The Royal Society: Fundamental Secularists?

In last week’s Observer Magazine was a well researched article about one author’s journey into the heart of New Labour’s educational core invention, the so called ‘Academies’. As far as I understand the concept, it’s an independent school not under the control of the local authorities, seed funded by private companies or individuals who in turn have a say about the educational priorities. They can appoint govenors and oversee the curriculum. This of course can be a can of worms if the sponsor’s worldviews or beliefs are extreme or unusual. Geraldine Bedell, the author of the article observes pointedly the Royal Society’s concerns about the promotion of creationism in the three academies the ‘evangelical Christian Sir Peter Vardy’ (her words) is sponsoring. Surely a valid point of view? I am sure we would be outraged if we would find out that an Islamic faith school somewhere in Nort England would be teaching the ideologies of Al-Quaida. Lord Adonis, the government’s parliamentary undersecretary of state responsible for schools interestingly enough begs to differ. Quote:

“The schools which have been most criticised by fundamentalist secularists have without exception been praised for the quality of edcation they are offering. And parents are queing up to send their children to those schools.”

Now hold on a second. Worrying about creationism in schools makes you a ‘fundamentalist secularist’ ?

I am aware that in a country that combines the head of state with the head of of the state religion secularism might be a slight problem, but funnily enough I always thought the the United Kingdom traditionally had a more relaxed attitude to religion than their fire and brimstone spewing evangelical brethren from the United States. But what makes a fundamental atheist? Somebody who wants to keep out creationism out of biology class? I would have thought that this should be a mainstream view (outside the U.S.).

What about being able to choose to not attend religion classes at school? Again, I am pretty sure that most adults in the western world (again, apart from the U.S.) would allow a mature, consenting 16 year old to make up his or her own mind whether he/she wants to attend state sponsored religion classes.  For George Pitcher, conservative commentator for that most enlightened (cough) of British broadsheets, the Telegraph, this too is ‘secular fundamentalism’.  But then Pitcher is an ordained minister and can hardly be taken seriously on that subject as his bias is more than obvious. But Adonis?

I have no idea how a statement like this can slip out. My instinct tells me that Adonis didn’t read that particular press release and some evangelical intern wrote the statement without checking it with his superiors. I find it hard to believe that the Ministry for Children, Schools and Families is secretly purporting the introduction of intelligent design into the curriculum, especially now that Tony Blair has left the building, but it does leave a sour taste. It’s alarming enough that The Royal Society had to get involved and remind the government of the importance of leaving creationism outside the classroom.

I wonder whether the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has a branch in the UK. Maybe it is time to introduce Lord Adonis to His Noodliness.