids go to a Christian Lutheran School. Why? They’re just better. They are better equipped and the quality of teachers is high. It breaks down like this. The Govt puts up ‘x’ dollars for each kid for Public education. The Govt also funds the Private schools (not sure of the exact percentage of the Govt’s public contribution per kid) Then I add my private school fees that I pay and the kids get better buildings and better facilities. One of my kids is mildly autistic. He gets better support and better tailored assistance at the Xtian school. If he was forced to go to the local Public High School, he’d be in hell. As for the indoctrination. I calculate that for every 10 hours spent on Xtian Studies and morning chapel, I need about 1 minute of rebuttal time. They all know my position and they’re all growing into healthy young atheists. My daughter got an ‘A’ in Christian studies and jokingly promised me she’d never do it again. They all feel a bit like they’re outwitting the teachers. Feel free to call me a hypocrite. I’m just making the best decision I can with the resources in my area.

  17. Ysanne says

    My stepkids go to the local Catholic primary school (long story, mainly to do with wanting to avoid my in-laws getting a heart-attack, to a lesser degree the somewhat undeserved reputation of that school to provide a more well-rounded education than its public counterpart). So do the numerous cousins all over Australia. None of them were ever taught creationism at all. In fact, their schools are very careful not to mix biology and biblical stuff. Same with my husband.
    Granted, students are left with ensuing cognitive dissonance (if the Noah story isn’t literally true history, why are we supposed to believe it? if the creation story in the bible isn’t literally true, why the stuff with sin and stuff? etc.) that is only made a bit more subtle by religious studies in higher years (aka more sophisticated squirming around the fact that the stories are made-up), but I appreciate that they consciously keep religion out of science class.
    The CC’s official position is against creationism as well, btw. (Not that they’d always remember that… but then they’re also not exactly experts on the bible.)

  18. mildlymagnificent says

    that’s firmly in the conservative Protestant camp, and the big push that got these schools public funding, and the undermining of liberal religious education by letting the near-fundamentalist Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church design all the R.E. books…was 100% Howard’s work.

    Absolutely. I realise that he wouldn’t have been able to drive it quite so strongly if Whitlam hadn’t paved part of the way. But Howard had the bare-faced gall to give those dreadful Exclusive Brethren people direct and immediate access to his shell-like ear and influence all kinds of policy.

    You see, they needed to do that because they “abstained” from voting because it disagreed with their “religion”. Seeing as voting is compulsory in Australia, he was allowing self-avowed scofflaws privileged _direct_ input to the policymakers of the Federal Government without so much as standing in a queue or lifting a pencil like the rest of us have to do. If they tried that with me, they’d be shown the door and I’d call the Electoral Commission to let them know where these people were.

    And part of their policy requests related to how they “educated” their children. (I’d call it indoctrination but I’m really polite.) Bolstered some of Howard’s more rabid excursions into the private education arena.

  19. ravenred says

    chrislawson @24

    I blame him to the extent that he supported sectarian education as a political fix and the downstream effects of this have been the commodification of schooling, to the point where private education as a product is now irrevocably subsidised from public money.

    The Catholics are hardly the worst in relation to creationist teaching (although a niece of mine who is a Science teacher at a Catholic school has a disturbing number of YE creationist books around her place), but there’s the problem… if you let one group professing faith in the supernatural alternative to science fund their own reproduction via separate schools, how do you stop any others?

  20. ginckgo says

    A few people have asserted that the creationism in schools is not as bad an issue as in the States, but I’m not so sure for a couple of reasons.
    As mentioned, Queensland is becoming notorious for the level of young earth creationism that is taught outright in an increasing number of schools. This has been going on for more than a decade, yet the governments (both state and federal) have turned a blind eye. I have personally spoken with several parents from around QLD, and their complaints have fallen on deaf ears within their kids’ schools.
    But this is no longer restricted to just QLD, as stories of instances in other states are emerging.
    This is in addition to the despicable Chaplaincy Program, that was instigated under the John Howard government in 2007. Instead of funding trained counselors, the federal government funds religious groups to send out volunteers to go to schools and insist the school set aside half an hour of the regular teaching schedule for their religious instruction. The school must comply according to a dodgy interpretation of the law. It used to be that parents needed to actively opt out their kids from these classes, but after much complaint it is now opt in. But the non-attending students are not allowed to do anything constructive, and often sit in the detention area. And the RE classes have turned out to be blatant proselytizing efforts, all by a handful of Christian organizations (my guess is that there would be public outcry if muslim organisations started doing this en masse). But the funding has increased rather than decreased.
    And when people tell me that at least the Catholics support evolution, I not only point out the pope’s statements that preclude natural selection from ‘randomly’ creating humans, I also tell them of the time I gave a back-of-house tour to our museum’s fossil collection to a year 10 class of Catholic School girls (yes, I’ve heard all the jokes already). When I mentioned Darwin, I got a dozen blank stares, upon which one of the teachers attempted a fumbling summary of the theory of evolution, with the subtext of “this is some kind of weird idea this one guy had” – these girls were 16 and had never heard of evolution before! Needless to say, I was depressed for a week after.
    How can this happen, you ask. Others have probably pointed out before that Australia’s constitution has a section very similar to the USA’s about establishing an official religion, but opposite to the USA’s supreme court, Australia’s supreme court interpreted the clause incredibly narrowly, and so no law has ever been struck down for contravening the section. Legal action against creationism and chaplains in schools has therefor been notoriously difficult, much more so than in the US.
    And now the idiotic electoral system has catapulted a bunch of ultra-libertarian religious fundies into power, and they seem hell bent on making the whole situation much worse.

  21. beardymcviking says

    We learnt it from watching you America. We learnt it from watching you!.

    Seriously though? The current government is only going to encourage this, and the last government was to scared to do anything about it. I don’t hold out much hope for politicians with backbones anytime soon.

  22. Muz says

    Bytee’s relation at #24 is a common one.
    I don’t want to dispute it, but it’ll sound like I am, since I’ve met enough people who say that sort of thing but the local public highschool actually isn’t all that bad. Sure it probably can’t compete with the flash of the local private catholic or anglican or whatever schools, but is that what education is all about?
    Some things are true; class sizes are often smaller; the ‘bad’ disruptive kids can be conveniently done away with so your children aren’t disturbed. All of that is more ideal, it’s true.

    However the prevailing attitude, which conservative governments have capitalised on to strangle and undermine public education, does have a very strong whiff of class about it.
    I don’t think it’s proven that the education or ‘experience’ you get at these places is better at all. Sure they score better, but if you could expel every student that might bring your average down then your scores would be better too. Public education is unfortunately saddled with wider duties than looking good.
    So much is, I think, very successful marketing that appeals to certain prejudices; Shiny facilities, prim and proper uniforms, a reputation for strict discipline, not co-ed plays a part too. Even otherwise enlightened parents seem to harbour secret desires for this stuff. I’ve known people practically bankrupt themselves sending their kids to these school, just because they cannot bear the thought of their little dears going to some awful bogan hovel (like the one I went to).

    Now, bytee could be exactly right about the local school there. I don’t know. But the word ‘public’ has just become synonymous with failure and poverty to an unjust degree when it comes to schooling and it’s only making it easier for governments to make it worse.

    There’s an additional wrinkle in that I’m not sure scholastic achievement at secondary level really serves any purpose at all. For a long time now tertiary institutions have realised that the output is so variable, the testing and teaching so changeable that there’s not going to be any sort of guaranteed basis they can expect from secondary students. Indeed secondary intake students are some of flakiest and most unreliable students they serve anyway, regardless of where they came from. So all the tests add a nice hurdle that makes their job easier.
    In education terms however they know that they have to serve a wide variety of people, from foreigners to returning students to people upskilling themselves from industry. And the net is getting wider as they seek more and more students to help pay the bills. All of that means the course design assumes they are starting from scratch with people. There’s no building on highschool maths, physics, biology, writing or whatever. They have to provide entry level stuff as though you didn’t do it in highschool, or you never even went!

    That is the state of things now. So I tend to find the fuss over a proper schooling (highschool in particular) becomes more and more about image and privilege.

  23. says

    1) We have a large chunck of government funding for education going to private schools with “statements of faith”, exemption from anti-discrimination laws, and teaching creationism or failing to teach science.
    2) We have public schools with “Religious Instruction” where the rules are often flouted and our ids get sent to these classes without our knowledge or consent (That’s how my daughter ended up in a fight with a scripture teacher who, to defend against the accusation of in-breeding from Adam and Eve stated “they didn’t have DNA back then”).
    3) We have chaplains, thanks to Howard, in most public schools who are there to convert ids, despite some weak policy stating they are not supposed to proselytize. My friend Ron Williams has already lead the charge against chaplains with a case in the supreme court about funding. He is pushing again after te government immediately created new laws to allow the funding after the first case.
    4) We have huge tax breaks for religious institutions based on the old “promoting religion” as a charitable purpose.