Creationist Schooling in the UK

Richard Dawkins writes a letter to The Guardian about Peter Vardy:

Your readers may remember the case of Emmanuel college, the notorious creationist school in Gateshead. The prime minister (Bush’s praying partner, let’s not forget) defended it on grounds of “diversity” and exam results, but both apologias ring hollow for a school whose head of science dates the origin of the universe some time after the middle stone age. The school’s sponsor, the evangelical car salesman Peter Vardy, is now trying to move in on Doncaster. He has already succeeded in taking over Thorne Grammar school, renamed Trinity Academy.

Now, a worried science teacher informs me, Vardy has his eye on Northcliffe comprehensive too. A group of local parents are concerned about the threatened subversion of their children’s school (www.cadpag.co.uk)

Richard Dawkins
University of Oxford

Not sure what Blair as “Bush’s praying partner” has to with it, but he draws attention back to a controversy that’s being going on now for a few years. Many UK state schools have a church affiliation, but this is a very different development: a private religious foundation is being given state schools to run. As the Northcliffe parents report, as well the Creationism

We have conflicting reports as to whether the new school will follow patterns at Emmanuel like a compulsory GCSE Religious Education Examination, and a compulsory course in Philosophy, Theology and Ethics, at A Level.

At Emmanuel, reported The Observer a while ago, pupils must carry two Bibles at all times (an NIV and a Gideon NT) or face punishment. Plus:

Each week pupils must attend two-hour ‘Special Lectures’ concerning spiritual subjects and use these as the basis of a compulsory long essay at the end of the school year. No backsliding is permitted.

According to the school’s own website (not updated for quite some time):

Finally, and centrally, as part of our commitment to the all-round spiritual, moral and intellectual development of young people, all subjects seek to set their teaching within context in which Christian values and Biblical revelation can be discussed and analysed. It is such a context which gives learning a proper fullness.

Interviewed on the BBC’s Today progamme, Vardy explained that:

We do teach creationism alongside evolution [interruption] – we present both – one is a theory, the other is a faith position and it’s up to the children. We give them an all-round education, so both are presented to the students and we think that is fair education

What he failed to make clear, however, was that the Creationism is taught by a believing science teacher – i.e. as a scientific position; www.cadpag.co.uk links to a lecture by Stephen Layfield, science teacher at Emmanuel College, that shows this. Layfield stated that science teachers should

Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data.

In 2002 Vardy reportedly told Richard Dawkins (see this Guardian report) that Layfield’s “personal view” on Creationism was not taught in science classes. Layfield’s lecture (removed from the website of the Christian Institute when the controversy broke) and Vardy’s statement on Today suggest that Dawkins was lied to.

However, what no-one appears to have noticed is that Creationism is also doing well in independent Christian schools in the UK. For example, Maranatha Christian School, based in Sevenhampton, near Swindon, boasts a

Christian, Creation-based curriculum [that] has been developed over the last 25 years and is now used in thousands of schools all over the world.

Don’t worry if you think your GCSE results will suffer, for instead of the General Certificate in Secondary Education, you can qualify with the National Christian Schools Certificate. According to Paragon Christian Academy, based in Hackney, East London:

The NCSC is accepted by universities in the UK and abroad (including Oxford University), as an alternative to the usual GCSE and GCSE ‘A’ level route (see the UCAS Handbook).

What’s more, according to Maranatha

At the same time a child is taught to read, he will also start to learn some of the sixty biblical character traits which are reinforced throughout the whole School of Tomorrow curriculum…The student will also begin to memorise Scriptures associated with the character trait, building up a deep well of Godly wisdom.

The School of Tomorrow curriculum is derived from the USA, and provided by Accelerated Christian Education:

Accelerated Christian Education’s worldwide team of professional educators currently serves over 7,000 schools, one government contract, and thousands of home educators in 135 countries. This Global Support Team provides curriculum, program, and school services as well as in-service and leadership training for schools and home educators in their areas.

In addition, Accelerated Christian Education’s in-house team of professionals at the International Ministry Offices in Largo, Florida, provide materials and support services to help meet the educational needs of communities everywhere.

In Britain, its products are sold by CEE Ltd (Christian Education Europe Ltd), which holds that

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the verbally and plenary inspired Word of God. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible, and God-breathed, and, therefore, are the final authority for faith and life. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are the complete and divine revelation of God to man. The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning.

The village of Sevenhampton is also home to the British branch of Answers in Genesis, and no doubt this Creationist organisation is also closely linked with Maranatha.

UPDATE: Back in 2003, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith gave strong backing to Tabernacle School, a small Pentecostal school in Kensington which follows the ACE curriculum (see also here).

NB: Do not confuse the evangelical Peter Vardy with Dr Peter Vardy, the Catholic theologian at Heythrop College, University of London.

Vox Hunting

As part of a series of posts profiling the strange concept of “Christian libertarianism”, which seems more often than not to mean “Christian theocracy”, I recently chanced upon Christian libertarian and WorldNetDaily contributor Vox Day (Theodore Beale), who believes that women should be denied the vote. Since I, among others, appeared critical of his position, he issued a challenge to anyone to refute his idea. I wrote a few points, to which Vox has now responded on his blog. This is my response to that.

Normal “religion in the news” blog service will be resumed after this, exceptionally lengthy, entry

Part One

Well, Vox Day has wielded his flaming sword in my direction. I have been mildy singed in a couple of places, but, in my opinion at least, his weapon quickly fizzles out. Readers can judge for themselves.

He begins with the following headline:

I’m not gay, I’m English

Correct on both counts, although he shouldn’t assume that British people are English or that English people are not gay – but I suppose recognising that Englishness and gayness are not necessarily the same thing is an advance on PJ O’Rourke’s assertion that the English are “a race of cold-blooded queers with nasty complexions and terrible teeth who once conqured half the world but still haven’t figured out central heating.”

He then moves on to my actual points. I began with an informal note, written very quickly, and then provided him with the text of my blog entry from Monday. The informal note referred to his claim that since children were not allowed to vote because they were not responsible, then this means that exclusion was recognised as legitimate. I responded with the suggestion that:

Your recent comment about children is not valid: it is not discriminatory to deny them the vote because everyone was once a child and so subject to the same restriction.

His response to that is to point out that by the same grounds the elderly could be discriminated against and that furthermore:

discrimination against children is justified on their inability to make responsible decisions, not the universal nature of childhood.

I’ll concede the point. One for the flaming sword.

We then move on to American history, where I suggested “there is no evidence that there was less mobocracy in times when women or others were denied the franchise”. Response:

Sure there is. The Founders were concerned about a mob voting itself bread and circuses, while Joseph Schumpeter predicted the inevitable devolution of any universal democracy into socialist tyranny. An analysis of federal spending per capita easily illustrates this playing out right now.

But surely mobocracy is more than just “a mob voting itself bread and circuses”? To me it means the mob bringing about any political action or legislation that is a) manifestly foolish or ignorant or b) oppressive to non-members of the mob. Even if Vox’s interpretation of federal spending as an example of mobocracy is correct, totting up how much mobocracy there was before women were allowed to vote is rather more complicated and subjective. And even if – a big if – more mobocracy is indeed a vice that attends universal suffrage, that still has to be measured against the vices found in other forms of government.

Vox then adds, in reply to my comments about the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in relation to democracy:

The USA is not a democracy, never was, and was expressly designed not to be. In his first formal point, Bartholomew demonstrates that he has no understanding of the source of American rights and liberties.

I was aware of this issue, as it happens – Gore Vidal brings it up a lot. But America presents itself to the world as a democracy, most Americans believe themselves to live in a democracy, and democracy is the political system the USA claims it wishes to see spread globally. Vox, of course, sees this as a corruption of republican (small r) ideals. Fine, but it seems to me that “rights and liberties” are better protected in a democracy than the kind of republic he would prefer (although I am a “republican” in relation to the idea of monarchy).

Moving on to my second point, that if women could be excluded so could others, he writes:

First, it would indeed be very good sense to deny those groups who are determined to sabotage their self-interest.

This is more confused. I thought libertarianism was about personal responsibility, not ensuring that people don’t “sabotage their self-interest”. To achieve the latter, surely a fairly authoritarian big government is needed? I assume he really means “sabotage the general interest” or “other people’s interests”. But that’s why we have constitutions and/or independent judiciaries, as the best way to stop the worst excesses of people who want to bring about bad things.

Precisely this reasoning is presently being used to deny the Iraqi people the right to self-determination; I don’t know any so-called “democrats” who actually favor allowing open elections in Iraq as I do. Are they racist too?

Are they making such a case? If someone is arguing that given the conditions of the country at present a short delay is necessary to set up the checks and balances that can keep mobocracy at bay, then that is a reasonable proposition (although whether it truly reflects the situation in Iraq is another issue). If they’re saying that Iraqis cannot handle democracy based on their Arabness, then yes, they’re racist. And why does Vox favour “open elections” there but not in the USA?

Second, women are a unique group in that they are provably biologically different. These biological differences have a direct effect on their ability to think and reason, as numerous scientific studies have proven that women have literally different brains than men. There are both spiritual (Christian) and scientific (evolutionary) and psychosexual reasons that women are inordinately inclined to favor the “security” offered by Big Daddy government intervention. This is not true for any other group, except, possibly, the homosexual community, if one accepts the homosexual argument that their abnormality has a genetic base.

I wonder if men are also “provably biologically different”, and therefore “unique” as well? And if homosexual men are to be denied the franchise also, we’ve now got an odd idea of one kind of woman but different kinds of men. By the way, I’m left-handed – does that give me the correct sort of brain to be allowed to vote or not? But even if women are biologically obliged “to favor the ‘security’ offered by Big Daddy government intervention” (which I doubt), and even if that is a bad thing (which is impossible to judge when the political programme is painted in such vague terms), does that mean women should not be allowed to vote? Even if “they” are prone to a vice here, what virtues might they have to make up for it? And what other vices might belong to men? Testosterone has also has “a direct effect” on the “ability to think and reason”, and often the result is irresponsible behaviour. Men could be denied the vote on that ground alone.

I then raised the issue that if women could be denied the franchise, so could religious conservatives. This invited a strange persecution fantasy:

What are hate crimes for? I fully expect the openly religious to be disenfranchised in the future. They’re already being fined. We’ll be fortunate if it stops with only losing the vote.

But clearly, Vox sees such an outcome as undesirable. So do I. But if you don’t want that to happen to you, how can you prescribe it for others?

We move on to the principle of exclusion itself:

He sees exclusion as undesirable; neither I nor the Founding Fathers do. What accountability comes with a universal franchise? I obviously don’t have that confidence, as I believe that most people, given the chance to vote themselves largesse from others, will do so every single time. History would seem to support this very strongly.

I’ve no argument with that, but the problem that “most people, given the chance to vote themselves largesse from others, will do so every time” is not solved by reducing the franchise. It merely makes it more likely that the enfranchised group will try to take an even bigger largesse, and will be more likely to succeed in doing so, being unaccountable. I recall that Communism started out with political idealists who thought their ideological correctness and economic knowledge meant they did not need to trouble with democratic processes and accountability. The results were most unhappy. Vox’s system would most likely degenerate into something like Margaret Atwood’s “Republic of Gilead”.

I then raised the practical issue, that women will not accept losing the vote. Response:

The civil strife [in that case] would be as nothing as what is going to happen once the present system collapses under the weight of centralization. One of the many nice things about women is that they’re not prone to serious violence.

Well, try taking the vote away from women who have it and see what happens. Besides, “serious violence” is not the only option for creating disruption. Women got the vote in the first place in many countries through self-sacrifice, not violence. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata provides a further possibility.

Vox also notes that “voting is mandatory in many totalitarian states”. But therefore what? I never said the voting was sufficient to ensure liberty, only that it is a necessary component.

Part Two

We also hear about the Palestinian situation, his solution to which I had also taken exception to:

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 2,233 Palestinians have been killed in the present conflict, which is just heating up. Apparently Bartholomew was more offended by a suggestion that might actually help bring a final end to the conflict than he is by the actual “mass murder” of thousands of Palestinians. Or perhaps he believes that refraining from the intentional murder of children is hopelessly beyond those dusky savages now that the British Empire has laid down the White Man’s Burden.

Vox’s solution, you may recall, was killing 1,000 Palestinians for every one Israeli child killed, and 100 for every adult civilian. As it happens, the “actual ‘mass murder'” (of Palestinians and Israelis) does offend me more than Vox’s solution, but as he’s not responsible for the “actual ‘mass murder'” I didn’t mention it. My problems are as follows:

Every nation contains people who either cannot or chose not to refrain from killing children. Such people are not deterred by the idea of other innocent people being punished for his or her crime. Further, I would not wish to be killed as part of a collective punishment for the crimes of members of my ethnic group or nation, and suspect that attitude is fairly common. Why should Palestinians therefore be on the receiving end of such treatment?

It’s rather drastic for something that only “might actually help”. When has such a procedure ever helped? And even if it could help, that does not mean it is therefore the best way to proceed. Giving the Palestinians the same rights as the Israelis, either in their own state or as part of a bi-national state “might actually help” as well.

A particularly difficult point to grasp, it seems: it would be unethical. A central component of ethics is that you give up a very clear present advantage in order to protect long term values that will become corrupted otherwise. The deliberate mass slaughter of civilians to end a conflict (and not because they were in the way, as happened in WW2) would usher in a dark age of violence and savagery. The fact he can’t see that is perhaps the best evidence there is that being a Christian libertarian man does not necessarily confer a special wisdom and a greater right to vote.

That’s all I intend to say on the matter – Vox can have the last word if he wishes. What I’d really like to see, though, is how he sees himself as different from the Christian Thenomists and Reconstructionists, a number of whom leave enthusiastic comments on his blog.

Meanwhile, I have a blog on religion in the news to get back to…

UPDATE: Vox has sent me his response to the above, privately but with permission for me to post any part of it I care to. I’ve decided to put it in the comments section, as an appendix – it’s worth a read.