Daily Archives: 10 March 2006

Wedge strategy or salami slicing? Two equally valid theories

Creationism is to be discussed as part of the GCSE biology syllabus:

The [OCR] exam board says students need to understand the background to theories.

Its new “Gateway to Science” curriculum asks pupils to examine how organisms become fossilised.

Teachers are asked to “explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)”.

Sounds innocent enough. Except that creationism as it is currently understood is very much a modern phenomenon. The Biblical creation myth was a hodge-podge of different creation myths borrowed from other cultures. There was no “creationist interpretation” before Darwinism, there was just the Bible and a lack of any other satisfying explanation. A series of theories, not least of all Lamarckism were explored, before the scientific community settled on Darwinism. Creationism is a reaction to Darwinism and the enlightenment, a modern literal interpretation of a clearly allegorical myth. Its place in a lesson on “interpretations of the fossil record” merits a paragraph or two, sure, but such a lesson would only have validity if it mainly focussed on the various attempts at formulating a scientific theory.

I’d dearly like to know who in OCR came up with that guff, as it has all the hallmarks of the wedge strategy, the well documented plan by US evangelists to subtly undermine the enlightenment by dressing up dogma as quasi-scientific scepticism. Intelligent Design is of course a famous example of this strategy.

I didn’t catch all of Rod Liddle’s Dispatches programme on Monday, but what I saw was disturbing enough. The picture that Liddle painted was that of teachers selected for their faith rather than ability, a subtle but no-less-comprehensive attempt to infect science teaching with religious dogma without falling foul of Ofsted and a selective use of exclusion to remove “troublesome” pupils. As time goes on, I have no doubt their confidence will grow. Meanwhile, another evangelist is planning to use his money to create a chain of McAcademies, and despite being a Tory donor, Blair has rewarded him with a peerage (if he can passed the Appointments Commission). Overseeing the entire schools revolution, of which these are just a small part, is a woman who has well known sympathies to the Opus Dei cult.

This is a full scale onslaught on scientific reason, salami slice by salami slice – make no mistake. It has its links with the religious hatred laws and the moral authoritarianism of the Respect Agenda. All this is being presented to us in perfectly reasonable terms: it’s about choice, or respecting communities, or tackling anti-social behaviour. The risk of creating sectarian tensions and a hysterical culture of intolerance is glossed over.

What to do about it? Where do we begin? But we can make a start at least by talking about it.