This paper first appeared in Issue 7 of the 'Skeptical Adversaria' (the Newsletter of ASKE, the Association for Skeptical Enquiry), 2003, p1.
I suppose it's an advanced sign of aging when one increasingly finds oneself looking back and asking why so many things that didn't appear to be broken at the time have since been 'mended'. This insight came to me when it was announced that a school in Gateshead is supposedly teaching the biblical account of the universe's origin as part of its Biology syllabus.
When I was at school we too were taught this, but only as part of our religious education, or as we called it then 'Scripture'. We were also taught the same at Sunday School. Actually, I myself and many of my schoolmates were never formally taught Darwinian evolution at all; I dropped Biology at the age of 14 years as it was so badly taught. I assume that evolution was on the O-level or A-level syllabus. Most of my own knowledge of evolution has been derived from hearing other people talking about it, reading about it for myself, watching television programmes, and so on.
I can't see why children cannot still be taught biblical accounts of the origin of the universe and humankind in their Religious Education classes and evolution in their Biology lessons. At least, I do not see why people committed to science should have any objection to this arrangement. I can well understand, however, why it doesn't suit the creationists. It certainly doesn't suit Sir Peter Vardy. Nor does is suit him that he has apes for ancestors. 'I don't believe my ancestors were monkeys' he protests. 'Where do monkeys come from? If we come from monkeys - where did they start?' Well, if he read about evolution he would have his question answered. Of course he's got a right to believe whatever he wants, but he's also got something the rest of us don't have. He's got £75 million. And £2 million went to the school in Gateshead.
I suppose there was a time when, in a way appropriate to my age, I 'believed' the story of Adam and Eve. The second stage in my relationship with this story was to believe that whoever wrote it must have been some kind of half-wit; why seemingly intelligent people were willing to give it the time of day was beyond my understanding. It was only much later that I entered a third stage; namely astonishment that some thousands of years ago a person was inspired to write this story that, even today, raises profound questions about morality, the relationship between man and woman, humans and animals; about sex and sin, the power of knowledge to corrupt, and so on. The story can only convey the power of its message if it is interpreted as a fable and not a as literal account of the creation of the universe.