Transcript by Conrad Knauer
[host (Jeremy Vine?) in front of image of the earth]
Host: It may be the start of national science week here in the U.K. but in the United States fundamentalist Christians have been having their say. When the Kansas board of Education voted to drop evolution and the big bang theory from its science tests it was a huge victory for the fundamentalists who want the creation story from Genesis told instead. This is all supposed to have been sorted out 75 years ago in fact in the famous John Scopes 'Monkey Trial' where a teacher in Tenessee was prosecuted for telling his pupils about evolution but later vindicated. But today in 2000, Kansas seems to be the place where the Bible's view of creation is being hatched all over again. And crucially, this time, scientists have decided they must fight back. Here's our science editor Susan Watts.
[image change to split screen of open books; Origin of Species on left, Genesis on right; hymns playing in the background and images appearing over the respective books]
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...
In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some ape-like creature, man as he now exists...
[change to image of woman with both hands on a table]
Mary Alley: God, I thank you for this day, this week, this opportunity Lord.
Susan Watts: This is the oldest Christian school in America's mid-west and believe it or not, this is a science lesson.
MA: Often, we hear 'creation is not scientific, but a belief'. I represent to you the same thing about evolution. It is not substantiated; very good hypothesis, but it is not proven.
SW: The parents of these young people know the atmosphere in which they're taught biology, but changes to the Kansas state curriculum due this month could mean all schools head in this same direction- closer to the fundamentalists Christian view that evolution is a 'belief' or theory, the teaching of which must be balanced at every step by the theory[sic] of creation.
[scene change; interview with Mary Alley 'Science Teacher']
MA: The school policy is that we teach, in our science[sic] curriculum, creation--- biblical creationism as the truth, or as the facts.
SW: You would refute, or put to one side the fossil evidence?
MA: I, um, have been aware of the asking for that evidence and its never been produced, uh, thruthfully, so if they don't have the evidence, then I'm havin' a problem.
SW: In many states, including large states like Texas, there's been strong public opposition to spending state money on textbooks that cover evolution. In Kentucky, one school glued together the pages of an earth sciences book which covered big bang because the Genesis account wasn't included. And Alabama and Oklahoma require every biology textbook to carry a sticker which is an evolution disclaimer.
[man reading disclaimer aloud]
"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth, therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered theory, not fact."
[hymns played in background; images of human ancestors]
SW: There have been attempts in several states to influence educational standards so students would not be taught evolution. Just this year, there have been serious new efforts to pass laws with strong anti-evolutionary aims.
[states shown on a map (? I think these are the ones; its hard to make out)]
Michigan Illinois Texas Alabama Nebraska Idaho Kentucky Pennsylvania South Carolina Colorado
SW: In Indiana, a law to teach creationism alongside evolution was rejected. In Kentucky a new law will ban the teaching of human evolution has passed. And Arizona is considering teaching 'evidence' against evolution alongside evolution.
[scene switch; man in car]
SW: There's no doubt that Kansas has been the incubator. Last summer, John Bacon was one of six on the ten-strong Kansas Board of Education to vote that large scale evolutionary theory need not be tested. The Board decides the content of state-wide standards for exams. The vote means that in a busy schedule, teachers need not cover the central tenent of modern biology--- that all species, including humans, evolved from one very simple form. John Bacon says its just a matter of balancing[sic] science with the idea that there's a creator or designer behind nature.
[scene change; interview with John Bacon 'Kansas Board of Education']
John Bacon: There's scientific evidence out there that would point definitely to design and that uh, I don't think that its fair that we just say that is not admissable in a science classroom. The importance to me was to make sure that uh, more than one theory of origin was being presented in science class and wasn't just uh, putting one theory of origin over all the rest of them and say we can't talk about those anymore.
[scene change; clip from "Inherit the Wind" United Artists 1960]
Man 1: Darwin took us forward to a hilltop from where we could look back and see the way from which we came, but for this insight and for this knowledge we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.
Man 2: We must not abandon faith!
SW: The Kansas row echoes the so-called 'Monkey Trial' of 1925, recreated in Spencer Tracey's Hollywood portral of a lawyer, defending a Tenessee teacher who dared tackle evolution. Today's debate's the same: creationists reject the overriding theme of Darwinian evolution.
Man 1: The horse is swifter and stronger, the butterfly is far more beautiful, the mosquito is more prolific, even the simple sponge is more durable. What does a sponge think?
Man 2: I don't know; I am a man, not a sponge.
[scene change; fossils in a lab]
SW: Kansas sits not only on America's Bible belt, but also on its dinosaur belt; a zone rich in the fossil evidence creationists deny. They accept what they call 'microevolution'; step by step changes by natural selection within one species, but reject that over millions of years, one species can change into an entirely new one.
SW: Right; well what dinosaur is it that you're working on?
Man: Well, we're working on a Camerosaur (sp?) which is, um related to these guys here--- its long neck, long tail, plant eaters. And the bone I'm working on right now is the femur...
SW: Lee Allison took up the post of Kansas state geologist just two weeks before the school board's vote. He thinks scientists mistakenly think good science will stand on its own merit; they shy away from political debate, and they're no match for what he sees as the well-oiled political machine of the creation lobby.
[Lee Allison 'Kansas State Geologist']
Lee Allison: Over the past twenty or thirty years, we've seen a very sophisticated, well funded, well trained, actually well educated group of people who are trying to push forward a religious agenda. They've been building up their support, by putting people into elected offices for many years, for a decade, of getting enough people in until they have a majority and when none of us expected this to happen in Kansas, it caught us all by surprise.
SW: There seems to be uh, almost a sense of victory if these people can persuade scientists to admit that 'evolution is just a theory;' is that a misuse of the word theory?
LA: The anti-evolution group is misusing the concept of a theory. They're using 'theory' as is generally used out on the streets by anybody; 'Gee, I have a theory that, uh its going to rain tonight.' Well, it's it's just a hunch, it's a speculation, a guess--- that's not how we use 'theory' in science. A theory is a well documented explanation of natural phenomena based on multiple observations, multiple tests, developed from many arenas and brought together to develop a theory.
[scene change; inside a church, organ music being played]
SW: There are those who can see a way for science and religion to live together, that each can have supremacy in its own domain. Scottish reverend, Douglas Phenix has lived in Kansas for seven years; he says the problems come only when these two domains start to overlap.
Doug Phenix: On the third day, its the land that's created. On the sixth day, its the plants and the animals and human beings that are created.
[Rev Doug Phenix]
DP: My reading of the book of Genesis is that it is, and particularly the first chapter of Genesis is that it is much more in keeping with a liturgical piece; for use in worship and, uh, for use in, eh, in a faith statement kind of setting than it is intended to be a nuts and bolts uh description of what happened and when it happened and how it happened. I think that we do the Bible as a whole a disservice when we try to use it as a scientific textbook.
SW: Reverend Phenix belongs to 'Kansas Citizens for Science'; local teachers, scientists and businessmen who are trying to reverse the state education board's vote.
Man: I passed around, for some of you to take a look at, our billboard that will be going up for the month of March; its in a high-traffic area in Kansas City...
SW: they point out that the supreme court has already ruled that anti-evolutionary moves in other states contravene the First Amendment, which enshrines the concept of state and religion as separate. The groups leader says the education board decision is already having an impact on a local rural level.
[Jack Krebs 'Kansas Citizen for Science']
Jack Krebs: I've heard of young teachers, uh in um first or second year teaching not tenured who would actually have a fear of bringing these issues up because if they arouse the wrath of even a few important people in the community, that can cost them their jobs. Uh, its much much safer at that point, particularly since nothing's on the assesment, to let the subject slide. I think this is one of the most insidious dangers from the board's actions.
SW: And now the political overtones of this issue are coming to the fore again. In a few months time, several members of the state board of education are up for re-election. And here, they're hoping in the end that democracy will resolve the Kansas science debate.
[scene change; houses]
SW: These suburban streets may not look like the scene of a rebellion, but they're the tranquil backdrop for an increasingly passionate confrontation. Scientists here fear dire consequences not only for Kansas, but for the whole of the U.S. if they don't win now.
LA: Its a war and we lost the first skirmish and now there's a battle coming up on an election; there's a battle over the hearts and minds of the people of Kansas. So within Kansas we're going to see the dumbing down of our science cirricula. We're going to see businesses, high-tech businesses, question 'should we be continuing to operating in Kansas?' or 'should we move in?' Long term and across the country, if they win here and they get this this cirriculum mandated on our kids, its gonna send even a bigger message all over the country that yes, everybody else can do it and you're going to see the entire U.S. step back a couple of generations in science.
JB: There is an element out there in the scientific community that's very upset and I know that they're going to work very hard to uh try to get someone who represents their views on the board, but that's part of the our, um you know, our our I guess democratic process in America--- is for those sides to uh to uh try to rally support and uh see how the vote turns out.
SW: Have you changed your views thought?
JB: Absolutely not, no.
[scene change; back to the two books and hymns]
SW: The two camps remain entrenched; but the tale unfolding in Kansas may prove a warning to science far beyond the boundaries of this one state.
[scene change; room with several people and a few interesting props]
Host: Susan Watts reporting there. We're joined by some scientists and a creationist and we'll start with you, uh Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, from Ohio, and you believe; just to get the facts straight at the beginning here--- the Bible story of Genesis: Noah's Ark, Adam and Eve, the world being created in less than a week?
[Ken Ham 'Executive Director Answers in Genesis']
Ken Ham: I certainly believe the Bible's acount of history as presented in the historical narrative of Genesis, that's true.
Host: So, uh, were there dinosaurs on Noah's ark?
KH: You know, the Bible says that every kind of land animal that god created; kinds are different than species of course--- lots of species within a kind, but every kind was represented on Noah's Ark. Certainly I believe that the dinosaur kinds were represented on Noah's Ark, yes.
Host: And going back to the subject of the film there, do you believe that uh Kansas is right to drop evolution from science teaching standard tests?
KH: Well actually, what Kansas really did, you know, as biological evolution is still in the cirriculum; I don't know how many, if you've read the science standards, I've read them, and biological evolution is still there. Uh, they were deleting, uh macroevolution from being tested and that's the belief aspect of evolution--- I mean...
Host: So that's, so that's the big picture; that's what people understand by evolution theory starting the world--- microevolution isn't really the point here, is it, and that's what's being deleted--- macroevolution, so are you in favor of that having gone?
KH: Macroevolution is the belief[sic] concept of molecules to man; microevolution involves natural selection, mutation, the scientific things we observe; I think that students should be allowed to hear, you know, the belief[sic] aspects of evolution and they are going to be allowed that, because it is in the cirriculum.
Host: Professor Blakemore, what what do you make of this situation?
[Professor Colin Blakemore 'Neuroscientist Oxford University']
Colin Blakemore: Well, I think it's very bad for the next generation of Kansas school kids frankly. It's very hard to see with this kind of set of beliefs about the world how they're going to contribute to the exciting developments in molecular biology, in genetics, in biotechnology and they sit down and take advantage of what science has achieved: they turn their TV sets on, they play with their computers and so on; it seems very odd to put into a different category beliefs uh their beliefs of how the world arose.
Host: Do you think its dangerous?
CB: I think its dangerous actually for the future of american science, yes. I don't think its actually deeply dangerous to human beings; they're free to believe what they like, but it's a great pity they don't have an opportunity to see what a good story science has to tell.
Host: Russel Stannard, you are a physicist as well as being a Christian; do you believe in the creation theory[sic]?
[Professor Russel Stannard 'Nuclear Physicist Open University']
Russel Stannard; Um, certainly not, no. Um, I, I'm a physicist, though I certainly have read a great deal about evolution and I'm just totally convinced that evolution is actually the answer. As for the big bang, the evidence in favor of the big bang rather than six days of creation is absolutely overwhelming and I just find it extremely sad that these Americans, fortunately it doesn't happen much over here, these Americans seem to feel that there's some kind of conflict here between science and religion. I think that if one reads the early chapters of Genesis, the way they were meant to be read, in other words, you get into the mind of ancient people, the way they passed on the fruits of their wisdom in story form, these are not scientific accounts, they were never meant to be scientific accounts, they are...
Host: Let's come over to Mr. Ham on that; you must hear this every day of the week, so what do you say?
KH: Well yes, actually, I take Genesis the way Jesus Christ took Genesis and Jesus Christ tells us in the New Testament how to take Genesis; he quoted it as history, and its actually written as a historical narrative. I mean, you have what are called vast consecutives of the Hebrew languange showing that its historical narrative. You know, the thing is this--- if you can't trust the Bible for areas of science, you can't trust it in areas of morality and that...
Host: And carbon dating, radiation dating, all that stuff doesn't work?
KH: Um, all dating methods, any dating method is based on assumptions; one has to look at the assumptions to determine their validity or not; students need to be taught how to think about those issues, let's be honest.
Host: Uh, Professor Steve Jones, what is this going to catch on here, do you think?
[Professor Steve Jones 'Geneticist University College London']
Steve Jones: I think not, I mean what we're talking about is a lot of stupid people in the United States, um, I feel...
KH: Are you calling me stupid then?
SJ: I'm an Australian too I might add. I feel less generous about this, uh business than my collegues, but I really despise people who make it their business to tell lies to children, which is what these people are doing. The evidence is absolutely overwhelming of the fact of evolution.
Host: If someone stands up in class and says 'God exists' is that a lie?
SJ: Oh no, that's a totally different issue. I often think of the arguments between science and religion as being a bit like a fight between a shark and a tiger; on their own territory, each of those are very powerful beasts, but if it moves into the territory of the other one, it's bound to lose. And history has told us that whenever religion in this particularly obtuse way has moved into the territory of science, its lost and has been damaged as a result--- you only have to look at Galilleo to see that. But in fact not only is the...
KH: Can I comment on that?
SJ: Can I just finish what I'm saying? Not only is this kind of talk damaging to science, more important perhaps is that its damaging religion.
Host: But science and religion do come together, don't they? And Professor Stannard your trustee at the Templeton foundation has launched an experiment to seek an answer to the ultimate question 'does God exist?' well tell us about it. You're testing...
RS: No no no that is seeing whether it is possible to test the phenomenon, the phenomenology of intersessory prayer.
Host: Of prayer.
RS: The the experiment is making very very clear indeed that this is not an atttempt to try and prove God's existance.
Host: Sure. You've got three groups with similar conditions set up; 1800 volunteers and the prayers are going on and you're trying to find out wheter it works or not.
RS: Well ok, fair enough, but if if the if it is found that the people who are prayed for, uh, recover from illness better than the others, all that proves is that prayer works. It doesn't prove that god exists because people who do not believe in god can perfectly well say that 'well I think that what is actually happening is that there's a telepathic link going on from the intercessor to the person who's being prayed for' and and and people who are doing such experiments recognize that that is an alternative interpretation.
Host: Is that a worthwhile use of science Professor Blakemore?
CB: Yes, I think putting forward a testable hypothesis, gathering evidence, keeping an open mind, willingness to reject the idea if the evidence contradicts it, that's all that science is.
Host: It goes against the shark and tiger theory a bit though, doesn't it; because the two are compatable in that model, aren't they?
CB: No, because the interpretation in terms of God is only one alternative; one alternative interpretation as Russel has said which is being put up; a group of people sit down and pray for others to recover and they get better and there's some force which is mediating that process. That doesn't necessarily have to involve god.
RS: But science and religion do interact. Broadly speaking, I do go along with Steve, that they are concerned with different kinds of questions: very roughly, scientists are concerned with 'how' questions, 'how do things behave?', 'how did we come to be?' in this particular form. That's the scientific question, wheras religion is more concerned with 'why' questions, you know 'what is the purpose of life?', 'why are we here?' sort of thing- 'why are we here?', not 'how did we come here?'
Host: Is there any place for science in religion Mr. Ham?
KH: You know, one of the things I'd like to comment on here is the fact that us, these scientists if they'd go back and learn the lessons of Scopes Trial, talk about accusing us of telling lies, at the Scopes Trial, nearly all the so-called scientific evidence presented for evolution as fact in the transcript has been rejected by evolutionists today; they've changed their theories, by the way, the Bible hasn't changed. And the other thing is in regard to Gallileo, they need to read the history books on that too; because the church accepted what the universities were teaching, the Greek Ptolomeic view of the universe, they tried to justify that with verses from the Bible instead of letting the Bible speak clearly in truth from Genesis and so its really the other way round in regard to Galilleo and what was said.
Host: Professor Blakemore?
CB: Yes, but I don't think that you should see a change in opinion amongst scientists as a weakness; its actually a great strength, exchange of opinion amongst scientists is based on evidence. I mean, science is not that dogmatic as this, which, I'm afraid, you appear to be, saying Genesis is absolutely true.
KH: Well, are you saying that evolution is absolutely true?
CB: Certainly in the broad context of evolution, I'm...
KH: Oh, so you're saying that its dogmatic...
CB: There are details of it which certainly can change on the basis of evidence...
Host: We should take note that its sort of three against one and so just to come in on Mr. Ham's side, its worth pointing out that surveys in the states say that roughly half the people feel that Mr. Ham's version of reality...
CB: Yes, I mean that's a remarkable...
Host: Professor Jones, what's happened? Because that's a massive loss of faith in scientists isn't that actually?
SJ: I find it rather baffling. I mean, I have a slightly positive feeling towards a very dismal finding that over one hundred million Americans claim to believe this nonsense. One of the good things about America is that there's a lot of cynicism there--- they don't like to believe what the government tells them, and that's a very positive thing; and if the government says that evolution is true then maybe evolution isn't true...
Host: But it's not evolution it's scientists who are saying who are rejecting it.
SJ: But you know, the problem is part of it is that I spend each and every day arguing about the details of evolution...
KH: Could I ask the gentleman a question?
SJ: Could I finish what I'm saying? Many people disagree with me on some of my views of evolution, but it's like going, it's like this argument let's go back to the beginning. Mainly in fact if you consider the earth doesn't go round the sun, maybe the sun goes round the earth and we give that equal time--- now that would be regarded as ludicrous, and it's just as ludicrous to have this argument that one book of faith, the Bible, which is different from many other books of faith all across the world has got one model of evolution. It just doesn't make any sense at all.
Host: Are there are there positive roles for religion in science Professor Stannard? Can, religion for example be used to police science?
RS: Well, I don't really know what you mean...
Host: Well, you get a bishop in to tell you wheter you should clone people for example.
RS: Well, that's not. I think I think that is an application of science. I think thet, em, scientists are concerned with trying to understand how the world is. As soon as we've made our discoveries, there then becomes possibilities for using that information, then everybody's involved; bishops, the government, the ordinary public is involved. Those sorts of decisions must not be left solely to scientists.
Host: People are scared of science in this country, aren't they. There's a poll here which says 86% of people think clergymen tell the truth and government scientists are believed by only 38% of people, so you're losing to Mr. Ham.
KH: You're not losing to me, you're losing to the Bible maybe. I'd like to ask the scientists a question though. The question I'd like to ask is this: I hear talking in generalities all the time; the fossil record and so on, and of course observing the solar system is very different to observing origins when we weren't there, that's a very different matter, I mean what, I mean if I convinced the public that evolution was true, instead of just generalizing; the fossil record, generalizing you know, just various things. What's something that you think is absolutely convincing that evolution's true? What would you say?
Host: Well let's have that quickly...
SJ: Here's a nice example that's come up in the last ten years: there are two species of salmon in American lakes, one of which goes to the sea and one doesn't, one of which is big and one small. What's happened is that salmon have been moved into new lakes and within the last twenty years they've split into two forms: one big, one small, one goes to the sea, one stays at home. That's the origin of species seen in our own lifetime.
KH: That's speciation, but that is not evolution in the molecules to man sense; they're still salmon.
SJ: What is evolution if it is not spe, wha what was Darwin's book called? It was called The Origin of Species.
KH: Evolution is an increase in information. Matter generating information. Give me an example of new information being formed, not information that's already there.
Host: Just going back to your theory of how the world began, Mr. Ham, and how the dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, at what point do they become extinct?
KH: Well you know, lots of animals become extinct every day; what, one to three species of animals become extinct, that's why we have endangered species programs. Personally I believe they've become extinct in the last hundreds of years since the time of the flood, but uh certainly not millions of years ago.
Host: In the last, what, four thousand years?
Host: But there's no fossil evidence for that at all, is there?
KH: Well, again, you gotta, what do you mean by fossil evidence? When you find fossils...
Host: You say, three thousand years old?
KH: Well, you don't dig up fossils with little labels that say 'I'm three thousand years old', you dig up fossils and you use dating methods based upon assumptions that date rocks and there are all sorts of problems with those dates in that you cannot exclusively prove how old those fossils are or not.
Host: Professor Blakemore do you think science can dismiss the supernatural?
CB: I think what scientists can't dismiss is people's willingness to believe in the supernatural and that's an extremely interesting phenomenon; I think that religious belief, or at least some kind of spiritual belief is so deep in people, so widespread, so universal in all humans groups, it must represent something which is built into us, I think by the evolutionary process. We have to ask ourselves, what is the selective value of what I believie to be rather curious ones like Mr. Ham's.
KH: Well its built in because we're made in the image of god, who says the knowledge of god is within us and we're crying out for who we are and he's revealed to us in the Bible and at that time we started believing in him.
Host: You could see how he could claim that that what he's saying there is largely supposition, guesswork, faith, whatever and that evolution is is not yet totally proven, so why not put them side by side; I mean, can you follow that, that you should give people a choice...
RS: I certainly follow that, but philosophers of science point out that in a sense, science never proves anything; uh, this goes back to Karl Popper, the philosopher...
Host: That's almost the ulitimate concession...
RS: Except except that the weight of the evidence can be so absolutely overwhelming that it becomes intellectually dishonest to accept an alternative.
Host: And the irony in a discussion like this, its the man with the least evidence who comes over with the most conviction in a sense.
SJ: That's his greatest weakness... The greatest weakness of his argument, that is that there is no concievable evidence from the world of science that would cause this gentleman [pointing to Ken Ham] to change his mind. Now, I would be very depressed if I were suddenly forced to believe that evolution hadn't happened, but I am willing to believe the possibility; he isn't.
Host: Thank you all very much indeed. Its fascinating, thank you.