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Monday 24 April 2006
Letters: Children with autism
Children with autism are very low on the list of priorities
Sir: Ryan Davies's aunt has my support when she draws attention to the plight of families coping with mental health and learning disabilities ("Mother very likely to have died with son, police say", 19 April).
My younger son is 14 and severely autistic. At the age of 12 - the age Ryan was - puberty started with a vengeance, and, as he has the mental age (on a good day) of about a three-year-old, we were launched into hell. Whilst at age three you can deflect those full-blown tantrums, when you are faced with 6 ft, 14-stone of aggression there is nothing to do. In the past I have been left with bruises that have taken over three weeks to go, large lumps on my head from being head butted, and on occasions I have feared that I would end up with broken wrists.
My son has a twin sister who goes through agonies wishing she could be of more help to me despite the fact that it is, in part, her support and friendship that keeps me going. I also have a 15-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. The three of them are towers of strength and wonderful carers who help me with their brother, but children should not have to see their mum in total despair.
Autism seems to be very low on the list of priorities; once the diagnosis has been made there is no automatic psychiatric follow up. When people talk of disabilities and inclusion they think of wheelchair access, not autism. My son is unable to be included as he is too distressed by every day life. He attends a special school (where they are saints as far as I am concerned) for children on the autistic spectrum.
I am on medication for depression, and am coping with what little help is available (we have no parents living, and relatives live too far away). However, we have now made the decision, with the support of my son's school, to look for 52-week residential care. I am sure I am not alone, but I really do feel I have failed my son as a mother.
STOCKPORT, GREATER MANCHESTER
Creationist views should not be stifled
Sir: Why is it that as soon as someone says anything in favour of creationism (in this case, Australian creationist John Mackay whom you report, 21 April, is making a lecture tour ), we get a knee-jerk response from the National Secular Society and scientists who argue for evolution? It's not enough for these people to say they don't agree with creationism, or that they think the evidence is strongly on the side of evolution, they want to ensure that people with differing views are not to be heard.
Is this the poor state of what science has come to these days? It's not about using evidence to evaluate different hypotheses. It's no longer even about seeking to win a debate in favour of a dominant theory, through setting out evidence in favour of evolution, and enabling the logic of the argument for it to be compared with alternatives. Rather the approach is to prevent people with opposing views being heard at all.
I happen not to believe in a literal six-day creation. But the attitude and approach of people like Richard Dawkins is enough to make me wonder why they behave as though the case for evolution is not actually strong enough to allow opposing theories to be considered.
To try and settle scientific argument by saying there is only one possible view (and those studying an issue should accept it because the experts say so) is not actually good science and is undermining public understanding of what scientific method is supposed to be about.
Sir: Despite what creationists like John Mackay may believe - that science is being manipulated to justify atheistic beliefs ("Creationist descends on Britain to take debate on evolution into the classroom", 21 April) - all the evidence is to the contrary. The forerunners of today's scientists, the "natural philosophers" of the 17th and 18th centuries, were overwhelmingly pious clerics seeking to provide evidence for biblical teaching. That they found the evidence increasingly at odds with their beliefs was wholly unexpected.
Pivotal in the ensuing arcane theological disputes was the role of enigmatic fossils. These were never seen as "proof of evolution", rather, that the earth was considerably older than biblical chronology allowed. Furthermore, their place in rock strata indicated the earth had been formed by natural forces rather than created by divine fiat - here the seminal work of Bishop Nicolaus Steno in 1669 would provide the basis for the new science of "geology".
Though natural theologians continued to modify their "sacred theories" in the face of new evidence an even more disturbing implication of fossils was the possibility of the extinction of species. This was devastating to the central tenet of the biblical teaching that all species were created "good" and cared for by a Providential Creator. The only alternative seemed to be that they were diabolic "demon lizards" (dinosaurs), until another explanation was proposed by a pious candidate for Holy Orders, Charles Darwin.
One of the most distinctive features of this epic of discovery is the way evidence forced the modification of dearly held beliefs, often in the face of great personal trauma. It seems that the modern breed of creationists are not up to this challenge. Not only are they unable to accept the evidence for natural evolution it seems they cannot even accept the evidence for the evolution of creationism itself.
Sir: When John Mackay claims he has uncovered fossil evidence which dismisses evolution and proves that Noah's flood really did happen, he neglects to mention evidence that the Flood and Deluge, as well as the Bible tales of Adam and Eve, Solomon's judgement, Samson and the pillar were all stolen from over 400 earlier Babylonian and other pagan accounts. These were all recorded long before the Bible Mackay relies upon as fact was written.
Isn't it time we began devoting our time to man instead of supernatural tales, and begin to civilise ourselves?
TOPANGA, CALIFORNIA, USA
Sir: Creationists certainly do believe in and accept natural selection (report, 21 April). However, they dispute the claim that natural selection could be the mechanism for molecules-to-man evolutionary change.
Charles Darwin observed variation, for example, in the Galapagos finches, and rightly concluded that the different varieties had most likely developed from a common finch ancestral pair. From this he wrongly concluded that all life had evolved from a common, single-celled entity - something natural selection is not capable of.
DIRECTOR CREATION RESOURCES TRUST YEOVIL, SOMERSET
English language needs reforming
Sir: Those who are adepts in the literacy skills necessary for active participation in society are often the most blind to the need for reforming our spelling system, while those who are without these skills tend to blame themselves.
Being an aggregate of about four European spelling systems English, with its contradictory rules and sub-rules, its extensive lists of irregular words and silent letters, takes years to learn, as correspondents to your letters page have pointed out. Anyone under the illusion that English orthography is systematic or easy to learn could usefully source the ideas of Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, G B Shaw, Mark Twain and others.
In comparison with the regular and reformed European languages, English is eccentric and archaic. It has at least 11 ways to get the sh sound and 14 ways to make the -er sound at the ends of words; most and post rhyme with toast but are spelt like cost. In fact there are a ridiculous 600-plus different ways to make the 44 or so sounds in English: compare this to the 33 letter combinations in Italian. No wonder so many of our children are struggling.
Most modern European languages are the products of reforms: Finnish and Spanish seemed to have been reformed once a century (since the 18th century) and Italian started in 1610.
English, a world-language with the richest of vocabularies and the advantage of a simple grammar, is a shambles when it comes to spellings. It is overdue for a clean-up. Anglophone societies, with their high rates of prison incarceration and illiteracy, will go on incurring great costs while spelling remains in its dysfunctional state.
Sir: Interesting to read Derek Allum's defense of Spanish as having a successful alphabet (Letters, 21 April). But there's no reason to travel so far. Britain already has a perfectly good language with an alphabetic alphabet - Welsh. This also deals with the "regional accent" question. North and South Welsh are spoken differently but the written word is the same. And, to put the icing on, government forms are already available in Welsh.
Sir: Why does David Cameron have to actually go to the Arctic (causing more global warming) to see the glaciers melting? Can't he just take it on trust, like the rest of us? It reminds me of when John Prescott was flown out to the Maldives to see the coral reefs there that were dying as a result of a rise in sea temperatures. I wouldn't mind a fact-finding mission there myself; seeing is believing, I suppose.
Sir: Call me naive, but surely the Green Party has a more compelling case for the green debate (front page, 20 April) than either of messrs Brown and Cameron, who are each trying to convince us that they deserve the "green vote"? Please stop lending their greenwash legitimacy by giving it column inches, or at least let the Greens have their say too.
Sir: David Lister ("Are there any signs of life in Stratford?", 22 April) states that there is no direct train service from London to Stratford. He is wrong.
It is possible to travel from Marylebone to Stratford and back for afternoon and evening performances. The journey takes just over two hours and if travelling after 10am costs £10 return.
Sir: I note that GPs now earn between £100,000 and £250,000 per year (report, 19 April). This contrasts with the pay of a senior university academic which is less than £45,000 per year. Most lecturers are educated to at least PhD level and many of us are involved in the education of medical doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists etc.
Our jobs are at least as skilled, stressful and responsible as those of GPs. No wonder that university lecturers are angry about their poor levels of pay, which the university employers show no signs of wanting to improve (report, 20 April).
DR CHRIS DACKE
READER IN PHARMACOLOGY SCHOOL OF PHARMACY AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
Sir: Instead of lining up for our water ration at the standpipes in the summer, may I suggest an alternative: buy or rent a dehumidifier, leave it running in the garden and collect the water it removes from the atmosphere. (This will only work in the warmer summer months when humidity levels are high). To pay for the electricity, bottle any surplus water, add a twist of lime and sell it to the public.
EAST PRESTON, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: "Black & Tan" (Letters, 22 April) was a popular pint in most pubs when I was a young man. I believe it consisted of half a bitter topped with a bottle of Guinness. I suspect the ice cream will taste sweeter.
LONG MELFORD, SUFFOLK
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