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UK scientists demand guidelines on teaching of creationism

Riazat Butt

Sir David Attenborough among those accusing "fundamentalists" of seeking to portray creationism as scientific theory in class

Prominent scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, have called on the government to toughen its guidance on the promotion of creationism in British classrooms, accusing “religious fundamentalists” of portraying it as scientific theory in publicly-funded schools.

A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is “unacceptable” to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not.

The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are “touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science”.

“Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools,” the scientists say.

“There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.”

The scientists claim organisations such as Truth in Science are encouraging teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching.

“Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.”

Free schools and academies were not obliged to teach the national curriculum and so were “under no obligation to teach evolution at all,” it added.

Truth in Science denied advocating the teaching of creationism in schools. “We wish to highlight the scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and to encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution in schools and universities,” it said in a statement.

“Furthermore, we believe that it is important that the world view bias of different standpoints is recognised.” Creation Ministries International was unavailable for comment.

The statement appears on a website, Evolution not Creationism, aimed at driving out creationism and intelligent design from classrooms and marks the latest attempt to reinforce evolution teaching in classrooms. Professor Richard Dawkins, president of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse, neurobiologist Professor Colin Blakemore and theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili are among the other signatories.

Although teaching evolution is not compulsory in primary schools, many already introduce some aspects in classes. The proposal to add it to the national curriculum “accepted by Labour in 2009” was dropped last year by the coalition and is currently being reviewed by the Department for Education.

The Department for Education said: “The education secretary was crystal clear in opposition and now in government that teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories.

“Academies and free schools must have a broad and balanced curriculum. Ofsted takes a strict line with inspecting this. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.”

Earlier this month Dawkins argued that children should learn about evolution from the age of five.

‘We need to stop calling evolution a theory’
Speaking in support of the statement, Dawkins said: “We need to stop calling evolution a theory. In the ordinary language sense of the word it is a fact. It is as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science.”

Last year Michael Reiss, professor of education at the Institute of Science Education and an Anglican priest, told the Guardian that while it was “important” for organisations that did not accept the theory of evolution to be “allowed to exist and to proclaim their message” in a free society, the arguments against the theory of evolution were invalid.

He said: “In a school setting this means that while teachers of science are perfectly at liberty to address creationist and ID issues, should they so wish, students must not be given the impression that there is a scientific controversy over whether the Earth is very old (about 4.6-billion years old) or whether all species descend from very simple common ancestors.”

He was responding to the launch of the Centre for Intelligent Design which aims to promote public understanding of intelligent design and its implications.

In the classroom
There is no definitive data on the number of UK schools which teach creationism. The Department for Education says all schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and creationism should not be taught as scientific fact.

But a spokesperson for the British Humanist Association (BHA) said: “That’s precisely what we want to be monitored.”

The BHA says that some schools continue to promote creationist ideas in place of established scientific facts. It bases its conclusions mainly on information shared with it by parents. A 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school.

In the same year, Truth in Science, a group which says it promotes “a critical examination of Darwinism”, said that it had received dozens of positive responses to creationist teaching materials sent to the heads of all secondary schools in the country.

The BHA says materials from Truth in Science continue to be used in UK schools.

A number of faith schools say that they teach creationism in religious studies but not in science and then leave students to decide.

The Everyday Champions Church, in Newark, Nottinghamshire, submitted its proposal for a 652-place school in January. Its leader, Gareth Morgan, said creationism: “Will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences”.

In 2009, an Ipsos Mori survey found that more than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons - a proportion higher than in the US. - guardian.co.uk

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