There's room for explaining both evolution and creationism
There's room for explaining both evolution and creationism
Sir: As a Christian who believes the theory of evolution to be fundamentally true, I was somewhat dismayed to read in your front page article concerning state education (8 July) that Sir Peter Vardy, an evangelical Christian, has been "accused of allowing the teaching of creationism in science" at Emmanuel City College in Gateshead.
What does this "accusation" amount to, and why is it, by implication, dangerous? Does it mean that pupils are somehow indoctrinated with creationism and denied access to the evolutionary hypothesis? The answer is no, as the national curriculum and examination system does not allow this. Does it then produce pupils who are academically weak or bad citizens? This is empirically not the case.
Good scientific method rests a serious consideration of empirical observations, and the competition of various hypotheses, free of prior metaphysical considerations. However, educational science, unlike other "non-scientific'' subjects (such as disciplined theology), rarely demonstrates how historically one might choose between competing hypotheses. In the case of the development of living organisms this could well be demonstrated by explaining the competing hypotheses of creationism and evolution, explaining that sincere people believe both, offering the empirical evidence for both, and allowing the pupils to come to their own conclusions. If the case (as I believe) for evolution is good, then most will believe it.
Any educational system has implicit as well as explicit ideological commitments. Where these are explicit (as in a church school), there is a hope that they can be intelligently and critically examined as part of the pupils' education. Where they are implicit, as in the crude rationalism, atheism, and scientism propagated in most schools, they generally are not, and it is academic and civic standards that suffer.
Fr DAVID MUNCHIN
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire
Enforce court's ruling on Israeli barrier
Sir: Following the International Court of Justice's ruling by 14-1 that Israel's construction of its de facto annexation wall on Palestinian land is contrary to international law (report, 10 July), we call on the British government to lead the international community in ensuring that this significant ruling has more than simply a symbolic impact.
The Palestinian people - as an occupied people and therefore protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention - are now dependent on the international community to enforce their human rights. As a signatory to the Geneva Convention, the British government should remind itself that common Article 1 posits a positive obligation on all signatories to ensure respect for its provisions, many of which are violated by Israel's unlawful wall.
Until now, the sad irony of the government's role has been that whilst it rushed to take unwarranted military action contrary to international law in one part of the Middle East last year, it has shown no indication of implementing its duty under international humantarian law to take effective steps to prevent egregious violations of human rights in the same region of the world.
For the sake of peace and justice in the Middle East, we call on the British government to abide by its own obligations to ensure the enforcement of international humanitarian law as decided by the international community's foremost legal forum.
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
St Johns Wood, London NW8
Sir: In his reply to the verdict of the International Court of Justice on its security barrier, Israel's justice minister, Yosef Lapid, has reportedly said that whatever the UN general assembly might decide, his government would only recognise decisions by Israel's own courts.
This comment should cause immediate and grave concern to the international community. Israel has consistently refused to abide by the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to open her clandestine nuclear arsenal to the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There is now a very real danger that in the not too far distant future this Israeli administration, or some future Israeli administration, will use nuclear weapons against her neighbours and will start a conflagration that could well engulf us all.
Now that we know just how contemptuous the Likud government is of the international community, it would appear that time is of the essence. The European Union should act now to impose trading sanctions against Israel to ensure that Ariel Sharon complies with international law and with world public opinion.
Sir: Martin Stern's letter (8 July) attempts to offer rational support for David Blunkett's plans for religious hate legislation, but instead illustrates why such legislation is unworkable.
He thinks the legislation could work by banning attacks on individuals or groups because of their religious orientation, but could also allow attacks on a religion per se. This could allow me to be offensive about his most sacred beliefs, his deity or any other aspect of Judaism, if I avoid mentioning him or any particular groups. The alternative, that no religious comment would be tolerated, is obviously ridiculous.
He mentions the problem of defining a religion, and suggests the Home Secretary draws up a prescribed list with a right of appeal. The Home Secretary is not qualified to decide the validity or merit of any given beliefs. It would be bizarre if he were. Public resources would need to be allocated to determine whether Scientology, Rael, Eckankar or Druidism, to name some examples, constitute religions under the terms of the proposed legislation. All of these groups have been subjected to public ridicule on occasion and have defended the legitimacy of their beliefs. Any appeal process would be a frustrating and expensive experience for their members and the judicial system.
Finally he gives an example of the kind of statement which should be allowed under the proposed legislation: "Most suicide bombers have been Muslims." In fact the most active group of suicide bombers to date are the Marxist-Leninist Tamil Tigers. In the main their membership are atheists from Hindu families. If the legislation comes into effect Mr Stern could be in big trouble.
Sir: Martin Stern makes a valid point about Muslims and suicide bombers. Hopefully he would consider it appropriate to round his comments by adding that whilst the Act should ban manifestly untrue statements such as "Most Israeli Jews are killers," it should permit the unfortunately true converse that the overwhelming majority of killings of civilians in Israel/Palestine have been carried out by Israeli Jews.
Sexism in F1
Sir: I was disheartened to read the article by Jane Nottage dismissing sexist behaviour in Formula One with the "give as good as you get" excuse. As a manager in the police service I am aware of the coping mechanisms put in place by minority individuals who feel the need to conform and seek acceptance from the group. As a correspondent, Jane has the ability to confront such behaviour in a very public way - in the press. This avenue is not open to those coping daily in the workplace, and it is disheartening to see her condone such behaviour.
Wake up Jane, your tit-for-tat response will only reinforce such behaviour and make offensive behaviour acceptable in Formula One.
Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: Whoever programmed Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams in the two Blue Peter Proms on 24 and 25 July must have real guts. The piece has been programmed at the Proms twice recently, but on neither occasion was it actually played due firstly to the death of Princess Diana and then because of the 11 September terrorist attacks.
I'm no Nostradamus, but I reckon something bad will happen.
Holidays on a budget
Sir: I was amused by Chisato Nishiyori's description of her "budget holiday" (Save & Spend, 10 July). If you're really on a tight budget your holiday clothes are the ones you already have. If you do need a new swimsuit the cheap high street shops can supply one for under a tenner. You take economy bottles of shampoo and suncream, and your "usual handbag" manages to make it to the beach without self-destructing.
Just the extras for Chisato's single-person's budget holiday cost a lot more than the whole holiday my family of six is taking this summer.
Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire
Sir: I'm so glad to know that we stressed parents can solve all our holiday problems simply by taking a nanny. Why hadn't we thought of that before? I'll be straight on to the nanny agency to see if they have someone for us (prepared for a wet week's camping in Devon). Can't wait for next week, presumably the dilemma of what to do with one's polo ponies.
Sir: If Ryanair wants us just to take hand baggage (report, 9 July) what arrangements are they going to make for our nail scissors, which for security reasons are confined to checked-in luggage? Are we supposed to have short holidays and long nails?
Bury St Edmunds
Sir: Your correspondent from Ann Arbor, Michigan (letter, 9 July) neglected to point out that Ann Arbor is not a typical industrial or rural midwest town. It is the home of the University of Michigan, one of the three highest rated state universities in the US. There are more than 50,000 university students and staff in a town of about 150,000 souls.
So, no surprise that there were queues "three and a half city blocks long" to see Michael Moore's film Farenheit 9/11. Had the film been shown at another southeastern Michigan town of similar size, say Hamtramck, Roseville or Livonia, I sincerely doubt there would have been such a turnout.
Dr HELEN ANNIS
Sir: Jono Wardle (letter, 10 July) seems to entirely miss the point regarding criticism of 4x4s. I am not jealous, but seriously concerned for the environment, the safety of other road users and the sanity of the British public. With fuel consumption around 20mpg and the chances of dying in side-impacts 27-times more likely than with "tinny little runabouts", the use of 4x4s for the school run or shopping is completely indefensible.
If these concerns are signs of "childishness" and "jealousy", I can only agree with Ken Livingstone that drivers of 4x4s in urban areas are "complete idiots".
Steeple Bumpstead, Essex
Sir: The phenomenon of Malvern Water going north and Highland Spring going south (letters, 8 and 9 July) has some curious international twists. The preference for Italian bottled water in British Italian restaurants is perhaps understandable, but some years ago I saw the distinctive blue bottles of Welsh Ty-Nant water being served in one of most popular piazzas in Florence.
Dr JOHN SCOTT
Salt in food
Sir: There are two things I notice from your report about salt in processed food (July 9). First, is that apparently it's unremarkable that people seem to rely on tinned spaghetti, pizza and baked beans. Maybe that is as big a problem as the salt itself. Secondly, the main culprits adding too much salt to food are the supermarkets from the lower end of the market.
Why is there still this quality apartheid in our society? Processed food costs more than fresh food, but apparently those with least money still don't know this.
Sir: How on earth does Tony Blair expect to win a referendum on Europe while Gordon Brown continues to bully British shoppers out of the main benefit of the EU's single market by confiscating the tobacco and alcohol they bring back and often their cars as well?
Commissioner Frits Bolkestein would strike a blow for freedom by taking the UK to the European Court of Justice over the Chancellor's party-pooping policy.
GRAHAM WATSON MEP
(Liberal Democrat, South West)
Sir: Despite the use of torture and inhuman treatment to obtain "confessions", not one of the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been charged, tried or convicted of any offence.
As a lawyer Mr Blair should not need to be told that they are therefore innocent, but perhaps he genuinely believes they are guilty (report, 7 July).
Sir: As a hard-working teacher at a so-called bog standard comprehensive I was somewhat distressed last weekend to see a large banner in a well-known supermarket advertising "back to school" clothing. We haven't broken up for the summer holiday yet.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire