Thursday, February 01, 2007

What is the BCSE's competency, exactly?

We already know that the "British Centre for Science Education" don't have credentials that would allow them to speak with any kind of authority about science education (one, two, three). But just what is their specialist area of knowledge? Again, despite their large output on religious questions, it's certainly not this either (one, two).

In recent days I received an e-mail from a creationist scientist, who had some comments to make on what he had seen on the BCSE's website. I thought that the e-mail made so many telling points about the BCSE's lack of knowledge of the things it seeks to critique, and about the quality of the BCSE's research, that I asked him for permission to publish it.

My correspondent is a qualified scientist and a fellow of the relevant society, and has published a good deal of material. Or in other words, he knows what he is talking about.

Here it is:

Hi David,

I thought you might want to capture Roger Stanyard's latest post on the BCSE forum before it disappears - because it's just possible that it will be deleted once his friends realise how off-the-wall it is!

Roger's stated aim in his posted article is to describe "intelligent design theory" for the general public as they browse the BCSE website. As we've come to expect from the BCSE, the errors and misrepresentations are numerous - so much so that it's difficult to know where to begin putting it right - but Roger manages to make this contribution even more hilarious than usual. Here are just a few things that immediately spring out:

1) It's only a draft, I know, but Roger's English grammar and spelling are extremely poor - ironically something that the BCSE used to claim was a characteristic of those poorly-educated "fundies". This suggests that the article was written in a hurry with little attention to accuracy or detail - surprise!

(David comments: My correspondent is referring to some of Mr. Stanyard's mocking words on the BCSE's now hidden "Rough Guide To Fundamentalism" page, which I have covered in previous posts: one, two, three. I have not drawn attention to this myself as I have had it suggested to me by someone else who noticed Mr. Stanyard's consistently poor spelling that he has a mild form of dyslexia - but his hypocrisy in abusing others (as he does on the afore-mentioned page) for the same fault is blameworthy and justifies the mention of this).

2) Roger repeats the standard nonsense about creationists believing in the separate creation of individual species - but, as informed creationists point out ad nauseam in articles and talks, the diversification of species within the created kinds is an integral part of the creationist model of the history of life. A cursory browsing of any major creationist website (AiG, CMI, BCS, etc) would have revealed that inconvenient fact to Roger.

3) One claim (presented by Roger as a creationist belief) is truly bizarre: "existing species suddenly start producing offsprings of a completely different species and then, after a short while, revert to back breeding their own species. So hippos suddenly start giving birth to whales or tigers to lions or foxes to wolves. Or dinosaur eggs suddenly start hatching into mammals or birds." It's difficult to imagine where Roger could have picked up such an extraordinary notion - perhaps he's confusing creationist views with the evolutionary "hopeful monster" theory of Goldschmidt? It's certainly not from any creationist literature I've ever read.

4) He says of creationists: "The majority believe that all life was zapped into existence on a single day, within a few hours, 6,000 years ago." On a single day? You'd think the term "six-day creationist" would be a giveaway even to the BCSE!

5) Roger seems to think that God individually created species such as mammoths, tigers, lions, sabre-tooths, etc from the very beginning. In fact, creationists regard these species as having arisen by the diversification of the created kinds after the Flood. For example, lions and tigers are varieties of cat probably descended from an ancestral pair of cats taken on the ark.

6) And then Roger makes another bizarre claim that he attributes to creationists: "And all of these creatures would be sterile and incapable of breeding...They would never have any young. None of the birds would produce eggs, raise chicks or eat insects." Now why on earth would creationists believe such an odd thing? Roger has the answer: "That’s because, in the opinion of the proponents of Intelligent Design, the bible says so." I wonder, then, what he makes of Genesis 1:22?

7) After all this, Roger has the brass-neck to say that "intelligent design" is "a seriously bent scam", "an insult to religion", "devoid of even basic common-sense and honesty" and promoted by those who are "deliberately deceptive, evasive and completely dishonest. They lie, out of necessity, repeatedly and habitually to promote their beliefs." He concludes: "If you believe in Intelligent Design, you have been had and therefore a mug." Reading this extraordinary article, the words "pot", "kettle" and "black" come to mind.

Now, of course, Roger has only offered this as a "draft" for "feedback". But it's embarrassingly bad even for a first draft. As a piece of "research" or even a critical summary it's shambolic. If a creationist author had submitted an article of equivalent quality to our journal, (snip), I'd reject it immediately. Not that any of Roger's colleagues have so far managed to point out these failings to him. So far they've advised him to use a spell-checker, suggested that he's really describing creationism rather than ID, asked him to qualify his use of the word evangelical, and invited him to take into account the fact that there is a Muslim creationist movement - but the blindingly obvious mistakes, errors and misrepresentations have gone completely unremarked! It suggests that Roger and his friends in the BCSE actually know next-door to nothing about the very movement they are seeking to criticize - which hardly inspires confidence in their campaign!

I hope this might spark some useful thoughts for your blog.

David's comments:

My correspondent is completely correct, but I think that his corrections will be lost on Roger Stanyard. Mr. Stanyard's standard response to the revelations from this blog has been to claim, in effect, that he knows better than his opponents do about their own beliefs. If you try to correct him by explaining what you really believe, he will tell you that you are lying! (This was Stanyard's response to the "Theocracy" series!).

My correspondent was, however, wrong in his suggestion that some member of the BCSE would eventually jump in to point out how embarassingly ignorant Stanyard's understanding of ID and/or creationism were...

David Anderson

Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

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