1 Comment »Posted on Friday 12 September 2008 at 3:26 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Evolution, Getting It Wrong

“No” is the answer that immediatly springs to mind, but comments made yesterday by director of education at the Royal Society, Professor Michael Reiss, have kicked up a bit of media storm.

Speaking during the BA Festival of Science at an event entitled “Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?“, Reiss has been reported by (amongst others) the Times, the Guardian and the BBC as calling for creationism to be taught in science classes. Today, the Royal Society has put out a press release stating Reiss’s views have been misrepresented by the media. He issued the following clarification:

“Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview’; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”

What Reiss is basically saying is teachers should be able to respond to pupils who bring up creationism in their science lessons and explain to them why it is not a valid scientific theory, unlike evolution. As we saw in The Genius of Charles Darwin, when Richard Dawkins spoke to science teachers about challenging creationism in schools they were almost terrified of the idea.

Ducking the question is not a solution. As I stated in my review of the programme, evolution is not the enemy of religion. It’s a point worth labouring: evolution is not the enemy of religion. If you wish, you can choose to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who supposedly created the universe after “drinking heavily”, but evolution is not inconsistent with a creation myth. It doesn’t even contradict the idea that “man was created in God’s image” – God just took his time about it, starting with single celled organisms and letting it go from there. After all, he’s supposedly omnipotent and would know exactly which random mutations would lead to the human race.

I’m digressing. Creationism should not be taught in science lessons – that’s laughable. It’s right at home in a religious education class (or more properly, a personal and social education class), and science teachers could just deflect pupils’ questions to RE teachers. What’s wrong, however, with using those questions as a launching point for discussions on what we call “science”? Why is evolution a provable science fact, whilst creationism is not? Conversations such as these would go a lot further in improving a child’s scientific education than simply ignoring their questions.

Lord Robert Winston, also speaking at the BA Festival of Science, agrees that simply dismissing religion without discussion is “dangerous“, and criticises Dawkins and others for doing so:

“I would argue that the ‘God Delusion’ approach is actually very divisive because it is the one way surely of not winning over opposing views … Religious people can say, ‘look these guys just don’t understand us’.”

“We need to be much more sophisticated in how we handle these problems in our society and I don’t think the propositions of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and a number of other writers have really furthered useful healthy debate. I think actually they’ve limited it – that worries me”

You’ll never change anyone’s mind with simple “you’re wrong.” Show children the facts of evolution whilst pointing out their absence in creationism will allow them to make up their own mind – the approach taken by teacher David Campbell, who I praised at the start of the month, is definitely the way to go.

As for the media’s reporting on Reiss’s comments, I think journalists are often all too ready to whip up the debate between religion and science, especially when it comes to religion. Just a theory, of course.


  1. One Comment

  2. A present for all: http://notnews.today.com/2008/09/13/reiss-science-lessons-should-tackle-easter-bunny/the-creation-of-dawkins/

    By David Gerard on Saturday 13 September, 2008 at 9:13 am

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