Culture wars come to New Zealand

Christian creationists have launched another attempt to introduce intelligent design into New Zealand’s schools. Focus on the Family recently sent intelligent design (ID) material (The Privileged Planet CD and booklet) to 400 high schools, requesting they be made available to science teachers and school libraries (see Christians challenge teaching of evolution ).

Focus on the Family’s executive director Tim Sisarich said the material was intended to expose pupils to an alternative theory of cosmology.

“We’re a Christian organisation so we believe that God made the planet and God made the cosmos … Science takes a theory and tries to establish it as the truth, and that’s all this is.”

Of course, what Focus on the Family are attempting to do is take a belief, and try to present it as the truth. ID/creationism is only a belief – it doesn’t have the evidential basis of a scientific theory.

It’s not the first time Focus on the Family have carried out such a campaign. In 2005 they sent  unsolicited DVDs and workbooks to 500 New Zealand schools (see  Intelligent design – coming to a school near you and  Religious crackpots send their anti-evolution propaganda to 500 NZ schools).

New Zealand supporters of ID/creationism have swung in to action defending the action. They are presenting the same tired old mantras against evolutionary science (see comment under Christians challenge teaching of evolution ). Polling shows most (75%) New Zealanders reject creationism (see New Zealand supports evolution)  so hopefully this attempt to introduce it into in our schools will be roundly rejected. However, there are several fundamentalist groups in New Zealand actively campaigning on the issue. Their websites include Focus on the, Investigate magazine, Christian News New Zealand, Manawatu Christian Apologetics Society, Christian Apologetics Forum and Thinking Matters. They get ideological, and probably material, support from groups such as the US ID Center for Science and Culture (at the Discovery Institute) and distribute their material here.


More information on this material and the motives of Focus on the Family is provided by the Radio New Zealand (RNZ NTN: Creation vs Evolution in Schools) interview with Tim Sisarich (Focus on the Family) and Dr Alison Campbell who helped develop New Zealand’s school science curriculum.

Thanks to Warren for bringing this to my attention.

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See also:
Unintelligent Design
The Privileged Planet invades New Zealand Schools
CREATIONISM RAISES ITS SILLY HEAD AGAIN for some background on Focus on the Family.

Similar articles:
“Coming out” for evolution
Teaching science in faith schools
Driving the wedge into Christianity
Expelled for supporting evolutionary science
Intelligent design and depression

24 responses to “Culture wars come to New Zealand

  1. I note the stuff poll roughly matches the creationism polls (roughly 3/4 say no to ID).

    I have made a review of this documentary on my blog here. The main point I would note is that the ID component of this is surprisingly very small. Those of us experienced in such documentaries can see it underlying the points they made but few school kids would pick up on it. Most would simply take the message from the film that the earth is a special place.


  2. Why not present all the ideas on origins and let the student come to his own conclusion because there is certainly no proof for evolution as much as the evolutionists claim there is. What are the evolutionists so afraid of? There is a series of books called The Quest for Right that presents creationism in a different light. Every science class that is interested in presenting the “truth” should check it out. I’ve read the available volumes and find them to be very enlightening and they do not try to pull any wool over your eyes. It’s physical science at its finest. The courts have said that creation can be taught if it is taught as science. This set of books is taught as science, not religion. I cannot understand why Focus on the Family and other creation focused organizations do not look into The Quest for Right. It’s not only great for schools but for lay people of every station in life. If you want to further your education, read this book. If you want to be a monkey’s uncle, go right ahead. But as for me…NOT!!!! This body of mine and the world around me is too complex and wonderful for me to believe I came from an ape.


  3. GailGal writes: “Why not present all the ideas on origins and let the student come to his own conclusion because there is certainly no proof for evolution as much as the evolutionists claim there is.[sic]”

    1. Evolution is not about origins.
    2. There is enormous evidence for evolution by natural selection.
    3. There is in principle NO evidence for special creation.
    4. Why not present alchemy in chemistry class and let the students decide for themselves?


  4. Looks like I might have to have a chat with my good friend, Tim 😀


  5. The way F.o.t.F. might be using the doco may or may not be suspect, but the dodo itself is actually fairly tame in terms of ‘religious crackpot-ness’ (gotta love that one)…

    It mainly presents facts and figures. Sure there’s a few ‘hints’ at design, etc. but I’d say it’s a worthwhile presentation of earth’s relationship to the rest of the universe.

    And ‘Amen’ to Mark (above). GailGal mistakes the content of this doco for anti-evolution views (which have nothing at all to do with this doco).


  6. Accept the comments on the nature of this documentary. However, it is being promoted as an ID tool (even on the Focus on the Family website where other ID books, etc are also promoted). And Tim Sisarich’s comment indicates a negative attitude towards science.

    Would be interested to know what other information was sent with the DVD.


  7. andrealudwig

    I did not evolve from an ape, nor did you.


  8. Ken, Focus on the Family’s parent organisation Campus Crusade for Christ was spamming Australian schools in 1995 with this DVD also. The current Leader of the Opposition and then Education Minister Brendan Nelson welcomed the prospect of ID being taught in Australian science classrooms “if that’s what parents wanted.”


  9. andrealudwig Says:
    June 29, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    I did not evolve from an ape, nor did you.

    Right; we evolved from a chimp!


  10. Wrong. A crocoduck!


  11. My understanding is that humans and chimps have the same ancestor – we are distant cousins.

    I recently listened to an audio tape of Dawkins’ ‘The Ancestors tale’ – he explains all this. A fascinating book.


  12. Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub points out the self-contradictory legal arguments involved in the IDists (US vs NZ).
    Dobson group pushes religious nature of intelligent design, in New Zealand

    When I last lived in NZ, almost no one actually went to church– what are the chances the anti-science religious arguments will take hold in schools now?

    [chimps and humans are extremely close family, from a common ancestor. If anything, the apes are descended from humans as they are far more specialized than we are.]


  13. History of Man
    Ardipithicus ramidus 5 to 4 million years ago [the most chimp-like of all our ancestors]
    Australopithecus anamensis 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago
    Australopithecus afarensis 4 to 2.7 million years ago
    Australopithecus africanus 3 to 2 million years ago
    Australopithecus robustus 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
    Homo habilis 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago
    Homo erectus 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago
    Homo sapiens archaic 400 to 200 thousand years ago
    Homo sapiens neandertalensis 200 to 30 thousand years ago
    Homo sapiens sapiens 200 thousand years ago to present

    Try this.


  14. Ken, just to set the record straight, Thinking Matters gets neither ideological nor material support from the organizations you cite; neither is it actively campaigning for Intelligent Design to be taught in New Zealand’s schools. We are a church-focused apologetics journal; not a political organization. We haven’t really addressed ID at all at this point, and I’m not sure precisely how we will approach it, if and when we do.

    It is possible that individual members of Thinking Matters are actively receiving support from various ID groups, and/or campaigning in New Zealand. I also know that Thinking Matters Tauranga is currently focusing on Intelligent Design in their study group. As far as I’m aware, though, this is in a purely apologetic capacity; nothing more. Still, the groups and the journal are separate bodies, though they bear the same name because we work together toward a common goal.

    Dominic Bnonn Tennant
    Thinking Matters Production Editor


  15. Take your point Dominic – I have obviously been too ‘quick off the mark’ here your first issue is not yet out.

    I guess I had just assumed that, as an apologetics journal, it would support ID/creationism as that has been observation of other apologetics websites and personalities.

    Is my conclusion about apologetics wrong?


  16. Ken, I must be honest: from the point of view of apologetics, I am quite circumspect about both Intelligent Design and Creationism. It isn’t that I doubt either of these as Christian doctrines. What I doubt is how useful they are to the cause of apologetics.

    If we’re talking about whether Thinking Matters supports ID in principle, then obviously we do. As a Christian journal, by definition we believe that the universe and everything in it was designed by God. And I think there is certainly a place for Christian scientists to make a case for ID, using scientific and mathematical theories. I also think that it is helpful for Christians be educated in the philosophy surrounding science and ID. I recently wrote an article on Thinking Matters in response to some questions about science posed by Dale Campbell, who I think you know. Those sorts of topics are valuable to consider in an apologetics context so that, if asked, Christians can make some kind of reply.

    What I think is less useful, though, is trying to use ID as a vector for apologetics. Take Bill Craig’s teleological argument, for instance. He tries to show that the universe must be intelligently designed, based on various physical constants and so on, and the odds of them being exactly right. That’s a good argument for someone who has studied these things for many years. He’s welcome to put it out there and publish it in his scholarly journals and so on, where like-minded people can debate these things. But how useful is it for the lay Christian, who doesn’t know much about science? It takes a lot of (constant) study to achieve and retain even a passing proficiency in any given area of science. Most Christians can’t do this. So I see the value of arguments which require an evidential approach as being very limited. Even if someone is knowledgeable enough to make the argument, there’s no guarantee that an atheist will believe his sources, or not dismiss them as prejudiced anyway, given that no discussion has taken place about the philosophical presuppositions underlying scientific endeavor.

    As regards whether ID should be taught in public schools, I think this is a very complex and political topic. I’m really not interested in politics, and I think it would be inappropriate for Thinking Matters to get behind a political campaign. We’re a journal. We write apologetics articles for Christians. If someone from the press were to contact us and ask us whether we, as an organization, think that public schools should be teaching ID, we’d have to have a good think about it and formulate some kind of response. I don’t know what that would be at this stage. To my mind the question is almost irrelevant since it presupposes that children should be taught in public schools to begin with, which I consider a very distant second to private schools, which in turn are an extremely poor alternative to homeschooling. Furthermore, if public schools were to start teaching ID, I would be forced to ask why they aren’t teaching the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of religion, and a lot of other topics which are very important, but which don’t get covered. The current public school curriculum is just so useless in terms of systematic education that I don’t think ID would really fit in. There are too many additional topics which should go along with it. Obviously, given a choice between the emaciated syllabus now in vogue, and a better-rounded one designed according to the assumption that learning involves work and the application of intelligence, I’d choose the latter. But again, that isn’t the question. So, you see, I don’t see this as having a simple yes or no answer.

    Moreover (since you’ve got me started), I don’t think the question of whether ID is taught in schools is really very important. I expect parents to take responsibility for their children’s educations. If something is not being taught in school which a parent thinks his child must know, then the parent should teach it. If, for example, I am forced by circumstance to send my daughter to a public school when she is older, it will in no way obviate my own duty as a parent to educate her in religious, philosophical, linguistic, and whatever other areas are not taught in school. New Zealand is becoming a nanny state because parents seem to have started thinking that sending a child to school is a substitute for parenting. It’s not. Delegating some aspect of one’s child’s upbringing doesn’t void one’s own responsibility for it.

    Lastly, on a somewhat related note, as a Christian I don’t see political action as a very useful means of facilitating religious belief. Evangelism and apologetics are the means given to change a society. Trying to enforce religious teaching at a state level just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Not that it’s necessarily wrong or bad; I just don’t see that as what Christians should be focusing on.

    Hope this answers your question 😉



  17. Pingback: Send this DVD to our schools « Open Parachute

  18. Thanks for putting up the link to the Radio NZ slot featuring Tim Sisarich. Sisarich’s speaking was remarkable – his words should be used as a resource in University Philosophy(Rhetoric) papers as a prime example of disingenuous sophistry.

    I really enjoy reading your blog – it’s one of the ones on my Google Reader list. Due to alphabetical sorting, it’s immediately above Pharyngula. 😀

    I’m really, really annoyed that we have the religious trying to spread creationist nonsense into the New Zealand science curriculum. That said, I’m highly ignorant of what I can personally do to try and prevent it. Any thoughts?

    Oh, and as a second question – how do you find out about all this stuff so quickly? Just once I’d like to find out about something local before you do.


  19. Oops. Didn’t realize I was logged out.

    The Anonymous post above was from me.


  20. Thanks for the feedback Ubiquitous Che. The link to the interview came from a reader.

    I sometimes think the defense against creationists attempts to take over science classes has to be carried out by pro-science Christians because it is the theists who is most at risk here. Their religious beliefs make them more vulnerable to the anti-science ideas.

    One can at least blog about the issues.


  21. Hi Ken

    Just found your blog via Pharyngula’s latest open thread. Wish I’d known about it ages ago. I’ll be back again 🙂

    In answer to your question as to what other material was sent out with the Privileged Planet DVD, there was also a booklet ‘explaining’ some of the key points the DVD makes. Such as the supposed statistical evidence in support of an anthropocentric view of the universe.

    best wishes


  22. yikes, sorry, still haven’t mastered html tags *blush*


  23. Dominic,

    Quite a few of the things you say are really quite extraordinary, so excuse my addressing address them. Your post 16 contains a lot of unnecessary obfuscation in my opinion. (Necessary, perhaps, for you to slide pass the issues, but not necessary if you would be straight-forward.)

    about both Intelligent Design and Creationism

    They’re basically the same thing, so why write about them as if they are different? The latter is, figuratively speaking, merely a new cloak for the former. One that was apparently intentionally developed by the creationist movement to give itself a new face.

    What I doubt is how useful they are to the cause of apologetics.

    What on earth do you really mean by this? Apologetics aren’t a field of endeavour, they are arguments or written works (self) “justifying” something. Christian apologetics is what I presume you really mean, by way of a shorthand.

    For what its worth, the mere existence of Christian apologetics, to me, illustrates a weakness of interpretations of the bible, etc. While popular science tries to make the original science understandable to a “lay” audience, a big distinction is that the original material—the original scientific literature—stands on its own: it doesn’t need “apologetics” added later “make it right.” That the bible can be read so differently by different Christian groups would seem to say that it doesn’t stand on its own and thus needs the apogetics to “make it right” in the particular interpretation one group or other has.

    (This also relates to wider misconceptions among creationists, including IDists, but that’s another essay…)

    As a Christian journal, by definition we believe that the universe and everything in it was designed by G-d.

    Not all Christians believe in this, in fact I believe its correct to say that only a minority do. What I presume you mean to say is that your journal promotes conservative Christian views, and as conservative Christians “by definition … was designed by G-d”: non-conservative Christian don’t. I imagine they wouldn’t be terribly impressed with your telling them what they believe, either.

    I think there is certainly a place for Christian scientists to make a case for ID

    Only Christian scientists huh? Or do you mean “Christian scientists”, the general phrase, as in “creationists trying to justify their beliefs using pseudoscience”. Or do you more specifically Christian Scientists (note the captialisation), those who follow “Christian Science” religious beliefs?

    And only “make a case for”, not test? Sound like Christian apologetics all the way! 🙂

    You are aware that, for the latter two groups in particular, this creates a circular, apologetic, loop: you ask that only those who “believe” can promote/test their own beliefs… The up-shot, of course, is that these people try to justify their beliefs, not test them. That reflects a lack of scepticism in their approach. Because they believe in the thing as “a matter of faith“, they can’t be sceptical about it, even by definition. And as a consequence can’t genuinely test it, either. Pass me a Tui, etc.

    (You have to admit that Tui line must be one of the most successful advertising jingles in years.)

    As regards whether ID should be taught in public schools, I think this is a very complex and political topic.

    No, its extremely simple. Its not science, so it can’t be taught as science. That’s all there is to it. Not complicated at all.

    It could be taught is in comparative religion studies. You could present it in a science class it to illustrate what science is not, but personally I’d rather see religion in religion classes, history in history classes, etc.

    I note that much of the rest of which you “complicate” this with isn’t actually relevant to this particular rhetorical question you pose, but to other issues.

    it presupposes that children should be taught in public schools to begin with, which I consider a very distant second to private schools, which in turn are an extremely poor alternative to homeschooling

    You presuppose that your typical parent can out-perform a trained teacher. This I really, really doubt. Particularly beyond the first years of primary school.

    More to the point, I think that you’re (deliberately?) confusing this with restricting a child’s education to what the parent wishes to impose on them. Its one reason some conservative Christians favour home schooling: nothing about the quality of teaching, as you propose, but about the ability to control and restrict the teaching.

    Its a pretty sad thing to be doing to my mind, even though we can all see where it comes from: wanting your kids to be the same and a fear that you’ll “lose” them if they choose other roads than your own. Its selfish, really. You should let them grow up to wherever life takes them. (Paths of crime excepted, obviously.)

    I would be forced to ask why they aren’t teaching the philosophy of science, and the philosophy of religion,

    Some do, for both of these. Moot point.

    The current public school curriculum is just so useless

    You mean, it doesn’t suit your bias, or what you’d like to restrict it to.

    Trying to enforce religious teaching at a state level just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    This seems to contradict so much of what you’re written before it, that I’m left reading you as meaning that religious teaching should be forced, but you won’t say it openly. Double-speak. Why not just say what you really mean? It’d be a lot simpler. You’re not fooling anyone. Certainly not me 🙂

    (Hi Alison, bumping into you again!)


  24. Pingback: Dominic Bnonn Tennant » Education and child abuse

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