Evolution Assembly Hoopla. Beyond Belief!

Human – business evolution
An image that sums up my week.

It’s been quite a week on this blog and on my twitter feed.  Last weekend I wrote-up my assembly about evolution and the reaction from some students. Usually assembly blogs don’t get much attention but I record them anyway in the spirit of sharing ideas.  As far as I’m concerned, given that evolution is a core aspect of every child’s education, it’s not controversial to celebrate the ideas in an assembly.  All the elements of  the evolution concept – the historical development of the ideas, the exciting range of sciences that provide evidence, the parallel biographies of Darwin and Wallace, the powerful logic of the selfish gene concept – combine to provide the awe and wonder that characterise  good assemblies.

The reaction to the blog has been remarkable.  The comments are now many times longer than the blog (an interesting and reasonably civil exchange) and it’s had 16K views in just a week.  The response was largely fuelled by an unfortunate twitter comment from a Christian primary school teacher who was then battered with over 700 replies in 24 hours before she took her twitter account and school website down.  I made a direct contact with her to offer support. She was bemused by the reaction and, whilst she was wrong to pit evolution against the Bible, she didn’t deserve the abuse. Nobody deserves that.  Richard Dawkins, Nicky Campbell and Dara O’Briain RT’d the blog link and the hoopla was picked up by local and national online news.

Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12126801/Creationist-views-risk-going-unchallenged-in-schools.html

Islington Gazette: http://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/richard_dawkins_praises_islington_headteacher_s_evolution_assembly_1_4397520

I’m not entirely comfortable with how the link to Prevent has been reported.  I’m not saying that Prevent is directly linked to the curriculum or has already caused a problem in relation to this issue;not yet.  I’m just saying that it might because, as more Muslim students experience undue scrutiny – completely unfairly – it’s more likely that teachers will pull back from teaching about evolution in a way that asserts its full veracity for fear of exacerbating the negative feelings of some creationist Muslim students.  In theory, Prevent is meant to be about asserting more confidence in ‘British values’;  our acceptance of scientific theories should be part of that.  In practice, Prevent is more likely to fuel racism and divisiveness in schools and elsewhere; in that context, teaching purely objective science that contradicts faith teachings is more problematic.  It shouldn’t be and I hope I’m wrong.

On reflection, I may not have captured the assembly very well in the post – you had to be there! In any case, I did it four times (one for each House) and each one was slightly different.  In celebrating the awe and wonder of the theory, I explicitly reached out to people of faith – giving them a way to engage; a way to connect their faith to the science.  But let’s be absolutely clear: creationism is scientific nonsense and has no place in schools beyond an exploration of myths; it’s not OK to fudge the science just because it might clash with some people’s faith-based world view.   In fact it’s really important for young people to know just how extensive and comprehensive the evidence for evolution is so that they don’t fall into the ‘just a theory’ trap.  I’ve learned this week that there are lots of religious educators out there who are uncomfortable in this territory; they’re uncomfortable with the simple truth that science undermines some faith positions so completely that an ethos of ‘everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs’ isn’t fully sustainable.  Some beliefs are simply wrong – and it’s our duty as teachers to give students a way out.

Today I found that my assembly was shared via the Richard Dawkins Foundation website.  I’m not going to lie; that’s pretty exciting for me.  I should say that, whilst I’m a huge fan of Richard Dawkins and I’m also a committed atheist humanist – I don’t accept his view of parents who pass on their religious views to their children.  As far as I’m concerned, if, for example, you believe we literally risk an eternity in a fiery hell for not living according to the rules, it would be pretty irresponsible not to warn your children!  It’s no use blaming the parents;  the challenge we face in relation to creationism is to educate this generation of children about evolution in all its glory so that they don’t simply pass on their deep misconceptions to their children.

Sunday 31st January:  This morning I had the pleasure of taking part in a discussion about this issue with Jumoke Fashola on the BBC Radio London Inspirit programme.  My bit starts at 2:40:00 via this link.   http://bbc.in/20fy1xS.

Wednesday 3rd Feb.  Rather late in the day, The Guardian picked up on the story. There were thousands of comments below the line.  Many agree that Mrs Wilkinson’s online abuse has been way over the top.  However, the defence of creationism itself continues to amaze me.  I’m genuinely astonished that so many people hold onto this, utterly determined to refute the science instead of accepting it, in order to preserve their faith.  I think more religious science folk need to speak up to show them the way.







  1. On reflection, I may not have captured the assembly very well in the post – you had to be there!

    I, and probably many others, would love to see a video of this assembly.


  2. A very balanced response to what looks like a potentially hysterical situation. Could I add that no one should confuse your ‘religious educators’ with teachers of religious education who make it their business to deal with these sensitive issues in a balanced way every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Crikey.

    I had a busy week and just caught up with all of this. Just the fact that a simple assembly and blog focused on evolution has caused so much debate is truly saddening.

    That people struggle to square it with their religious beliefs is one thing. And to a small degree I can understand this. But for what seems a sizeable number of people to eschew the evidence based theory for faith-based explanations? I was hoping humanity was way past that. Obviously not.

    Maybe I’m living in some cosy rationalist bubble and need more of my assumptions challenged. But please challenge me with evidence-based theory, rather than beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I started subscribing to this blog yesterday after reading a really wonderful article about an assembly where the head teacher decided to discuss evolution. The clarity of the arguments and the writing itself was very impressive. I honestly think that teachers have an incredibly important role in challenging out-dated religious views and provide students with alternatives of thinking, give them the tools for them to make decisions about faith. I have wonder how on earth will the world move forward from the shackles of religion and the answer is something to do with head teachers, teachers taking the role in giving the new information. BRILLIANT ARTICLES.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I followed the previous post last week with much interest but was not confident enough to take part – there were too many technical details flying around. I was surprised by how little opposition there was. Evolution is already on your science syllabus which is bad enough news for some people. Why are you using an assembly meant for more phse type of stuff to promote evolution further. I say I was surprised although my own fear was perhaps shared by others and now justified. Unfortunately that primary school teacher will now think twice before standing up for her views. On the one hand this country likes to promote how fair and multicultural it is and accepting of differing views – until Christianity is mentioned. Then we find that people are no longer open but want to follow their own atheist agenda. Congratulations but of course Dawkins website wants to honour you in some way even if your facts are mot quite right. Their comments section has already corrected one of your sldes. But yes what an honour and maybe they are grooming you for higher things. I am very disappointed that a head teacher should abuse his position in this way.


    • I’ll leave you to sort that one out. Evolution is as true as gravity and the heliocentric universe. Remember Galileo. 🙈🙉🕷🦂🐌🐍🐜🐺🐗🐴🐊🐋🐎🐅🐡🐟🐠🐿🐉🦃🐎🐑🐁🐁.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi there,
    The Headteacher is wrong of course. Evolution is not a fact, evolution is an HYPOTHESIS. It doesn’t have to be true or a fact, it just has to explain the facts as we know them and when new facts that contradict it come to light that hypothesis will be abandoned. It seems that the Headteacher who claims to be a fan of Dawkins hasn’t even understood properly what Dawkins says.
    And why does the Headteacher spell wilful as willful ? What kind of English is his school teaching ? Willful is the AMERICAN version !


    • Peyter, you are actually wrong. Evolution itself is an observable fact. The hypothesis was that it might be down to natural selection. That hypothesis was so much supported by all the evidence, that it has now become the theory of evolution by natural selection.


  7. The problem begins with a basic lack of scientific literacy: hypothesis v. theory v. law and what is empirical evidence. It doesn’t help that many don’t even understand what biological evolution even is.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Would it be true to say that we have no idea yet what led to the big bang (if there was a big bang)?

    Would it be correct to say that we do not know that the universe was in fact not “created” by some type of God?

    Would it be correct to say that religion and God are not inconsistent with evolution, the bit that is inconsistent is that God created man vs evolution?

    The main issues are the accounts stated in the holy book.

    These are sincere questions.


    • Brian, you may as well ask if it would be true to say that the universe was not in fact a matrix-style alien fabrication. The number of things we could make up about it are infinite. It is not necessary to disprove them. What we can know, is that the stories in any of the old books are not consistent with all the evidence we currently have.


  9. Many of us are grateful to you, Tom, for opening up this subject. I have encountered teachers who have not known how to respond to pupils asking what the role of Adam and Eve were in the evolution of humans. It does need to be dealt with in a way that is both sensitive to individuals and loyal to the truth.

    Liked by 2 people

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