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There ought to be a law against it

2011 September 23
by Paul Vallely

I will be writing shortly to the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, and to the Chief Rabbi, to ask them to join my high-level celebrity campaign against the teaching of phlogiston in British schools.

Phlogiston, as you will know, is a scientific concept rose in the 17th century when one Johann Becher postulated the idea that a flammable substances burned because they contained this colourless, odourless, weightless substance. Burn wood and you get ash, therefore wood must be composed of ash plus phlogiston. Simple, eh? But wrong as Lavoiser’s later work on oxygen showed.

Now you might suppose that few, if any, teachers in British schools subscribe to this outdated idea. Maybe so. But it would be dangerous if any did so we should get a law put in place to ban it anyway. We could also have one for Ptolemaic astronomy, the miasma theory of disease and the plum-pudding model of the atom. Just to be on the safe side.
Such seems to be the logic of Dawkins & Co on creationism. Sir David Attenborough has just joined a list of the usual suspects – the British Humanist Association, the British Science Association and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia – in a noisy campaign to ban the teaching of creationism in science lessons in British schools.

This is another example of the New Atheists’ favourite technique, setting up a straw man to kick. For there is no evidence that any British schools have creationism on their science curriculum, as the Department for Education will tell you. All schools are required not to teach creationism as scientific fact.

Ah, but what about the ‘creationist’ academy schools set up by the businessman Sir Peter Vardy where children are taught in science lessons that the world was created in six days within the last 10,000 years? You often read about that in articles based on a briefing from the British Humanist Association. What few of these tell you is  that Vardy, fed up with reading them, finally decided to sue for libel in the High Court this year and won – forcing a newspaper to accept that such claims were “unwarranted and wholly untrue “ and that Ofsted inspectors had found that to be the case. Damages were paid.

Well, what about the two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International, who have sent free resources to all schools to undermine evolution and promote intelligent design –offering themselves as speakers on science? The problem for the atheists is that again there is zero evidence that any teachers have taken up these offers and included such material in science classes.

Ah, but the government’s new free schools and academies are not obliged to teach the national curriculum!  It is true that when the Everyday Champions Church submitted a proposal for an academy school in Newark in January it said that creationism would “embodied as a belief” at the school. In response government spokesman riposted: “The Education Secretary was crystal clear… that teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories.” Ofsted has been briefed to take a strict line on this when inspecting academies and free schools.

Undeterred, the New Atheists and their fellow travellers bang on with their usual scare and smear tactics, wilfully ignoring uncompromising statements from the Government and the insistence of mainstream religion that creationism is not just a very fringe activity but also wrong – a ‘category mistake’ as Rowan Williams has called it, which took the figurative literally. Perhaps it really is time for the Ban Phlogiston campaign.

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