UK: Science class no place for creationism, says Royal Society

Britain’s most distinguished scientists today denounced the distortion of scientific knowledge to promote religious beliefs in schools.

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, issued a statement saying evolution was “recognised as the best explanation for the development of life on Earth from its beginnings and for the diversity of species” and that it was “rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges and universities across the world”.

With supporters of creationism and its offshoot “intelligent design” stepping up their efforts in the US, there are fears that the promotion of faith schools in the UK could lead to anti-evolutionary theories being taught in British classrooms.

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Emmanuel Academy in Gateshead, funded by Sir Peter Vardy, an evangelical millionaire and supporter of creationism, has been reported as teaching intelligent design alongside evolution, and the revised GCSE syllabus gives more scope to teachers who want to discuss intelligent design in science classes.

In Canada the Toronto newspaper the Globe and Mail reported last week that a McGill University academic had been refused a government grant to study the impact of intelligent design because he had provided insufficient evidence that evolution was correct and intelligent design was not.

The Royal Society said there were many things science could not yet explain. “Some may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs.”

Professor David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, said it fully supported questioning and debate in science lessons, as long as they were not designed to undermine young people’s confidence in the value of scientific evidence.

There appeared to be confusion among young people, parents, teachers and scientists about how the education system allowed the promotion of creationist beliefs in relation to scientific knowledge, Professor Read said.

He added: “Our government is pursuing a flexible education system, but it should also be able to ensure and demonstrate that young people in maintained schools or academies are not taught that the scientific evidence supports creationism and intelligent design in the way that it supports evolution.”

The Royal Society warned that some versions of creationism were incompatible with scientific evidence. “For instance, a belief that all species on Earth have always existed in their present form is not consistent with the wealth of evidence for evolution, such as the fossil record. Similarly, a belief that the Earth was formed in 4004BC is not consistent with the evidence from geology, astronomy and physics that the solar system, including Earth, formed about 4,600m years ago.”

It added: “The process of evolution can be seen in action today, for example in the development of resistance to antibiotics in disease-causing bacteria, of resistance to pesticides by insect pests and the rapid evolution of viruses that are responsible for influenza and Aids. Darwin’s theory of evolution helps us to understand these problems and to find solutions to them.”

The statement also criticises attempts to present intelligent design as being based on scientific evidence. “Its supporters make only selective reference to the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports evolution and treat gaps in current knowledge – which, as in all areas of science, certainly exist – as if they were evidence for a ‘designer’. The theory of evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence; the theory of intelligent design is not.”

The statement is published ahead of a public lecture today at the Royal Society by Professor Steve Jones on “Why evolution is right and creationism is wrong”.


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The Guardian, UK
Apr. 11, 2006
Donal MacLeod
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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 11, 2006.
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