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Saturday 9 April 2011
Letters: Teaching Creationism
Creationism in the classroom
Your articles on science and faith today ("Scientists in uproar at £1m religion prize" and "Scientists and humanists fear creationist teaching is set to creep into more classrooms", 7 April) were both perfunctory accounts of conflicts between foolish extremists. You might as well have invited a panel of Marxists and Thatcherites to discuss the merits and demerits of the welfare state.
Most religious faith cannot be conflated with fundamentalism and the rejection of evolution. Nor is reasoning based on empirical reality all there is to rational thought. There is no real conflict between science and faith. There is a conflict between atheists who do not want to enquire into what empirical reasoning cannot reach, and ignorant religious fundamentalists who fear scientific truth – these two have one thing in common though; they think that evolution invalidates faith in God.
People of faith have made and continue to make key contributions to science, including evolution for that matter. Have the crusading atheists forgotten who founded genetics as we know it? And who came up with the Big Bang theory?
As for education, I for one would like to keep all bigots out of the classroom, and this includes religious as well as atheistic fundamentalists. Faith, for both good and ill, is an undeniable human experience, and needs to be approached intelligently and wisely.
Dr Nicholas Deliyanakis.
Scientists should not worry about whether schools teach Intelligent Design or even Creationism alongside evolution ("Talking about our evolution", 7 April) as long as the teaching is good. If the teachers convey the idea that scientific truth is decided by a sceptical approach and the weight of evidence, there should be no problem in allowing students to arrive at the likelihood of evolution for themselves. If we restrict what can be taught – thereby sending the message that truth is derived from authority not evidence – then we won't end up with good scientists.
Dr Stephen Black
Some very rich religious people think God's creation is a marvellous thing. Someone else finds out a bit more about that creation and shows it to be even more marvellous than previously thought. The rich people give a small portion of their huge wealth to the other person to show their appreciation. End of story. There is nothing underhand going on here, and it seems to me, despite what some others might think, that faith is not being shoe-horned into science, but rather science is being shoe-horned into faith.
The Templeton Prize celebrates scientific achievement for its contribution to understanding the human condition. I would have thought Professor Dawkins et al would be all for such a development.
Andrew T Barnes
The only example Michael Behe – the scientist whose theories form the supposed scientific basis of Intelligent Design – had of an organism which seemed irreducibly complex was a flagellum which propelled itself along with a motor, which turned out not to be so. It came to light that the motor was made up of individual parts which had different functions when not part of such a motor. Ten of its 50 proteins are identical to the formation of a type-III secretory system, which injects proteins into other cells.
If everyone realised that Intelligent Design (which is little more than a resprayed form of creationism) had no evidence to support its thesis whatsoever, we wouldn't be having an argument over whether it could be taught in schools, it being known that it was obviously false.
And while I'd agree with Jerry Coyne's statement that "science is based on doubt and questioning", I'd say that faith was very much the same thing. My theology teacher (who is also both a reverend and a teacher of physics) always tells me that "the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty".
There is no reason why science and religion should not be compatible. The originators of what we call modern science were trying to find evidence of God's complex design instead of the other way around, and indeed there are many scientists today whose scientific understanding of the universe goes hand in hand with their belief in God's existence.
Henry St Leger-Davey
What could have tempted Martin Rees to accept the £1m Templeton Prize?
East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire
Football to blame for surly kids
A survey carried out on 1,008 parents of children aged between eight to 16 years reveals that their offspring are frequently not gracious or sporting in defeat and that their behaviour can be abusive and at times violent (report, 4 April). From where can these youngsters be learning this kind of behaviour?
Surely the answer lies in the disgraceful, but sadly common type of outburst witnessed last week from Wayne Rooney on the football field at West Ham, on this occasion not even following defeat, but victory. To many youngsters these overpaid, indulged footballers are heroes to be worshipped, admired and emulated. So is it any wonder that the behaviour they see not only on the field, but also on the terraces, gets copied and accepted as the norm?
Last year at Chelsea my husband and I were forced to endure a man in the row in front shouting obscenities throughout the game, which not only ruined the match for us, but made me dread the time when my young granddaughter might come with her father and have to be exposed to the same awful tirade. What lesson would any child learn from such an experience?
Until we get back to any sense of fair play and good sportsmanship, any hope of our children behaving in a controlled and civilised way on or off the field may well be a pipedream.
Midwives must be held to account
We were glad that in "Britain's maternity wards in crisis" (4 April) Jeremy Laurance included poor leadership and lack of training as factors exposing women and their newborn children to risk, most notably in areas such as London. However, we were dismayed to read that Cathy Warwick, General Secretary, Royal College of Midwives, is quoted as singling out "a shortage of midwives" as the key problem when, in our son's experience, the poor quality of a midwife's performance can be equally problematic.
The midwife who carried out the heel-prick test on our five-day old son didn't observe basic hygiene rules, resulting in him developing an infection that nearly cost him his leg. We ignored her misleading assessment of his serious condition a few days later and rushed him to hospital. It then transpired she had "lost" his test sample, yet another breech of standards of midwifery care.
What appalled us further was that even though Cathy Warwick, then the hospital's General Manager for Women's & Children's Services and Director of Midwifery, acknowledged these numerous failings, the midwife was not disciplined or retrained, let alone reported to the National Midwifery Council.
We encountered an attitude geared to put off all but the most persistent of parents and a system structured to protect the interests of midwives over those of vulnerable children. The debate about maternity care can only be properly held if the subject of poor professional standards in midwifery and proper accountability is included. It seems almost impossible for children's guardians to hold underperforming midwives to account due to the obduracy of midwifery leadership on this issue.
Name and address supplied
It's interesting how after every nuclear "accident" or disaster we hear the same mantra, "lessons learnt... can't happen again..." Only it does. Britain is certainly not squeaky clean. There have been incidents at Windscale (1957), at the Wylfa Magnox power station on Anglesey (1993), and at Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant (2005).
In Japan the Tokai-mura accident of 1999 was a direct result of cost-cutting and appalling safety standards. The JCO Corporation, which operated the Tokai-mura plant, ran an experimental reactor known as Joyo. There, untrained and unsupervised workers caused a nuclear reaction that lasted up to 20 hours, exposing the plant and 500 metres beyond to levels of radiation many times above the official safe dose.
No government regulator had inspected the operation in 10 years. As a result, the labour ministry conducted inspections of 17 facilities. Health and safety violations were found at 15. Inspections of nine nuclear-fuel processing plants and laboratories found 25 violations, ranging from inadequate training of staff to failure to provide workers with regular medical check-ups and failure to report radiation exposures. Lessons learnt in time for Fukushima?
How bad is it?
Your leading article of 5 April described the NHS reforms as "an obvious car crash". On the news the same day, an MP likened them to "a slow train crash". Perhaps we should establish an agreed hierarchy of disaster analogies, so that people immediately know just how badly things have gone awry. Defeat of a minor amendment to a bill might be "a puncture" or "points failure", while the collapse of a major piece of legislation would merit images of the Titanic.
Perspectives on the tax regime
End avoidance and evasion
I can assure Bob Fennell (Letters, 5 April) that he most certainly is not the only Independent reader who wants to see the deficit drastically reduced.
A serious assault on tax avoidance and tax evasion would yield substantial dividends. The trouble is that, while claiming to attack tax avoidance in his recent Budget, the Chancellor has in fact opened up a number of additional opportunities for those who wish to avoid paying tax. At the same time, tackling tax evasion will require outlawing those offshore centres providing bank and corporate secrecy, with the existing information-exchange agreements in place largely ineffectual in doing the job.
Civil servants do their best
"Could it be that... [tax] laws are written in the first place by lawyers and accountants deliberately to be exploited?" (Letters, 5 April). Er, no. They are written by a tiny number of civil-service lawyers working against ridiculous deadlines to (1) create the taxes that policy- makers want, either for ideological reasons or as a result of lobbying by business, and (2) to try to handle the unexpected consequences of previously doing (1) without enough time to think through all the angles.
Labour must seize the moment
Johann Hari (1 April) is right; it is high time for Ed Miliband to mount an incisive attack on the Tory jugular. The Government has declared class war on most of its people and the services they use.
It has no mandate for this but justifies it with two lies: that the debt is so far out of control that it can't be done any other way, and that it is all Labour's fault.
Labour appears to have abandoned any attempt to find a way to convey to the public in straightforward language that these are lies. Why not call them that for a start? In fact its hesitant "We would cut, but less" lends credence to them and does not begin to respond to yet another lie: the claim that "We are all in this together".
Millions of people know or sense that this is untrue. The Labour Party must articulate this sentiment and make it absolutely clear that the present inequitable tax regime and the scandal of tax avoidance will be ended. This would not merely throw down the ideological gauntlet but demonstrate that there is a real alternative to the destruction of the social fabric.
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
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