Creationism has raised its silly head in New Zealand again, this time via the Christian fundamentalist group Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family is an American-based fundamentalist organisation but it has branches throughout the world, including one in Auckland.

The New Zealand branch of Focus on the Family has distributed four hundred copies of the pro-'intelligent design' DVD Privileged Planet to schools throughout the country.

The executive director of the Auckland office of Focus on the Family is Tim Sisarich, a former announcer with fundamentalist radio station, Radio Rhema.

Second in charge is Sheryl Savill, who is described as Focus on the Family's programme administrator.

Savill, along with former MP Larry Baldock, have been the principal organisers of the petition to force a referendum on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking legislation.

Focus on the Family works closely with Bob McCoskrie's Family First group. McCoskrie is also a former announcer on Radio Rhema.

Family First, like Focus on the Family, has long railed against 'liberal values' and 'liberal culture' and has been actively lobbying the National Party to adopt policies that 'reflect Judeo-Christian values'. McCoskrie's reactionary interpretation of Judeo-Christian values led him to lay a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the hit TV series 'The Simpsons', for 'inappropriate language'. He also described another TV3 series, Californication, as 'evil'.

Like Focus on the Family, Family First is among other things, anti-abortion and anti-gay. It has also consistently attacked the welfare state.

It is also strongly opposes the anti-smacking legislation and, like Focus on the Family, would like to see the reintroduction of corporal punishment into schools. Apparently they have no problems with adults inflicting violence on children, via the cane.

On the Family First board include former All Black Michael Jones and TV1 weather presenter Jim Hickey.

Another supporter of Focus on the Family and Family First is Stars In Their Eyes presenter Simon Barnett. He actively opposed the anti-smacking legislation.

Focus on the Family takes its lead from head office in the United States, specifically Colorado Springs, Colorado, though its unclear whether it receives any financial assistance.

It was formed in 1977 by James Dobson and actively works to promote and have implemented conservative governernemtn policies.

It produces magazines, video and radio programmes which are available through the Auckland office.

The radio shows are broadcast on Radio Rhema.

Since he formed Focus on the Family, Dobson has attacked Democrats and promoted the Republican Party - and he has done it largely with impunity.

However the tide appears to be turning for Dobson and Focus on the Family - and it is the emergence of Barack Obama that has turned the political tide.

Dobson was offended by Obama's criticism that the evangelical right promoted just their own view of Christianity and that they were, in fact, a range of differences within Christianity. Dobson was also angered with Obama's comment that a person could be moral without being religious.

Dobson, ironically, charged Obama with what he himself has have often been accused of - namely, 'distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to suit his own worldview'.

Dobson's attack on Obama provoked a reaction. A website was launched condemning Dobson.

And it was launched by a coalition of Christian leaders headed by Kirbyjon Caldwell who had led the benediction of George W. Bush's first Inauguration.

Dobson's religious and political beliefs are fast becoming a minority view in the United States. The influence of the Christian right is waning with many new evangelical leaders refusing to join the Old Guard's crusade against the Democrats.

As a consequence Focus on the Family is losing both members and revenue.

Here in New Zealand Focus on the Family and Family First have used the campaign to get a referendum on the anti smacking legislation as a trojan horse to promote their conservative views.

Now Focus on the Family are again pushing creationism. This is not the first time they have done this - in 2005 they sent out the same DVD and workbooks to some 500 New Zealand schools, with minimal impact.

Recent polls have shown that over 75 percent of New Zealanders reject creationism

The Education Ministry is taking a sensible view of the creationist nonsense. It says the unsanctioned material does not breach the Education Act and there are no plans to ban its distribution. But it stresses the theory of evolution underpins the science curriculum and schools have a responsibility to teach theories that are subject to accepted scientific scrutiny.

For a good review of The Privileged Planet check out


  1. I wasn't sure from your post if this American group was promoting 'creation-ism' or 'intelligent design' - which are different. Your article seems to use the two interchangeably. Sometimes this is done mistakenly, although it is also sometimes done in order to tar I.D. with 'creationism' as a pejorative epithet.

    Creationists argue for a literal 6X24hrs creation, and a young earth - in order to shore up their literalistic biblical hermeneutics. ie. they specifically reject evolution.

    Intelligent Design does not neccesarily reject evolution, is not wedded to biblical literalism, 6X24hr creation or a young earth; but rather sees a hidden hand behind the observable processes.

    Good debates are always furthered by accurate use of terms.


  2. I use the terms 'intelligient design' and 'creationism' interchangeably because they are the same thing.
    You say that ID doesn't 'necessarily reject evolution'. Really? What ID does is argue that evolution cannot explain the complexities of life - therefore there must be a 'hidden hand' (ie God)behind the process.
    Promoters of 'intelligient design' don't like to mention God though in a vain attempt to present ID as a scientific theory rather than the narrow theological viewpoint that it really is.
    You can pretend otherwise, but ID is just repackaged 'creationism'.

  3. I don't think I am 'pretending otherwise' - I actually think there are huge differences between the two - and I am not writing here as an advocate of either.

    "I.D. does not necessarily reject evolution" is what I wrote. Indeed some I.D. types would want to specifically endorse evolutionary processes.

    Also - it's a little innacurate to describe ID as "theologically narrow", when it only presupposes a God - and is not wedded to any notion of who that God is, or any further theological claims - and has adherents accross a very broad range of faiths and agnostics.. .

    That some of its proponents might also have narrow theological claims is not disputed, but that is not the same as saying that I.D. itself does.

    I know that proponents of I.D. who are not creationists (who specifically reject 6X24hr, young-earth biblical literalism) feel that their critics use the 'creationist' tag as a way of avoiding engagement in debate with what they actually do claim.


  4. It is unfortunate that the discourse is polarised between extreme isms - 'creation-ism' [meaning, as That Hideous Man said, "a literal 6X24hrs creation" and 'evolution-ism'[a theoretical conclusion based on materialism or naturalism,and not a theory supported by empirical science. The 'evolutionist' type cartoon headlining the foregoing discourse seems every bit as ridiculous as the literal 'creation-ist' view

    Another communication problem, as pointed out by That Hideous Man, is that which is generated by the absence of clear and accurate terms of reference - especially in regards to the terms 'science' and 'evolution'. One will not necessarily fine accurate definitions in dictionaries. Dictionaries describe how words are used and do not necessarily reflect fact.

    Finally, there is the deeper problem of materialism itself. It is the mother of all isms.


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