Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Banning the views of those who disagree with you

The blogosphere is excited about a petition that's being presented to the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society. A chemist, and Nobel Laureate, Sir Harold Kroto, has backed the petition [Nobel prize winner backs Scottish Secular Society petition to exclude creationism in Scottish schools].

Here's what it says ....
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.
I would never, ever, sign such a petition. I think it's a bad idea for politicians to get involved in the specifics of what should and should not be taught in publicly funded schools. You can see what happens in the USA when you give them that right.

If the teaching of Young Earth Creationism is creeping into Scottish schools then it's time to show students why it is wrong and why science can refute it. Banning it will only make it seem like a genuine threat that can't be confronted by teachers and education.


  1. You seem to be coming from the point of view that teachers and educators will actually "show students why it is wrong and why science can refute it." In the US, a large proportion of teachers actively teach creationism and many (I think the #s are 60%) of incoming first year students into the College of Biological Sciences have either been creationism or not taught evolution period.
    The petition asks that publicly funded schools not present "separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science…" Nowhere in that do I see banning teachers from showing why science demonstrates that these ideas are wrong.
    By allowing teachers, school boards, etc. free reign to teach what they want. A population, in the US it's a large population, of teachers will teach Genesis and a 6,000 year old planet. Most of those students will be lost to the scientific worldview. I consider that an unacceptable loss.

  2. Of course, showing students why creationism is wrong is the best option. However, in practice, this is impossible as many teachers are creationists themselves (even in Europe), and the vast majority of the ones that aren't are not prepared to do that. So you need to first produce a generation of teachers capable of teaching in this manner before you can adopt that approach.

    But you can't do that if creationism and misunderstandings of what evolution is and what it isn't persist to the extent that they do now (even in Europe).

    So ideally, you use the harsher means like outright exclusion to bridge the gap from here to there and then you move to the more proper way of dealing with the subject. Not that it's going to happen, of course

    1. I'd say that only strengthens Larry's arguments. If teachers are so ill-suited to deciding what is taught in the classroom, what makes you think politicians will do any better? If we let the curriculum be determined by politicians who, in turn, base their decision on which group is able to get the most signatures on a petition, I don't think you need much imagination to see how that could go wrong.

      The curriculum should be determined by neither teacher nor politicians, but by panels of experts in the relevant field. Ideally, these would be university instructors who would base their decisions on the skills and knowledge they expect of freshmen entering their programs.

    2. Where did you get the idea that the curriculum can only be decided by politicians or local teachers? That's an uniquely american perception of the situation, and it's wrong, Not only are those not the only alternatives but neither of them is any good, which is a major reason why education in the US sucks so much.

      The current system is bad because there is way too much control over what is taught and what is not on the local level, which means that if people there are not up to the task (highly likely in a large number of places), pseudoscience will be taught and real science will not be.

      If politicians were to decide, this would be a disaster too, because by the self-selection nature of the political process (due to the hypercompetitive nature of American democracy, those who succeed and make it to the top are the ones who invest the most time and effort into it, time and effort that they do not invest into educating themselves about science and the real world around them, which is how we end up with the inevitable situation where the people who govern tend to be as ignorant about science as it is possible for one to be after passing through the otherwise esteemed institutions most of them graduated from).

      But there is a third option and it is for the scientists to decide.

  3. Congratulations Professor Moran!!!

    I can't agree with you more... again... To me this is counterproductive... and it may make some people believe that there is some merit to young earth creationism...
    Its like banning religion in communist countries... the more they've done the more people wanted it...

    In Poland the Catholic Church tried to make religion to be mandatory in schools and it all blew into their faces.... within few years the mass attendance fell from almost 90% to less than 40%...

  4. Would Prof. Moran support teachers who want to teach geocentrism or HIV/AIDS denial? How about a teacher who wanted to teach that the bacterial/virus theory of disease causation is false.

  5. The Lorax,

    I don't think Genesis teaches the Earth is 6000 years old... I think 99.99% of religions interpret it that way but that's not necessarily true...

    1. That's the cool thing about the Bible; you can always cherry pick whatever you want and interpret it any way you want to fit whatever evidence there is.

  6. Colnago80,

    I think that by now regular reader of this blog should know where professor Moran stands... what you are suggesting has nothing to do with open scientific debate...I think...

    BTW: would you teach abiogenesis...? If, yes, what scientific evidence would you present...? I need only one...

  7. I doubt teachers that believe in the bible would actively try to disprove the bible. You have a lot of faith in that assumption larry. Its just going to end up in a bunch of unnecessary religious talk in a science classroom. I do see your viewpoint and its so easy to disprove young earth creationists. But you have acknowledged that the indoctrinated mind of the creationist is that "man cannot be trusted". Evidence matters not.

  8. AMEN to this thread. The host has been consistent on opposing state censorship in academia.
    banning creationism means the state is saying officially that God or Genesis is not true. not viable as something to be true and shown by evidenmce in nature.
    this is an attack on Christianity, or anyone, and reminds of the old days in Scotland and England when particular Christian sects like Catholics or Puritans or Anglicans etc etc were banned or censored in some way.
    So tolerance acts had to be presented and fought for.
    Here they go again.
    Obviously trying to use the state to deny the option of God/Genesis or any creationism or any criticism of evolution by anyone in institutions dedicated to seeking the truth and freedom to do so despite those in the state or the public not liking it.
    Truly its a tyranny . truly I say.
    Scotland was a leader in puritan protestant freedoms and wisdom and now they seek state control of conclusions on these matters.
    If your ideas are banned and your a scholar then your back in the days of forefathers who were likeness persecuted.
    They wouldn't need to attacj creationism if they didn't thinj scholars and the public were willing to give it a chance or agree with it.
    They truly are demanding compliance with anti-creationist opinion.
    its just like in youtube historys on old Britain.
    Its up to the people to demand the freedom to seek and decide what is true and demand a continuing of a long tradition of free disagreement on important matters in schools etc.
    Somebody is fanatical and fearful and acting like a oppressive regime.
    Attacking Christian doctrines is even more then attacking other matters.

  9. The first question here is undoubtedly who decides at this moment what is taught in Scottish schools. Some Education minister in London? If so, evolution is in the curriculum and creationism is out, even in Free Schools ( http://rt.com/uk/167044-uk-bans-teaching-creationism/ ). Or is Scotland different from England, and is it up to local teachers to teach whatever they want?
    As to a petition to Parliament, at some point who is education minister is decided by political considerations, and this political education minister appoints the panel of experts that in most countries decide on the curriculum. In the Netherlands, it took until 1995 that evolution became part of the curriculum, and then only because the Christian Democrats were out of office.
    However, direct action against creationism only causes them to dig in. Nature series on TV with a good dose of evolution are more effective than action.

  10. Somebody will decide what is taught in schools, which automatically means what will be excluded. I'd like to see the decision expressed in positive terms, not in banning alternatives. Biology classes ought to be teaching about how old the earth is and how life has changed. They should be teaching about evolution. University entrance exams should test knowledge of these subjects.

    Requiring that should be enough, though if people are bring it into Scottish schools, something should be done -- perhaps a requirement that if you bring it in, you also have to make it clear why evidence favors long history and evolution?