Academic Freedom Under Fire in Scotland

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Nobel laureates petition Scottish government to prohibit teachers from presenting creation science as alternative to evolutionism.

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The Scottish Secular Society is on the rampage demanding Scotland’s Parliament legally restrict public school teachers from mentioning biblical creation or the idea that the Earth is not billions of years old as alternatives to the evolutionary religion commonly taught in science classes.

Mandated Guidance

Under the present system, Scotland’s educators may decide what they should teach to children within their curricular guidelines. This arrangement preserves the freedom of teachers and students to explore the controversial and unverifiable aspects of evolutionary positions and consider alternative possibilities. The Scottish Secular Society is demanding Scotland’s educators accept additional “guidance”—mandated guidance that will rob them of the opportunity to teach children to think critically about these important issues. Moreover, the Scottish Secular Society is demanding educators accept mandated guidance that will rob them of the trust Scotland’s government has heretofore vested in their judgment.

In an atmosphere of academic freedom, the pros and cons of alternative views—including biblical creation—can be discussed if educators choose to do so. Evidently, the Scottish Secular Society does not trust Scotland’s teachers and wishes to gag them. It wishes to constrain them to present the religion of evolutionism as if it were incontrovertibly factual, even if they see its problems. (Evolutionism of course has many problems even from a purely scientific point of view. Experimental science does not demonstrate how life could randomly evolve from non-living elements, for instance, or how living things could naturally acquire the information to evolve into new and more complex organisms.)

Who Decides?

Scotland’s government has until now trusted its educators’ judgment. A government spokesman says, “Teachers, head teachers and professional educationalists decide what is taught in Scotland's schools. This longstanding tradition that politicians should not determine the curriculum is highly valued and remains a cornerstone of Scottish education.”

Freedom from government interference in the finer points of educational decisions is not acceptable to the Scottish Secular Society, however. Neither can the Society countenance the idea that educators can nurture critical thinking skills in their students by allowing them to openly discuss the problems with the evolutionary position, evaluate alternatives, and learn to distinguish between observational and historical science. Scottish Secular Society chairman Spencer Fildes explains, “We just want the Government to turn round and say let's clear this up, let's get rid of all the ambiguities, this is the guidance we are going to set out.”

Observational Versus Historical Science

Three Nobel laureates chose to add their credentials to this cause and flex their scientific muscles by petitioning the Scottish Parliament to make it illegal for educators to let students know there are biblical creation alternatives to the evolutionism they imbibe in science classes. These scientists received their Nobel prizes for discovering fullerenes, introns in eukaryotic DNA, and the role of programmed cell death and genetic regulation in organ development. These discoveries depended on rigorous observations. They had to apply the scientific method to test their observations and design repeatable experiments. Their work neither relied on nor revealed anything about an untestable, unobservable, imagined evolutionary past.

[It] is not “science versus religion” but observational, experimental science versus historical, origins science.

Sir John Sulston, one of the Nobel petition signers, says, “Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, so long as they follow the golden rule of not causing harm to others. Belief-based teaching should be entirely separate from science teaching, because the premises are different and not alternative.” Yet for his own brilliance in using the principles of the scientific method to discover how genes instruct cells to build organs, he seems to not understand that the arena in which “the premises are different” is not “science versus religion” but observational, experimental science versus historical, origins science. The first allows conclusions about that which can be observed; the second draws conclusions about an untestable past without the benefit of direct scientific observations.

Sir Harold Kroto, another Nobel petition signer—before a 2008 speech entitled “Kentucky Fried Creationism and Other Food for Thought” given shortly after his own visit to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky—showed that he lumps scientific observations together with worldview-based unverifiable evolutionary interpretations:

It is interesting to ponder the fact that although almost every area of the sciences has contributed to the tens of thousands of pieces that make up the “Darwinian evolution jigsaw puzzle,” organizations such as the Discovery Institute and Creationist Museum seem to have no difficulty in convincing large numbers of people (many with a lot of money) that we are all wrong.1

Beliefs about origins are worldview-based interpretations and not in the province of observational science. Whatever a scientist believes about our origins is based not just on evidence but on his or her beliefs. Why? Because the time of origins is past, and no scientist tested and recorded observations at the time and under the conditions that then existed. Therefore, evolutionary beliefs about origins are a sort of religion. Yet the three evolutionary scientists using their Nobel clout against Scotland’s Parliament insist their own beliefs about our unobservable origins are “factual.”

Sir Richard Roberts, who shared the Nobel prize for discovery of introns in eukaryotic DNA, says, “This is really an important issue. One should be teaching facts to children, not religion.” An intron is a nucleotide sequence that is removed from the RNA copy of a gene during transcription as its parts are spliced together. The study of introns and gene splicing involves application of the scientific method to make observations and perform experiments in the present. Even though some evolutionary scientists speculate that introns had a role in the evolution of increasingly complex life forms, no such behavior of introns has ever been observed. Gene splicing and the behavior of introns are observable facts. The notion that introns made it possible for new organisms of increasing complexity to evolve through natural processes is pure speculation. In fact, such speculation is rooted in the religion of evolution.

Origins Is Always About Beliefs

Sir Harold Kroto, who shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of fullerenes, says, “I am very staunch about the separation of church and state ... If parents want their children to be educated in religious instruction, then there are plenty of churches and Sunday schools for them to do that.” Yet when it comes to scientific questions about the unobservable past, the scientific position a person holds about origins is, like it or not, dependent on that person’s worldview. Belief—a person’s philosophy or religion—and science must meet in discussions of our origins. But it is clear that Roberts, Sulston, and Kroto advocate teaching of the religion of evolutionism in science class as not only the only acceptable belief about origins but also the only belief that can legally be discussed there. Thus, while people may believe what they choose, these particular Nobel laureates want to be sure children are only exposed to their own evolutionary beliefs in science class.

In the United States, some states have passed laws guaranteeing teachers the freedom to discuss controversial aspects of evolutionism with students in public school. We do not advocate—and neither do the laws of any of our states permit—the required teaching of biblical creation in public schools. We do believe teachers and students should be able to discuss the many unverifiable assumptions on which evolutionary claims rest. Sadly, in the United Kingdom, the British Humanist Association has already succeeded in its campaign to tell the government how to run its schools. Time will tell whether Scotland’s Parliament chooses to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and give into pressure from this outspoken secular group or to hang onto the principles under which it now operates.

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Footnotes

  1. Wendy Beckman, “FRIDAY: Sir Harold Kroto Talks ‘Kentucky Fried Creationism’ at TUC,” University of Cincinnati, October 20, 2008, www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=9063.

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