Leading scientists and naturalists, including Professor Richard Dawkinsand Sir David Attenborough, are claiming a victory over the creationist movement after the government ratified measures that will bar anti-evolution groups from teaching creationism in science classes.
The Department for Education has revised its model funding agreement, allowing the education secretary to withdraw cash from schools that fail to meet strict criteria relating to what they teach. Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations”.
The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has led a campaign against creationism – the movement that denies Darwinian evolution and claims that the Earth and all its life was created by God – described the move as “highly significant” and predicted that it would have implications for other faith groups looking to run schools.
Dawkins, who was one of the leading lights in the campaign, welcomed confirmation that creationists would not receive funding to run free schools if they sought to portray their views as science. “I welcome all moves to ensure that creationism is not taught as fact in schools,” he said. “Government rules on this are extremely welcome, but they need to be properly enforced.”
Free schools, which are state-funded and run by local people or organisations, do not need to follow the national curriculum. Scientific groups have expressed concerns that their spread will see a reduction in the teaching of evolution in the classroom.
Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of “intelligent design”, as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.
One creationist organisation, Truth in Science, which encourages teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching, has sent free resources to all secondary schools and sixth-form colleges.
A BHA campaign, called “Teach evolution, not creationism”, saw 30 leading scientists and educators call on the government to introduce statutory guidance against the teaching of creationism. The group said if the government would not support the call, an explicit amendment to the wording of the funding agreement could have the same effect. Last week the Department for Education confirmed it had amended the agreement, although a spokesman denied it was the result of pressure from scientists. He said the revision made good on a pledge regarding the teaching of creationism given when the education secretary, Michael Gove, was in opposition. “We 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,” the spokesman said, adding that “all free school proposals will be subject to due diligence checks by the department’s specialist team”.
The revised funding agreement has been seized upon by anti-creationists who are pressing for wider concessions from the government.
“It is clear that some faith schools are ignoring the regulations and are continuing to teach myth as though it were science,” Dawkins said. “Evolution is fact, supported by evidence from a host of scientific disciplines, and we do a great disservice to our young people if we fail to teach it properly. “
A spokeswoman for the BHA said: “The government’s new wording is quite wide and in practice could prevent those who promote extreme religious or particular spiritual or pseudoscientific approaches from including them as part of the school curriculum as science or as evidence-based.”
Thanks to pintucks for the submission :)
FUCK YEAH. VICTORYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.
On 7 October, I recorded a long conversation with Christopher Hitchens in Houston, Texas, for the Christmas edition of New Statesman which I was guest-editing.
He looked frail, and his voice was no longer the familiar Richard Burton boom; but, though his body had clearly been diminished by the brutality of cancer, his mind and spirit had not. Just two months before his death, he was still shining his relentless light on uncomfortable truths, still speaking the unspeakable (“The way I put it is this: if you’re writing about the history of the 1930s and the rise of totalitarianism, you can take out the word ‘fascist’, if you want, for Italy, Portugal, Spain, Czechoslovakia and Austria and replace it with ‘extreme-right Catholic party’”), still leading the charge for human freedom and dignity (“The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy – the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do”) and still encouraging others to stand up fearlessly for truth and reason (“Stridency is the least you should muster … It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, ‘Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements’.”).
The following day, I presented him with an award in my name at the Atheist Alliance International convention, and I can today derive a little comfort from having been able to tell him during the presentation that day how much he meant to those of us who shared his goals.
I told him that he was a man whose name would be joined, in the history of the atheist/secular movement, with those of Bertrand Russell, Robert Ingersoll, Thomas Paine, David Hume. What follows is based on my speech, now sadly turned into the past tense.
Christopher Hitchens was a writer and an orator with a matchless style, commanding a vocabulary and a range of literary and historical allusion far wider than anybody I know. He was a reader whose breadth of reading was simultaneously so deep and comprehensive as to deserve the slightly stuffy word “learned” – except that Christopher was the least stuffy learned person you could ever meet.
He was a debater who would kick the stuffing out of a hapless victim, yet did it with a grace that disarmed his opponent while simultaneously eviscerating him. He was emphatically not of the school that thinks the winner of a debate is he who shouts loudest. His opponents might have shouted and shrieked. Indeed they did. But Hitch didn’t need to shout, for he could rely instead on his words, his polymathic store of facts and allusions, his commanding generalship of the field of discourse, and the forked lightning of his wit.
Christopher Hitchens was known as a man of the left. But he was too complex a thinker to be placed on a single left-right dimension. He was a one-off: unclassifiable. He might be described as a contrarian except that he specifically and correctly disavowed the title. He was uniquely placed in his own multidimensional space. You never knew what he would say about anything until you heard him say it, and when he did, he would say it so well, and back it up so fully, that if you wanted to argue against him you had better be on your guard.
He was recognised throughout the world as a leading public intellectual of our time. He wrote many books and countless articles. He was an intrepid traveller and a war reporter of signal valour. But he had a special place in the affections of atheists and secularists as the leading intellect and scholar of our movement. A formidable adversary to the pretentious, the woolly-minded or the intellectually dishonest, he was a gently encouraging friend to the young, the diffident, and those tentatively feeling their way into the life of the freethinker and not certain where it would take them.
He inspired, energised and encouraged us. He had us cheering him on almost daily. He even begat a new word – the hitchslap. It wasn’t just his intellect we admired: it was also his pugnacity, his spirit, his refusal to countenance ignoble compromise, his forthrightness, his indomitable spirit, his brutal honesty.
And in the very way he looked his illness in the eye, he embodied one part of the case against religion. Leave it to the religious to mewl and whimper at the feet of an imaginary deity in their fear of death; leave it to them to spend their lives in denial of its reality. Hitch looked it squarely in the eye: not denying it, not giving in to it, but facing up to it squarely and honestly and with a courage that inspires us all.
Before his illness, it was as an erudite author, essayist and sparkling, devastating speaker that this valiant horseman led the charge against the follies and lies of religion. During his illness he added another weapon to his armoury and ours – perhaps the most formidable and powerful weapon of all: his very character became an outstanding and unmistakable symbol of the honesty and dignity of atheism, as well as of the worth and dignity of the human being when not debased by the infantile babblings of religion.
Every day of his declining life he demonstrated the falsehood of that most squalid of Christian lies: that there are no atheists in foxholes. Hitch was in a foxhole, and he dealt with it with a courage, an honesty and a dignity that any of us would be, and should be, proud to be able to muster. And in the process, he showed himself to be even more deserving of our admiration, respect, and love.
Farewell, great voice. Great voice of reason, of humanity, of humour. Great voice against cant, against hypocrisy, against obscurantism and pretension, against all tyrants including God.
This was the full article, and the source is the Belfast Telegraph. But because I give credit where it’s due, you can see the article here.
It is a curious thing, to idolize a person, because meeting them (if you get the chance) is almost invariably a let-down. Today, in some ways, was not an exception.
I first discovered Richard Dawkins on YouTube my senior year of high school. It was his “Atheist’s Call To Arms” speech. I instantly admired him, and subsequently bought his books. Through him, I found Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, and above all, Christopher Hitchens. So a few weeks ago, when I learned Dawkins would be in Michigan, and htat I’d be able to go see/hear him speak on his book tour, I was thrilled. I booked my (free) ticket and signed up for a Zipcar, meanwhile buying the book in question: The Magic of Reality. I was set.
Then the day (today) came. I woke up at 7:15 to leave my dorm by 7:30 to pick up the car at 7:45 to arrive at Birmingham Temple (a Jewish temple) by 8:40 to take my seat. I was there early enough to sit front row! Every so often I’d let out a little squeal of joy. I made conversation with strangers, and I could barely contain my glee as I read to pass the time until Dawkins would take the stage. I could hardly focus, but when Richard Dawkins walked down the aisle between the seats, passing mere feet from where I sat, electrified, I just about had a heart attack. It was really him! As British, as gray and bespectacled, and as mild-mannered and soft-spoken as he had always been on YouTube. I was amazed to see so many people as eager to see him as I was, from six-year-olds on the floor in front of me right down to the old ladies sitting next to me (and they were not the only ones by any estimation). I had no idea that here in Michigan (or anywhere for that matter) there would be so many elderly folk and children waiting for Professor Dawkins; I had thought the majority would be college students like me. Not so.
It lifted my spirits higher still to see that these children had parents who cared about their education in real science, and of course I envied that boundless, shameless curiosity that is the hallmark of a child. Always trust a child to ask the best questions, the questions that we as adults tend to neglect or fail to address. It made m miss my childhood, but it also awakened a strange and savage love for children and for teachers (and teaching, for that matter). I almost wanted to abandon the theatre and devote my life to science and passing on the knowledge of the human species to the next generation.
Dawkins on the podium was riveting, funny, and a great teacher. Even the things I already knew felt fresh and interesting when he addressed them.
And then came the book signing (and, I hoped, a picture with him!). I managed to squeeze into the huge line at about the 90th place (not without some ingenuity). I got to him at last, and I’d had all this stuff I’d wanted to tell him: how much his work has changed my life, how I was raised Mormon, and a stream of thanks. But when the moment of truth came, all I could choke out was an embarrassed greeting: “Mr. Dawkins…” as I sheepishly held out my book to be signed, just like the herd in front of and behind me. He barely glanced at me before taking my book and lazily adorning it with a John Hancock, almost, it seemed, expelling a sigh of relief as one more admirer was disposed of. I asked for a picture, and he agreed rather indifferently.
On my way out, I grabbed refreshments (okay, it was free ice cream, sue me), and a button, a bumper sticker, and various atheist literature, clutching my barely-signed book to me like a newborn. He hadn’t even asked me my name.
Now why did I feel so bitterly disappointed? Why should he care about an anonymous fan? Well, I think it was that he seemed to regard the science, and the captive audience, as something to be excited about; but that people as individual admirers were individual, annoying obligations to be finished with as soon as possible. It made me want to fill in his shoes, sign books, so that I could smile at every person, ask their name, and make them truly believe that I cared about them personally, or as personally as can be possible under such circumstances. It’s not what I got from Professor Dawkins, and yeah, he doesn’t really have any reason to care about a nameless fan, but it still cut kind of deep. Celebrities are part of a club, and that club has an intimacy that no fan will ever taste of.
Anyway, I hope Christopher Hitchens lives long enough for me to meet him, regardless of if it’ll be the same experience as I had with Professor Dawkins. I’ve learned a lot today, and now my bucket list is one item shorter.
One of the world’s noted atheists says a Rochester Hills country club canceled his speaking engagement after learning about his views.
Richard Dawkins, a scientist from England who is known for his outspoken defense of atheism, planned to speak tonight at the Wyndgate Country Club at a fund-raising dinner for the Michigan branch of the Center for Inquiry — a group that defends secularism.
But on Thursday, an official with the country club contacted the Center for Inquiry and canceled his appearance because they found out Dawkins is an atheist after watching him on “The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News channel, said Dawkins and center officials.
“This is sheer bigotry,” Dawkins said. “If the country club had said, ‘I’m not having Dawkins speak because he’s a Jew, or because he’s black, or because he’s gay,’ they would never get away with it.”
Managers with the Wyndgate Country Club did not return calls and messages seeking comment.
Dawkins plans to speak tonight at a hotel in Rochester Hills; he also is to speak Thursday at Oakland University and on Sunday at the Birmingham Temple, a Jewish humanistic center founded by an atheist rabbi.
Dawkins said what allegedly happened to him is part of a general prejudice that atheists face in society, a prejudice he tries to counter by speaking out.
“It clearly violates the spirit of the Civil Rights Act,” he said.
Last week, Dawkins appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show and discussed his new book, “The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.” Dawkins said he was not promoting atheism on the show, but science. Dawkins said O’Reilly “twisted” what his book was about.
“He made it seem like it was atheistic propaganda aimed at children,” Dawkins said. “It’s nothing of the sort.”
Dawkins said he’s concerned that the country club official who decided to cancel his talk “believed Bill O’Reilly rather than reading the book.”
From Detroit Free Press
I actually bought ‘The Magic of Reality’ last week and have been reading it off and on. It’s a science book through and through. Sure, it goes into explanations of how to tell the difference between fiction and reality - but that’s not inherently atheist, it’s just critical thinking.
It’s a good book, actually, I’d recommend it to any lay person, and definitely those who want to help their kids in the sciences.
This is just such bullshit. One small correction, however. I’m going to the event at Birmingham Temple, and it’s on Saturday the 15th, not Sunday.
and I probably won’t be able to go to the dinner. It’s $120 to attend (his new book, The Magic of Reality, included)…
Sigh. If only money weren’t an issue. Meeting him is on my bucket list.