Social media excoriates British teacher for claiming there’s more evidence for the truth of the Bible than of evolution

February 3, 2016 • 9:00 am

This incident was reported on January 26 by the Godless Spellchecker: the head teacher of a British faith school, one Christina Wilkinson of St. Andrews Church of England School in Lancashire, pushed back against another teacher (Tom Sherrington), who had earlier posted his support of evolution.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 7.46.36 AMBelow is Wilkinson’s tw**t that caused all the trouble (note that her handle is “WilkinsonHead”, which gives a bit of official imprimatur to her claim; Sherrington’s—”headguruteacher”—is similar).


The Godless Spellchecker (may the peace of Ceiling Cat be on him) wrote an open letter to St Andrew’s Primary School, politely calling attention to the problem and offering to help finance a visit of the students to London’s Natural History Museum to see the evidence for evolution. I joined in a bit, directing my first ever to-a-person tw**t to Ms. Wilkinson, offering to send her a copy of Why Evolution is True (I never got a response, and I don’t think Spellchecker did, either).

Now today’s Guardian continues the story, reporting the criticism of Wilkinson on Twi**er:

A primary school headteacher has been mocked on Twitter after claiming that evolution was “a theory” and there was “more evidence that the Bible is true”.

. . . Amid criticism and calls for her to resign on Twitter, Wilkinson issued a statement saying: “I’d like to make it clear that we teach the full national curriculum in school and that our pupils receive a fully rounded education.”

She also said her tweet was sent from a personal account and “represents my own views”. However, her Twitter handle was @WilkinsonHead, apparently referencing her role as headteacher. The tweet has since been taken down and the account closed.

Since Wilkinson’s account is closed, I can’t look at the responses on Twi**er, but mine was polite, and others, while perhaps less polite, were within the bounds of critical discourse (i.e., a minimum of name-calling and no threats):

Wilkinson’s assertion was met with scorn on the social media site. One person suggested she retrain as a vicar, while another said: “That’s an unacceptable level of stupidity from a headteacher.”

Liv Boeree tweeted: “This is horrifying. I’m still holding out hope her response is some kind of performance art. Pls pls pls tell me this lady doesn’t work in education. Please.”

Sherrington, whose pro-evolution tw**t ignited the whole issue, also responded politely:

Sherrington wrote: “Sigh. I sincerely hope your students aren’t told that. Take them to a natural history museum.”

His original posts, which sparked the exchange, had read: “For me, it is critical that teachers do not water down the science to accommodate religious perspectives if that means sacrificing the acceptance of evidence.

“This applies to science and RE teachers. New Earth creationism and more subtle variants of Intelligent Design are a denial of science and I think all teachers need to be conscious of that.”

Richard Dawkins and others have corrected Wilkinson on the meaning of the word “theory” in science (a perennial task), and of course she’s dead wrong about the evidence supporting evolution vs. the “truth claims” of the Bible.  Nevertheless, there are those who still offer a weak defense of Wilkinson’s views, including a Labour MP!:

Graham Jones, Labour MP for Hyndburn, whose constituency includes Wilkinson’s school, said: “It’s a Church of England school and it will, of course, teach the Bible. But it should also teach the children about other religions and beliefs.

“The national curriculum requires a more broad-based perception of evolution and a balance of opinions has to be struck so pupils can make up their own minds.”

That’s ridiculous. British law requires that there be no teaching of creationism in science classes, with the warning that a violation could lead to withdrawal of government funding. I’m opposed to government-funded faith schools of any stripe, and am still amazed that Britain has them, but there should be no teaching of creationism as science in any class, including religion classes. You can say, I suppose, that “some Christians believe this” in religion class, but that itself is misleading, as it may signal approval.

And Jones’s statement that there should be a “balance of opinions” so that “pupils can make up their own minds” is completely off the mark. We’re not talking about opinions but facts, and to allow the presentation of every opinion about the origin and diversity of organisms is sure to confuse rather than enlighten students. You might as well teach alchemy in chemistry class and faith-healing in health class, and let the students make up their own minds. Some British reporter ought to query Jones about what he means.

At any rate, there should be an investigation of what is being taught in the science classes at St. Andrews School, and a fix to assure it’s conforming to government standards. Wilkinson should not be threatened with losing her job unless it was shown that she was teaching creationism in science class or allowing others to do so—and even then I think that firing is too draconian a punishment. Just ensure that she doesn’t promulgate creationism in school. If she wishes to do so on her own Twi**er account, preferably not identifying herself as a “head teacher,” well, she’s free to privately disseminate her misguided views about biology and the Bible.

The one heartening thing about the whole affair, at least for Britain, is that such a tw**t by a teacher wouldn’t cause a social media storm in the U.S.; indeed, such a teacher might be seen as a hero in certain parts of the country.

Here are a few responses, pro and con, to the Guardian article about Wilkinson:

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This is why the Guardian shouldn’t ban comments on some controversial issues, as it seems to be doing. The comments section often affords an enlightening look at what people think about the topic at hand.

70 thoughts on “Social media excoriates British teacher for claiming there’s more evidence for the truth of the Bible than of evolution

  1. …New Earth creationism…


    Is this identical to what we yanks call Young Earth Creationism (YEC), or is this some new repackaging of creationism that has recently reared its head?

    1. OMCC, you’ve just reminded me of some of the New Age Creationist narratives I’ve encountered (“Once only Love existed, but arrogance arose and formed the illusion of a physical world out of fear and the desire to be right and tell others they’re wrong …”)


    2. Seeing how Flat Earth has reared its head again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Flat Earth Creationism. ‘[Magic] made all species, on the sunny side.’

    3. It may be a terminology issue, because we don’t have anything like the creationism infestation that the US has. But I’ve heard enough delusional claptrap from New Age Woolly-Thinkers that I can conceive of that interpretation being (how to phrase this …) descriptive of their internal mindsets.
      Yeucch. I feel the need to cleanse my mind after trying to think down to that level.
      I’m sure the school is going to get practical experience in how to exorcise the demons of OFSTED from their premises soon (OFSTED : OFfice of STandards in EDucation). Prayers for relief will have the customary effect – i.e. none.

  2. The evidence is staggeringly overwhelming that the Bible is nothing more than an ancient anthology of faery tales — including a lot of really nasty faery tales. Its truth content extends to such broad facts such as that pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt…and no further. We know with as much certainty as we do anything that the Flood never happened, that Exodus never happened, that none of the Gospel stories happened, and so on.

    …in stark contrast, actual observation of Evolution is well within reach for high school students. Reproducing (or even expanding upon) some of Jerry’s own lab work with fruit flies should be on the short list of science projects for any honors-level college-bound biologist-wannabe.

    The Head’s comments could only make sense if the Head’s head was in the region of the Head’s netherbits….



    1. No, I think the Head’s comment can make sense if we just interpret the phrase “the truth of the Bible” as “the fact that Bibles exist.” Teaching evolution for understanding would take a while — but all you’d have to do for the second one is hold the book up and say “Look. See? Ok. Done.”

      But, granted, that’s probably not what she actually meant …

      1. Well, in that case…perhaps we can try a test. Once night, she uses a Bible for a pillow. The next, a copy of Origin. Both should be hard-bound editions with embossed titles with similar-sized pages. And, in the morning, she can observe the results in the mirror. Hey-looky-presto, each makes an impression!



  3. Wilkinson should lose her job. Not because she expressed an unpopular opinion, but for not knowing what “theory” means in science. For a headteacher to not know that distinction is like a head mechanic not knowing the difference between the brake pedal and the gas pedal.

    1. If she were to lose her job, Wilkinson can come to the United States and become Mike Huckabee’s new best friend.

    2. I’m not sure I agree. I certainly don’t have a high opinion of her actions or beliefs, but if “Head” is like “Principal” in the US system, I would no more expect a Principal of a school to know the ins and outs of science than I would expect them to be able to do calculus or know the ins and outs of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In the US that position is primarily a managerial and administrative position, and we don’t expect or require the person who has it to be a masters-level subject matter expert in every subject taught at that school.

      So my opinion is almost opposite yours: I would not discipline her for lack of understanding of science, but I might be inclined to discipline her for inappropriate public messaging. PR *is* part of her job, while being an expert in science is not.

      1. She’s the Headteacher of a Primary School. This means that she will have spent many years as a classroom teacher before becoming a Head, and will have had to teach all aspects of the National Curriculum. In addition, as a Head she will (or she jolly well should) be fully aware of all the developments that have taken place in the NC in recent years, including the requirement to teach evolution in primary schools.

        So no excuses for not knowing the content of the subject. (But she still shouldn’t face the sack).

        1. She’s the Headteacher of a Primary School.

          Could you expound a bit more on what means? The terminology is unfamiliar to me. Is “headteacher” equivalent to what in the USA is called “principal”?

          1. Yes, I guess so, although I don’t know exactly what a Principal’s responsibilities are! The Head is appointed by the Governors of a school (to explain what *they* do would take us too far afield) and is responsible for its day-to-day running, including overseeing all aspects of teaching and curriculum, admin and budgetary management, staff performance assessment, etc. Some Heads keep their hands in by taking a few classroom lessons a week. If anything goes wrong with a school, from poor academic performance to failing to balance the books, the Head is usually first in line to carry the can. It’s a responsible and stressful job, but the compensation is that even primary school (Years 1-6) Heads can be reasonably well paid, by UK standards anyway.

          2. PS: I see that St Andrew’s is a Church of England ‘Voluntary Controlled’ School. This means that although it is a church school it has to adhere to the local council’s rules for admission etc, and the church has very limited (almost no) authority over how it is run.

      2. PR *is* part of her job, while being an expert in science is not.

        This isn’t a question of expertise in science but rather basic of competence.

        It is entirely reasonable to expect the principal of a school to be able to demonstrate the same sort of general competency as students must show for graduation…and ignorance of the meaning of the scientific term, “theory,” is as inexcusable at this level as ignorance of the meaning of the linguistic term, “adverb.”




      3. I wouldn’t expect her to be able to explain quantum theory, but she needs to know the meaning of “theory” in this context. To take the Shakespeare example, while she may not need to know the ins and outs of the bard’s sonnets, she couldn’t get away with describing Julius Caesar as a sonnet. In other words, you should be expected to know the meaning of “theory” as it relates to science even without being an expert in science. That should be true of anyone; but certainly for the head of a school. If we don’t demand that, how can we complain about the lack of science literacy in the world?

      4. Ought she be expected to have some minimum intellectual curiosity to prompt her inner autodidact (re: e.g., Abraham Lincoln)?

        She ought to be able to solve a two-step algebra problem, if nothing more than 2X + 1 = 3, and show her work.

        I look forward to hearing more politicians say, “I have been and am a scientist,” or other such STEM-type. I’m getting a little tired of hearing STEM-averse Romneyesque MBA/JD venture capitalist “producer” types and their ilk haranguing students to major in STEM fields (so that the former can hire – and treat as handmaidens – the latter).

    3. For a headteacher to not know that distinction is like a head mechanic not knowing the difference between the brake pedal and the gas pedal.

      Unfortunately, it is perfectly normal for headmasters (and mistresses, or even just “heads” ; “principals” in Scotland) to be Arts graduates, not Science graduates. So sloppy art-istic thinking about what “theory” actually means is likely to be more the norm than the exception. Certainly, my last Head was an Art grad (English, I think, though I’m not sure if Lang or Lit ; he never did any teaching) and he knew enough to not even bother going to the maths and sciences block. Come to think of it, we’d never see him in the metalwork, woodwork and construction workshops either (twice the size of the maths/ science block). So there’s a good chance that he didn’t know the difference between a gas pedal and a brake pedal either.

      1. Hey guys! What’s this dissing of Arts graduates via anecdotes? That’s not very scientific. 🙂 I’m one too (history). I studied almost no science, but I’ve never had this problem with evolutionary theory that this teacher has.

          1. Good add – you have to admit guys, Ben is about the last person to be dissing here! 🙂

          2. Don’t forget, he has a minor in cat walking, which is bordering on the science curriculum.

          3. He doesn’t need to anymore – that’s why we hardly ever hear from him these days … 😉

          4. “Bachelor of Music in Orchestral Trumpet Performance…”

            For some reason that sounds to me like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

            I’m sorry. I don’t mean to belittle your qualification in any way and I am certain it is as solid as any other serious degree.

            It’s just that some titles seem to be inherently amusing (at least to my over-sensitive sense of the absurd). Just as well they don’t specify things so closely in my field, Bachelor of Engineering sounds okay until you add “in sewage pumping station design” to it…


          5. I once saw a sign on the side of a commercial van, “Interior Environmental Maintenance Systems.” It was the throw-rug rental man.

        1. Where’s the dissing? The guy really did keep out of the Science & Maths block (he deputised the deputy head to deal with that aspect of the school, since he was a Geology/ Geography graduate). And since I’d occasionally bump into him walking down to the library after school , I’m not even sure if he knew how to drive (why would he? obviously lived within walking distance, and with 10-odd parking spaces for 30-odd staff …)

          1. Er, I believe it went something like: most head teachers are arts graduates so sloppy artsy thinkink about what “theory” means are likely to be the norm rather than the exception.

            I don’t doubt your anecdote – it’s just that as an arts graduate I don’t like the idea that we’re all like that.

            And I could add a rant about how the humanities are looked down on by many, don’t have many well-paying job opportunities, and even usually have the crappiest buildings on campus.

  4. The dispute between evolution and creationism is a war of ideas – a good one and a bad one. It is a war that has been going on for 150 years and shows no signs of ending, although in recent years I think it fair to say that the tide has turned in favor of evolution, even in the United States. Still, the creationists have thousands of churches on their side and its congregants are exposed to irrationality on a continuous basis. This means that the supporters of evolution and science can never become complacent. Final victory is not near and like a virus in the body that is suppressed, but not eliminated, creationism (one of the insidious offspring of religion) could emerge strong at any time if the advocates of evolution let down their guards. Preachers and politicians understand that for their ideas to be accepted by the masses they must be repeated over and over again, a countless number of times. Supporters of evolution must understand this (hopefully most already do) and adopt the tactics of the preachers, but, of course, advocate for quite a different message.

  5. I prefer rebuttal instead of censorship when it comes to stupidity. However, some strains of stupidity can become irrevocably harmful if allowed to flourish with impunity.

  6. A bit off-topic, but triggered by the last tweet “sorry when did they find the missing link?”…

    Several years ago I saw an episode of the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ programme (for non-UKers: a Sunday morning show in which an eclectic group of people debate religious, moral and ethical issues), in which one of the topics was evolution.

    Dawkins was in the group, and the programme’s host (a BBC TV presenter) turned to him, and in a tone of voice that was both frivolous and patronising, asked “Well, Professor, will we ever find a definitive missing link?”.

    Dawkins tells her that we have found lots of “missing links”, and reels off a list of species names – and the woman says, somewhat huffily, “Oh, that’s all very well for you to say, Professor!”.

    So Dawkins looks at her and says “Well, if you must insist upon using such nineteenth-century language…” (beautiful – but it probably went right over her head!).

    It’s amazing how many people still think that evolution is about a “missing link” between man and ape which we still have not found.

    1. I really wish the term ‘missing ‘link’ would go away, but I doubt it will.
      But given that we are stuck with the popular phrase, it does serve as a stepping stone to point out the numerous transitional forms known in the fossil record. Even transitional forms of transitional forms, in the case of our own evolution.

    2. If by “missing link” people are thinking of a single bit of concrete, observable evidence that points to humanity’s descent with modification from earlier non-human ancestors, I’d say that DNA fits the bill and thus we found it in 1953. That pretty much dealt a scientific death blow to the possibility of separate creation and elan vitale in one fell swoop.

      1. The frustrating bit about “common ancestor” being so widely misunderstood is that it’s such a basic and simple concept. All it means is that we’re all cousins.

        Pick some random cousin. Trace all your own parents and your cousin’s parents and so on back some number of generations. Do the same for your cousin. You’ll find overlap — that your mother’s father’s son’s son is your cousin. But, of course, just on that one branch of the tree — you’ve also got another cousin, your father’s father’s son’s sister. Those two cousins are much more distantly related…they might have to go back several generations to find a single shared great-great…great-grandparent. And, at that distance, they share hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of other equally-distant cousins, all of whom can trace some branch of their heritage back to one or both of those same great-great…great-grandparents.

        Most people can accept that somebody born on the other side of the globe is an umpteenth-dozen cousin scores of times removed or whatever. Even if said person comes from an isolated tribe which has gone hundreds of years without any interaction with the outside world…they’re all still very, very distant cousins.

        Evolution just takes that across species. Think of chimps as a really, really, really, really, really isolated tribe that you have to go back millions of years to find the shared great-great-great…great-great-great-grandparents, and you’ve got it right. Gorillas are even more distant cousins, New World monkeys hugely more distant still…and banana slugs and strawberries and sea sponges even more mind-boggingly distant cousins again.

        And just as you and your cousin bear only passing semblance to each other and to your shared grandparents, and your distant cousins have even less semblance…so too across species separated by millions or billions of years does the semblance increasingly decrease.

        It’s really a beautiful and uplifting story. All life on Earth (with a really exciting and notable exception to be found in Craig Ventner’s laboratory) is part of a single, all-encompassing family. How you can fail to draw inspiration from your relatedness to a Giant Sequoia or humility from your relatedness to a dung beetle…people who don’t see the grandeur in this view of life are either severely myopic or simply soulless.



        1. And as Carl Sagan said, on the subject of von Daniken’s claims that ancient humans interbred with alien astronauts: “You’d have a better chance of mating with a petunia”.

          After all, the petunia is a branch on that enormous tree, whereas an alien (Star Trek not withstanding) is nowhere on that tree.

          1. Unfortunate he picked the petunia rather than the orchid. Orchids are quite talented at tricking animals (especially bees, but not just bees) into mating with them.



    3. It’s amazing how many people still think that evolution is about a “missing link” between man and ape which we still have not found.

      The people who ask the question are unlikely to accept the fact that human beings are apes.

    4. You can see that exchange here (timestamped at the right point in a video of the full program).

      The presenter was Nick Owen, a “him” not a “her”. 😉 And he wasn’t being huffy, just facetious.

      But Nick is good at asking the right questions to provoke the desired answer. I seriously doubt he’s personally so ignorant.


      1. I doubt it too. I watch quite a few Big Questions on YouTube, and it seems to me he’s an intelligent, rational man, and probably an atheist.

      2. It is Nicky Campbell not Nick Owen.

        The “that’s easy for you to say” comment was clearly a joke based on the ease with which Dawkins reeled off the list of scientific names. It is a joke that is a stock part of many interviewers repertoire.

      3. I stand corrected! 🙂

        For years I have remembered that interchange as being between Dawkins and a blonde woman presenter – just shows how the memory can play tricks!

  7. Given that this was a Tweet, I do not think she should be sacked over what is essentially a free speech issue. But I do agree to the need for inquiry in what is being taught, and a directive for her to not refer to her profession in her personal Tweets and so on.

  8. “should be a “balance of opinions” so that “pupils can make up their own minds””.

    What would the good MP say if the balance of opinions includes the “fact” that the world came into existence as a cosmic egg? Shall pupils still make up their own minds?

  9. The Theory of God is so passé. Why can’t we leave it in the History books with Phlogiston and the Miasma Theory of Disease.

  10. That last comment — the one that suggests atheists must be ISIS supporters — baffles me. I’ve seen this conflating of atheism with non-christian religion before and I simply don’t know what to make of it. Surely people can’t be that stupid.

    I wonder if such a remark is intended to be insulting. But it seems like an own goal so even that doesn’t make sense.

    1. I’m old enough to remember when the Jesus-botherers hadn’t even heard of ISIS! Rest assured, the sentiment would have been exactly the same comment back then, only it would have been “closet Commies” or “closet Satanists” for anyone who dared to question their precious Word of Gawd.

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