The magnificent science of 2013.

January 7, 2014

Two extremely bright stars illuminate a greenish mist in this and other images from the new GLIMPSE360 survey.

2013 was a wonderful year for science. Thousands of breakthroughs in medical science, in space science, in technology, and genetics changed human understanding of ourselves and the universe that we inhabit, forever. We are now far closer to treating disease, to understanding our evolutionary journey, and to exploring the cosmos on a scale far greater than we were just twelve months ago. Each breakthrough deserves articles for themselves, but I thought I’d present a few here in snippets, with links to articles that describe the astonishing scientific breakthroughs of 2013 in greater detail. Here is a brief year in science:

January:
After a severe gout infection in his hand, Mark Cahill became the first man in the UK to undergo a successful hand transplant. Here.

In early January a study from Caltech in Pasadena estimated that each star in the Milky Way galaxy alone, contains at least one planet. This further estimates that our galaxy is home to at least 100 billion planets. In just one galaxy. In 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there exists 125 billion galaxies. Here.

Also in the UK, a team of experts cured blindness in mice. The treatment – which includes injecting light sensitive cells into the eye and rebuilding light sensitivity – could in future be the launching pad for treating retinitis pigmentosa in humans. Here.

In Bolivia, a team of researchers discovered that injecting certain engineered stem cells in the minutes immediately following a stroke, could significantly aid recovery. The discovery was made after rats suffering a stroke were found to regain completely normal brain function within two weeks, after stem cell treatment. Here.

February:
In early February, researchers made a significant breakthrough in the development of potential treatments for both Parkinson’s and Alzheimers, by finding a way to overcome the problem caused by the blood-brain barrier – a barrier between the blood and the brain that blocks drugs from entering blood tissue. This is a remarkable step forward for the treatment of neurological disorders in humans. Here.

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have managed to engineer 3D printing techniques to create stem cells. The researchers believe it could be the first step in creating brand new organs, without the need for organ donation. Here.

Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover became the first human machine to drill a hole into the Martian surface, and recover samples for analysis in order to discover whether the planet ever held conditions for supporting life. In March, results showed that the rocks contain oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. A clear indication that life may have once existed on the Martian surface. Here.

Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Autonoma successfully cured type 1 diabetes in dogs using a method of gene therapy. To achieve this, a new gene is coded and used to replace a damaged gene. Here.

March:
My particular favourite – red wine makes you live longer. So if any of my readers appreciate me continuing to exist, you should send me red wine. Here.

In March, stem cells taken from mice and humans were successfully used to create new teeth to replace damaged teeth in mice, leading to the possibility of stem cells being used to create new teeth for humans in the future. Here.

In Leipzig, for the first time the full genome of Neanderthal was published, using a toe bone found in Siberia. By understanding Neanderthal’s genome, we get a clearer picture of the genetic divergence between modern humans, and our cousins. Neanderthal’s genome is a window into the history of humanity. Here.

The genetics of oesophageal cancer were more thoroughly understood, in March. Mutations in a number of genes were located that directly match those required for the development of the cancer. This is key to developing treatments to target the horrific disease that kills 400,000 World wide, every year. Here.

April:
Researchers discovered in April, the genetic mutation that can lead to the build up of certain proteins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease. This discovery significantly aids researchers in developing treatments that target those areas of the brain with a view to understanding, treating and preventing Alzheimer’s on a far more targeted manner. Here.

Kidneys are the organ most in demand across the planet, for transplants. Scientists in April successfully created a lab grown kidney and transplanted it into animals, using stem cell technology. Whilst still in its early stages, this is a major breakthrough in stem cell research. Here.

A safer and easier technique of transforming bone marrow stem cells into healthy, functioning brain cells was produced by the Scripps Research Institute in April. This leads to far better treatment for stroke, and spinal injuries. Here.

May:
Energy efficiency in low grade silicon was improved greatly in 2013. UNSW in Australia developed a technique to better control hydrogen atoms, improving electrical efficiency from 19% to 23%. By October of 2013, the team was aiming at silicon solar cells with 29% targeted efficiency. This also helps to lower costs. Here.

Scientists at UC San Francisco successfully cured epilepsy in mice, opening the way for treatment for the prevention of the causes of epilepsy in humans. Here.

Fossils found in south west Tanzania seem to confirm earlier DNA analysis showing that monkeys and apes diverged 25 to 30 million years ago. By 25 million years ago, the fossils suggest old World monkeys and apes had separated. Here.

Neuroscientists at Lund University successfully prevented early symptoms of Huntington’s Disease in mice, by switching off a mutated protein in the brain. Treatments for Huntington’s is currently lacking, but this research provides the basis for future experiments and eventually treatments for Huntington’s in humans, by showing that symptoms can be controlled by dealing with the mutated protein. Here.

June:
In June the US Supreme Court ruled that a company could not patent genes. It sounds obvious. But that’s exactly what Myriad Genetics in Utah attempted to do. The company attempted to patent isolated DNA connected to ovarian and breast cancer, which in turn meant other groups had vital research frustrated and threatened. The Supreme Court rightfully ruled against Myriad, and research and treatment costs are now expected to fall. Here.

Researchers in London pioneered hologram technology to be used to lecture theatres across the World designed to make is easier for students to understand – through visuals – the huge amount of information they study. The effect is one in which a study subject – such as the kidney – appears to be floating in mid-air and can be manipulated for teaching purposes. Here.

The Israeli company NeuroDerm – a company supported by the Michael J.Fox Foundation – has developed a skin-administered treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and initial reports are very promising. Here.

In June this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb working on therapies for metastatic melanoma and with a new drug, found that a third of patients were still alive three years later. This is a major breakthrough, because almost 100% of those suffering from the advanced disease in the past, do not survive. The therapy was said to lead to rapid regression of the tumour. Treatments are currently undergoing greater research into why it only seems to help around a third of patients. But the advancement in cancer immunotherapy was named the breakthrough of the year, in December this year. Here.

July:
The London Array. The World’s largest offshore wind farm – with 175 turbines – opens in the Thames estuary in London. It is set to reduce annual Co2 emissions by 900,000 tons; equivalent of 300,000 passenger cars. Here.

New research can now be opened for Down’s Syndrome, after US scientists managed to isolate and silence the chromosome that causes Down’s Syndrome, raising the possibility of future treatment for common symptoms. Here.

One in ten suffer from cat allergies. In July, researchers discovered a protein from cat dandruff that causes cat allergies in humans, and hope to develop a cure within five years. Here.

August:
Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs in 2013, came with the clearance of a simple skin patch that works to slowly feed a drug into the bloodstream and regulate blood pressure stability on a level never seen before. The patch has the potential to save millions of lives a year. Here.

Researchers have finally discovered certain processes that lead to mutational factors prevalent in most types of cancer, previously unknown. By understanding the genetic development of particular cancers, researchers in 2013 have opened the doors into future research for treatments. Here.

Using 3D printing technology for stem cells, researchers in Australia have developed lab-grown cartilage, leading to hopes that by 2025, brand new functioning, patient-specific organs will be produced in much the same way. Here.

September:
Scientists announced that a universal vaccine for flu could be available within five years. The flu virus mutates constantly and so is particularly difficult to immunise, but scientists have discovered what they term a ‘blue print’ that could eradicate all forms of the virus. Here.

The World’s first mind controlled prosthetic leg was developed in September. Here.

In New York, cotton-top Tamarins were observed and recorded making whisper-like behaviour The evidence suggests the Tamarins were investigating the threat level from the zoo supervisor, and communicating that information with other Tamarins via whisper. Here.

October:
Researchers at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen discovered gut stem cells that repair the damage caused by inflammatory bowel disease when transplanted into mice. Here.

A 17 year old girl in China with serious facial disfiguration due to terrible burns had a new face using pioneering technology that used tissue from her chest to craft a new face. She told reporters that the best part of this whole process, was that she could smile again. Here.

A huge leap in harnessing fusion for the benefit of unlimited energy was taken by US scientists in October. The amount of energy created by the reaction exceeded the amount used to cause the reaction. This is a World first. Here.

November:
A brand new way of scanning the heart for early signs of the causes of heart attacks was developed passed early tests. It highlights dangerous areas of the heart most at risk, in far greater detail than ever before. Here.

Researchers at Sheffield University discovered a method to reduce nuclear waste by up to 90%, and safely. Here.

December:
In Montreal, a team of researchers discovered a certain protein responsible for anxiety and emotional memory disorders in humans. They then tested drugs on mice and noted a significant improvement in those suffering with certain anxiety issues. Here.

New research using gut microbes taken from the human gut was found to help reverse behavioural issues associated with autism-like symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal issues that usually accompany autism, when tested on mice. The implication being a greater understanding of autism, and potential future treatment in humans. Here.

Researchers have found the most convincing evidence so far, that Neanderthal buried their dead in Europe, 50,000 years before modern humans came to the continent. Here.

New research found that a drug not yet approved for availability on the NHS is far more effective at preventing breast cancer than any others. The drug is said to halve the likelihood of those considered most at risk, from ever developing breast cancer. Here.

——- In truth, this is all really a very small sample of a few incredible scientific advancements and additions to the library of human knowledge provided by some of the World’s most wonderful minds over the past year. The magnificent science of 2013.


The children of the Enlightenment

June 21, 2011

About a year and a half ago, Sky News posted a story about a 21 year old Swiss Skier named Cedric Genoud being found alive after surviving for 17 hours in snow, after an avalanche. Genoud and the rescue team involved said that being found alive, was a “miracle”. The Herald Sun in Australia referred to Genoud as “Swiss miracle skier“. The word ‘miracle‘ to describe the story crops up all over the World. So it got me thinking, as an Atheist, I obviously find the notion of miracles absurd, and so how could a man survive in such hellish conditions for 17 hours without dying? It must be explainable, even though lazy journalism insists on sensationalising and promoting the simplistic idea of a ‘miracle’.

So I explored, until I came across one theory that reaffirmed my amazement at the possibilities of mankind. We do not need the premise of a God. Humanity is magnificently advanced, and the theory of what could have happened to Cedric Genoud and how we could replicate his experience for medical advancement is beyond brilliant. I will try to explain it the best I can.

In October 2006, the Sciencemag.org published a story following the findings of a group of scientists from Seattle, who had successfully managed to put mice into a state of suspended animation. All visible signs of life during the period of suspended animation are closed down, rather like a seed. The mice were then brought out of a state of suspended animation and were perfectly fine.

To achieve this, the scientists from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, placed the warm bloodied mice in a cell, but with an added measure of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) in its artificial atmosphere. An incredibly low dosage was required, as too much H2S is deadly. 50 to 100 parts per million can lead to loss of sight. One single breath of an atmosphere containing 1000 part H2S per million, will cause death. The 2006 Côte d’Ivoire toxic waste dump scandal which claimed the lives of 17 people, was attributed to dangerous levels of Hydrogen Sulfide in the dump. In short, too much is deadly. So with the mice, the researchers added 8 parts per million H2S. What they discovered was that the H2S, in the right dosage, actively seeks out and binds itself to oxygen receptors in the body of the mice. This effectively means that H2S acts as oxygen. When people are deprived of oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur in the body, due to the fact that oxygen receptors have nothing to receive. So, with the H2S acting as oxygen for some receptors, it became possible to lower the parts per million of oxygen to near deadly levels. Breathing lowered to unnoticeable levels. The mice were all but dead. On a smaller level, researchers drained oxygen from fish cells and noted that whilst growth stopped entirely, the cells were still alive. When normal oxygen levels were resumed and the H2S taken away, growth picked up where it left, as if time had stopped. A cell can live but remain inactive indefinitely. To grow and progress, a cell needs oxygen in a process called oxidative phosphorylation. It is as if you are holding a small windmill, it needs wind to keep producing what it is made to produce, but if there is no wind, it doesn’t stop being able to produce, it just waits until the wind returns. Our cells are similar. So, with nothing left to produce when H2S is attached to the receptors, our cells and organs grind down to a halt, but do not stop.

How does this relate to the skier? Well, H2S is actually in all of us; it is thought that it regulates our body temperature. Around 50% of people who are frozen for over 3 hours and then brought back to normal body temperature survive. Freezing conditions may very well kill us, but if our body is shocked into over producing, or is exposed to higher levels of H2S it is likely that the cells in the body of the skier would be brought to a halt, until normal levels of oxygen and room temperature were resumed. As The leading scientist on H2S, Mark Roth has stated:

Our work in suspended animation derives from the fact that many animals exhibit what we call “metabolic flexibility,” the ability to dial down their respiration and heartbeat and, in effect, “turn themselves off” in response to physical or environmental stress.

With mice for example, Roth found that when exposed to 80ppm of H2S, the core body temperature of the mouse (remember, warm bloodied mammal) could be reduced by 11 degrees. Absolutely deadly at any other time. What if the skier had managed to produce more H2S or was exposed somehow to more H2S than normal? The 17 hours, for his body and the cells in it, would have felt like a split second.

This is beyond brilliant. There is usually a window of opportunity between someone suffering a near fatal injury, or stroke, or heart attack, and fully healing. If, for example, the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, there will be serious damage. But, if a treatment could be devised, that prolongs that window of opportunity by decreasing the amount of oxygen needed using H2S, organs could survive serious trauma, a stroke could potentially mean no serious outcome, lives could be both saved and drastically prolonged. If a man is hit by a car for example, and may not make it to the hospital, it would be possible using H2S treatment, to essentially suspend his life for the journey to the hospital, work on him, and then bring him back, and his body will not realise that so much time has passed. The possibilities really are fascinating.

To call such a spectacular feat of human understanding and endeavor a “miracle” does our species an unforgivable injustice. Sky News would be doing the World a great favour if it worked to propagate advancements in science and medicine and spread the message to humanity, that we are far greater and more powerful than the debilitating idea of God.

Humanity does not need miracles.


The curse of Mother Teresa

March 28, 2011

2010 marked 100 years since the birth of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu; Mother Theresa. She is a Catholic heroine, beatified by the Catholic Church in 2003 at St Peters in Rome by Pope John Paul II, and given a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She is known the World over for her aiding the impoverished people of India, and in particular, Calcutta. She is often idolised, considered a wonderful, caring, selfless human being.

I could not disagree more with that perception.

There are a great deal of those beatified who are certainly worthy of such high admiration. Anne-Marie Javouhey is perhaps one of my favourites. She founded Institute of Saint Joseph of Cluny at Cabillon in the early 19th Century, dedicating her life educating the poor and slave populations across the World. She was an emancipator, far before my most revered emancipator, Charles Sumner was even born. Javouhey worked tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the poor and the ill. For this, she deserves all the admiration that the Catholic Church bestowed upon her.

There are also a great deal of those beatified, who do not deserve it, and should be absolutely condemned. Isidore of Seville is a Saint, made so by Saint Clement VIII. Isidore once wrote an essay calling for the Christians to take Jewish children away from their parents by force, and educate them in the Christian way. A wonderful study by Bat-sheva Albert called “Isidore of Seville: His attitude toward Judaism and his impact on Early Medieval Cannon Law” shows that Isidore was concerned with writing instructions for the clergy to adhere to, and those instructions were unusually marred with vicious language aimed directly at Judaism, and perpetuated the persecution and suspicion of Jews during the Medieval period. We could claim that Isidore lived in the 6th Century and that we’re typically viewing and condemning him through 21st Century vision. The problem is, Isidore’s views on taking children away from their parents simply for being Jewish, were radical even for the 6th Century. Because the rational conscience of humanity is often at odds with the irrational immorality hell of organised religion.

Unfortunately, Mother Theresa is not even close to being as admirable in any way, in comparison to Javouhey, and actually closer in terms of the destruction to human life, to Isidore of Seville.

Her order, the “missionaries of charity” did more to inflict suffering, pain and poverty on people needlessly, than the actual causes of that suffering and pain and poverty itself. She believed that poverty was a virtue to brought one closer to God. The more a person suffers, whether they ask for that suffering or not, the closer they are to God according to the warped fantasy of Mother Theresa, recently beatified. Primitive equipment was used to treat wounds. No pain killers were used at all. Unsterilised needles equipment was used. People died far sooner than they would have had Mother Theresa actually bothered to recommend actual medical treatment for the poor that she was apparently “helping”.

Her use of fairy tales to promote suffering and pain should be viewed with the contempt it deserves. She believed suffering was good, abortion was wrong, and birth control was evil. In a country like India, villifying birth control is reckless at best. According to a freelance writer, Judith Hayes, Mother Theresa once told a cancer patient in her care that she did not need pain killers, because:

“You are suffering like Christ on the cross, So Jesus must be kissing you.”

How else would someone come to such a positively dangerous position that does nothing but cause unnecessary pain and suffering, if not for belief. Why would a sane human being refuse pain killers to a dying lady in pain, other than a belief in a God. And what a poor argument for an all loving God that would be.

Mother Theresa sat on a fortune. Banks accounts all over the World, filled with millions upon millions in donations. People were led to believe that they were giving money to alleviate suffering. Instead, the millions of dollars sat unused, like a bottle of water and loaf of bread hanging over the mouths of the starving, being held just out of reach by an insane Nun who wallowed in her feet being kissed by impoverished “Calcutteans”.

Calcutta itself, the capital of West Bengal, is home to far more people than it can sustain. Almost 6 million live in Calcutta and the streets are paved with the homeless. 6 million people, in 71 square miles, is ridiculous. That being said, it has cultural heritage that far surpasses anything else in India. Mother Theresa tried to persuade people against the use of condoms. In a city vastly overpopulated, she was attempting to ban condoms, and persuading people that abortion was a great evil; even for victims of incest and rape. Millions of people were being put at risk, because Mother Theresa and the Catholic Church indulged in an irrational campaign against the use of contraception.

In New York, a homeless and poor shelter was going to be installed in the Bronx. The plans included two storied building. The City Planning Commission insisted that for the disabled, their must be an elevator. The Nuns applied for a waiver of the Disabled Access Laws, on grounds of nothing else but “religious belief”. Mother Theresa and the Nuns refused to allow an elevator to be installed because their religious beliefs forbade them from using “modern conveniences”. When the Commission refused them the waiver, Mother Theresa and her Nuns threw their toys out of the pram and abandoned the project. They would rather let people suffer, than install an elevator.

Susan Shields, an ex-member of the Missionaries on Charity tells her story, about what she witnessed when she was a Sister in the organisation run by Mother Theresa:

When Mother spoke publicly, she never asked for money, but she did encourage people to make sacrifices for the poor, to “give until it hurts.” Many people did – and they gave it to her. We received touching letters from people, sometimes apparently poor themselves, who were making sacrifices to send us a little money for the starving people in Africa, the flood victims in Bangladesh, or the poor children in India. Most of the money sat in our bank accounts.

The flood of donations was considered to be a sign of God’s approval of Mother Teresa’s congregation. We were told by our superiors that we received more gifts than other religious congregations because God was pleased with Mother, and because the Missionaries of Charity were the sisters who were faithful to the true spirit of religious life.

Most of the sisters had no idea how much money the congregation was amassing. After all, we were taught not to collect anything. One summer the sisters living on the outskirts of Rome were given more crates of tomatoes than they could distribute. None of their neighbors wanted them because the crop had been so prolific that year. The sisters decided to can the tomatoes rather than let them spoil, but when Mother found out what they had done she was very displeased. Storing things showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.

Mother Theresa once claimed that doing good for the sake of altruistic reasons, is wrong. She claimed:

There is alwayst he danger that we may become only social workers or just do the work for the sake of the work. … It is a danger; if we forget to whom we are doing it. Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ. Our hearts need to be full of love for him, and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God.

She was essentially saying that the only moral course a person must take in regard to charity, is to extol the virtues of poverty, let the sick and dying suffer, abandon painkillers, and ban birth control, all because it will take us closer to “Jesus”. It is virtually impossible to reason with someone who is so shockingly unreasonable, it borders on psychopathic.

When Mary Loudon, a volunteer in Calcutta asked one of the Nuns responsible for patient “care” why she was not sterilizing the needles, the nun replied:

There is no point.

And continued to wash the needle under a cold tap.
Loudon then tells a story about a fifteen year old boy who went from having a simple kidney problem, and by the time she was writing this, he was dying. The Nuns had refused to give him antibiotics and would not allow him to be taken to the local hospital. He needed operating on and was just being left to die, whilst the delusional Nuns of the order of Mother Theresa prayed for him. The Nuns argued that if they did it for one, they’d have to do it for all of them. Not withstanding the fact that they were running a shack with unsterilized equipment, they also were sitting on millions of dollars; enough to build a top class hospital. The decision not to use that money to help people, was entirely down to religious belief.

People in the care of Mother Theresa, were given no painkillers, treated with dirty implements, given no specialist care, no professional diagnosis, and more often than not, died because of easily curable injuries and disease. They were indoctrinated to believe that if they doubted Mother Theresa, they were doubting God, and would be punished in the afterlife. They died, for the sake of a multi millionaire religious fundamentalist.


The antonym of reason

February 7, 2011

It is no secret that given my way, I would have chapters from ‘God is not great’ by the wonderful Christopher Hitchens read loudly to school children in early morning assembly, followed by a reading from Darwin’s Origin of Species. Sadly, at my primary school, we had to endure horrid little assemblies that started with prayer, followed by hymns, followed by a Jesus story; all presented as fact, father than fairy tale.

So I took it upon myself, now that I am older – and free to question without being sent out of assembly for disrupting prayer – to send an email to our local council, to raise this with them. I inquired:

I was wondering if you could spare a couple of minutes to answer a few questions I have.
I am an ex-pupil of The Meadows. I am 25 now and studying at Demontfort University. I was talking to another ex-pupil a week or two ago, and we both vividly recall the school assemblies in which we started each one with prayer and hymns. This strikes me as a little odd. I never questioned the religious aspect of what we were being taught. As a kid, I understood the stories from the Bible that our trusted teachers were reading to us, as fact. Why would I assume any different? We weren’t being taught any different.

The stories we were read from the Bible were taught as truth and as factual as 1+1=2. If we did not sit in silence and pray and sing hymns, we were sent out of the assembly. I wondered why this is?

I do not recall hearing the name Darwin until I was at least 12, and even then it was in passing. We were encouraged to read or listen to Biblical stories, which I’ve since dismissed as nonsense, and yet were never introduced to even the very basics of Darwinian thought.

We were taught the Christian way in the truth. Any one of any other religion was sent out of the assembly for prayers and hymns, creating a horrible social barrier that you can’t see past as children, it simply perpetuates the problem of suspicion toward anyone considered “different”.

I also note that the Christian story, whilst not being contrasted with the very fundamentals of Darwinian fact, was also not contrasted with any other form of philosophical thought. We were not taught to question what our headteacher was reading out to us. We were not taught the frankly appalling history of Organised Religion, instead we were apparently a part of that organisation because we were being told that fairy tales were truth without being encouraged and taught to think freely for ourselves, we would be punished if we were to do so.

I was wondering if this was a government policy at the time, or if the school imposed those ideas on us themselves, and if so, do you believe it was the right thing to do?
Thanks for your time.

It is surely a matter of concern when a teacher is imposing religion onto easily suggestible young minds, without teaching them also how to question what is being said? The Jehovah’s Witness kids along with the Muslim children were always sent out whilst prayer was conducted. And as kids, we always viewed them as “different”. This apparently needless social barrier is reflected later in life. Especially in deeply religious Nations. Muslims and Atheists especially in America are treated with fear and a degree of resentment from the Christian Right. I cannot see any purpose in morning prayer and hymns. It certainly isn’t cultural learning, because it espouses the ideals of Christianity above all else.

Anyway, the Senior School Development Advisor for the School Improvement and Performance Service of the Council very kindly got back to me, with:

Dear Jamie

Thank you for your e-mail which has been passed to me for response.

The legislation around assemblies (which is still in place today), is that there should be a daily act of collective worship which should be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature in every maintained school, whether it is a church school or not. Therefore, what you describe as practice at the Meadow Primary School would have been following the legislation. There is scope within the law for parents to request that their children do not attend Collective Worship and alternative supervision has to be put in place for these children. In some schools, parents make alternative arrangements for their children to have tuition about their own religions at this time. From your description, I would imagine this was the case at The Meadow Primary School when you were a pupil there.

The collective worship does not form part of the religious education curriculum, although the school can designate assembly time to cover part of the syllabus if they wish. The religious education curriculum is education about different religions and the syllabus is drawn together in each local authority by an independent group of advisers from different religions. Teaching in religious education is intended to inform about different religions, not convert children to any religion. Darwinism is not included as it is not considered to be a religion. Again, there is scope within the law for parents to request that their children should be withdrawn from Religious Education.

The theories of evolution are covered in the Science curriculum, particularly in primary around the way animals and plants have adapted to their environment. At Primary School, “Charles Darwin” might not be mentioned in person (this is not prescribed in the curriculum) but some schools might choose to do so.

In your e-mail you question the school’s practice of withdrawing children who misbehaved from assembly. Every school has a duty to ensure that the behaviour of some children does not interrupt the concentration of others and I presume this is how the school implemented that duty.

You obviously feel strongly about the collective worship and religious education in Primary School and the effect it had on you. Legislation about Collective Worship and the content of the curriculum is set by central government. The Department for Education is currently running a consultation on what should be in a revised curriculum. Although they are not looking specifically at RE, I strongly advise that you consider responding to the consultation with your views of the curriculum, as it is important that young people who have recently been through the education system should have opportunity to contribute. I include a web-link for your convenience, which also contains links to the DfE curriculum review facebook page.

Whilst I appreciated the response, I did get the feeling that she was suggesting that she sees no problem with the balance being tipped too far in favour of religion over the fundamentals of Darwinist thought. The entire study of Modern Biology is based on the concepts discovered by Charles Darwin. In fact, not just Modern Biology, but all the life sciences…

  • Ecology
  • Biocomputing
  • Nanotechnology
  • Botany
  • Medicine
  • Genetics
  • Food science
  • Immunology
  • Zoology
  • Biomedical Sciences
    etc etc etc etc etc.
    Whilst it might be true that the adaptation of plants and animals to their environment was taught…. I don’t remember it, it wasn’t pressed home, it wasn’t explained, and its immense importance on philosophy, science, human development and our ancestral history was passed over because they apparently think it is far more important for us to believe that God put us here; a lie. We certainly never knew that all life is descended from common ancestry; the very fundamentals.

    The problem, as I see it, lies in this line:

    “The collective worship does not form part of the religious education curriculum.”

    The above line is reflected in the legislation that it references.
    The School Standards and Framework Act 1998, section 70, states:

    Requirements relating to collective worship.

    (1)Subject to section 71, each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship.

    That’s quite a worrying line in a piece of legislation, to me. Why is it considered necessary, by law, for a child to be involved in worship? Why isn’t the child allowed to choose? Surely it is not a requirement of the State to be demanding mandatory religious worship of its children?

    The “collective worship” (what an awful phrase, very cult-like) is not a part of the education curriculum. It stands outside of that. It transcends the curriculum. Something as unimportant as unprovable dogma and superstition is considered strangely important enough to be placed above the curriculum and used primarily for a method of Christian indoctrination, as it was at my school. At the same time, the way plants adapt to their surroundings, is on the curriculum, it is of secondary importance, according to the legislation of the land, and it is all that exists in the way of the fundamentals of Darwinian thought. I see this as a major, major imbalance in the system. Couple this with the incredibly unhealthy concept of Religious Schools themselves, and humanity is always going to be strangled at a very early stage in the development of our minds, by religious dogma.

    “At Primary School, “Charles Darwin” might not be mentioned in person (this is not prescribed in the curriculum) but some schools might choose to do so.”

    – That is absolutely not good enough. His name is far, far more important, to be heard at a young age, than Jesus. There is absolutely no question about that. One of those names probably didn’t exist, and simply speaks of a very narrow spectrum of morality, contradicting himself and prior Christian teachings, endlessly. His words were written down 40 years after he died, and have been rewritten, manipulated and revised for centuries. The other is responsible for the most important discovery that humanity has ever stumbled across.

    The Department of Education issued guidance on collective worship, which states as its objective:

    …. promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils and of society.

    – It is true that an assembly is a great way to bring children together, but it shouldn’t be assumed that religion is the basis of morality. There is a quite a formidable case to be made, that says religion has not been a force for moral good in the World, and that by excluding the horrific history of religion, schools are teaching a vast amount of ignorance on such an extreme level. Basing morality on Christianity is an epic over statement, and suggests that without collective worship, children would be unable to taught to distinguish between right and wrong. Morality is not based on religion. Religion attempts to base itself on the contextual morality of a specific time. Morality is simply society evolving collectively, for its own survival and advancement. Christian interrogation techniques of the 1500s would not be considered moral today. The slavery advocated in the Old Testament, is certainly not moral. The imprisonment of George Holyoak for blasphemy in 1843, would not be considered moral now. Religion is a dynamic force that updates along with society, it is not special, it is offering nothing new, and it is still a force for regression. Humanity invented it, so humanity can do without it.

    The guidelines go on:

    It is a matter of deep concern that in many schools these activities do not take place with the frequency required or to the standards that pupils deserve.

    – What is actually of deep concern, is state sponsored fairy tales promoted as truth. What is “collective worship”? What are we worshipping? Can the state prove that was we are collectively worshiping actually exists, and if by some miracle they can justify it, can they prove that the entity they are worshiping is good? Because for every relatively non-violent passage in the Bible, I can pick out another ten that say otherwise.
    They are promoting Christianity for reasons of tradition, and tradition is the absolute antonym of reason.

    I argue that the balance is tipped firmly in the wrong direction. It is the reason why people will still genuinely believe themselves when they say “yeah but evolution is just a theory”….. no it isn’t. The supreme ignorance cannot be attributed entirely to the individual, it must start from a young age. Evolution; and all the wonderful branches that stem from it, such as biology and zoology, are apparently less important than making sure impressionable children believe religion is the foundation of all morality. The early education system teaches that Jesus was born to a Virgin, they he is the son of God and that he died for our sins. It is a very one sided view of history and a vast manipulation of a child’s mind. A mind which is like a sponge at that age, cannot comprehend the illogical nonsense of what their trusted teacher is implying.

    Religious teaching in schools should be limited to cultural studies, not presented as fact.