I probably should have known better than to get involved. No. I definitely should have known better. One of my colleagues was ranting and raving about a short book that he'd been reading, and he asked if I minded reading it too. That way, he said, he would have someone else to rant and rave with. Apparently, the book had been given to him by the headteacher at his children's primary school.
The book? A short little pamphlet of 96 pages by Steve Maltz. Never heard of him? Well, the back of the book describes him as "a web consultant, tour guide and writer. He is married with three sons and lives in East London". Apparently, according to this primary school headteacher, this book will blow your mind.
The title? "The TRUTH is out there: the ultimate world conspiracy. Who is really pulling the strings?"
We start with a long description of the solar eclipse in the UK in August 1999. The author seems fascinated by the fact that this amazing event can only happen because of the size of the moon, it's exact position in orbit around this planet and the the distance from the sun. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but at that precise moment in time, from our planet, it looks as though the sun has been completely obscured. Amazing, for sure... but our author seems reluctant to put this down to dumb chance in an infinite universe. After a long analogy about a child receiving a trainset for Christmas and assembling it with his father, we get this:
"For life to be able to exist we need a whole swathe of things to be fitted together and to work together. The distance between us and the Sun and the Moon has to be just so. The forces that pervade the universe, from gravity to magnetism, have to be just so. The features of our Earth, such as its rate of spin and the composition of its atmosphere, must be just so. If any of these are not just so, then so are we - we would never have been born because our planet wouldn't be here. Where did our toy train set come from? Did it materialise out of nowhere or was it designed and put together by a toy manufacturer? If you accept the latter, perhaps we should be asking a similar question about Planet Earth."
....and so we're off and running into a somewhat ham-fisted attempt to explain the principle of Intelligent Design. Oh good.
I'm cool with all this stuff being down to random chance in a boundless universe; that many billions to one chance of the right conditions for a planet like ours and lifeforms like ours to exist, but it seems that our author is not.
Ever wondered why no one ever pressed the button or made the mistake that unleashed nuclear armageddon on the world during the cold war? Intelligent designer guiding our hands, of course.
Did you know that two of the critical events in the history of the Second World War (the rescue at Dunkirk and the ultimate success in the Battle of Britain) were preceded by requests from the King to pray for our salvation? (three days before Dunkirk and seven days before the crucial moment in the Battle of Britain.) This not only proves the existence of God, you understand, but it also proves that he's English (or that the Germans weren't praying hard enough). Apparently the reason "we're not all eating bratwurst in McGoebbels or attending compulsory Wagner recitals at the Royal Adolf Hall" is because GOD WAS ON OUR SIDE!
Evolution is just another bunk theory, you see. An orthodoxy so entrenched that atheist intellectuals can't and won't see past it to the obvious truth, and "zealous to protect its dogmas by vilifying the slightest deviation from them and 'burning' heretics at the stake" Yes, he really does use that language, as if it's even close between religion and science about who has burned the most people, and it's obviously Richard Dawkins who is left holding the matches and firelighters. DNA is just TOO COMPLEX to have magically appeared by itself and it MUST HAVE been put there by a guiding hand. Think evolution explains everything? Well it can't even explain the human knee, or blood clotting or bacteria..... IN YOUR FACE, DAWKINS!
Best of all is the conclusion. Drawing all his 'evidence' together, Maltz asks us to consider the identity of this intelligent designer: like looking for a name in the phonebook, where you don't just stop at the first John Smith you find, "there's a whole supermarket full of every variety of gods, powers, deities, and supernatural entities. Just getting through to the first one you find is not good enough... you haven't come this far to get the wrong number in the divine directory... Rather than give you God's address, I will supply you with the credentials he himself provides for identification. It's quite simple. He is the God of the Bible, the divine author of that very book".
After all the smugly produced evidence to 'prove' the existence of an intelligent designer, it all boils down to this: it's the Christian God. No evidence is provided for this. Everyone else is JUST WRONG.
Ugh. Why did I bother reading this?
The thing is that you can believe what you want to believe. Personally, I do not understand why a belief in God (or whatever) should be incompatible with a belief in the principles of science. Why do you have to feel threatened by that stuff? The two are only mutually incompatible if you totally lack imagination and don't understand the principle of faith. In addition, what I really hate about this is the smug dismissal of other people with different views on the world and the wrapping up of this horseshit as 'evidence'. Richard Dawkins is many things, but he will be the first person to tell you that evolution is only a theory and he is open-minded to evidence that suggests it is the wrong theory. You can't tell me for a second that Steve Maltz would change his mind on this.
You know what the scariest part of this is? Even more scary than the fact that I've wasted a couple of hours of my life thinking about it? This has been given to my colleague by someone who is teaching his children. Not only is he teaching children, but apparently he's also got a degree in geology. Geology! He thinks this is insightful enough wisdom to pass it on.
Ugh. I actually laughed most of the way through this book because it's so ridiculous (at one point he actually cites George W Bush as a source of wisdom and insight).... but it's also very frightening. People want to teach this shit in our schools, you know. They really do.
from a press statement by the Centre for Intelligent Design in 27 Sept 2011.
Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough want the government to ban creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) theory from the classroom. Such a move shows a disturbing lack of understanding of both the nature of scientific theory and of science education, responds the Centre for Intelligent Design.
“If this was about the integrity of science education’, says Dr Alastair Noble , director of the Centre, ‘then they would be campaigning for students to have access to all the scientific evidence about evolution and origins – including the positive evidence for design in nature and the evidence both for and against evolution. Scientific theories are only credible if they take account of all the evidence. Science always moves on. The 30 scientists who have signed up to the ‘Evolution not Creationism’ statement are attempting to prevent students from hearing the rational, well-evidenced arguments that cast doubt on neo-Darwinism.”
The proposition that a scientific curriculum should be the subject of legal or quasi-legal enforcement is based on a failure to recognise that all scientific theories are ultimately tentative and may be updated or amended in light of fresh evidence. No scientific theory needs or should have the compulsion of law. And no programme of science education can afford to rule some questions illegal. That is a complete denial of scientific method and a dreadful example to commend to aspiring science students. If creationism and ID are unscientific, pupils should be allowed to explore the evidence if they wish to see why.
Students also need to understand the provisional nature of the scientific consensus. Science is not done by consensus. Indeed, students should be aware that some crucial scientific discoveries were made by individuals who challenged the consensus. The reality of science is that one individual scientist with sound evidence can trump the consensus.
John Walton, Professor of Reactive Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, agrees: “There are many doubtful passages and leaps of faith in the molecules-to-man evolutionary narrative scenario. The authoritarian attempts by old generation scientists to suppress discussion of alternatives are ill-advised and go against the open spirit of enquiry science should foster.”
The Centre for Intelligent Design notes that it is no coincidence that both Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough are prominent atheists. The Centre believes that the introduction of religious or philosophical ideas into the debate is contrary to the spirit of science which should not be exploited in pursuit of a secular or atheistic agenda.
All attempts by Richard Dawkins to indoctrinate children with an ‘evolution only’ education spring from a secularising agenda. As he himself admits, Darwin made it possible for him to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist. Professor Dawkins thus has a vested interest in promoting evolution, and therefore cannot be taken seriously as an objective voice on this matter.
Dawkins argues that ID should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are theists. But we don’t hear him arguing that by the same token evolution should not be taken seriously because its main protagonists are atheists.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is one of the five organisations behind the campaign, along with Ekklesia – a liberal theological pressure group that has a long history of opposing criticism of evolution. And the list of signatories reveals that many of the supporters are indeed atheists. The BHA aims to remove God from the curriculum, and is therefore afraid of any theory like ID that has theological implications.
Prof Dawkins oft-repeated claim that full-scale evolution is “as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science” is largely a rhetorical position, which well outruns the evidence. Intelligent Design theory may not yet be the mainstream view of science, but it has a solid scientific evidenced base of which students have a right to be aware. A truly rigorous scientific approach to education would be to inform students of all the views, evidence and arguments surrounding the origin and development of life. Censorship is inherently anti-scientific.
Dr Alastair Noble, director of the Centre, says: “The prime movers behind the ‘Evolution not Design’ campaign are not neutral scientists as they may have the press believe, but those who wish to promote secularism in schools. This should be taken into account by all interested parties.
I'm scared. Are you?