The novelist Ken MacLeod, deeply immersed lately in issues of religion and science due to his upcoming science fiction novel about the future of the faith wars, offers a very enlightening look at the unexpected rise of creationism in the United Kingdom, the homeland of the Darwinian revolution. A key player in this story is Tony Blair, whose government opened the way for a greater role for religion in British schools. While Blair’s big sins (especially with regard to foreign policy) are well known, the smaller missteps of his administration also deserve condemnation.
One of the strengths of MacLeod’s essay is that it manages to criticize creationism without descending into the crude anti-religious polemics of Christopher Hitchens. MacLeod rightly recognizes that the myriad of faith traditions approach evolution differently.
Macleod essay can be found here. Some excerpts:
In part, it’s a legacy of Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for ‘faith schools’ and ‘city academies’. The City Academies scheme allows businesses, churches and voluntary groups to gain control over a school’s policy and ethos by contributing £2m towards the capital cost – around 10% of the total, the other 90% of which comes from you and me. State funded schools that teach creationism now include the Emmanuel City Technology College at Gateshead and the King’s Academy in Middlesbrough, both sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, and a Seventh Day Adventist school in Tottenham. Some at least of the UK’s thousands of faith schools may be doing the same – though it should be noted that Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools are very unlikely to do so. Just how bizarre this stuff can get is well brought out by Stephen Layfield, head of science at Emmanuel College, who calls for teaching ‘the historicity of a world-wide flood’ and affirms ‘the feasibility of maintaining an ark full of representative creatures for a year …’ (The complete speech was archived by religious affairs and science journalist Andrew Brown – the Christian Institute removed it from its its own website after Richard Dawkins drew attention to it in The Daily Telegraph.
Evolution versus denial is no more a conflict between religion and atheism than it is a controversy within science. At one level, the controversy is within the various religions themselves. Most denominations follow such revered Christian thinkers as Origen and Augustine, and the mediaeval Jewish sage Maimonedes, in reading Genesis figuratively. Fundamentalists insist that if Genesis isn’t completely historical, it’s simply false. In this, ironically, they are on the same page as some militant atheists.
At another level, however, the problem is political. It isn’t just that creationism is backed by wealthy – and largely right-wing – businessmen. The root of the problem is the weakness of confident, secular and rational public discourse. This leaves room for all kinds of irrationality, which find an opening in the New Labour view that the public education system can’t stand on its own feet, and needs to be propped up by money from business and morality from religion. Unless we repudiate that, more and more of our children will find their precious time wasted on feasibility studies of Noah’s Ark.