There is room for religious tolerance

'The big issue facing parents, teachers and the education system today is apparently the teaching of creationism'. Picture: PA

'The big issue facing parents, teachers and the education system today is apparently the teaching of creationism'. Picture: PA

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THERE is a clear and present danger to Scotland’s children. It is something that is so serious that it requires new laws, press campaigns and parental vigilantes to ensure that our children are not infected with this epidemic.

We are not talking here about child poverty, sexual abuse, family breakdown, bullying or a lack of educational resources. No, the big issue facing parents, teachers and the education system today is apparently the teaching of creationism.

The Scottish Secular Society were so concerned about this that they wrote in an open letter to the education secretary, Mike Russell, “As you will no doubt be aware, creationism and the denial of evolution has been found in three separate Scottish schools in a very short period of time. This confirms our belief that such views and excesses may be endemic in the system.” They warned of a vociferous parental backlash, intense media scrutiny and that: “If this is left unchecked there is a very real potential that such views can continue to affect this nation’s most precious resource – our children.”

The trouble is that like many such campaigns there is a great deal of hot air and emotion and very little reason and calm thinking. I have a suspicion that if Wee Johnny came home from school and announced that his teacher was a practicing witch, the school would be congratulated on its equality and diversity policy, but if he announced that she was a creationist the demands for interrogation, protection and resignation would be immediate.

Creationsit

But what do we mean by creationist? By definition all believers are creationists in that they believe in the Creator, whether they are Catholic, Protestant or indeed any of the monotheistic religions.

In Christian understanding there are three main types of creationist; theistic evolutionists, old earth creationists and young earth creationists. This latter group is in a minority in Scotland but in a majority in many areas of the US where the “culture wars” between secularists and religious people are most vociferous. These culture wars are not part of our culture or our education system, so why are the tiny secularist groups seeking to introduce them into Scotland, and induce this kind of panic?

By using the word creationism but not defining it, by playing on people’s fears and prejudices, and suggesting that Scotland’s schools are being infiltrated by American fundamentalists who are the Christian equivalent of the Taleban, the Secular Societies are using the issue to further their cause of privatizing religion and driving Christianity out of the Scottish education system. When I suggested that Secular Scotland (SS)was raising its hands in glee at the recent fuss generated in East Kilbride and Lasswade, the response was “as for rubbing our hands in glee, yes we are. Not at the downfall of this teacher, but at the publicity which secularism gets from this story.”

Campaign

Secularists have been boasting that their campaign is “creating waves across the country’ and rejoicing that secularists are to be invited in to talks with the pupils.

The more militant secularists have a witch-hunt mentality and all the fervour of religious fundamentalists as they seek to root out the heretics. Earlier, SS had issued a general appeal to their supporters to become whistleblowers, reporting whether various Christian groups were active in any schools they knew with the promise that details would be “of great interest to a journalist contact”. This results in a climate of fear, frustration and intimidation with someone going so far as to suggest a creationist teacher “should be drummed out of town”.

I have a rather old-fashioned notion about education, one that comes from my Christian perspective. Education is not there to tell people what to think, but rather to teach us how to think. Surely if we encourage inquiring minds, rationality, honesty, a sense of wonder, humility, hard work, openness and free access to information, then we have nothing to fear from children being presented with different perspectives on many different subjects? As someone who believes in Truth, I have no problem facing challenges to what I believe. That is where the open-minded tolerance of Christianity is such a boon to our education system.

Do we really want to exchange our traditional Christian-based education system for one where fundamentalist atheists using an ill-defined secularism and an even poorer defined threat of “creationism”, create a moral hysteria that results in anything that deviates from their absolutist truths, being outlawed and banned? Do we really want to silence the majority of Scots who still actually believe that the universe did not self-create out of nothing, but was created in some way by an Almighty Creator? Do we really want a creationist witch-hunt?

• Rev David Robertson is director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity
www.solas-cpc.org

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