Greg Hands and The Creationist School (Part 2)

Part 1 here.

This is a continuation of what I, and many others, see as the problem of creationist views (and other religous nonsense) being taught in schools.
First is the letter from Greg Hands and below that is my response.

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for contacting me again about the Exemplar Newark Business Academy.

I do understand your concerns about the teaching of creationism in Religious Education classes alongside the teaching of evolutionary theory in science classes, and the conclusions that children may draw as a result.

However, I do not agree with you that “having faith schools is bad enough”. Faith schools provide a valuable moral grounding that complements the traditional academic subjects taught, and I do not believe it is possible to judge the content of all R.E. classes in all schools based on the one example of the Madani High School in the Richard Dawkins documentary.

I would like to reassure you again that any free school proposals with (sic) be subject to due diligence checks prior to their approval, and that the Exemplar Newark Business Academy and any other school approved will have to demonstrate that they are providing a broad and balanced education for their pupils.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write to me on this matter.

Yours sincerely,
Greg Hands MP
Member of Parliament for Chelsea and Fulham.

And my response:

Dear Mr Hands,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me on the Exemplar Newark Business Academy. It is one of the things I appreciate about you.

If I may I would first like to address what you describe as the “valuable moral grounding provided by faith schools”. I will focus on Christianity, as that is the faith I was raised in, but there is a general point that lies spouted by religions are not a good source of moral behaviour.
You will undoubtedly be aware that the Old Testament is an incredibly poor source of morals — which sees God responsible for the deaths of millions — and as it is completely indefensible I won’t bother with it. I will point out that for many people the Old Testament serves as the source of evidence that theories such as evolution (sometimes specifically natural selection), and solar system formation & evolution are somehow not true.

In the New Testament we are delighted by lessons to scorn non-believers, women are seen as second-class citizens, there’s even a spot of gay bashing and we are of course introduced to the concept of Hell: an eternal punishment that you can get to simply by having thoughts.
No Mr Hands, religion is a terrible place to get your morals from. Better, I think, that you just try to be the good person you are without living in fear that you have not hated a group of people enough for your gods liking.
By the way, the good morals one can get from Christianity do not originate in the Abrahamic religions. And you only have to look at places like The Vatican for an example of how to live an unmistakably immoral lifestyle.

I’m not suggesting that the appalling lack of basic science knowledge in evolution demonstrated by the teacher in the Dawkins documentary is representative of an epidemic in faith schools. However the fact that such a case managed to slip past Ofsted should be setting off alarms.
If I was teaching that gravity gave our planet its rounded shape but then all my students came to me and said, “We think you’re wrong. We think a giant shaped it out of clay with his bare hands.” then I would be very alarmed indeed.
It is incredibly wrong that children are allowed to be taught a lie simply because their parents have seen fit to indoctrinate them in to a particular religion, and we should all be ashamed for allowing it to be done.

With this in mind and having witnessed what is clearly a specific failure of the faith-based education system how does the government intend to make sure that faith schools teach science correctly and to a high standard?
Further how do you intend to make sure that the Ofsted inspectors are qualified enough to decide that a science lesson has been taught correctly? I direct your attention (link below) to a piece by Michael Rosen in which an ICT teacher had his subject knowledge rated as ‘good’ because the inspector did not know enough to rate it as ‘outstanding’.

Please, in your response, do not avoid the moral issue (which you raised). I am deeply concerned that an elected official believes that religion provides a valuable moral grounding.

Yours sincerely,
James Smith.

P.S. Here is the link to the Michael Rosen piece. http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/ict-teacher-writes-about-ofsted.html

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Greg Hands and The Creationist School – A Response

Like many of you I wrote to my MP about what I view as a threat to education from creationist groups intent on running free schools in the UK.
Below is the response from my MP, Greg Hands of Hammersmith & Fulham fame, and below that is my response to his response.

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for contacting me about the Exemplar Newark Business Academy.

The Government has been very clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. The Department for Education expects to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.

Specifically in response to the Newark Business Academy, I would like to assure you that all free school proposals are subject to due diligence checks by a specialist unit within the Department to ensure that the people that are setting up the school are suitable. Every application approved, including this one, has also had to demonstrate that the new school will provide a broad and balanced curriculum.

Open Free Schools are subject to Ofsted inspection in the same way as all other schools and the Secretary of State has powers to intervene in a school where there is significant cause for concern.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely,
Greg Hands MP

And my response:

Dear Mr Hands,

Thank you for your response to my letter regarding the creationist group school, the Exemplar Newark Business Academy. Ref: E/CreationistFreeSchool1P1.
I will be brief in my response but I hope that the point I raise is taken with the serious consideration it deserves.

I understand that creationism, in whatever form it hides, may not be taught in science classes in our schools. However, there is a further problem which I’m sure you’re aware of but one which MPs seem to be ignoring en masse:
Indoctrinated children will believe the myths they’re told in RE over the facts they’re taught in science.

This point was illustrated in the Richard Dawkins documentary ‘Faith School Menace?’ – not a title he chose – in a scene where he discusses evolution and creationism with some children from the Madani High School.
The children, whilst probably believing other scientific theories (think gravity, etc), choose not to believe that evolution is true because it conflicts with their religious teachings.
Perhaps more worryingly the science teacher seems to think evolution describes other living apes as our direct ancestors! How did that one slip past Ofsted?

Having faith schools is bad enough as it is, but allowing our schools to be run by groups citing creationism as a valid theory is barmy beyond belief.

I hope that you will reconsider your position on this matter. I know you’re a man of faith but I have met many people who are wonderful, inspiring and sensible in spite of their religion. Perhaps you could be one.

Yours sincerely,
James Smith.

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The Higgs Boson, A Religious Nutter and Someone Who Knows Something About America

… walk into a radio show and cause me to facepalm repeatedly.

Listeners of The BBC Radio Wales Phone-In were treated to some utter tripe yesterday when for some reason Stephen Green (known mainly for being religious and, in my view, a terrible human) and Timothy Stanley (known for prattling on about America) were invited to talk about the amazing discovery of something scientists suspect might be the long sought-after Higgs boson. I won’t go to the effort of trying to explain what the Higgs boson is and does as this video explains it much better than I ever could.

You can listen to the whole show here or the Stephen Green part below. There is a balance of crazy callers who want to understand and crazy callers who don’t. In fairness, the host, Jason Mohammad, does seem to have made some effort and had Peter Millington, a particle physicist (who I assume is the same Millington of the HEP group at Manchester), on to answer some questions – but apparently not to explain what the Higgs boson is.
[Edit: Peter Millington did a great job in the face of stupidity. I’ve no idea why Jason didn’t want Peter to explain the Higgs boson and insisted on asking callers instead.]

//

Most of the points made by Stephen and Timothy, as well as the questions asked by Jason, are nonsense but I worry that some people will be swayed by their poorly formed arguments and so I will rebut each of the main points here:

1) The Higgs boson doesn’t disprove God.
The Higgs boson has bugger all to do with God. The term “God Particle” was coined by a publisher. Leon Lederman wanted to call it the “Goddamn Particle”. However, it’s important to know that God doesn’t actually exist and the Higgs boson has nothing to do with God or any other tall tale.

2) How matter came in to being is a job for theology.
As far as I’m aware theology has done nothing for the advancement of mankind in many hundreds of years (or ever?) and simply making up stories about the origins of Life, The Universe and Everything is a job best left to greater authors than those responsible for the tosh some so lovingly revere.

3) The costs are unjustified.
This is such an old and tired argument. The cost of the Large Hadron Collider was approximately between £2.6bn and £8bn depending on who you ask. The UK’s contribution is either £26m or £95m per year, again depending on who you ask and in which year.
Assuming even the highest costs are true, this is a fraction of the price spent on banks and wars. Check out this graphic from 2009 on government spending and try to find the circle that represents the total amount invested in research. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve failed to find it I’ll just point out that it was £3.295bn. And that amount isn’t given over completely to science.
Nevermind that two companies involved in building the collider have reported that for every euro they spent, they got 3 and a half euros back.

4) The contribution to society by the moon missions was neglible.
This is only slightly off-topic, though it was mentioned by Tim, but stay with me as this leads in to point 5 – it’s just down there if you want to skip ahead.
What did the moon missions, and the missions later inspired by the Apollo programme, give us? Artificial heart pumps, advanced breast cancer screening, major advances in satellite technology (which is an essential part of our daily lives), robotic surgery equipment, fly-by-wire, thermal protection suits, advances in prosthetic limb technology, the list goes on. And this was a programme that Tim reports did not receive widespread support.

What has Timothy Stanley given us? Well he has a blog and some books that I’m sure someone in the distant future will find some use for.

5) It’s of no great benefit to mankind.
How on Earth can Tim possibly know this? Is he psychic? Does he know the future? No, he does not. For all his history studies Timothy doesn’t seem to know much about scientific discoveries that push right up against the edge of our knowledge, and their later uses.

Once upon a time Sir Paul Nurse was looking at yeast genes for what no one assumed would have much of an impact on the world – in fact Sir Paul had little in the way of competition. What he discovered was the gene that controls cell division in yeast. Somewhat cool right?
Well, he was later employed by Walter Bodmer of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. Some of his colleagues shunned him but his previous work with yeast helped him make breakthroughs in the way we understand how cancer spreads and new ways in which we can combat it in its many different guises.

The LHC and other projects at CERN also have what are called spin-offs. These have given us better tools for detecting and treating cancer, the freaking world wide web was invented there as a way for scientists to share data, there have been improvements to simulations in software, and numerous progressions in superconductivity.

Photostock | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

"Hehe, this data is hawt!"

Oh and quantum mechanics, which was often said to have no practical purposes, lead to the invention of the transistor we use in computers. That piece of kit is kind of important.

To conclude:
I don’t know how people like Timothy Stanley and Stephen Green can be so small and simple-minded (though they’re both religious and conservative) about experiments like those going on at the LHC and the rest of CERN but it saddens me that evolution proves we share an ancestor.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a very intelligent man I know:

Hurrah for the Boson though.  Really. It’s completely brilliant that we as a species can lift our heads, hold up the mantle of civilization and consider donning it, free from the gushing effluent of Cowell, Clarkson and Cameron twattery with which we are (and allow ourselves to be) buffeted much of the time.

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Hammersmith and Fulham Catholic Schools on Anti-Gay Marriage

The recent controversy surrounding attempts by the Catholic Education Service to sway children being educated in state funded Catholic schools to a more homophobic persuasion was a shock to all right-thinking people. The shock and disgust is part of a general move towards liberal thinking amongst society at large and indeed amongst some Christians themselves.

This got me wondering what my local Catholic schools had to say on the matter and what their reactions were if they received the letter at all.
To this end I wrote letters – sent at about midnight on 2nd May – to The London Oratory School and Sacred Heart High School which can be seen below.

Dear Mr McFadden,

I am writing regarding the recent news about an anti-gay marriage message
sent out by the Catholic Education Service to approximately 359
state-funded Catholic secondary schools.

If I may I would like to pose my questions in order so that you can reply
easily as you come to each query.

1) Did your school receive the aforementioned letter from the Catholic
Education Service and if so what was your response, if any, to the letter?

2) Again, if you received the letter did this have any impact on lessons at
the school? Were any children made aware of the contents of the letter?
It seems that the Headmistress at St Philomena’s Catholic High School
actively encouraged students to sign an anti-gay marriage petition after a
presentation. Did anything like this occur at your school?

3) If you disagree with the letter sent out by the Catholic Education
Service how have you shown your disagreement?

4) What is the school’s stance on gay marriage and homosexuality in general
and how is that view taught in the classrooms?

5) Would you be able to send me a copy of the school’s sex education policy
which is alluded to but not displayed on the website?

This final question is more general in its nature but I would appreciate
any answer you can give if you have the time.

6) Given the move towards atheism and calls for secular schooling and
governance (from theist and atheist secularists alike) do you feel that
faith schools, which are exclusionary by their nature, have and indeed
deserve a place in modern society? Would it not, for instance, be better to
leave religious teachings to Sunday Schools and have regular schools teach
about theism and indeed atheism?

I sincerely hope that you will see fit to respond to my questions. I have
been a life-long Fulham resident and come from a Catholic family where
decisions on a child’s education do come down to a schools religion so
these recent events are close to my heart.

Warmest regards,
James Smith.

And this one to Sacred Hearts High School which is almost entirely the same as the one above.

Dear Dr Carpenter,

I am writing regarding the recent news about an anti-gay marriage message sent out by the Catholic Education Service to approximately 359 state-funded Catholic secondary schools.

If I may I would like to pose my questions in order so that you can reply easily as you come to each query.

1) Did your school receive the aforementioned letter from the Catholic Education Service and if so what was your response, if any, to the letter?

2) Again, if you received the letter did this have any impact on lessons at the school? Were any children made aware of the contents of the letter?
It seems that the Headmistress at St Philomena’s Catholic High School actively encouraged students to sign an anti-gay marriage petition after a presentation. Did anything like this occur at your school?

3) If you disagree with the letter sent out by the Catholic Education Service how have you shown your disagreement?

4) What is the school’s stance on gay marriage and homosexuality in general and how is that view taught in the classrooms?

5) If not covered by the previous question would you be able to expand on the school’s teachings regarding homosexuality in the context of sex education?

This final question is more general in its nature but I would appreciate any answer you can give if you have the time.

6) Given the move towards atheism and calls for secular schooling and governance (from theist and atheist secularists alike) do you feel that faith schools, which are exclusionary by their nature, have and indeed deserve a place in modern society? Would it not, for instance, be better to leave religious teachings to Sunday Schools and have regular schools teach about theism and indeed atheism?

I sincerely hope that you will see fit to respond to my questions. I have been a life-long Fulham resident and come from a Catholic family where decisions on a child’s education do come down to a schools religion so these recent events are close to my heart.

Warmest regards,
James Smith.

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State Schools Urge Pupils to Sign Anti-Gay Marriage Petition

In a few lines some of you may feel somewhat cheated as you might think that I have misled you somehow with the title of this entry. You are rightly furious when confronted with the idea that a school, that your tax money has funded, is preaching homophobic ideas to its pupils.

A handful of you will now silently drift off with a shrug when I say that the schools in question are Catholic state schools and should not be allowed to preach about their intolerant religion with impunity.

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the name of the Father, the Son and these fabulous entry level anal beads.

In what can only be described as a massive dick move, the Catholic Education Service – which I’m assured is not an oxymoron – contacted approximately 359 of the taxpayer funded educational establishments to point them and their students in the direction of a petition opposed to gay marriage.

So what’s the big deal? The Catholic Church is full of arseholes right? Well, yes but it’s bad enough that these children are being indoctrinated without them having this shit shoved down their throats too. Students, aged 11 – 18, at St Philomena’s Catholic School for Girls were reported to have been shown a presentation which ended with an encouragement to sign an anti-gay marriage petition put about by the bastards at Coalition for Marriage.
And this is the point I want to re-iterate: these schools are being funded with money from your purse and my wallet.

But what can we do? We can calmly debate or scream about this issue until our voices die but the threat of faith schools can only be curtailed by the government – which seems unlikely given previous form with faith & free schools and the Lords reform – or from Catholics themselves. The former, as I said, is unlikely to do anything and it is daft to think Catholics will take a stand against their leaders regardless of what is said. They are self-described sheep and will do as they’re told. Privately they may show support for gay marriage but they’ll bend over and take the Papal rod when push comes to shaft.

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And The Lord will rain down a plague of very small rodents?

It seems that the Old Testament God really has gone all shy on us, leaving his lazy and frankly farcical sibling, God, to dole out punishments on sinners everywhere.

This time the sorry soul feeling His mighty wrath is Tesco in Covent Garden. And the hellish plague he has inflicted them with? Fire and brimstone? Locusts? A recoverable infestation of mice? Bingo! The fine people over at Christian Voice seem to have received some intelligence that God, with everything He can do, has decided to send some mice to a single Tesco store in Covent Garden. I shit you not.

Image: Karen Shaw / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We have God on our side and we will totally fuck your shit up

Why? Because they have given some support to The Gays. You know, the ones who are constantly trying to control your womb or writing state legislature meaning that women who want an abortion have a wand – not as cool as it sounds – inserted into their vagina so they can see a scan of the foetus in case they aren’t suffering enough emotional trauma.

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No First Communion For Boy With Down’s Syndrome – An Atheists View

I awoke on Friday morning to a BBC news broadcast (I use my TV as an alarm as it frustrates me in to leaving my room) about a young boy, Denum, with Down’s Syndrome who was refused his First Holy Communion on the grounds that he was ill prepared to undertake the ceremony. This left me with an odd feeling – for once in my adult life I agreed with the Catholic Church. Here’s what the Diocese of Leeds had to say:

While he [Denum] is unable to make preparations this year to the first sacrament he may be able to do in the future when his understanding is better placed.

It would seem to be that the Diocese of Leeds believes that Denum lacks an understanding of what the First Communion involves and what it means with regards to him joining the Church willingly as an adult – or confirming his belief in the Catholic version of God, if you prefer.
The point may seem rather moot, and it is indeed quite hypocritical, as children are indoctrinated into the Church near enough as soon as they’re born. Asking if they give themselves willingly over to Christ at such a tender age, when the mind is so easily swayed to believe in falsehoods, is really no contest. The brainwashed child will not understand that there is no need for them to give themselves over to the cult.

My point is this: a child raised to believe in God will do as their elders tell them and believe in God without any understanding of what the implications are.

I had my First Communion at age 10 – the normal age was 8 but it can vary from 7 to 14 – and I didn’t have a clue. I was told I believed in God, so I thought I believed in God. My mind was too young, I was too interested in kiss-chase and digging worms out of the mud to apply any thought to what it meant to confirm my allegiance to Catholocism.
Religions must come to realise that such a young and malleable mind, retarded or otherwise, cannot possibly understand the contract they are entering.

But I am being naive. Of course the Church knows that 8 is too young an age to understand what’s going on. That’s really why First Communion is held at such a young age. Get ’em young, like the tobacco industry.

I’m glad Denum has been refused the First Communion. I wish the age for the process was raised to 19 or 20. The Bible is a complicated, controversial, nonsensical,  contradictory text and a person should really know what they’re doing when getting in to bed with one of the largest corrupting organisations in the world.

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