Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Theos release lengthy report on creationism in the UK

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

Via Andrew Brown's Guardian blog, I was interested to learn that the Christian think tank Theos has just released a major report (PDF) looking at the creationism in the UK. The full document (PDF) is a lengthy 152 pages, although both Brown's blog and the summary on the Theos website give a sense of the findings it contains.

Theos commissioned the "independent ethnographic research agency" ESRO to carry out the study on their behalf, and the finished report draws on "50 in-depth interviews with creationists and other evolution sceptics". One of its major findings is that creationism in this country in no way resembles a coherent movement. In fact, the use of the word "movement" is entirely out of place:
"This implies a unity where there is, in fact, only divergence and disunity. On issues as broad as the interpretation and importance of Scripture, the philosophy of science, the geological age of the earth, the relationship between science and faith, and even the central question of descent with modification, there is considerable disagreement."
I don't think that this will come as a surprise to anyone who has had some experience with British creationism. While there are some large (certainly well-funded) American organisations such as the Discovery Institute and the ludicrous Answers in Genesis, we (thankfully) don't have anything comparable here in the UK. And there's certainly no ideological unity – for example one of Britain's better-known creationists Anthony Bush, the proprietor of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol which I wrote about earlier this year, advocates his very own “creation plus evolution” theory. He told me his "paradigm is radical" – others might argue he's making it up as he goes along.

The report also suggests that, while many secluar opponents of creationism paint opponents of evolution as "anti-science", this is not strictly the case, as many have an active interest in science and try to reconcile the two. It also, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Christian think tank, argues that the way to argue against creationism is not with the use of "fierce rebuttal and public derision in the mode of Richard Dawkins". Creationists, the report suggests, are eager to engage in debate:
"The evolution-sceptical community is not really what reputation would make it. Listening carefully – knowing who ‘creationists’ really are and what they really think – is a first step to understanding the roots of their antagonism. In time, this understanding could undergird strategies which improve public engagement with science."
This, of course, sounds reasonable enough. But it's preceeded by the usual caricature of aggressive secularists shouting down what they see as stupid creationists, which as always misunderstands the stance of Dawkins and other scientists. Just because Dawkins won't take the stage in debate with such people (he famously said it would look better on their CV than his), doesn't mean he's unwilling to enagage with them. His new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is all about laying out the incontrovertible evidence for evolution for anyone who may have their doubts about it. And having read it myself recently I have to say that, if anyone reads it properly and still comes away a creationist, then no kind of engagement is going to change their mind.


AT said...

Not sure the snark is necessary here - haven't read the report, but more people do need to know that creationists aren't a tide of like-minded folks about to topple the world. They're a disintegrating group of confused, and sometimes scarily hard-line but not always, recidivists.

And any think tank, Christian or not, should point out that engaging with people the way Dawkins does is, well, not the way towards rational engagement. He makes humanists look bad.

Anyway, theos is occasionally freaky but it sounds like they at least tried for a balanced report on this one.

valdemar said...

Creationism in the UK is a 'bring it on' dogma - ordinary people will mock it, snigger at it, find it absurd without any help from atheist/humanist outfits. There are plenty of comedians who'll take pot-shots, too.

That said, AT - Dawkins doesn't make humanists look bad IMHO. He does a lot to boost our morale by being a public intellectual who isn't afraid to take on the often disgraceful and absurd claims made by religio-political pressure groups. Good for him.

George Jelliss said...

You wrote: "... the ludicrous Answers in Genesis, we (thankfully) don't have anything comparable here in the UK."

Yes we do, we have Answers in Genesis UK. Their HQ is in Leicester. They have held several conferences there over the past ten years, well attended and suppported by the local evangelical churches.

I believe Paul Taylor is now their main spokesperson, following the retirement of Monty White. He lectures at evangelical churches all over the country. He even spoke at Skeptics in the Pub.

It's true that consistency in their doctrines is not the stromg point of creationist groups, but that doesn't seem to bother them greatly. The ability to believe six impossible things simultaneously has long been recognised as a defining characteristic of religion.

Eiskrystal said...

-while many seculuar opponents of creationism paint opponents of evolution as "anti-science", this is not strictly the case, as many have an active interest in science and try to reconcile the two.-

A child pulling the wings off a fly isn't necessarily showing an interest in Entomology.

Paul Sims said...

You're right George, we do have plenty of organisations like that here in the UK (Truth in Science being another ridiculous example). By nothing comparable, I meant it more in terms of funding. The organisations we have here don't appear to have millions of pounds with which to set up hi-tech creation museums. The best they can manage is this: http://www.genesisexpo.co.uk/

Which is something to be thankful for, I guess...

perpetualbebo said...

I am a Christian and I have been reading the New Humanist magazine on and off for the last couple of years now. I was homeschooled for the later part of my secondary education and that is when I came across creatonism vs evolution prior to that I was learning about the periodic table basics, but did not stay at that particular school long enough to do biology there, as I was saying the homeschool curriculum was based on fundamentalist Christian principles. the science basically mentioned that there used to be a kind of ozone layer made from ie which gave the world a uniform climate and you know the basic anti-evolution hype. Needless to say that I am not a creationist nor do I subscribe to ID because both are very bad science and even worse theology. I am not so sure about eveolution to be honest, but I do think that it being the main explanatin of biology and is in force throughout science is a good start. The Bible has two creation narratives. The Adam and Eve creation narrative as you may know was a rebuttal to the dominant narrative of the Babylonian Empire.
I just wanted to add that I think that most humanists seem to concentrate on rebutting fundamentalists and accusing Christians of being intelligently lazy, which I am not denying, but athiests are being just as lazy by not looking into other kinds of Christianity as well other than the fundamentalist variety.

perpetualbebo said...

I also wanted to add that my worldview has basically passed from one that supernaturalistic to one that is more a panenthiestic world view which simply means that no longer does God sit back and let things take their course, such as the deist or supernaturalistic worldviews do, but rather God flows through all things. What bearing this has on evil as it is currently understood from the original sin disaster or from the ancients'ingenius perspective of exposing evil through mythology is pretty important.