PM speaks on science

Looks like I just can’t keep my thoughts to myself anymore!

Tony Blair in an interview (summary, full text, podcast) with New Scientist tells of his difficulties with science at school and his new found appreciation for it since becoming a political leader.  He talks about his ideas for getting children and business more involved with science across the board and expresses his confidence in the public’s ability to see scientist’s point of view following healthy debates around issues such as stem cell research and GM crops.

But he also dismisses questions on the movement away from rational thought and increases in religious fundamentalism.

In certain areas, we seem to be moving further away from rational thought, whether it’s the rise of fundamentalist religious beliefs or the use of unproven alternative therapies. Do you see any shift in this direction?

I don’t. I think most people today have a rational view about science. My advice for the scientific community would be, fight the battles you need to fight.

He raises as an example homeopathy, saying a battle over that isn’t going to change the world, which may be the case, and he may be right that most people aren’t anti-science, but the problem is, that the people that are have both influence and power in our society.  This lack of understanding is highlighted by the answer to the next question.

One subject that is of great concern to scientists is creationism. There has been a suggestion that creationism is being taught in some British schools. What are your views on this?

His answer?

This can be hugely exaggerated. I’ve visited one of the schools in question and as far as I’m aware they are teaching the curriculum in a normal way. If I notice creationism become the mainstream of the education system in this country then that’s the time to start worrying.

This shows a deep disconnect with the problem at hand; we need only look at the United States to see that.  Their Christian right has so much influence and power that they can continually push creationism into science classrooms across the country despite a constitutional defined separation of church and state.  If it wasn’t for the dedicated teachers, professors and scientists across America fighting this battle I have no doubt that they would have succeeded by now. 

I would normally say "where America goes we are never far behind" but in this case we are leading the way.  There are several schools in the UK that already teach both creationism and evolution in the science class, and as such we cannot accept that this problem is hugely exaggerated.  When we have organisations such as Truth in Science, funded by people like The Discovery Institute who are sending "Information Packs" to every science department in the country pushing bad science, lies and creationism wrapped up in new moniker, we cannot accept that the time to worry is when this becomes mainstream; by the time it becomes mainstream, it will be far too late!

We lost the first battle without even noticing, lets hope we don’t lose the war.

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4 Responses to “PM speaks on science”

  1. boB Says:

    I think that we should make an important distinction on this one, Si.  I was taught creationism at school, complete with the old "you wouldn\’t look at a watch and assume that it had just come into being without a designer" argument.  The crucial difference was that it was taught as part of the RE (religious education) curriculum. 
    I think that it is really important that these issues are raised in schools, all my RE teachers were devout Christians, but by labelling it as RE, it encouraged the class as a whole to realise that this was not a discussion of fact, but of belief. 
    I think that the teaching of creationism in schools is in no way a bad thing, it is the couching it as science that causes all the problems, not because I don\’t agree with it, not because I think that people aren\’t capable of making their own decisions, but quite simply because it isn\’t science and those who label it as such are obviously either not sufficiently educated in their understanding of science, or both dishonest and showing a paradox of faith, (if God truly is the way, "tricking" people, via deliberately misleading science is surely unnecessary.)
    Interestingly I had a conversation with a Christian at the weekend who claimed to believe in "intelligent design".  After a short conversation it became apparent that they didn\’t believe it at all, and were part of the "God started the big-bang" school of thought.  This is an important distinction, because the nature of science means that at the moment, with no data, it would be against our own protocol to make assumptions or models based on what happened prior to this event, putting it firmly in the hands of faith, not science (i.e. an atheist may decide to beleive that it was a physical phenomenon and a Chrisitan may decide that it was a work of God.)  Intelligent design is being preached in churches up and down the country as an amazing thing, by people who simply don\’t understand it, to people who are used to accepting the "truths" from their preacher on a Sunday.  When I explained the true nature of ID, (God, hand-building life cell by cell, planting dinosaurs to "test the faith of scientists") they were quite rightly outraged into being made to look so foolish by those dishonest enough to promote such drivel.
    It is actually my belief that ID is not only an affront to science, but is in actual fact an affront to religion, because it is rooted in the blasphemy that God needs lies to help his PR!

  2. Simon Says:

    I agree with you (and I\’m not sure which part of my post you thought didn\’t agree with that position) as I\’m not arguing that creationism shouldn\’t be taught in religious education.  It is an important part of many faiths and because religion is so pervasive in our society it makes sense for children to be taught about it, if only for historical and socio-economic/political reasons.  Lets just keep it out of the science classroom.

  3. Rathijeet Says:

    dear sir,
               i feel that our honourable former Prime Minister,has been correct in his own way.Since a lot of time,energy,labour has infact been lost in dolling out only a miniscule of useful product so the scientific research has to be more focussed and target specific.Infact a large community of researchers and science people are now engaged in research all over the world so scientific research has to be more specific and less rhetoric.plz rply what u feel.

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