On 3 September 2014 the Scottish Secular Society lodged a petition before the Scottish Parliament calling for the Scottish Government to issue specific guidelines to schools banning the teaching of the Biblical account of Creation. The actual wording of the petition reads;
“Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.”
This petition, which was supported by Nobel Prize winners Sir John Sulston, Sir Harold Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts, grew out of the recognition that creationist literature and dogma was finding it’s way into Scottish schools. That concern not in the least grew out of the Kirtonholme Primary School scandal. In 2013 children at Kirtonholme Primary were handed out books by Alex Gear, a minister with the West Mains Church of Christ in East Kilbride, who had been official School Chaplain for eight years, and Jared Blakeman, a missionary for the Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute, whom Mr Gear was supervising. The books in question were How Do You Know God is Real?, and Exposing the Myth of Evolution. When the scandal broke, headteacher Alexandra MacKenzie, and her deputy Elizabeth Mockus were assigned other duties pending an enquiry, and the Church of Christ Group’s chaplaincy at the school was revoked. Ms MacKenzie was unrepentant and wrote in a letter to parents;
“While I appreciate that not every family in our school are practising Christians, I was only too happy to accept this generous gift on your behalf. I hope you will all accept it in the spirit with which it was offered.”
Kirtonholme was a turning point, which signposted the dangers of allowing fundamentalist religious groups into state-owned non-denominational schools. It is not the only such example of creationism making insidious inroads into Scotland’s schools, and the dangers of young minds being indoctrinated with unscientific ideas concerning creation. It was due to this that the Scottish Secular Society felt the petition was an absolute necessity.
On 15 December 2014, the Scottish Government gave it’s response to the petition, which was disappointing in the extreme. One paragraph stands out in particular;
“There is no intention, either stated or implied, for schools to limit classroom discussion and debate about complex, challenging or controversial topics such as those posed by Creationism. For example, within the context of the delivery of the “Experiences and Outcomes” in Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Religious and Moral Education it is likely that concepts of creationism and evolution, will be discussed in a variety of contexts. Moreover, Creationism is not identified as a scientific theory or topic within Curriculum for Excellence. Evolution however is specifically covered in the Experiences and Outcomes for the sciences.”
There are those who may find this a reasonable response, that creationism may be discussed in Religious and Moral Education (RME) classes, but it would not be allowed within science classes. This means however that a child may be taught about evolution or deep time origins in a science class, and be taught that the Bible is factual and that the Genesis account of creation is true, in the same day. At the least that is going to confuse young and impressionable minds, at the worst it could see some completely indoctrinated.
It is surely the duty of schools to teach and emphasise that which is factual above that which is unproven or untrue. In taking such a dismissive stance however, the Scottish Government has set a dangerous precedent whereby any and all controversial ideologies may be perfectly valid topics for discussion. Indeed, if Biblical teaching is valid, what is there then to prevent some extreme right religionist teaching that the Jews killed Jesus or preaching Holocaust denial? What indeed then is there to prevent Christian zealots infiltrating schools and indoctrinating children with their own bigotry against other religions. These may seem extreme examples but when one considers the sectarian bigotry which is the scourge and shame of Scotland, then they are not beyond the bounds of possibility.
And should we be alarmed. I would say two sentences in the government response should be treated as very alarming. They state;
“I can therefore confirm that there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education
authorities to prevent the presentation of Creationism, Intelligent Design or similar doctrines
by teachers or school visitors. The evidence available suggests that guidance on these
matters is unnecessary.”
No plans to issue guidance, and guidance is unnecessary. Had there been guidance to Kirtonholme Primary School, then the scandal which saw children issued with unscientific dogma and two headteachers removed from their posts, would never have happened. That incident proved that guidance is very much necessary and one cannot but help feel that the Scottish Government is at the least burying their collective head in the sand, or at the worst bowing to pressure from religionists who are bent on taking over Scotland’s schools.
Also if the Scottish Government feels there is no need to present guidance to visitors, then that is giving a green light for groups such as the Church of Christ Group and the Sunset International Bible Institute to push their insidious literature further. And that should be of great concern to all Scottish society, not least because the books handed out at Kirtonholme were written by fundamentalist Christian evangelist Kyle Butt, an odious man whose other publications including homophobic works including Homosexuality – Sin or Cultural Bad Habit? That is but one example. Other evangelist literature which could find it’s way into Scotland’s schools voice extremely bigoted views and include downright lies and dangerous claims such as condoms do not prevent STDs or pregnancy.
The Scottish Government response concludes;
“I can confirm that there are a number of policies and safeguards in place to ensure that
children and young people receive a broad and balanced general education. Safeguards
include; school managers having oversight of curriculum planning and resources; local
authorities with robust complaints procedures, independent school inspections and the
development of curriculum materials through a collegiate approach that provides for early
identification of any inappropriate material.”
The Scottish Government will have to excuse me if I fail to share their confidence. For the Kirtonholme debacle proved that there are not sufficient safeguards in place, and had Holyrood taken this stance at that time, then the chaplaincy of the Church of Christ and the distribution of creationist literature to children would have been fully validated. England already has guidance to ban the teaching of creationism in state schools. I never thought I would live to see the day where the English education system would be more forward thinking than that of it’s Scottish counterpart.
Frankly, I expected better of the SNP Administration in the Scottish Parliament.
Details of the petition, including the Scottish Government response, can be found here:
For more information on the Scottish Secular Society, their website can be found here: