Children should be taught about creationism in school, top scientist says
Teaching creationism could give children a more balanced worldview.
Children should be taught about creationism in school biology lessons, a leading scientist said today.
Professor Michael Reiss, director of education for the Royal Society, said banning creationism from the classroom could backfire at a time of growing religious fundamentalism.
Creationists take a literal view of the Bible and Koran and believe that the world was created in six days.
Some argue that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that evolution is a hoax.
Professor Reiss, a Church of England minister and former biology teacher, said he strongly believed in teaching the theory of evolution to children.
But rather than dismiss creationism as wrong or stupid, teachers should be prepared to discuss it as another ‘worldview’.
‘It arises from my time as a biology teacher in schools when I realise that simply banging on about evolution didn’t lead some pupils to change their views at all,’ he said.
‘I had previously been rather evangelical about teaching evolution, trying to change pupil’s minds.
‘Now I would be rather more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe.’
Around one in 10 British schoolchildren come from families with creationist beliefs, Professor Reiss said at the British Association science festival in Liverpool.
Many of these children came from Muslim backgrounds or families with fundamental Christian views.
‘There’s no controversy from a scientific point of view here,’ he said.
‘I’m very comfortable with the idea of the theory of evolution by natural selection is as well established as almost any scientific theory could be and it should be taught in school science lessons.’
But if teachers give the impression that children with creationist believes are wrong or stupid, they are likely to be turned off all science, he said.
He added: ‘Some science teachers think that because creationism and intelligent design are scientifically invalid that anybody holding them is just being a bit stupid. That’s not something I would want to convey.
‘Although pupils might have other irrational beliefs – about ghosts, tarot or astrology – creationism should be treated as a special case.
‘The depth of sincerity with which people believe creation narratives from the scriptures – whether it is Islam, Christianity or some other religion – tends to be much greater than the belief that people have in horoscopes or astrology.’
But Professor Reiss added: ‘Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis.
‘However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.
‘I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a “worldview”; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.’
In Britain there is growing pressure to include ‘intelligent design’ in schools – the belief that life is too complex to have evolved by natural selection.
In America, where around 40 per cent of children come from families who believe in creationism, some schools are teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.
But the comments provoked an angry reaction from other scientists.