It seems that the efforts of Richard Dawkins and national treasure David Attenborough to slay the dragon of creationism in British schools has born fruit, according to the Guardian .
The actual deal, it seems, is as follows:
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 Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence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 Bristish Humanist Association explains the goverment’s policy as follows:
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.”
“Quite wide” is the right phrase. The intention, it seems, is to deny creationism and the doubly-devilish “Intelligent Design Creationism” a foothold in schools. You’ll note that it would also be wide enough to forbid, say, the teaching of Holocaust Denial in schools, which may be to the good.
But the D of E has gone well beyond the US example of forbidding religiously based views being taught in science. They are forbidding any teaching in schools that run contrary to “established” evidence. And that includes “evidence-based views or theories”. In effect, they are saying that there is an established body of evidence about everything scientific and historical that is forever to be taught in British schools. And that just leaves the insignificant matter of who will decide what evidence is “established” and what is to be done if that established evidence ever turns out to be wrong.
So if we’re talking about science (and nothing in the statement restricts it to that) then there must, somewhere, be a body that speaks authoritatively on what science has established. Dawkins and Attenborough, I assume, think it is they and the BHA. Which means that genocentric biology has been set in stone, never to be displaced by unauthorised “evidence-based views or theories” like epigenetics, systems biology, natural genetic engineering and the like.
Is the same body to be consulted for historical claims, too? Ask Richard Dawkins about the established historical evidence for Jesus Christ’s deity, and Religious Studies will rapidly disappear from the curriculum. But maybe they mean that in such cases, a more relevant authority would be sought. And that authoritaive body is …? And the established consensus on New Testament history is … what, exactly?
What about more general history? Who is to decide that? In my son’s GSCE history course back in the 1990s, I noticed a version of European history that, for whatever reason, focused on mediaeval Islam as the beacon of wisdom and enlightenment opposed to the darkness and ignorance of Christian Europe. Some of us would say that is somewhat, shall we say, an oversimplification. But if it’s in the schoolbook, it’s presumably the established historical explanation, and woe betide any history teacher who introduced anything of the flowering of mediaeval European philosophy, science and theology to his students.
Governments always like to assume that democratic freedoms are unassailable. But the re-writing of history is one of the first ideological weapons to be employed in destroying that freedom, a temptation even to left and right within the existing system. To institutionalise the imposition of an arbitrarily imposed “right kind of evidence” is to destroy the whole meaning of education at a stroke. It’s a science killer, a history killer, a faith killer – and when it comes down to it, a child killer.