Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Creationism and the Royal Society

This is so obviously scandalous that it barely requires comment. Reiss said nothing remotely objectionable. The Royal Society even acknowledges this but adds that his remarks 'could be misinterpreted'. So no member of the Royal Society has ever said or written anything that might under any circumstances be open to the merest scintilla of misinterpretation? Yeah, right.  Reiss only said that creationism should be discussed - I would add (and Dawkins agreed with me) must be discussed if Darwinism is to be understood. Lord Rees, the society's president, is a good man who has been involved in a very bad thing.


  1. Having read many articles and books on this issue in recent years, and tracked hundreds of blogging threads, I have concluded nobody ever persuades anybody of anything but the debate holds the all time record for claims that one has been misinterpreted.

  2. The sum total our our culture I am afraid, the perception of a wrong or an offense carries the same value as if the offense really happened.

    More Post Modernist BullSh*T at the very place where the pursuit of truth should be defended to the last fingernail.

  3. Bryan. It seems to have come as a shock that a clergyman could have belief. This has all the feel of knives in the long grass.
    The man is well out of it.

  4. So you can't even say 'some people believe this' now? Thank God we live in a free society rather than 30s USSR.

  5. This isn't a question of thoughtcrime, or political correctness.

    According to the article, this guy said that science teachers should treat creationist beliefs “not as a misconception but as a world view”.

    As a representative of the Royal Society, this is plainly anti-scientific. It basically suggests parity between science and superstition.

    I would question, though, why in this century the Royal Society would install a man of the cloth as a Director of Education.

    Can a man serve two masters?

  6. Newton, as I recall, served several

  7. Sign of the times. A friend who teaches English told me just the other day that the examining board has demanded the destruction of the books containing the year's poetry for GCSE because they contain a poem about knives. As we all know, in these dangerous times, poems about knives are as dangerous as the knives themselves.

  8. I understand your point about Newton, which is why I said I couldn't understand why a clergyman would represent the Royal Society in this century.

    In the 17th and 18th centuries religion and natural philosophy were arguably compatible, but that was because, basically, the science wasn't good enough yet.

    I wonder what Newton would've thought if he'd seen the evidence of science, and corresponding lack of evidence for a creator.

    I suspect though that he wouldn't have cared - by all accounts Newton was pretty stubborn.

  9. Science and Religion, or not and have never been in conflict with one another, Religion is about the question "why", which is a very personal question to us all.

    Science by contrast is the answer to the question "how", which is a question we all pursue as a civilization together.

    Science is I hope an open dielectric process, so the thing to do is engage, in order to prove your position.

    I think Einsteins quote, that God does not play dice as irrational, but he is still one of the greatest ever scientist. Being irrational about a few things does not exclude any off us from anything in its self.

    Your position Ben is to turn Science into a religion, to be worshiped without question.

    No Ben I am not a believer. I try not to do beliefs.

  10. Evenin' all.

    To have the director of education at the Royal Society remark that "creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view," is rather like the director of the commission for racial equality remarking that 'holocaust-denial should be treated not as a misconception but as a world view'.

    The problem with Reiss's remarks is not merely that they were open to misinterpretation, but that they were remarks open to misinterpretation on a crucially divisive issue, and on an issue of crucial relevance to the post held by the speaker.

    Reiss was trying to argue that in schools where many children possess fundamentalist religious beliefs, the best strategic approach to the teaching of science is not to contradict creationism.

    However, the notion that we can relegate false beliefs to a worldview, where they can survive unchallenged, is a strange one. A worldview is clearly something with wider scope than science, and one would expect a worldview to include aesthetics, ethics, politics and economics. What is interesting in Reiss's remarks is the notion that a worldview not only has a wider scope, but also weaker epistemological criteria than science. It suggests that a worldview can be tenable even if it contains factually false empirical and historical claims. This seems to be a ploy invented by the religious to enable the historical and empirical claims upon which religions are founded to avoid falsification.

  11. Very well put Gordon.

    I'd like to address two points raised by passer by. The first is comparing atheists' view of science with religious belief. This is common argument used by creationists (not that you're one) but it's misleading.

    The very point of science is that it's the opposite of religion. Rather than relying on faith, it works by observation and experimentation.
    And there's no personal revelation - anyone (theoretically) can repeat those experiments and find out if they're true.

    Which brings me to my second point - the misinterpretation of Einstein's dice quote. It seems likely he used the word "god" as a poetical device for the laws of reality. He was saying the universe has rules which you can follow and test using the scientific method. (Specifically, the comment reflected his dislike of quantum theory, because of all that uncertainty.)

    The creationists want to create the illusion of a level playing field between science and religion, and Reiss's comments on "different worldviews" makes him their useful idiot.

  12. Science should be taught in science classes. Beliefs should be taught in belief classes. Belief classes in my day were called "RE".

    There is no scientific evidence that supports creationism or intelligent design. Not a jot, not one squiggle or a dot or a sneeze. Nothing.

    Newton drove his intellect to uncover earth-shaking scientific knowledge and still at night knelt and prayed to his intelligently-creating God. The difference is only that science is an observable, rationally arguable, systematically refutable body of competing theories and hypotheses. All is open and bare to everyone. Religious faith is a personal, amd internal faith-driven process trying to make sense of the unknowable. These are chalk, Sir, and cheese.

    Religious folk don't need to fight this battle; they have already won it.

    Then again, maybe religion is just politics and control. In this post-superstitious, scientific world maybe one must trim one's political sails the better to gather the prevailing scientific winds.

  13. Having said all that, the gentleman's presentation is available here. It is admirable and although I still disagree with the man it would be sensible to let him found out if the benefits he describes can be realised.

  14. It's the fault of the Royal Society for giving this man the job they did - if they are, as it seems they are, incapable of allowing him to express his mind freely once in the post. What exactly did he do wrong, except do that?

    If they want people to say only what they want them to say, and not risk offending or being misinterpreted, then they should do a better job of recruiting the yes men they desire.

    Anything can be misnterpreted; especially when one wants to misinterpret it.

    Bryan, why are readers and listeners so patronised that they are not expected to wrestle with the meaning of texts and speeches such as to understand what they are really saying?

  15. Your post is spot-on, Bryan.

  16. 'Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson'.

    A provocative statement by Reiss for sure. One can undersatnd why it might raise bristles. And yet are 'meta' questions reagrding the axioms of science and the place of science in the universe as a whole necessarily irrelevant to a consideration of science? Surely science does not fear a light of enquiry cast back upon its foundations....?