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.
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.