The Royal Society and Creationism

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The story that God created the world in six days is enjoying a renaissance in the UK, just as the world is getting ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s publication of the theory evolution in 1859. Though his head is on the back of a 10 pound note, Darwin’s theory is no longer unchallenged orthodoxy. For more background on Creationism in Britain, see BBC, Who are the British Creationists?

The Royal Society is  the 350 year old independent scientific academy of the UK and the Commonwealth dedicated to promoting excellence in science. Two weeks ago, the Rev Michael Reiss, a biologist, Church of England clergyman and the Royal Society’s director of education, said he believed Creationism should be dealt with in science classes as a legitimate point of view. He said it was self-defeating to dismiss as wrong or misguided the 10 per cent of pupils who believed in the literal account of God creating the Universe and all living things as related in the Bible or Koran. It would be better, he said, to treat creationism as a world view. He said:

“Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson.” The Times, September 12

That certainly sounds wrongheaded, coming from a scientist, though what he said was most certainly misrepresented in the media.  As I understand it, he is interested in “ethical frameworks”, and that is certainly a very important part of teaching in a diversified society.  The Royal Society has since said that “creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific.” That is presumably not at odds with what Reiss said. But it was too late. The press reports caused such a scandal that Reiss was forced to resign (he was not dismissed, he stepped down.)  (The Times, September 17)


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