Friday, September 29, 2006


It has been interesting to see the response to Ekklesia's teaming up with the British Humanist Association on the issue of ensuring that 'creationism' (what I think could fairly be termed a thought disorder within Christian and some Muslim and Jewish thinking) doesn't creep onto the science curriculum in our schools. The galvanising issue is the emergence of a well-funded group (misleadingly) called Truth in Science which has sent 'teaching packs' and DVDs to 5000 heads of science in UK secondary schools. This venture has been well critiqued by geologist and Anglican priest Michael Roberts. The Times Educational Supplement and The Times reported on our letter to the education secretary, Alan Johnson today, and the BBC has also run a story.

Meanwhile, my email inbox is stacking up. On the positive side, there's a letter from the Faraday Institute on Religion and Science in Cambridge, a 'thank-you' from a leading Christian scientist and a note of appreciation from a 'self-confessed secularist'. On the negative side there are abusive missives from people assigning me to the devil, and - this is the most interesting - puzzled letters from ordinary Christians who assume that to argue against 'creationism' (which, let's recall, is about denying 140 years of science in the name of a woefully simplistic misappropriation of ancient texts) is somehow to argue against seeing the world as God's good creation.

That otherwise educated people could be so poorly informed in thinking about God, the world, the Bible and the interaction of faith and science is a truly alarming indictment on the pedagogical failings of our churches. Christians are being ill-equipped to live in the real world, and are being cossetted in the assurance that their convictions need little intellectual effort beyond the reiteration of supposed verities - a viewpoint shared, ironically, by both secular and religious hard-liners.

Of course there's a wealth of good writing on science and theology - but most of it gets circulated among an intellectual elite removed from the pews. It's good to hear that a major science-religion education project may soon get off the ground in the UK, aimed at churches. But one also wonders why scientist-theologians and others seem so absent from the wider media discourse. I'm about to write an Ekklesia column on 'Misconstruing God and the world' - essentially why creationism and its cousin-in-a-lab-coat Intelligent Design are (no matter how gently one tries to put this) non-sense, non-science, non-biblical and theologically defective, basically. In the meantime, this from the coda to today's story:

Ekklesia points to the work of bodies such as the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (University of Cambridge) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (California) as among the major places where scientists, theologians and philosophers enjoy positive interaction.

A spokesperson for Faraday explained: “We don't prescribe a viewpoint, but we take the opportunity provided by these courses to critique ID and creationism as they come up in discussion. We also think that the education of church leaders is critical in this context, and in fact we have a course especially for them at Wolfson College, Cambridge, from 7-9 November 2006.”

Simon Barrow of Ekklesia commented: “People advocating creationism try to exploit legitimate arguments within science for their own entirely non-scientific ends, and they also mislead believers into thinking that Genesis offers a theory of origins. This is wrong on both counts. When Christian theology speaks of ‘creation’, it means that the whole world process, which we can now explore and understand through science, may be received as gift rather than as something to be manipulated or regarded as valueless.”

Ekklesia says that the job of the churches and of thinking Christians is to explore and develop such questions. “Exposing the falsity of ‘creationism’ and ‘Intelligent Design’ are issues the churches and religious communities should be confronting. But such arguments aren’t for science classrooms, where children are there to learn about findings and questions in the sciences thorough methodological investigation of natural phenomena.”

He continued: “Without doubt, ‘creationism’ is a serious religious problem. In essence, as the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said, it’s a category mistake. Genesis wasn’t written to explain how the world comes into being, it was written to contradict other ideas in the Ancient Near East that regarded the world as bad. Also, it has no one ‘literal meaning’. That idea is nonsense. If you read it, you discover it has two main accounts which differ in detail, and several other poetic ways of inviting us to see the world as God's gift. To read it as a modern propositional account about how the universe unfolds is illegitimately to impose (very narrow) modern expectations on an ancient, figurative text."

Concluded the Ekklesia co-director: “In Christian history biblical texts about creation have been understood allegorically. In modern times careful theologians have understood the contingency of the evolutionary process as giving us the freedom to invest it with meaning and value – or not. Human beings are constantly confronted with life or death choices.”

See also: Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; US churches celebrate 'Evolution Sunday'; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish'.

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