Hi, Pharyngulites! This topic is something we at Cyprus Freethinkers are greatly concerned about, as the only freethinking and skeptic group of the island. Our website is over here: http://www.cyprusfreethinkers.org/. This is only my personal blog, stick around if you enjoy biology, you’ve already single-handedly broken my site visit records! :)
The persistence of creationism is one of the greatest examples of human stupidity. And I mean the entire spectrum of creationism, from the Young Earth crazies to the moderate theistic evolution permutations. When we live in an age where scientific information is available to anyone with an internet connection, there is simply no excuse for such an outdated religious concept to still be considered valid by a notable segment of the population.
Of course, a lot of creationists aren’t creationists by choice, but by virtue of their environment. If someone grows up having been taught no critical thinking skills, false evolutionary biology, and with little access to information, that person will not be able to challenge the ideas taught to them. This is how creationism largely gets propagated: under the guise of religious freedom and using the power of false equivalence, creationists push their drivel into biology curricula, claiming religious discrimination if challenged.
I’m an ardent opponent of all pseudoscience, and especially of creationism. The opposition to creationism comes not only from my duty as a biologist and my pedagogical instincts, but also from personal experiences. I met many creationists in my time in Germany, because of my courageous trolling of the strong evangelical community of the city I was in (Bonn). But encounters with deluded individuals are only nice as party stories.
I became entrenched in the manufactured debate when I encountered schoolchildren being taught creationism by their schoolteachers. Reasons vary, from the teacher not feeling comfortable with evolution due to religious beliefs, to the students demanding not to be taught evolution due to it contradicting their religion. Such stories represent clear failures on the part of teachers, an incredible sense of privilege among students, and an unacceptable lack of control in educational systems.
But nonetheless, these were isolated incidents – single teachers and students going their own rogue way. I have never personally encountered any official endorsement of creationism (in any of its forms) in school biology textbooks, besides the occasional stories one hears from that great paradox of a country, the USA.
Until now. The Ministry of Education of Cyprus has issued new biology textbooks for schoolchildren, and one of the pages there is devoted to retelling the story of Noah’s Ark, placing him as the saviour of Earth’s biodiversity. The offending page and my letter to the Ministry are below. Please, if you care at all about this issue, share the letter (or this whole post), sign the petition linked at the end, and spread the word around. A clean copy of the letter without my lengthy introduction can be found at Cyprus Freethinkers.
A school serves many purposes, but the two primary ones are to teach a sense of critical thinking, and to teach about our current knowledge of the world. This is especially true for the science classes. This is why we view the addition of a section on Noah’s Ark in school biology textbooks, pictured above, as a travesty and an embarrassment to the Cypriot educational system.
There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, the story of Noah’s Ark is nothing more than that: a story. It’s a fable with no basis in reality, and has been conclusively shown to be an impossibility by all relevant branches of science, from biology to palaeontology to geology.
The offending page in the textbook brings it up in the context of the development and evolution of Earth’s biodiversity, citing the Book of Genesis from the Bible, a book written long before modern science, let alone biology as we know it, emerged. It claims that Noah continued Adam’s work by gathering up the organisms of Earth (as a biologist, I must presume this includes bacteria and all sorts of unicellular eukaryotes) to save them from a cataclysmic flood. This ridiculousness is then couched in a positive environmental message encouraging the student to also do their part in preserving Earth’s biodiversity.
It must be stressed that this story of a global flood leaving a blank slate for humanity and life is quite a common one in world religions, with over 40 creation myths from around the world having developed a nearly-identical version of the story (the Abrahamic version was probably plagiarised from the preexisting Babylonian and Sumerian Gilgamesh Epic). This independent recurrence of the theme serves to highlight how much of a tribal concept this is – it’s a universally understood plot mechanism.
It could be argued that its inclusion in the book is not meant to be taken as a literal endorsement, that it’s merely a carrier for the environmental message. But this is nothing more than a pathetic excuse. Why should students be told a blatant lie, when we know the real history of biodiversity? That’s a story that is much more inspiring, and would put the environmental message in the proper context. Most importantly however, it can be backed up by scientific evidence – as befits a science class.
The scientific inaccuracy of this page is the main area of contention, but there are other troublesome aspects. One is the implicit assumption that the reader is familiar with the cast and outline of this story; in other words, it discriminates against any child who is not from a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim household. This is an unacceptable favouring of religions that treat the Bible as a holy book. Considering that these textbooks are official government documents, this represents an undeniable breach of the right to freedom of religion by forcing the myth of one set of religions onto all students, regardless of their personal faith and cultural background.
One might wonder why such an idiotic change in the textbook was approved. The answer lies in the person responsible for setting biology curricula, Demetrios Mappouras, a Christian priest and biologist whose judgement is clearly being impaired by his religious beliefs. The current page is nothing more than Christian propaganda, and would be more fit for a creationist magazine than a school biology textbook.
Our demand is simple: replace the content of this page with a scientifically accurate depiction of the evolution of biodiversity. The current page is highly misleading, contradicting all known science; especially worrisome is the anti-evolutionary undertone. There is a lot of research available from which to provide an appropriate overview; resorting to an irrelevant ancient holy book is a resounding failure on the part of the writers. If allowed to persist, this will not only damage the credibility of Cyprus’s schools and Ministry of Education, but will more importantly have a negative effect on the academic potential of the students.
Research Associate, Enalia Physis Environmental Research Center (entomology, palaeontology)
On behalf of Cyprus Freethinkers
A thorough debunking of the plausibility of Noah’s Ark can be found here (Greek).
Sign this petition to help get rid of this page from the textbook (Greek).