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John Simkin

Creationism and Schools

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The Sunday Times December 31, 2006

Creationism gains foothold in schools

Christopher Morgan and Abul Taher

THE government has cleared the way for a form of creationism to be taught in Britain’s schools as part of the religious syllabus.

Lord Adonis, an education minister, is to issue guidelines within two months for the teaching of “intelligent design” (ID), a theory being promoted by the religious right in America.

Until now the government has not approved the teaching of the controversial theory, which contradicts Darwinian evolutionary theory, the basis of modern biology.

Adonis said in a parliamentary answer: “Intelligent design can be explored in religious education as part of developing an understanding of different beliefs.”

He announced that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is to hold discussions with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the assessment regulator, and said local advisory councils would decide whether particular schools should teach the theory.

Creationists believe in the literal truth of the Biblical account of the creation by God in six days.

Intelligent design argues that life and the universe are guided by a “designer”, rather than an undirected process as illustrated by Darwin’s natural selection.

The theory has gained a foothold in the American state school system, sparking legal challenges from secular groups seeking to oust it from science teaching.

Although Adonis stopped short of permitting the teaching of intelligent design in science lessons, one of the key lobby groups behind the theory, Truth in Science, hailed his statement as a significant breakthrough.

So far no schools in Britain teach the theory as part of its religious education syllabus. But Truth in Science believes that the new government guidelines will give the green light to dozens of schools to incorporate ID in the syllabus.

Andrew McIntosh, a professor of engineering at Leeds university who heads Truth in Science, said: “We believe that evolutionary theory should be taught in a critical manner, and some space must be given to credible alternative theories, such as intelligent design.”

The lobby group says its ultimate aim is to pressure schools to teach ID in science lessons as a challenge to Darwinism. It says it has the support of about 70 heads of science across Britain, who want ID to be introduced in the national curriculum as part of science.

Opponents in the Church of England dismiss it as fantasy. Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark, said: “Everything needs to be explored, so that children can ask sensible questions. Though I see no huge difficulty with exploring intelligent design or creationism or flat Earth, they happen to be misguided, foolish and flying in the face of all evidence. I see no problem with Darwinian theory and Christian faith going hand in hand.”

Canon Jeremy Davies, Precentor of Salisbury cathedral, said: “I don’t see why religious education should be a dumping ground for fantasies. If it is claimed that this is a scientific theory, why isn’t it explored in science classes? Its validity or otherwise should be tested against the usual criteria.”

Others regard it as religious dogma masquerading as science. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said ID was not a science and “should not be taught”.

Dawkins, who holds the chair in the public understanding of science at Oxford, added: “It is creationism by another name. It’s a rebranding exercise to get into schools. I personally think it should not be taught.”

In America ID has come under legal attack. There have been more than six recent cases in which local education bodies were sued by groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State for teaching intelligent design as science.

Robert Boston, a spokesman for the group, warned against the teaching of ID in Britain.

He said it “could possibly leave an entire generation of people not capable of meeting the scientific challenges of this century”.

Boston also said ID was being pushed by certain religious groups, “to undermine the separation of church and state in schools. It’s an effort by them to subvert Darwin’s theory. And unfortunately, trends in America seem to go to Britain”.

It has emerged that 12 prominent academics wrote to Tony Blair and Alan Johnson, the education secretary, last month arguing that ID should be taught as part of science on the national curriculum.

They included Antony Flew, formerly professor of philosophy at Reading University; Terry Hamblin, professor of immunohaemotology at Southampton University; and John Walton, professor of chemistry at St Andrews University. In October Truth in Science was criticised for sending education packs to hundreds of schools across Britain explaining ID.

The packs — which included books and DVDs — were used by some unwary science teachers as teaching aids.

But Truth in Science in turn accuses Dawkins of pressuring ministers into promoting atheism through schools.

McIntosh said: “People like Dawkins are pushing atheism through schools, which is a religious view, and not a scientific one. Atheism is not the natural state of a scientist, since there have been scientists who have been theists both before and after Darwin.”

Lord Pearson, a Tory peer and supporter of ID, who asked the question that prompted Adonis’s statement, said: “Advances in DNA science show that the DNA molecule is so complicated that it could not have happened by accident. It shows there is a design behind it.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2524442,00.html

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Why has this become an issue now? In the 19th Century Darwin’s ideas were accepted without much fuss in Britain, the geological and fossil evidence having already prepared the ground: in this respect the famous Huxley/Wilberforce clash was not representative of what happened. In fact belief in Creationism in Britain showed a steady decline until comparatively recently. Its revival, in the form of Intelligent Design, was apparently an import from ‘the political wing’ of American Evangelicalism with a political agenda within the guise of a religious one.

While the idea of introducing I.D. as a theory into Science teaching doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere, it is a shame that the government has seen fit to allow it as an Religious Education option, taking advantage of the subject’s low status (and peculiar status compared with other subjects.) From this point of view it is important that colleagues from other disciplines recognise the growing professionalism of Religious Education rather than clinging to our own memories of baiting the R.E. teacher on the subject of evolution – happy days! The point is that the best R.E. is now taught critically and R.E. teachers actually need more encouragement than most.

Andrew Brown in his book ‘The Darwin Wars’, Simon and Schuster UK Ltd 1999, charts the debate over ‘the selfish gene’, and its place in understanding human behaviour. The book tells how Richard Dawkins attempted to build a moral philosophy on the discovery of the selfish gene. But it really centres on how evolutionary scientists could teach Christian theologians a thing or two about in-fighting! He points out the stakes are high - we expect Science to provide the same authoritative answers that Theology once did.

That neither has an authoritative position in the modern world is illustrated by the sad story of George Price, the man responsible for the mathematics behind ‘the selfish gene’. A convinced atheist, a consideration of the implications of his discovery produced a nervous breakdown, religious mania, a period of Tolstoyan Christianity where he gave all his worldly goods away, and ultimately to his suicide.in 1974.

Young people need to understand that there are no certainties about knowledge. They desperately need a system of education which equips them with the tools of criticism and analysis. One of the problems of debates about creationism and evolution is that there are very few George Prices who actually understand the arguments. Another is that, unlike the flat earth theory, Intelligent Design cannot be disproved by simple observation.

We need to be honest with students that in many cases we ourselves don’t understand the arguments or we don’t have the evidence, and we rely very much on what the majority of experts believe - in our understanding of History for example. Teaching simple logic and philosophy at the beginning of Secondary Education would help. Admitting as teachers that we don’t know everything would be another important, but perhaps impossible, step. If we equipped students in this way then we wouldn’t need to worry what silly theories they are presented with.

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The Sunday Times December 31, 2006

McIntosh said: “People like Dawkins are pushing atheism through schools, which is a religious view, and not a scientific one. Atheism is not the natural state of a scientist, since there have been scientists who have been theists both before and after Darwin.”

Lord Pearson, a Tory peer and supporter of ID, who asked the question that prompted Adonis’s statement, said: “Advances in DNA science show that the DNA molecule is so complicated that it could not have happened by accident. It shows there is a design behind it.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2524442,00.html

The Catholic Church must be enjoying this, since they can have Darwin AND Intelligent Design, and see no conflict between the two.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and...Catholic_Church

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