A bit of a crossover topic this week since today’s Thursday Unprofessionalism is about creationism being taught in schools. In UK schools, as it happens, which is if anything worse than in some other places because we have things like a national curriculum which says you can’t do it.
In 2006, it was found that 59 schools were using materials supporting Intelligent Design.
Nick Cowan, head of chemistry at Bluecoat school, in Liverpool, said: "Just because it takes a negative look at Darwinism doesn't mean it is not science. I think to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate."
Appropriate indeed, providing the criticism makes sense. But the criticism espoused by the ID proponents doesn’t. It asks us to simply ignore – for no reason at all – the mountains of evidence in favour of evolution. It offers instead some cherry picked examples for which it fudges the significance and posits appeals to ignorance and false dichotomy (we don’t know every precise detail about everything, so a euphemistic designer must have done it). At least, this is the relatively respectable variety of ID. The more prevalent variety just goes ahead and shamelessly lies. It says there are no transitional fossils, regardless of how many they are shown. It claims that if evolution is true, we should see fronkeys and crockoducks.
This is not an appropriate critique of evolution. An appropriate critique would make some hypothesis about evolution and try to falsify it. So the ID approach is unprofessional in two separate ways: it teaches nonsense as though it’s the truth and it teaches a false and harmful version of critical thinking.
Occasionally we get people in UK politics who speak sense, possibly by accident:
The [then] chairman of the parliamentary science and technology select committee, the Lib Dem MP Phil Willis, said he was horrified that the packs were being used in schools.
"I am flabbergasted that any head of science would give credence to this creationist theory and be prepared to put it alongside Darwinism," he said. "Treating it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism in science lessons is deeply worrying."
The teaching packs were sent to all secondary schools by the least inappropriately-named group in history: Truth in Science, which can’t help lying every time it opens its mouth:
"We are not attacking the teaching of Darwinian theory," said Richard Buggs, a member of Truth in Science. "We are just saying that criticisms of Darwin's theory should also be taught."
Which is a lie. They do attack the teaching of evolution. And they don’t want to teach valid criticisms of it, because there aren’t any.
"Intelligent design looks at empirical evidence in the natural world and says, 'this is evidence for a designer'.
Which is another lie. ID doesn’t deal in evidence because evidence has to be for something. You form a hypothesis and then you see what evidence supports it. ID looks at stuff and then claims it’s evidence, but without the discipline of the hypothesis-forming and careful testing. The government explicitly said that schools shouldn’t use these packs, but some apparently were. How unprofessional can you get?
Fortunately, few schools apparently teach creationism of any form in science classes, but some seem to. For example, there’s strong evidence that at least some of Peter Vardy’s Christian faith schools have taught creationism as science (for example, ex-pupils have said so and senior members of the foundation and a former principle of two of the schools have publicly espoused creationism.
Teaching creationism as science is deeply unprofessional because it’s not science. It’s unprofessional because it teaches incorrect critical thinking and a wrong view of how science works. It’s also a very thinly disguised means of propagating religion. In all these senses it is child abuse, carried out by people who are trusted to protect and educate.