23 January 2016

My Evolution Assembly. And the Young Creationists.

Filed in Assemblies, Highbury Grove

“Charles Darwin had a big idea; arguably, the most powerful idea ever.” Richard Dawkins That’s the quote I used to start my assemblies this week.  To me, it’s the most important and extraordinary story children should know and understand.  The story of evolution, of how…

My Evolution Assembly. And the Young Creationists.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.36.04

Slides from my assembly. Click to download and edit.

“Charles Darwin had a big idea; arguably, the most powerful idea ever.” Richard Dawkins

That’s the quote I used to start my assemblies this week.  To me, it’s the most important and extraordinary story children should know and understand.  The story of evolution, of how we came into existence as Homo sapiens roaming the Earth on a small ball of rock orbiting a star.   The purpose of the assembly is to give prominence to the idea of evolution by (non-random natural selection) and to present the range of areas of science that support our understanding of it.  I linked it to something current by referencing the amazing gathering of planets visible in the early morning sky. Every day this week I’ve seen Venus and Jupiter from the top of my road.  Mars and Saturn are in between, albeit quite faint.  I told my students that, looking at Venus, gives an idea of how Earth looks from Venus- just a small object in space, reflecting light from the Sun.

I think we might do too many preachy moral message orientated assemblies; sometimes it’s good just to tell students something really very interesting and complicated, without patronising them.


The scale of time – helps to understand the idea. Although Darwin and Wallace didn’t know quite how old Earth is.

A key thing to challenge is the common misconception that humans ‘evolved from chimpanzees’ – or monkeys or dinosaurs…(I like to give those in the know a little chuckle with the subtle South Park reference – it seems to go safely over the heads of most students. The ‘fish-squirrel’ thing is hilarious).   The idea to get across is that of common ancestors.  In the assemblies I was promoting reading Richard Dawkins’ brilliant book The Ancestor’s Tale.  It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, telling the story of the ancestors of every living thing and how they meet up at various rendezvous points as you go back in time.


One of my all-time favourite books.

It turns out that every living thing has a common ancestor with every other; a mind-blowing concept – but obvious enough once you get the idea that we originated from the same stock of agitated organic material in the cracks in a wet rock some 2 billion years ago.  A favourite revelation is the ‘Whippo Hypothesis’ – which suggests that, from molecular evidence, hippos are more closely related to whales than they are to cows and pigs.

Slide08Another favourite is the hypothesis that all living humans have common human ancestors that could have lived as recently as 10,000 years ago – and probably no longer than 100,000 years ago.  We’re all cousins; we are family! That’s a powerful message to give; it’s literally true – not just a metaphor.  The final image of the assembly is of the Earth.


One Planet. Our one and only home.

As I know from my KEGS experience, it’s inevitable that any discussion of evolution – or any brush with Richard Dawkins – will present a massive challenge to students who hold creationist views.  In the past I’ve met highly intelligent students who were so heavily indoctrinated (what else to call it?), that the clash between their irrational young-Earth creationism and their rational understanding of the evidence from science actually caused mental health issues.  How to resolve a deep conviction that the Bible must be telling the absolute literal truth (if life has any meaning or value) with the facts of science that render creationism null and void?

My approach in this assembly was to address the creation issue directly, at the end.  I tell my students that I am an atheist but that, if they have religious convictions in any faith, they will need to find a resolution between science and creation myths for themselves.  I offer them the easy-fit model that many religious scientists adopt; that God can be found in creating or governing the laws of physics – perhaps in igniting the spark that kicked the primordial molecular soup into action; that God can be found in the emerging beauty and wonder of nature as it evolved.

But, for many, this is still a challenge.  At the end of one of the assemblies, I was met by a delegation.  First was a group of Year 10 girls – two Muslims and a Christian. ‘Are you saying we didn’t come from Adam and Eve?’.  ‘Are you saying the Bible and Koran are lying?’ ‘God made everything; He put the dinosaurs on Earth; he put us on the Earth’.  I offered that, because the science is real and verifiable, they might need to read their holy books in the context of the time they were written; to understand our need for explanations of the world around us but that now we have the science, the holy book stories need to be seen for what they are, not literal descriptions of actual events.  ‘No Sir, that’s wrong; I don’t believe all this science; I believe the Bible/Koran’.  We agreed that a longer conversation was needed!

In another assembly, I saw that a Y11 Muslim student was getting agitated.  At lunch, I called him over for a chat. I asked him what he thought.  What about the Prophets and the miracles? You can’t explain that with science.  There would be no science without religion; Like you being Head of the school -without a leader there is chaos; there must be a God – someone in charge – or else there would be nothing’.  This was an easier conversation, more about God vs No God than a defence of creationism per se.  I told him directly that I didn’t believe in miracles – they were just stories or illusions.  I talked about Galileo and how he was persecuted by the Church 500 years ago – before the science was accepted.  I offered this: In 500 years all Christians and Muslims will have adopted their faith to recognise evolution.  He laughed!  It was a good discussion. I was trying to engage him in the ideas without dismissing his in a way that would build barriers.

This is a tricky issue – and one that schools needs to think about.  In my (one and only) book Teach Now! Science, I have this advice for new teachers of science:

Facts, Beliefs and Opinions

There are a number of topics in science where you may find you need to make a judgement as to how to accommodate your students’ opinions, biases and religious beliefs. Your response needs to be consistent with your school policy but perhaps most importantly, it needs to reflect a sound application of scientific principles.

Creationism or ‘Intelligent Design’

This is quite straightforward. Evolution is a fact. It is a theory that is supported by many layers of evidence and it can make successful predictions. It is as secure a theory as almost any other we have in science. Creationism, as we all know, has no basis in science but is promoted through religious conviction; it’s a kind of science denial.

Confronted with a creationist student or parent, try to avoid engaging in a debate. Never fall into the trap of allowing creationism and evolution to be presented as equally valid alternative theories; no self-respecting science teacher should do this. It is quite possible to stick to the facts without engaging in a theological discussion. At the same time, remember that most religious people are not creationists; it’s important to challenge that misconception if it arises.

At my school, at every prospective parents’ evening I say: ‘We teach that evolution is a fact; because it is.’ In your school, you may need to make that case yourself.

This refers to my last school – but I think I may also start saying it at my new school.  Parents should know what to expect.  The key thing is to distinguish between discussion  and debate.  This is hard for some students – but there are lots of ways for them to find a way forward, not least the fact that so many scientists are also religious.  However, for me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the science to accommodate religious perspectives if that means sacrificing the acceptance of evidence.   This applies to science and RE teachers.   New Earth creationism and more subtle variants of Intelligent Design are a denial of science and I think all teachers need to be conscious of that.  At the same time, as pointed out in this academic article by Roussel de Carvalho, given the imperative to engage students (and teachers) with religious views, we can’t simply brush over the issue – we need to find ways to engage students to give them the opportunity to explore the nature of scientific reasoning and how this lines up against ideas of ‘belief’.

I once met a Headteacher who overheard me talking about the evolution of birds with another Headteacher colleague. He said ‘Oh I don’t believe in all that evolution stuff. I’m a creationist’.  I was astonished – and immediately lost all respect for him.  It’s just not OK to celebrate ignorance in that way.  If I found a member of staff at my school was promoting creationism, ID or was offering them as credible alternatives to evolution by natural selection, I’d have words.  It’s like teaching the wrong maths on purpose – to satisfy your personal beliefs.

For me, the story of evolution – the amazing, wonderful, fascinating story – is far, far more awe-inspiring than the religious stories in any case. Knowing the journey to our current situation as the race of humans we’ve become is essential to understanding the depth of our shared humanity.  One Earth; One Family; Our Common Ancestry.  It’s a message worth repeating loud and clear.


According to Alex Weatherall, (@A_Weatherall) the crew on Infinite Monkey Cage have suggested that our Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) might have existed as recently as 3000 years ago. Amazing really – it puts the idea of ‘race’ into perspective.

Something else I have been thinking this week is that the Prevent strategy might discourage some schools and teachers from addressing these issues.  I could tell that I had stirred up some animosity from some Muslim boys during my assemblies.  This was confirmed by other students.  For some, I am an authority figure directly contradicting the teachings of their families and imams. That’s going to be hard to take.  There may be teachers who fear that this has every chance of strengthening a sense of alienation or of rejecting certain Western values – two elements often associated with radicalisation.  Of course RE and science lessons will allow them time to explore these things more widely than in an assembly – but assemblies are important arenas for communicating ideas.  I don’t think it’s tenable to treat some ideas as too sensitive to be aired in a high status public arena simply because ill-informed irrational views are widely held.  If anything we probably need to do it more often and address the faith-science conflict some students experience more openly and explicitly.  The worst thing would be to be patronise them or humour them.  It shouldn’t be remotely controversial to tell students that you are an atheist or that creationism is untenable given our knowledge of science.

Related Post:

Reflections of an atheist headteacher

RE and Homophobia; not just a matter of conscience


  • bocks1
    Posted at 13:00h, 23 January

    Really well presented and expressed! Great advice too. Thanks Tom

    • Justin Robinson
      Posted at 21:59h, 28 January

      Delighted to discover that there are “facts of science that render creationism null and void”. Perhaps you would be so kind as to list them for the benefit of those still harbouring under the delusion that we have been intelligently designed.

      No? Oh well.

      • Ashley Haworth-roberts
        Posted at 23:44h, 28 January

        Perhaps you would first tell us the facts of science that ‘don’t’ render (young Earth) creationism null and void (other than in the mind of some religious believers).

        Alternatively you could find an answer, or two, to your own question by reading a book such as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ or ‘The language of God’. (The latter evolutionist author is also a theist/Christian.)

      • Ashley Haworth-roberts
        Posted at 23:47h, 28 January

        Another attempt to respond to Justin.

        Perhaps you would first tell us the facts of science that ‘don’t’ render (young Earth) creationism null and void (other than in the mind of some religious believers).

        Alternatively you could find an answer, or two, to your own question by reading a book such as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ or ‘The language of God’.

      • Ed Goodman
        Posted at 21:26h, 30 January

        The Earth is not 6,000 years old. (radiometric dating is real, and it works)
        Genetics and fossils show a slow change in time from common ancestry.
        If you’d like more, please visit the TalkOrigins Index of creationist claims.

        It’s good to see that you’ve accepted that you are deluded. That’s an important first step.

    • tralalalalalala50
      Posted at 16:46h, 29 January

      Catholics believe that evolution is the process by which mathematically precise laws of physics guided energy to nucleate into matter (stardust) and eventually into beings with free will (also called a soul, i.e. if you believe in free will you believe in a soul, and if you don’t believe in free-will, as some prominent atheists portent (Sam Harris), then you don’t believe in a soul – you are simply guided by random fluctuations of your surroundings).

      God’s explicit use of dust to create humans is described in Genesis (it’s no surprise a priest predicted the big bang using theology before we had the technology to prove its evidence in the cosmic background radiation).

      There is no conflict between religion and science, unfortunately the uneducated have been made to believe so.

      • Rolly Polly
        Posted at 20:02h, 01 February

        Lol, well except for that whole “faith” thing which is the antithesis of science.

      • That guy
        Posted at 14:20h, 12 February

        Quantum theory explains free will far better than “magical sky fairy”. Please try again.

    • karl mckenzie
      Posted at 16:46h, 01 February

      last year I took part in the Thurrock 100 walk and we visited the grounds of the former home ( Grays Essex) of a co-author with Darwin the evolution theorist A. Wallace. I was surprise the speech by those associated with his estate did not only cover evolution and his tremendous work but it included adverts about Wallace’s religion and invite us to a satanic meeting at the Thameside theatre. I personally found it a conflict of interest that the scientist we trusted seem to have a hidden agenda for his theory of evolution disproving the bible/Koran. He was not an artiest or scientist but a Satanist who used science to promote Satanism based on the lecture. please google these facts.

      Did God create the chicken or the egg? If we take the bible / Koran to its word then God created man, woman, trees etc. How old was Adam the day after creation based on science? He was able to walk and talk and named all the animals. Was Adam created 5 years, 50 years, 500 years old based on our scientific test? Did the trees produced fruits the day after they were created? How do you check the age of a tree? The bible contend that God created adult things which sustain life therefore the earth could be any age base on our dating technique by scientist. Seven days it took for the earth to become habitable by God’s work but the good book did not say that the earth was created 6000 years ago. A priest working on the genealogy contended that Adam lived about 6000 years ago. Read the first chapter , we are stating the way we know things as facts but read the first couple of chapters and use logic and reason and I am sure you will find more answers than questions. God can create something old or young. He is not concerned about time or age as we.

      • Tom Sherrington
        Posted at 18:20h, 01 February

        There is also the ‘brain in a vat’ theory or we could all be living in The Matrix. Wallace deserves better than to be misrepresented in such a way.

      • David O'Connor
        Posted at 18:55h, 03 February

        I suspect what you actually heard was a talk by the historian Richard Milner, on the subject of Wallace’s spiritualism. I know they contain some of the same letters, but satanism and spiritualism are, I think, quite distinct forms of superstition. For Victorians, spiritualism’s popularity gained traction as a less prescribed and regimented, for want of a better word, ‘spiritualism’ than Christianity. It is no less or more credible.

        Richard Milner is not associated with Wallace’s ‘estate’, and the house is currently owned by La Sainte Union de la Sacre Coeur; until recently it was a convent.

  • madeupteacher
    Posted at 14:36h, 23 January

    Wonderful way of opening up debate, not closing it down to fester or foster resentment in such vulnerable young minds. We need more like you saying it loudly. I worry about ‘schools’ that teach a narrow curriculum. They seem to be increasingly unaccountable and out of reach.

    • Anothermadeupteacher
      Posted at 05:44h, 24 January

      It is interesting you that you worry about schools that teach a ‘narrow’ curriculum whilst applauding someone who is shutting down debate on other theories of creation. I would think that a narrow curriculum would be calling a theory fact and dismissing any other theories.

      Whilst the author has a sub-heading Creationism or Intelligent Design – he treats them as though they are the same. This is a common misconception. Creationism and intelligent design are fundamentally different.

      • Tom Sherrington
        Posted at 08:21h, 24 January

        This is what we’re dealing with. Creationism and ID, are both unscientific nonsense made redundant by the extensive evidence for evolution by natural selection. It’s not a debate. That’s the point. We can discuss why religions all have creation myths – it’s an interesting facet of our psychology- but putting the myths on a par with the science is unacceptable. Evolution may be unpalatable for some – because it eliminates the need for a creator to explain our existence. That’s something people of faith just have to face up to.

      • paleoaerie
        Posted at 12:46h, 26 January

        During the Kitzmiller vs. Dover lawsuit, the plaintiffs showed that the intelligent design book that was being promoted in the schools was the same as a previous creationism book. They had simply cut and pasted the words intelligent design everywhere that said creationism. The basis of intelligent design was a lie designed to introduce creationism into the schools after it had been ruled against the law in the United States. This was clearly proven in documents submitted as evidence to the court.

      • Voiceofraisins
        Posted at 14:42h, 26 January

        They are also both fundamentally wrong and so not worth worrying about.

      • Sdaze42
        Posted at 15:01h, 26 January

        There are no other theories.

      • jwscattergood
        Posted at 07:15h, 27 January

        No they are both fundamentally nonsense.

  • chemistrypoet
    Posted at 17:57h, 23 January

    I do have a problem with this. I agree that creationism has no place in Science lessons; it belongs in RE/theology. It is also possible to believe in the sovereignty of a Diety and still be an effective scientist. Some faith systems, and understanding of the world that flows from them also mean that it is coherent to believe in the sovereignty of God, creationism (in some form or other) and be an effective scientist. In the context of this world view, there is no irrationalism involved. This world view can also promote common ancestry, equality and tolerance.

    I understand that evolution is a powerful concept and scientific fact. I would also not expect to see any teacher promoting creationism or ID, even in RE lessons, but expect a clear professional divide between personal beliefs (not just in this context) and how teachers interact with their students. I do wonder why it is necessary to investigate evolution in an assembly, though. I do, though, accept that evolution is the prevailing truth in Society (including, as you say, in religious circles) and choosing to emphasise it in this way will not be seen as a cause for concern for the vast majority of the population. Ultimately, it will be up to the families of creationists to contextualise the content of your assemblies for their children.

    But, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a belief in creationism (or the adherence to a religious faith) a priori equates with irrationalism, and results in the person being unable to be called a scientist.

  • Tom Sherrington
    Posted at 18:53h, 23 January

    Thanks for your comment. This is a discussion I’ve had lots of times and I think it’s important to be quite upfront about things. As an atheist, it’s fair to say that I regard all faith as a kind of delusion – a false (if common) interpretation of our complex emotions and apparently fortuitous existence in a random corner of a universe somewhere – who knows where!? God and religion are, to me, man-made to fill the various voids we have in our understanding of our place in the universe. On that basis, I’d say that at some point, it requires some form of irrational thinking to adhere to religious faith.

    For example, a former colleague who I admired immensely (Cambridge Maths graduate – a logical thinker par excellence) was a serious Christian. He even once said to me – ‘presumably you think I’m deluded!’. We laughed. He struggled with the science of the expanding universe; the idea that entropy laws and evidence of the amount of matter in the universe might lead to a terminal state where everything is dead at absolute zero – a lifeless expanse of motionless particles. To him, this was incompatible with his faith – so he doubted the science. Even though he was utterly rational and convinced of the veracity of evolution, he had a limit where his faith trumped the science. To all intents and purposes we agreed about the nature of science – but, at the edges, his interpretation of Christianity demanded that science was secondary to faith.

    If I’m totally honest, I think we’d all be better off if most people were simply humanist-rationalists without the need for faith to explain or support any aspect of human existence. At the same time, I accept that many of my favourite people are people with faith; we co-exist and respect each other as people – even though they have to accept that I think they are mistaken about God.

    • chemistrypoet
      Posted at 00:04h, 24 January

      Thanks for your reply. Your views are clear, and common. I don’t hold to the view that faith requires irrational thinking, but care must be taken about where holding such a view might take you, just as care must be taken as to where faith might take thinking about scientific evidence. Horses for courses.

      Indeed, many of my favourite people do not have religious faith, and we co-exist with mutual respect even though I think they are mistaken about God.

    • tralalalalalala50
      Posted at 16:48h, 29 January

      The delusion is no more dangerous than the delusion that there is free will. If there is no soul (also called free-will), then we are guided by energy fluctuations of our surroundings and our moral thoughts are meaningless.

    • srcav
      Posted at 18:26h, 17 February

      This one comment has summed up.mu own.views on the subject more concisely than I’ve ever been able to! Thanks Tom.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 23:33h, 23 January

    I am a creationist. I am not 100% sure and most of us would accept that one day we might find out we were wrong. It’s not big deal in terms of our salvation. I think it is a great shame that so many have accepted evolution. It is not actually based on true scientific principles. I won’t rehearse the full creationists argument here. If you are an atheist I understand that creation is difficult. If however you believe in an all powerful God …
    Anyway I only want to blog about education but couldn’t not comment on this post. There are other blogging teachers who have my respect but occasionally poke fun at creation. For example linking poor evidence for progressive pedagogies with lack of evidence for literal creation. Are we really going to compare topics of such differing magnitude?

    • Rob Welch (@RobWelch2)
      Posted at 23:14h, 28 January

      What do you mean “not based on true scientific principles”? That’s a ridiculous statement.

    • John Brophy (@john_w_brophy)
      Posted at 02:19h, 02 February

      “If you are an atheist I understand that creation is difficult. If however you believe in an all powerful God …”

      Well, of course it’s easy to believe creationism if you already believe in God. In fact, one MUST first believe in God before belief in creationism is possible. I

      f something is true and correct, it should appear so to everyone who investigates regardless of a belief in a deity. But in the real world it’s only the religious minded who ever advocate creationism.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 23:36h, 23 January

    I am a mathematician with a good understanding of logic and proof.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 07:53h, 24 January

    I have just reread your post and was shocked by the bold print eg this bit;

    This is quite straightforward. Evolution is a fact. It is a theory that is supported by many layers of evidence and it can make successful predictions. It is as secure a theory as almost any other we have in science. Creationism, as we all know, has no basis in science but is promoted through religious conviction; it’s a kind of science denial.

    Evolution is not a fact. It is a theory. Science teachers can teach it to my children if they make it clear that ” according to theory…”. They don’t have to preface every comment as long as it is made clear at the start of the topic. My children can then politely listen to it just as your children would listen politely in an RE type lesson.

    The phrase ‘as we all know’ is not good writing. Simple as that. It makes it sounds like an irrational rant.
    I personally am not a science denislist. Many of the equations in Mechanics work and give reasonable answers however there is an acceptance that the model only works until other factors kick in. I am no expert, but am aware that quantum mechanics which enhances? Newtonian theory? (I am writing as a layperson). I am presently reading a book about Godel’s theorems. We don’t know everything yet! Please don’t close your mind to creationism. I’ll leave it there but am happy to reply further. Apologies for the 3 entries instead of 1.

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 08:26h, 24 January

      All theories are works in progress – classical plus quantum mechanics is a good example. I use ‘fact’ for theories that are well established, successful and coherent. They may not be complete. Creationism doesn’t belong anywhere near that; it’s like teaching kids to believe in ghosts and magic.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 13:49h, 24 January

        Please Tom don’t dig a hole for yourself. I choose not to but I could take your last comment as offensive. You are in danger of becoming irrational. At what point should theories become fact. Who decides. My view point does rely on faith ( but not blind faith ). I cannot prove my faith to you, which is only an acceptance of defeat in your terms of course. I’ll leave it there. I find your other blogs on education very sensible and I wish you well.

    • paleoaerie
      Posted at 12:59h, 26 January

      I think it might be helpful to state that evolution itself is a fact, the same as gravity is a fact. The concept that descendants are different from their ancestors is undeniable. But we have to separate the difference between evolution the fact and evolution the theory. Gravity is a fact, but the theory of gravity describes how it works. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not the theory of evolution, which was well accepted by scientists of his time, but a theory of a driving mechanism with evidence that he had collected over 20 years to back up his theory. This was added to by a great deal more biogeographic data from Alfred Russell Wallace, who copresented the concept to their fellow scientists.Then of course, mountains more evidence has supported and added to the concepts since then. Natural selection we now know is but one mechanism driving evolution, but it was the first with hard evidence to support it, which is why Darwin is considered so important.

      • paleoaerie
        Posted at 16:08h, 26 January

        To correct a statement I made: Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not about showing evolution exists, which was accepted by many scientists of his time…
        This is something that is widely misunderstood, but I think important in the discussion.

    • Paul Lawley-Jones (@paullawleyjones)
      Posted at 09:04h, 27 January

      “Evolution is not a fact. It is a theory.”

      This statement alone nullifies everything else you say; it demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of science.

      “Theory” in science does not have the same meaning as in everyday speech.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 15:43h, 27 January

        Just in case…you do realise I was quoting here. If so good

    • Ignacio Calvo (@ignaciocalvo)
      Posted at 20:23h, 27 January

      There are some terms that are usually misunderstood when talking about science and evolution, because scientific people use definitions that are usually not quite the same as laymen use.

      “Evolution” refers to the fact, observed directly and indirectly in a thousand ways, that the living beings of this planet changes gradually from generation to generation. You cannot doubt the facts without being irrational. You can go an check the facts yourself if you want.

      This name “evolution” is also used to refer to the current scientific theory that explains the aforementioned facts, which is also known with other names: neodarwinism, synthetic theory, and others.

      A scientific theory is something totally different from the common use of the word “theory” meaning a simple hypothesis. A scientifc theory explains the facts, is falsifiable and does predictions that have been checked time and again. Countless scientists try every day to prove neodarwinism false by performing experiments. It is a BREAKTHROUGH to prove a scientific theory false, something that makes you famous. Coming with a better explanation is even better. So you can understand that a scientific theory is a hard guy: it is, hands down, the best explanation we have of a given phenomenon.

      This means that usually, when some new facts falsify an existing theory, that doesn’t mean that the old theory is completely incorrect, but only that is not precise enough, and the new one comes to enhance, rather to void, the old one. Newtonian theory works perfectly and precisely with objects of normal size. It’s only when considering things that are too small or too fast, it doesn’t work anymore. Relativity and quantum mechanics work almost exactly as newtonian physics at normal scales and do better predictions at subatomic scale, but are much more complicated. That’s why we still use Newton’s formulas for everyday’s engineering work.

      So yeah, of course we don’t know everything, and probably we’ll never do, but you can rest extremely assured that neodarwinism is, by far, the best explanation we have of the observed facts. It’s not a matter of being “open minded”. A better explanation should either be simpler or account for new facts that the old theory doesn’t explain (that hasn’t happened yet). Creationism definitely doesn’t enter into either of those categories (also because it is not a scientific hypothesis).

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 07:34h, 30 January

      Just in case…you do realise I was quoting here. If so good

      No, you weren’t. I was quoting your words. Your quoted parted ended at “…it’s a kind of science denial.”

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 10:26h, 30 January

        Sorry, I got confused. I realised shortly after I posted. My excuse was … doesn’t matter, my error.

    • David O'Connor
      Posted at 19:02h, 03 February

      “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been REPEATEDLY CONFIRMED through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not ‘guesses’ but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than ‘just a theory.’ It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.” – the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

      • Robert Price
        Posted at 02:53h, 04 February

        Great quote! It succinctly says what a scientific theory is for those who are open enough to take in what it says.
        Unfortunately, in many (but not all) cases, you can’t convince someone of something that they have a vested interest in not accepting.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 07:55h, 24 January

    Oh dear
    Should be a colon instead of semicolon.

  • PlowMaths
    Posted at 08:41h, 24 January

    This assembly concerns me. While I’m indifferent to whether evolution truly explains the origin of human life, I don’t agree you should be indoctrinating students into your faith in science, or your faith that the gaps in your understanding will eventually be explained by science. It smacks of ‘anti-God brigade’ propoganda, and is at least as irrational as believing in historical evidence for, say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 12:46h, 24 January

      This response is another that highlights the challenges we face. Science isn’t something you can choose to have faith in or not and, frankly, it is deeply worrying to know that teachers might be ambivalent about evolution because of their faith or their lack of understanding/acceptance of the evidence. We know that science works – engineering, medicine, space exploration, electronics, genetics – all these fields demonstrably ‘work’. There is a gigantic gulf between accepting evidence from science and belief in the resurrection. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m not anti-God per se; I just don’t believe that one exists. Faith is a way of expressing a range of human emotions and experiences that are actually common to us all. Believers and atheists can co-exist happily on most fronts – as long as we don’t start putting miracles and intelligent design in the way of rational scientific explanations for physical phenomena.

      • PlowMaths
        Posted at 23:35h, 24 January

        Totally agree that science ‘works’ in many fields – and that an assembly based around any or many of these (including evolution) could be inspiring and intriguing. I would very much have liked to hear yours. Telling students about something very interesting and complicated is something we should do more of. Indeed, I tried to go down this route when I gave mathematics themed assemblies at my school last year. In my experience this is far richer than many assemblies which ultimately just present in various forms the message ‘be nice’ which is, well, just nice.

        I’d say you have faith in science. Not in the sense of ‘I accept the strong evidence for theory X or Y’ but in the sense of finding meaning. For example, you find the meaning ‘we are family’ through science. I find that same meaning through my belief that everyone is loved by God (which, incidentally, eliminates Grandpa Gorilla from my immediate kin whether I evolved from him or not, yet gives me a responsibility to protect the planet).

        I agree with Mr Workaday (below) that you need to be careful about drawing out moral/life messages which are outside the limits of scientific enquiry. Science and faith ask and answer different questions. So my concern, I think, is really with the connection that you make to your own atheism as though this is the rational outcome of science.

        While I’m happy to accept the scientific evidence for the process of evolution; my ambivalence comes because there is more to life than can be explained by science. There just is! (Okay, I strayed from the science there). Why do we appreciate seeing those five planets visible in the dawn sky? Why do we love? Why do we ask why? We’re not just animals!

  • Mr Workaday
    Posted at 13:46h, 24 January

    Oooh so interesting! I *had* to post, this is What I Do. Religion/philosophy classes are useful for reinforcing all of this. Here teachers come across the full gamut of anti-realist points of view (for realsies; honestly, unless you’ve helped your school deliver its RE, you wouldn’t believe it!)

    Pro tip #1 – define what religion is *about* and what it’s *for* early and often. It’s about reaching beyond the world of established veridical facts to search for meaning and purpose (not denying established facts. There’s a reason religions don’t claim that water is dry or the sky is pink). Separate the realms of religion and life in the minds of students. It can give meaning, but only to the world as it actually exists – not the world as you claim it to be. Work through examples with the students from lots of different faiths from early on, establishing each one as a narrative ‘spin’ on the question of life and purpose. Narratives are framing devices – they frame what is *real*; in this case evolution is the objective reality, and religion is the subjective frame through which we might choose to interpret it.

    Pro tip #2 – even if you’re a filthy rationalist atheist like me, be up-front about the limits of science. “God loves me”, “God listens to my prayers” and “I will go to heaven” aren’t anti-realist statements, because they don’t contradict any veridical facts (eg science has failed to provide evidence that God *isn’t* listening. It never will). However, science can and has provided evidence for the origins of life and the universe. This is verifiable fact. Be clear about why you’re challenging *this* rather than the broader statements of meaning and purpose – this is *real*, *established* and therefore the burden of reconciliation falls to the believer, not the science.

    Pro tip #3 – “I’m not the only one saying so” – most creationist students will assume that all religious people are creationists. They are surprised to learn that figures like Pope Francis support both evolution by natural selection and the Big Bang. It’s harder to find well-known examples in Islam, but not so hard that half an hour on Google didn’t turn up dozens of supporters who can be used to show how religion and science can sit next to each other. Importantly, leading lights in the religious world have gone beyond grudging respect for scientific discovery, and have found it edifying to incorporate science into their understanding (Einstein is a good example of this).

    Pro tip #4 – it’s The Sociology Stupid (or Don’t be afraid to go Full Science). Why are they creationist? Because they’ve been raised that way. A simple show of hands (“who’s Christian?…ok, and whose PARENTS are Christian?”) is highly effective to show the bleeding obvious; that they have all inherited the religious views they were raised with. Sociology tells us that religion is one of the seven constituents of culture, transmitted to us from birth – it’s actually no different to learning language, national identity, or gender expectations – and it’s just as hard to unlearn. One of the reasons students reject science in their RE classes is because it’s seen as *more mystical and ludicrous* than the story they have been taught. The world came from some random explosion? We came “from monkeys?” (*sigh*). Going Full Science (seriously, Hubble Telescope, red shift, background radiation, cause and effect, ‘big crunch’, gravity, limits of the observable universe, abiogenesis and that one video where Dawkins does a step-by-step on the evolution of the eye) seriously demystifies that stuff. They’re not idiots. They won’t accept a half-baked narrative that contradicts their schema. They need the full story.

    (Pro tip #4a – teach abiogenesis. Teach it early and often, and believe it when you teach it. All religions claim the ‘spark of life’ as the magical defining line that makes our anthropocentric world a work of design. Teaching how life can arise from non-life is totally essential. When you discuss the Garden of Eden, you go into the mechanics of God-breathed life. You need to use the same level of detail in discussing the origins of life as confirmed by peer-reviewed science.
    #4b – Teach Animal Ethics. No, really. We do this in Year 9. Aside from a handful of environmentalists, students overwhelmingly believe that humans have a privileged existence predicated on their status as the species endowed with agency by God. Teaching them to view sentience, feeling and suffering on a scale from animal to human has a large impact on their willingness to consider the distinction between human and animal as the artificial construct it is. I reinforce this when I teach Hinduism, with it’s more biocentric approach to life).

    Pro tip #5 – Teach the Philosophers. David Hume says that “any claim of a violation of the laws of nature merely highlights the volume of evidence whereby these laws remain unbroken” – cracking stuff! Maurice Wiles argues that you *can* have a loving God, because any interference with the world would be amoral and wrong, and that God would never do it. Why? Because how can you ease one individual’s suffering while allowing another to die – a God conducting his business in this way would be arbitrary and cruel. What an elegant marriage of omnibenevolence and non-interventionism. Wiles truly believed God loved us…which is why God leaves us and the natural processes around us alone. John Bultmann argues that religious myths are borne of the culture that birthed them. In our new, more rational culture, we should ‘demythologise’ religion and strip it of its stories and supernatural elements – not to debunk it, but to reach what he terms the ‘kerygma’ – the essential, transmissible truths about human spirituality that lie at the heart of religious stories. RM Hare says religious beliefs are ‘bliks’ – basic assumptions about the world through which we view our existence. His excellent ‘Parable of the Dons’ illustrates the lunatic lengths people with religious bliks will go to in order to ignore the evidence:

    “A certain lunatic is convinced that all dons want to murder him. His friends introduce him to all the mildest and most respectable dons that they can find, and after each of them has retired, they say, ‘You see, he doesn’t really want to murder you; he spoke to you in a most cordial manner; surely you are convinced now?’ But the lunatic replies, ‘Yes, but that was only his diabolical cunning; he’s really plotting against me the whole time, like the rest of them; I know it, I tell you.’ However many kindly dons are produced, the reaction is still the same.”

    Teach it! Show how for the lunatic, all evidence to the contrary is recontextualised as evidence supporting his belief – how crazy this can seem to students with some creative story-telling! Anthony Flew and A.J. Ayer make similarly intelligible arguments, as do all the Logical Positivists. These are not counter-narratives – “come kids, and swap your deeply held beliefs for mine!” They are critical engagements with the psychology and sociology of religion. Their effect as teaching tools is qualitatively different.

    Pro tip #6 – Hold Your Ground, Don’t Despair, Chooks! There are students whose denial of evolution seems to be beyond your skill to reverse. How frustrating it is – after all, you’re not trying to be cruel! You want to empower them! You’ve suggested a thousand ways that they could reconcile fact with faith. You’ve shown examples of believers for whom the wonder and majesty of the evolved world became the validation for their belief in an ultimate reality – for whom every glance at the refining processes of natural selection becomes another breathtaking insight into the genius of God. You’ve explained the mechanics until you’re blue in the face. You’ve demonstrated how science is just based on the observation of process that are mechanical – how an individual denying the origins of the universe would have to also deny gravity and the interaction of particles, an understanding of which is powering the lights and heating the room. You’ve dumbed it down, you’ve stretched and challenged. Why are you so ineffective!?

    Don’t despair. They didn’t know about all that before. They *have* been learning. You can only show them the door. But you can make sure the door is fifty feet high and wiiiiide open.

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 14:26h, 24 January

      Thanks! Possibly the longest blog comment ever. Interesting ideas! An excellent contribution.

    • bocks1
      Posted at 17:42h, 24 January

      if you are not a trainer Mr Workaday, become one! excellent!

    • bocks1
      Posted at 17:44h, 24 January

      If you are not a trainer yet Mr Workaday, become one. Excellent!

    • paleoaerie
      Posted at 13:10h, 26 January

      Great suggestions. these will be useful to me. I do have one question though. Science hasn’t yet cracked the abiogenesis problem yet. We have several hypotheses of many of the links, but we have yet to piece them together in a way that carries the whole process through. I am confident that at some point, we will, but we are a long way from that yet. So how do you teach this from a scientific standpoint when the science is so in its infancy and we really can’t answer that question in any satisfactory form yet without doing a heck of a lot of armwaving?

  • Mr Workaday
    Posted at 13:54h, 24 January

    ADDENDUM: Evolution is just a theory. At A-level students are REQUIRED to understand that ‘theory’ in science (ie one step down from LAW) is not the same as ‘theory’ in everyday parlance (ie I’ve got a theory the butler did it!). I’ve never seen any reason why this isn’t taught at KS3, so crack on with it.

    If we let them get away with saying that science is just a theory, on the basis of its meaning in everyday language, that’s really really weak. It’s a specialist term and its usage needs to be taught accurately and the contexts where its applied need to be explained clearly.

    • Paul Lawley-Jones (@paullawleyjones)
      Posted at 09:15h, 27 January

      “At A-level students are REQUIRED to understand that ‘theory’ in science (ie one step down from LAW)…”

      No, no, no, no, no! There is no hierarchy from hypothesis, to theory, to law in science. A scientific theory CONTAINS facts (i.e. observable instances of reality), and laws (i.e. the mathematical/logical descriptions of prcesses). The Theory is the explanation of it all.

      This is quite possibly the central reason why much of the scientific process is misunderstood, and is misrepresented by people who don’t fully get it!

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 15:21h, 24 January

    “Evolution is just a theory”. I gather you are saying stronger than everyday use of theory but importantly not considered a law. ie not a fact. Perhaps this last bit was your best bit. If teachers just left out the fact dogma, the creationist parents would be happy. After all children are going to be exposed to plenty of other stuff which isn’t necessarily true.

    • Steve Weeks, DDS
      Posted at 17:52h, 26 January

      Evolution is actually a *fact*, as it has been confirmed through many different scientific modalities to have occurred. Examples off the top of my head: genetics (possibly the strongest evidence), the fossil record, biodiversity, anatomy, physiology… You should read Jerry Coyne’s excellent book “Why Evolution is True”.
      What is “theory” is the *mechanism* of evolution: random mutation and non-random “natural selection”. This mechanism has stood the test of time; anyone who replaces it with a better mechanism would immediately win the Nobel Prize.
      Also note (as mentioned above) that Evolution, per se, is not concerned with the *origin* of life, but only its progression to its current state. We may never know exactly how life first arose, but science is “”working on it”, and someday may have an answer. Not having a plausible explanation does *not* mean that “Goddidit”.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 19:05h, 26 January

        Yes one day we will have an answer
        Best wishes to you

  • Mr Workaday
    Posted at 01:03h, 26 January

    No, I misspoke. I shouldn’t even have mentioned scientific laws, that term refers to something different. (Damn, this gets geeky from here, but Go Granular or Go Home, as no-one ever said…) In everyday language we mean the word ‘theory’ inductively – it’s an inference based on available evidence. If the bloody footprints lead to the room where you find the dented crowbar, it’s fair to infer that its blood-stained occupant may be your killer. This is your theory. However, scientific theories are deductive in nature – the conclusions *have* to be true given the predicates (examples of deductive reasoning: “2 + 2 = 4” or “all animals breath. The rabbit is an animal. Therefore the rabbit breaths.” That last one is a good one to use with students.) To deny the reality of deductive statements is a logical contradiction – the four-sided triangle, for instance. Although I might use the word theory for my dogged pursuit of the maniacal Crowbar Killer (‘my theory is, THEY’RE SURFERS!’), and it’s correct in everyday speech, it has a different meaning when referring to science.

    (I got the following from Wikipedia)

    The United States National Academy of Sciences defines scientific theories as follows:

    The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. Many scientific theories are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics)…One of the most useful properties of scientific theories is that they can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

    A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than “just a theory.” It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 06:21h, 26 January

    Mr Workaday
    Have you studied any Godel? I think you would enjoy it. I am presently reading http://www.amazon.co.uk/Godel-Escher-Bach-Eternal-Golden/dp/0465026567
    It’s a hard read and I won’t pretend I find it easy. I recommend this to you because you seem a bit rattled and your last reply starts off getting bogged down with semantics. I think you would benefit also from Godel and it may help you to avoid 2 + 2 stuff. I don’t know what the conclusion is going to be. And it may not even be on my side. I am hoping it makes the point that anything inside a syste!m eg us cannot describe outside the system ie we cannot knowprove our creation. I am guessing of course. Let me know what you think about the book.

  • Mr Workaday
    Posted at 07:32h, 26 January

    Not in the least bit rattled, but thank you for the tip and the exchange; I’ll check that book out. Take care.

  • Tim Jackson
    Posted at 09:12h, 26 January

    Brilliant assembly – all good stuff – and I’m writing as a Christian.
    As a youth group leader, I’m fed up with the number of young people who reach 12 years old and think they have to decide between Christianity and science – and always choose science. The reason why they think this choice is needed – creationism.
    Creationism is a dangerous belief from a Christian point of view, because of the numbers of people who then turn away from faith because they think that Christians don’t think.

    • joiningthedebate
      Posted at 19:09h, 26 January

      You can be a creationist and a thinker by the way

      • Leaford
        Posted at 09:18h, 04 February

        Of course you can. You can be a creationist and be a religious thinker, a faith-based thinker, a belief based thinker. But you can not be a creationist as a fact or evidence based thinker. If you admit the evidence, you will have to let go of creationist belief, and to maintain creationist belief you have to deny ignore or remain ignorant of part or all of the evidence.

    • Leaford
      Posted at 09:36h, 04 February

      I completely agree. Augustine put it best I think; if your understanding of the natural word and your understanding of the bible are in conflict, it is your understanding of the bible which is probably flawed and that particular passage should be understood in a metaphorical rather than literal sense. Because, after all, facts about the world can be verified by observation or experiment, but interpretations of the bible can’t, and holding onto a belief which is verifiably false merely makes one look foolish.

    • johnthe14th
      Posted at 17:18h, 04 February

      Tim, from where did you get the thoroughly mistaken idea that a young person has to choose between Christianity *OR* science? As it happens, I was at a lecture only last night in Liverpool, given by Prof. Alister McGrath, a former Oxford molecular biophysicist and current theologian and Anglican Minister (the subject was science and faith). He has three doctorates – including the one in molecular biophysics – and he has written several books (which I suggest you start reading).

      Why do you imagine that a young person – or indeed ANYONE – must choose between Christianity *OR* science? If I were you, I would ask your Pastor or Minister for some additional training. It could be that, as a Church Youth Leader, you are unwittingly failing those in your care – the same ones who you admit are turning away from faith. I express this with an attitude of Brotherly concern, as a fellow Christian (and scientist).

  • Sleep Deprived
    Posted at 11:40h, 26 January

    ‘For me, the story of evolution – the amazing, wonderful, fascinating story – is far, far more awe-inspiring than the religious stories in any case.’ – This should be printed on a T-Shirt. What a wonderful quote, a wonderful piece and a bold subject for an assembly.

  • nsmike
    Posted at 12:28h, 26 January

    Hey, just a technicality from me, but… You use a lot of abbreviations (for example, “RE”) without indicating what they abbreviate. Maybe these are commonly known in the UK, but I’m just a silly American, checking out your stuff and finding some of it hard to follow because of this. I sussed out that RE is probably Religious Education from the context of some of your other articles, but it would still be helpful if you clarified these.

    That’s all – keep doing what you’re doing.

  • paleoaerie
    Posted at 14:25h, 26 January

    Great post. There are some things you might consider correcting in your slides though. We have evidence of life going back at least 3.8 billion years, not just 2 billion. By two billion years, photosynthesis had already evolved and was radically altering the atmosphere. The earth had already gone through its Great Oxygenation Event causing its own mass extinction.

    The oldest dinosaur fossil we have now is 243 million years old. It is called Nyasaurus. Even if that turns out not to be a true dinosaur, we know that dinosaurs evolved earlier than 225 million years ago (although exactly how much farther is up for debate, at least 5 million years earlier than that. This is a nitpicky detail, but I thought I would mention it anyway.

    You may be interested to know that fossil evidence now also fully supports the relationships between hippos and whales, as well as the evolution of whales from within artiodactyla in addition to the molecular evidence.

    Humans in the past 6 million years? True (technically, we could have appeared yesterday and thus be in the last 6 million years), but it really depends on what you call human. Modern humans are no more than about 250,000 years. Are you talking about the last common ancestor between hominids and the other apes? That would get us that far back, but you are then also talking about Ardipithecus territory and millions of years before Homo itself.

    The idea that humans evolved from a single common ancestor less than 10,000 years ago is evolutionarily untenable and we really should get away from talking about species arising from a single individual as that does not happen. The confusion in the portrayal of these genetics stories is that they are not saying that a single individual was the ancestor of an entire species. What they are saying is that there has been sufficient mixture within the population that everyone can be traced back to a single individual in that amount of time, which is not at all the same, even though it sounds as if it should be. To illustrate what I mean (this is going to get rather confusing, for which I apologize, but please bear with me), take two individuals who have a child who then has a child, etc. All genetic studies from the generations proceeding this would indicate they share a common ancestor via that first couple. However, their child will likely have bred with a child from another couple who are not related to that first couple and any genetic studies would indicate a common ancestor with that other couple as well. Continued interbreeding with other couples descended from people unrelated to that first couple will not change the fact that a genetic study will be able to trace the lineage to that first couple. Thus, showing that everyone can be traced back to a single individual does not mean that individual is THE ancestor of everyone, but only that they are AN ancestor of everyone. It is possible to trace a species back to a single ancestral population, but not to a single ancestral individual. When we are talking about evolution, we need to be very clear that we are talking about populations, not individuals.

    Perhaps a better way to explain this would be to think of genealogies. Any individual’s genealogy expands backwards in time to encompass all the people that contributed to that individual’s DNA, all the grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. When that person has a child, their spouse will have their own genealogie which also expands backwards. At some point, if you go far enough, those genealogies are going to intermingle, such that if you go far enough back, everyone is related to everyone else, but at no point will all those disparate genealogies contract to a single person. There will be multiple individuals who will be able to claim as descendants everyone on earth because of the interminglings of all those genealogies.

    I went on a bit about that last point because it is an area of mass confusion. I have even heard geneticists make this error. The search for an Adam and Eve gets a lot of people confused. I have had several people challenge me about this according to their biblical beliefs. I answer those people with a few simple questions: Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, correct? Where did the wives of their sons come from? Even if one accepts the Bible as truth and that Adam and Eve were ancestors to everyone on earth, even the Bible says they are not the ONLY ancestors of everyone. In fact, if one is looking at only the mitochondrial DNA (which is where most of these estimates come from), Eve would never show up as an ancestor at all, because virtually all (the contribution from the paternal line is so negligible that it is typically completely ignored and treated as if it doesn’t exist at all) the mitochondria come from the mother, so Eve’s sons will not have passed on her mitochondrial DNA.

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 23:30h, 26 January

      Love this comment. Thanks for the details. I may have mis-read Dawkins on the concept of MRCA – an ancestor, not THE ancestor; I think I mix those ideas up and your correction is helpful. In other places, I’ve cut a few corners in an attempt to condense all the ideas into one assembly – but thanks for the other corrections too.

      • paleoaerie
        Posted at 14:46h, 27 January

        I wouldn’t be surprised if what you read was simply explained poorly and unintentionally misrepresented. This concept has been terribly explained by most of the researchers and almost all the popular press, so I don’t expect anyone outside the very specific field to have grasped what the research is really saying. It is very easy for people to make simplifications when explaining things to the point they forget themselves that they are simplifications.

        When Dawkins is saying a most recent common ancestor, he is referring to the ancestor, but in terms of the ancestral population, not a specific individual. When we talk about evolution, we often stress that populations evolve, not individuals. But we tend to forget that it also holds true when we are talking about ancestors as well.

  • Kelly L
    Posted at 18:14h, 26 January

    Love a good assembly me!

  • Holyghost176
    Posted at 23:38h, 26 January

    You will burn in hell along with your false god richard hawkings! Satan will enjoy torturining u and those in heaven will enjoy the show!!

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 00:11h, 27 January

      When I die, I will most likely either be incinerated at a crematorium or I’ll decompose through the action of bacteria. My brain will be dead and the biological phenomena that generate what I call my consciousness will end. My memory will live on in the minds of anyone who still knows me -and then I’ll be gone. Same for you too. That’s life – and death. I don’t fear Satan for the simple fact that he/it isn’t real.

      • paleoaerie
        Posted at 14:56h, 27 January

        Can’t resist this little tangent, simply because it is what my grad school research was about (like any researcher, I can’t help but talk about my own little corner of science whenever I can). Those bacteria that decompose you may also turn you into a fossil, so you may stay around for a very long time. Ok, this is unlikely because it takes a lot of things to go right for a fossil to form, but it turns out that the minerals that precipitate around bones to start the fossilization process are primarily laid down by the very bacteria decomposing the body. Just an interesting addition to the whole circle (or rather, web) of life and death and the interconnectedness of everything in the ecosystem which I find particularly interesting.

    • Ashley Haworth-roberts
      Posted at 23:56h, 28 January

      I fear you are for real and not a Poe.

    • ashdeville
      Posted at 13:00h, 30 January

      Yeah!! And if we are descended from monkeys why are there still monkeys? Gotcha!

      • Tom Sherrington
        Posted at 13:05h, 30 January

        Hilarious. I know! Some people are stupid enough to actually use that argument.

      • dave godfrey
        Posted at 15:25h, 01 February

        If we are descended from dust, why is there still dust?

    • Leaford
      Posted at 09:38h, 04 February

      Really? In your version of Heaven, people derive pleasure from the torture and suffering of others? Even their own loved ones?

  • David Allen Wizardgold
    Posted at 14:15h, 27 January

    It is easy to lean towards atheism when you discount the scriptures based on credibility. You can’t possibly take any religion seriously if they offer up stories such as the creationism dogma and refuse to add proof to support it. I can throw out xtianity completely when their book is full of genocide, infanticide, slavery, hate for parts of human society, not to mention all of the magic they expect followers to believe. The Quran is full of hate and violence and the prophet they follow was a child molester. How could any sane person give anything coming from such a source any credibility?

    Education is the answer and atheists have to speak out in order to keep the theists out of schools and politics. Put a stop to faith schools and get bishops out of the government. Freedom from religion is vital for the progress of humanity. Children have to learn how to think for themselves and the schools have to spearhead this when families are still pushing anti-science and blind belief as a good thing.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 05:56h, 28 January

    There are a few comment that think I do not understand the usages of the word theory. We will all simply have to respect our differing beliefs. Yes many of you have a ‘belief’ in science. One day we will know. One day we could stumble upon significant evidence against evolution (I use the word significant from your point of view). If that time comes I hope the scientists will behave scientifically towards it.

    • ashdeville
      Posted at 22:25h, 28 January

      Sometimes I feel that being religious must be the closest you can get to living in a Harry Potter movie. There must be this pervading sense of living in the supernatural world, where miracles are real, where water can be turned into wine, where the creator of the universe whispers into your ears and will occasionally look favourably on your prayers, where one day you will be reunited with all your deceased loved ones in a paradise where everyone lives forever and where all the people who mocked your faith will get their comeuppance.
      It must take colossal amounts of cognitive dissonance to maintain the illusion.

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 08:35h, 30 January

      Yes many of you have a ‘belief’ in science.

      One doesn’t believe in science. One accepts the explanations and models of science because they can be demonstrated to reflect reality, even if one doesn’t understand those explanations and models. One accepts the explanations and models because they have practical value in that they can be used to make further predictions about reality.

      One day we could stumble upon significant evidence against evolution…

      One doesn’t find evidence against a theory or hypothesis. Evidence either fits into a theory or hypothesis or it doesn’t. One then alters the hypothesis or theory, or one creates a new, better one.

      Creationists/IDers pounce on any evidence that doesn’t fit into the current evolution theory and proclaim “Ha! Evolution is false! We’re right!” Unfortunately, this is not how real science works. If one wants to support one’s own hypothesis or theory, one has to find one’s own evidence that demonstrates the reality of one’s model.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 10:46h, 30 January

        Two quick answers…
        BELIEF in science? For some people yes, as the alternative is that they may have to consider their relationship with God. There is the phrase ‘ man will believe anything as long as its not in the bible’ sorry don’t know source.
        Evidence AGAINST. sorry this may come across as emotionally charged in that I want evolution to fail (I do! as much as others want it to be correct) The point is one day there may well be undeniable evidence which does not fit the evolution model at all and it has to be modified to the extent that it is totally debunked. In that sense the evidence would be against. I agree we should try to keep emotions out of it but let’s not argue about semantics.
        Regarding the “Ha!” comment you mention that is precisely what evolutionists do if I put forward the literal biblical creation. Eg ‘Ha what about belly buttons?’
        The fact that this forum is so long shows that there is a lot of emotion out there (including from the evolutionists)

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 02:32h, 31 January

      [Replying to this comment as I can’t reply to @joiningthedebate’s comment below.]

      BELIEF in science? For some people yes, as the alternative is that they may have to consider their relationship with God.

      Perhaps you should define what you mean by ‘belief’ so that we can be sure we’re talking about the same thing.

      There is the phrase ‘ man will believe anything as long as its not in the bible’ sorry don’t know source.

      Utterly irrelevant! And you’re starting to sound a bit preachy.

      …if I put forward the literal biblical creation.

      I think you need a better example as the literal biblical creation story is demonstrably wrong.

      And there is a difference. “What about belly buttons?” is asking for an explanation for how belly buttons fit into the creation model. It is asking Creationists/IDers to support their claims with evidence and a well thought out explanation other than “God did it.”

      “Ha! Evolution is false.” is a declaration that evolution can be ‘debunked’ because of one piece of smoking-gun evidence; that because scientists can’t yet explain how this new discovery fits into the current model, it must all be wrong. Again, this is not how science works.

      I have a question for you. What would convince you that evolution is true?

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 11:52h, 31 January

        I really am enjoying this sensible debate ( have you read, the twitter version made it to the news). Belief .. I don’t want to get into semantics but here is a useful definition …Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. I bet you can guess where it’s from! I don’t want you to think that I am a conspiracy theorist but you only have to listen to people who have faith that NASA would never lie to them. I think you yourself mention them. An interesting expt is to tell people you think the world is flat after all and that the burden of proof is on them – they will struggle and rely on things that they themselves have not seen. You say I sound preachy. Why thankyou! My reference to bellybuttons was precisely for the reason you describe. The ‘ha’ comment goes both ways. It is the evolutionists who often have a single gotcha moment. Even your language…you cannot bring yourself to accept my view as a sensible one. Among creationist there are many scientists capable of understanding the science that evolutionists put forward. Your last question was a good one (which could be fired back of course). You did not mean it as a trick question but … I have several answers each of which I could guess your response. For example if I say ‘nothing would’ , then I have a closed mind. If I say it might help if evolutionists did not come across as such an arrogant bunch , then I should judge the actual science on the personalities involved, and you would feel perhaps you just need to be nicer to us poor deluded creationists. Remember I started on this forum saying I wasn’t 100%. When we get to heaven it is likely that we see things a lot more clearly. Creationism may be wrong, and evolution along with it. Both may be sort of simultaneously right in their own way, unimaginable ad this concept is. I’m about to reply to your other comment..

    • Leaford
      Posted at 09:47h, 04 February

      Yes, all of your comments misunderstand the word Theory for example. A scientific theory is not a guess. It is an over arching explanation for a wide body of observations, facts, and evidence, and the laws that describe those facts. The theory of evolution, the theory of gravity, the theory of heliocentricity, the germ theory of disease, atomic theory, etc.. None of those are guesses, all of them are facts, all of them rest on unassailable mountains of evidence, all of them incorporate laws which describe the phenomena, and provide our best explanation of those facts and laws.

      Now, would you argue that gravity is just a theory? Or that germs are just a theory? Or that atoms are just a theory? Or is it only evolution that gets the “just a theory” treatment?

    • Leaford
      Posted at 09:57h, 04 February

      A theory is an explanation of observed facts. New facts do NOT trump or cancel out older facts. If we observe new facts that conflict with previous facts, we revise the theory to explain both the prior facts and the new facts. We do not throw out all the old facts and their explanations, we expand them. To use gravity as an example, after Newtons Theory of Gravity, we found new evidence in the form of certain wobbles in Mercury’s orbit that conflicted with Newton’s laws of motion. But we also knew that those laws worked in all other situations so far observed. So, we didn’t throw them out or consider them false. We realized they were incomplete and kept searching for a more complete theory, which Einstein eventually provided.

      Likewise in evolutionary theory, when the expanding fossil record showed us that evolution tends to progress in fits and starts rather than a steady progression, rather than just throwing it all out and concluding that evolution is wrong, we looked for more evidence, and expanded the theory to explain why evolution behaved that way.

  • Rob Welch (@RobWelch2)
    Posted at 23:22h, 28 January

    Well – it’s one way to draw out the nutters.

    • joiningthedebate
      Posted at 16:36h, 29 January

      Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned commemt

  • @moodybill
    Posted at 09:58h, 29 January

    For many Christians especially, denying creation leads inexorably to atheism: no Eden, no Fall; no original sin, no Redeemer; no Jesus, no God. As the child of fundamentalist missionaries growing up ‘barefoot on the Burma border’ in the 60s, the fact of evolution convinced me to think seriously about faith and eventually get rid.

    The trouble with faith is that it seems fundamentally defensive in nature. Any attempt to argue is seen as proselytising and the barriers go up and the clichés (just a theory) come out. Finding that area between persuasion and bland facts is a tough one. Avoiding the boomerang effect of strengthening conviction also difficult. Simply from the tone of your piece here it sounds as if you are doing it right. From my experience, I’m guessing there are many students who are troubled by the dogmatic stuff and looking for a kind, intelligent, sympathetic discussion and an open door.

    • tralalalalalala50
      Posted at 16:52h, 29 January

      Those Christians are taught a very superficial and uninformed view of evolution, as if it is opposed to creation.

      For example:

      Catholics believe that evolution is the process by which mathematically precise laws of physics guided energy to nucleate into matter (stardust) and eventually into beings with free will (also called a soul, i.e. if you believe in free will you believe in a soul, and if you don’t believe in free-will, as some prominent atheists portent (Sam Harris), then you don’t believe in a soul – you are simply guided by random fluctuations of your surroundings).

      God’s explicit use of dust to create humans is described in Genesis (it’s no surprise a priest predicted the big bang using theology before we had the technology to prove its evidence in the cosmic background radiation).

      There is no conflict between religion and science, unfortunately the uneducated have been made to believe so.

      • Paul Lawley-Jones
        Posted at 07:49h, 30 January

        it’s no surprise a priest predicted the big bang using theology before we had the technology to prove its evidence in the cosmic background radiation

        Um, no. Georges Lemaitre used the scientific process to hypothesise the big bang, and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, “Annals of the Scientific Society of Brussels.”

        And then there’s this from Wikipedia.

        “By 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that Lemaître’s theory provided a scientific validation for Catholicism. However, Lemaître resented the Pope’s proclamation, stating that the theory was neutral and there was neither a connection nor a contradiction between his religion and his theory.”

  • The Freethinker - The voice of atheism since 1881 » Schools have a duty to promote evolution more robustly
    Posted at 11:48h, 29 January

    […] head of Highbury Grove School in London revealed in piece on his Headguruteacher blog that he had been addressing the issue of evolution at assemblies in order […]

  • tralalalalalala50
    Posted at 16:51h, 29 January

    The silver lining is that you can be an amazing scientist and still hold such views on creation/etc. These views build a world-view that add to the diversity of scientists which improves the rate of scientific discovery. It’s a win for the pubic.

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 16:53h, 29 January

    May I throw this into the mix
    I am imagining many who respect Dawkins also respect Hawkings. I don’t know the exact shape of the Venn diagram.
    Anyway scroll down to the bit about Godel’s incompleteness theorems. Now I know it is very easy to misuse these BUT surely there is a problem for us to understand our own creation. We have to be able to step outside our system which we can’t. I am asking the scientific community here to be a little more humble and a little less confident that they are right. Phrases like ‘ we now know that [insert anything about cells, time, fossils, radioactivity, speed of light, quantum physics, genetics]’. Do we actually know? Or do we (I mean you of course) have the faith in science to believe what you’ve read, heard, seen on TV. Yes I am attempting to turn the tables a little. I am giving respectful debate. (Some out there think it is acceptable to call anyone who disagrees with you a nutter). Overall I am enjoying this sensible debate.

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 08:58h, 30 January

      The last paragraph is relevant.

      As far as the question “is a TOE possible?” is concerned, all of the above is absolutely irrelevant. Uncompuability does not imply that a Theory Of Everything can not be constructed. Gödel does not prevent physicists from doing so, and neither does gravity. Stating that Godel (or Turing, or gravity) implies the logical impossibility of a TOE, is the same as stating that because of the incompleteness theorem an axiomatic logic can not be constructed. This is simply wrong. Axiomatic logics can be constructed, but given an axiomatic logic not every result can be derived. Similarly, Gödel nor gravity prevents us from constructing a TOE, but gravity does prevent us from turning this TOE into a crystal ball.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 11:00h, 30 January

        I had a choice of which Godel link I inserted. I did find one leaning very heavily towards a ‘ proof’ of God but I knew how this would upset people! The point is Dawkins is very confident about a very big question (that I do not believe he can ever answer). Hawking, I think, believes in multiverse(s). How can he ever know? At this point I should quote a scripture about the folly of mankind’s arrogance, but again I know that that would only upset people. It may be that I simply don’t have the ‘ faith in science’ required to believe in Evolution. I would be interested in your views on Earthisactuallytwoplanets mentioned below and seen on breakfast TV. You probably already know my view!
        Best wishes to you

  • joiningthedebate
    Posted at 09:20h, 30 January

    May I also throw this in
    I couldnt find any bbc links yet. It came on breakfast tv this morning. I made a slight groan prompting my son to say “that isnt true is it mum”. I said that it isn’t necessarily true and the pity is that some people out there will imagine it’s true based on the ‘video footage’ they’ve just seen. I find it extraordinary that mankind thinks they can measure times like 4.5 billion years. How do you step outside the system to check your measurements are valid? You can’t. Earlier in the comments someone corrected life going back 2 billion yrs to 3.8 billion yrs. Only a factor of nearly 2. But on this scale you can afford to disagree by a factor of 100 even. Most of the public won’t spot it. They are just impressed by the already large numbers. Going back to this morning, I am proud of my children’s awareness that not everything they are told is correct. No offence but I hope it will serve them well if ever they end up in one of your assemblies.

    • ashdeville
      Posted at 13:15h, 30 January

      I agree with everything you say. It’s all so complex, what with all those big numbers and fancy ideas, that I think it would be better if we just settle for stuff made up by people in the middle east a couple of thousand years ago.

      As long as we all give equal value to all ideas, no matter how nonsensical, and that we carry out the debate with respect, then we’ll all get along fine.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 17:58h, 30 January

        Your sarcastic twitter style comment has beaten me. I now realise theses are enlightened times in which people never make stuff up. People thousands of years ago knew nothing about science…
        If you want serious debate however please could you explain to me how anything that happened say a mere million yrs ago is measured. Just 10 to the 6 for now. You can teach me about 10 to the 9 when I’ve understood 10 to the 6 yrs as an easily measured unit of time.

      • ashdeville
        Posted at 10:38h, 31 January

        “Your sarcastic twitter style comment has beaten me. I now realise these are enlightened times in which people never make stuff up. People thousands of years ago knew nothing about science…
        If you want serious debate however please could you explain to me how anything that happened say a mere million yrs ago is measured. Just 10 to the 6 for now. You can teach me about 10 to the 9 when I’ve understood 10 to the 6 yrs as an easily measured unit of time.

        Can I just clarify? Exactly how old do you believe the earth to be? Looking through your comments it’s starting to look as if you fall into the YEC camp. You’ve not said it explicitly but when the conversation turns to “how can you prove that something happened millions of years ago” then you know you’re only a short step away from “Well, if nobody saw it happening, then how can you claim that it is so?” and we are well and truly into the Ken Ham School of Creationist Apologetics.

        I think the simplest thing you can do is to go to the Index of Creationist Claims” on the TalkOrigins website – here is the link – http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

        What you will find here is a wonderful index to creationist claims and the appropriate science based rebuttals.

        I would urge you to go through this list – maybe this is something you could do with your children to ensure that they see both sides of the argument?

        I really don’t want to be sat here in 6 months time explaining to you why neanderthals aren’t humans with rickets!

        There’s even an explanation as to that old chestnut “If we are descended from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys”!

        And if you’re going to whine about the sarcasm then I’m sorry – but it is the only realistic response to denialism. You are no different to someone arguing that humans are routinely abducted by aliens or that 9/11 was a zionist plot.

        Being “respectful” only serves to reinforce your own delusion that you have a credible worldview.

        • joiningthedebate
          Posted at 12:23h, 31 January

          Hope I’m replying in the right place. To answer your question I believe the earth to be significantly younger than we think but you already knew that because you got me sussed haven’t you. Thank you for the references. I’ll contact you again once I’ve been enlightened 🙂

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 12:32h, 31 January

        PS you cleverly avoided my question. Seriously what do YOU believe are the methods for measuring up to a million yrs in the past.

      • ashdeville
        Posted at 16:10h, 31 January

        “Hope I’m replying in the right place. To answer your question I believe the earth to be significantly younger than we think but you already knew that because you got me sussed haven’t you. Thank you for the references. I’ll contact you again once I’ve been enlightened 🙂



        PS you cleverly avoided my question. Seriously what do YOU believe are the methods for measuring up to a million yrs in the past.

        Er..I’m sorry but I’m standing on the side of the debate where probably 99.9% of scientists would accept the perspective that the earth is around 4.5 billions years old and the universe is around 13.82 billion years give or take.

        You however are saying that you believe it is “significantly younger” and you have admitted that you are a YE creationist. Now exactly how old do you believe the universe is? Do you believe that it is roughly 6 thousand years or are you more comfortable with the figure of 10,000 years.

        Whatever figure you believe it to be, can you give me the single best piece of evidence that you have that supports your belief?

        Go back to the original purpose of this post – Imagine that you are putting together a proposal to Mr Sherrington that he augments the science lessons in his school with a module that puts forward the best arguments that the earth is “significantly younger” than the age determined by the existing scientific consensus.

        • joiningthedebate
          Posted at 17:08h, 31 January

          Must I commit to either 6 or 10 thousand years (they are both in the same ballpark). I am honestly not sure. I am aware (as you may be too) that for some believers 6 thousand years would fit nicely with other beliefs. But for the debate we are having here I dont think it is relevant.
          You still haven’t answered my question ‘how do you measure in millions?’

          You even know the age of the universe – this is incredible stuff! Just because the majority is on your side doesn’t mean you or your side doesn’t have the burden of proof. Please explain to me how millions are measured.Neither of us is expert and so we will both be waiting to pounce on the other’s first move. I will break this stalemate by suggesting http://www.icr.org/article/evidence-for-young-world/ . Naturally you will dismiss anything on this site immediately. I was hoping you would answer my question. Does your dating system rely on carbon dating? Do you believe the speed of light is a constant? Do you trust linear extrapolation outside observable limits?

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 02:52h, 31 January

      …I am proud of my children’s awareness that not everything they are told is correct.

      You are, of course, aware that this goes both ways, right?

      I said that it isn’t necessarily true and the pity is that some people out there will imagine it’s true based on the ‘video footage’ they’ve just seen.

      But most people will tentatively accept the assertions based on the evidence and calculations done by the NASA scientists.

      And here…

      In 2014, a team of German scientists reported in Science that the Moon also has its own unique ratio of oxygen isotopes, different from Earth’s. The new research finds that is not the case.

      …is clear evidence of the self-correcting nature of science. If later, they discover that they were wrong, they will say so.

      How do you step outside the system to check your measurements are valid? You can’t.

      If the preponderance of measurements all point to the same conclusion, one can accept that it is true.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 12:16h, 31 January

        I don’t quite understand what you mean regarding my children’s healthy cynicism, going both ways. I’m going to sound a tiny bit arrogant here…easiest way to convey my point, you only have to listen to the average professionals confidence in understanding basic maths eg their payslip to realise that the general public has to have a huge amount of trust in NASA, BBC, government etc ( don’t write me off as a conspiracy theorist yet! ). Even people who would claim an above average ability at maths and science don’t have the time to actually check out all of the claims and stats. There is a sort of pyramid of trust, and eventually it will just be a handful of people who know what they are taking about. What if evolution was wrong. Would we find out straight away? Or has too much been invested in time and reputation for this to happen (yes I’ve blown it _ you think I’m into conspiracies). I’ve enjoyed this sensible debate. We are probably at a stalemate. I will venture that God is probably not as interested in this question as we think. He is however very interested in each one of us whom he created. Best wishes to you.

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 04:14h, 03 February

      “I don’t quite understand what you mean regarding my children’s healthy cynicism, going both ways.

      No, I don’t think you do. Are you raising cynics, not critical thinkers? Semantics is actually important!

      “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. I bet you can guess where it’s from!

      It’s not from you, so I suspect you haven’t actually though about and just accept what you’re told by others. And you didn’t answer the question.

      “An interesting expt is to tell people you think the world is flat after all and that the burden of proof is on them – they will struggle and rely on things that they themselves have not seen.”

      The burden of proof is always on the one making the assertion. The response of any reasonably intelligent person would be “What evidence do you have to support that claim?” If none is forthcoming, the claim can be dismissed. “A claim made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Can you guess where that’s from? One’s claim is not accepted simply because it cannot be proven wrong. Again, this is not how science works.

      “…you cannot bring yourself to accept my view as a sensible one.”

      What view? Literal Biblical creation? I cannot accept it as sensible because it has been demonstrated to be wrong; it is demonstrably wrong.

      “For example if I say ‘nothing would’ , then I have a closed mind. If I say it might help if evolutionists did not come across as such an arrogant bunch , then I should judge the actual science on the personalities involved, and you would feel perhaps you just need to be nicer to us poor deluded creationists.”

      What!? And you still didn’t answer the question!

      “I started on this forum saying I wasn’t 100%.”

      You don’t actually say what you’re not 100% about.

      Yes, we have reached a stalemate, but not for the reasons you think.

      If you wish to successfully argue against a position, it behoves you to actually understand it beforehand (this doesn’t mean you have to accept it!). From the comments on this forum, I don’t think you understand evolution, the Theory of Evolution or the way science works enough to mount a knowledgeable argument. This is evident from the fact you resort to preaching, quotes from the Bible, and avoiding answering questions. This is not a judgement about your intelligence, but about your knowledge. But as you state, we don’t always have the time to read up on everything. So, thank you for the sensible discussion, and take care.

  • Evolution Assembly Hoopla. Beyond Belief! | headguruteacher
    Posted at 18:21h, 30 January

    […] been quite a week on this blog and on my twitter feed.  Last weekend I wrote-up my assembly about evolution and the reaction from some students. Usually assembly blogs don’t get much attention but I […]

  • Student
    Posted at 11:18h, 01 February

    Dear Mr Sherrington,
    I read in the Islington Gazette about the evolution assembly you gave to us a couple of weeks ago and I wanted to send a message to you about it since it got me thinking. You said that evolution was a fact and that there is no doubt about it and that it is as proven as any other scientific fact. I found that quite shocking because I always thought it was a theory about how we came to be here. You presented some evidence about why it was true like the fossil pictures and the Finches. I wasn’t really sure about evolution because it seemed like people just trying to make up something so that they didn’t have to believe in God, but I’m still making up my mind.

    So I decided to do some research about evolution and how much evidence there is to prove it. But sir (please don’t give me a C3 for saying this), I found information that I read from very important Scientists that evolution is actually not proven and that there is a big disagreement about whether it happened at all.

    I know a lot of students were really offended because they said you were mocking their religions like it was stupid to believe in God basically and that you didn’t even present the assembly like there were two sides to the debate. Some people aren’t going to research it and are just going to accept what you said without knowing that scientists also disagree with that evolution. I know you said you don’t need God or believe in God, but I don’t think that we should be forced to believe something without knowing that it may not be true. My dad said it’s up to me what I believe and that I should research it and look at all sides before I make up my mind.

    I know you are a scientist Sir, so I know you understand things better than me, but there are some things which don’t make sense and I keep reading about more things which don’t add up with evolution. For example there are no fossils of animals that died in a ‘transitional’ phase of evolution or even evidence of any animals still evolving from one species to another and are just in between.

    I do believe in natural selection and the way animals adapt to their environments generation after generation, but full evolution just doesn’t seem to be true. I actually read a few things that said that evolution was unscientific in some aspects and I read a comment on here where you said that creationism or intelligent design was ‘unscientific nonsense’.

    Like I said Sir, I don’t know where we came from, but I know that there are other ideas and even that one of my Muslim friends in school was telling me that in the Koran it talks about the universe expanding which I saw you talk about in a comment here.

    I am glad that I did this research Sir, but I’m also quite shocked that you presented it like there was no doubt about evolution and that people are silly to question it and have different beliefs when it seems like even scientists have ‘faith’ in evolution. I think everyone should have a choice what they believe either way and I think it is a bit unfair that teachers can just put their view across without giving both sides of an argument since they have a lot of influence on us.

    I don’t think I’d get in trouble for making this comment, but just in case I wanted to be anonymous.
    Thank you for reading this Sir.

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 12:28h, 01 February

      Hello. thanks for this comment. I’d love to talk in person – I spoke to lots of students in the week of the assemblies. I think it’s important to say that I didn’t mock your religion – you are, of course, entitled to follow any faith as so many members of our community do. However, the facts of evolution are really very clear – it’s not a question of faith in the same way. I suggest you read ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ which catalogues all the different aspects of scientific evidence. We now know as much about evolution as we do about space, electricity, medicine and so on. Creation myths are part of every faith but they have a historical context that predates Charles Darwin and our understanding of natural selection and the true age of the Earth. If you go back to the time of Galileo, he was persecuted by the Catholic Church in the 17th Century for suggesting that the Earth is in orbit around the Sun. At the time, this was seen as offensive to religious people who were convinced that God must have put Earth at the centre. We now know they were wrong and all religions accept this. I think the same will happen with evolution. You can happily believe in God and follow the Koran or the Bible and also accept the evidence for evolution. I hope you can consider doing that.

      I don’t present the theory of evolution as a debate between science and religion – most religious people don’t either. I am an atheist but thousands of religious people, Muslims and Christians, accept evolution as scientific fact. ‘Theory’ means something different in science – explore the term a bit further. I gave the assembly knowing that you will discuss these things in RE lessons and in science. I don’t think you can simply choose not to believe in science – the evidence is very clear. The ‘missing link’ argument — the absence of species in transition – is a common misconception. All fossils are missing links; all organisms represent a transition between the previous and the next step in the evolutionary process. Now we can look at DNA sequencing, we can show that the history of the genes of all living things exactly matches the theory of evolution; it’s really beyond question that this is how modern species emerged.

      Anyway – let’s discuss further. I welcome all discussion on this issue and have had lots of excellent conversations already. Come and see me for a chat.
      Mr Sherrington

    • Paul Lawley-Jones
      Posted at 05:44h, 03 February

      The phenomenon of evolution is a fact. It is a fact that organisms in the past were different from organisms now. This is demonstrated by the fossil record. They ‘changed over time’. ‘Change over time’ is the literal meaning of evolution. The fact of evolution is what we observe in the fossil record.

      The Theory of Evolution attempts to describe how the fact of change over time in organisms happened. In science, ‘theory’ means ‘explanation.’ It doesn’t mean ‘hunch’ or ‘guess’ as it does in everyday speech. The theory explains how a phenomenon happens or happened.

      Take gravity as an example. If I drop something, it falls ‘down.’ This is a fact. It falls at a speed of approximately 9.8m/s^2 on Earth. This is a law; a description of the mechanical operation of a phenomenon. How does gravity happen? Is it a warping of space-time, or is it the exchange of particles called gravitons? This is the theory.

      In science, ‘theories’ are never proved like they are in mathematics. A scientific theory does not become a fact and then a law. The theory contains facts and laws, as in the gravity example above.

      So, the Theory of Evolution will never be ‘proven.’ The theory, the explanation, will be refined, tweaked, and added to as more facts are collected.

      There is no disagreement among scientists about whether evolution happened or happens. The disagreements are about the finer details of mechanisms. It would help if you gave the names of the ‘very important scientists’ who say that evolution is not proven. No real scientist would say this.

      There are not two sides to the debate. If your assertion (your statement about reality) has no evidence to support it, it is not accepted. This is not mockery, it is simply stating that one is not sufficiently convinced by the evidence to accept your assertion as an accurate representation of reality. This is at the heart of science.

      Creationism/Intelligent Design brings no evidence to the table, and as such, cannot be considered science, because there is nothing to evaluate. The Bible, or any other holy book, cannot be considered evidence, just as The Lord of the Rings cannot be considered evidence for elves, dwarves and orcs. Again, this is not mocking religious belief, it is just saying that scripture is not evidence in science.

      Science simply demonstrates that God is not necessary for evolution, and that the development of humans was a natural, unguided process. Again, this is not mockery. But, if one maintains beliefs about the nature of reality that are demonstrably wrong, should we respect those beliefs? Should we respect a continued belief that the sun goes around the Earth when all the evidence suggests it is the opposite?

      From your comments, I suspect you’ve been reading sites like the Institute for Creation Research (http://www.icr.org/), Creation Today (http://creation.org/), or been listening to/reading people like Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, Michael Behe, William Dembski and Kent Hovind.

      Might I direct you to Talk Origins (http://www.talkorigins.org/) and Panda’s Thumb (http://pandasthumb.org/), and the excellent Foudational Falsehoods of Creationism series by Aron Ra on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL126AFB53A6F002CC) (This is 15 episodes long and can be heavy going in places).

      Finally, I think Mr. Sherrington will give you mad props (do people still say that?) and be proud of you for having the cojones to post on a public forum with your questions and concerns.

      Well done to you.

      • joiningthedebate
        Posted at 17:59h, 06 February

        Really sorry to nitpick after you have written such a caring post. It was obviously a typo when you described the 9.8 value as a speed. It is of course an acceleration (this being a vector allows us to not worry about whether it’s a deceleration as long as we put the minus sign in the right place)
        Again really sorry. I hope you’ll be pleased with me for spotting that. It could have been spotted by some troll.
        You’ll also be pleased to know that I don’t personally dispute what I observe to be gravity. Although I am looking into alternative theories. I’m not totally convinced of the cause. Anyway that’s for another forum. Best wishes

  • daveygod2014
    Posted at 15:36h, 01 February

    I’ve read a lot of blogs, articles, books and just about anything I can lay my hands on about evolution, and this is as good as anything by Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers in defence of evolution (though I still fail to understand why evolution still requires such robust defence in the 21st Century).

    One day, evolution may be found to be false and all evolutionary scientists will abandon it. But even if that should happen (I very much doubt that it will), Christian, Islamic, Ancient Egyptian creationism or any of the thousands of other creation myths will be no less absurd.

  • UK Principal Mocked for Asserting Belief That Evolution Is a ‘Theory’ | TheBlaze.com
    Posted at 20:54h, 03 February

    […] post that sparked the exchange had read, “For me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the […]

  • UK Principal Mocked for Asserting Belief That Evolution Is a ‘Theory’ - Peel the Label
    Posted at 21:05h, 03 February

    […] post that sparked the exchange had read, “For me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the […]

  • UK Principal Mocked for Asserting Belief That Evolution Is a ‘Theory’ | The Dirty Conservative
    Posted at 21:45h, 03 February

    […] post that sparked the exchange had read, “For me, it is critical that teachers do not water down […]

  • UK Principal Mocked for Asserting Belief That Evolution Is a ‘Theory’ | Walker Ministries | Virginia Beach, VA
    Posted at 00:43h, 04 February

    […] post that sparked the exchange had read, “For me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the […]

  • Emma
    Posted at 13:39h, 04 February

    An excellent book called ‘Creation’s Mutiny’ written by a Cambridge educated medical doctor, Dr M W Seymour, brilliantly outlines why the theory of evolution is flawed and how proven science backs up the claims of The Bible. Might I suggest that you read it to ensure that you gather critical evidence before jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions and espousing such conclusions to young people. Evolution is just a theory and should not go unchallenged. Please do not encourage liberal and secular fascism in our education system by ridiculing belief in God and His Creation of the world.

    Debate is healthy but it needs to be balanced. A doctor needs to gather all the evidence before making a diagnosis. If you have a hypothesis in advance and only ask questions that meet this hypothesis: that is, you only look for evidence that fits your proposed idea, you can make a huge misjudgement. As an educator, it is essential that you fully investigate the other side of the argument. Proven Science screams intelligent design. If you drop a glass on the floor it shatters into thousands of pieces. What are the chances of those thousands of pieces randomly coming together by chance to form a glass? The big bang theory and the theory of evolution are based on never seen evidence and incorrect assumptions, so much so that it takes enormous faith in these theories in order to believe them. There is no proven science to back up these theories but they suit some people’s hypothesis that there is no God. So, people are happy to accept these theories despite the gaping holes in the evidence.

    It is about time that some time is given in Science lessons to proven science that backs up intelligent design. For example, proven science shows that all men and women descend from one man and one woman; that living beings have the genetic make up to look different from generation to generation, but ultimately do not to change species; and that fossils were formed by a sudden, massive force of pressure (conditions created by a worldwide flood), not over millions of years. Ask how a fossilised tree is found among different layers of rock that have been proposed, clearly incorrectly, to differ in age by millions of years. Ask whether carbon dating is flawed as it is based on the assumption that the amount of radioactivity entering our atmosphere has been at the same level as it is now for many thousands of years. Proven science disputes these flawed ageing techniques because the assumptions used are incorrect leading to the wrong answer. I could go on…

    Suffice to say that nothing should go unquestioned or unchallenged. Whatever is true will stand up to scrutiny.

    For Creation’s Mutiny see http://www.ashbelriver.com/new-cover-page-1

    • Tom Sherrington
      Posted at 18:15h, 04 February

      You don’t understand the evidence. But that doesn’t make it false. The flood theory is simply ludicrous.

      • johnthe14th
        Posted at 19:32h, 04 February

        Tom, fossils are laid down almost invariably in sedimentary rocks, which are sometimes several miles thick, and often cover many thousands of square miles in area. Fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks can be found on every continent world-wide almost without exception. Sedimentary rocks (like the fossils contained in them) are invariably laid down in water. Why, then, is it so hard to accept that in order to do all of this, water must have covered the entire earth at some point? Why is this ‘ludicrous?’ In what way is Emma misunderstanding ‘the evidence?’ I believe that the ‘global flood’ explanation is widely discounted simply *BECAUSE* it is a central tenet of the Bible, and not for any other rational scientific reason. I have yet to hear of any better explanation (other than a truly massive amount of water) to account for the geological and fossil evidence we observe on a colossal, global scale.

        • Tom Sherrington
          Posted at 20:02h, 04 February

          That’s a good point. The search for scientific proof of Noah’s Ark, Adam and Eve etc is probably the cause of quite a lot of scepticism. I think that’s well justified. To be honest, I’m absolutely stunned by the stream desperate pseudo-science designed to ‘prove the Bible’. It’s depressing really.

    • Ed
      Posted at 18:19h, 04 February

      Proven science backs the bible and evolution isn’t real?

      I’m now unsubscribing. I can’t have such deluded idiocy in my life.

      • Tom Sherrington
        Posted at 18:37h, 04 February

        Agree. It’s exasperating how far rational folk are expected to go to humour this kind of ignorance of science in the sprit of tolerance and understanding.

    • Dave Godfrey
      Posted at 01:20h, 05 February

      Please point to one piece of scientific research that proves the following:

      Human beings were created from dust

      Snakes not only once had legs but also could communicate with humans (Parceltongue)

      Burning bushes have similar cognitive abilities

      Men with long hair are of superior strength to men with short hair

      Large sea-dwelling animals do not secrete digestive juices

      Thousands of animals ranging from bed lice to elephants can be kept alive on a floating zoo smaller than the San Diego Zoo, cared for by eight people

      Mountains can be moved simply by believing they can be moved

      Once you’ve delivered such proof, I have many many more such questions

  • Ed
    Posted at 18:06h, 04 February

    “In 500 years all Muslims will have adopted their faith to recognise evolution.”

    Yeah. Good luck with that!

  • Tom Sherrington
    Posted at 20:47h, 09 February

    A comment from my step-dad Larry:

    I read your blog on evolution and much of the generally high-level commentary that followed on. Exceedingly well put and necessary. Well done. Can I suggest that a companion bit on myth might be a good thing.

    I start from the notion that the vast majority of what each of us knows s/he knows because someone told her. That is, there just isn’t time in anyone’s life to experience first hand the stuff you need to experience in order to draw a conclusion based on evidence. So we depend on witnesses, authorities. And how do you know if they are reliable?

    I think that’s where myth comes to play an important role in people’s knowledge. We learn myths from experience (how does a family work? how does the bus work? what happens at the cinema? etc.) and from reading, seeing plays, listening to music, etc. And what permeates the heads of most of us is a series of patterns which come up again and again, and I call those patterns myths.

    The two most prominent myths, I think, are myths of confrontation and myths of travel. Confrontation can be hostile, like a war or a negotiation (the Iliad, Paradise Lost) or friendly (love stories, stories like Of Mice and Men). Travel is usually to an unknown place of great promise (like Moses) or a return to home (like the Odyssey). Freud made the Oedipus myth central to male existence, and it still reverberates.

    I think most schemes of thought for most of us turn on various myths, even science (see Hofstader’s Godel, Escher, Bach for illustration). A nice assembly talk on that subject might be just the job, for all of us are almost always in search of some explanation.

    Anyway, here I am offering advice when none was asked for. But the lack of a request seldom stops me from offering advice.

  • Interesting web site | It's Not Available
    Posted at 03:07h, 16 May

    […] My Evolution Assembly. And the Young Creationists. […]