Friday, 12 September 2008

How to respond to the rise of creationism in the UK

Rev. Professor Michael Reiss, the Royal Society's Director of Education, has announced that one in ten British schoolchildren comes from a family with creationist beliefs, and that he believes this should be addressed in science classrooms. Speaking at the British Association’s Festival of Science in Liverpool, Reiss said, "I'm trying to make it less likely that students will ignore science, that they will detach from it, because it makes them feel that they cannot continue with science because it conflicts with their beliefs... But I feel if a science teacher feels comfortable with it then it could reduce confusion."

As reported by The Independent, The Guardian, and The Times, a great many of his peers were quick to distance themselves from his statement, saying that Creationism "is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence" and "should be [taught] in religious studies" not in science classes. This is in line with National Curriculum guidelines, which state that:
Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study.
This case presents the latest development in a worrying trend towards religious fundamentalism in the UK, and scientists and science teachers are right to be worried at the implications of creationism having a place in the science curriculum. I would, however, like to put forward a way that they could take advantage of such a move.

Let's say that the guidelines change and teachers are told that creationism should be addressed in the classroom. In such a case, I would suggest doing so head on, in one (or perhaps two) intensive lesson(s).

During this time, it would prove relatively easy to go through the key points of the debate and utterly shatter the creationist case. After explaining how creationists have undertaken no research or evidence gathering of their own, the teacher could go through the most common areas of "controversy" - i.e. where the creationist has either desperately contorts the facts in a vain attempt to fit them to his predetermined faith position or decried the evidence as false with no genuine grounds for doing so - and patiently explain why the creationist theory is wrong. If that isn't quite enough, the teacher could then follow on by taking the pupils through some of the many, many things that creationists hate besides evolution, for completely contradicting their entire worldview.

And, if that isn't enough, perhaps allowing creationism to be discussed in science class should come with a proviso: that Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion, and its implications, be discussed alongside it.

If such a rigorous approach didn't immediately stem the rise of creationism in the UK, it would at the very least sow the seeds of doubt and free inquiry, put creationists off trying to force themselves into science lessons.