Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms
An examination board at the centre of a storm surrounding the teaching of creationism in UK schools has committed to re-visit its guidance to avoid the threat to science teaching that many feared, and to issue strict guidance to trainee teachers on their exam programme.
The 'Gateway Science' specification had caused controversy because teachers were asked to ìexplain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation).î
But now the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA (OCR) exam board has said they are ìhappy to commit to reviewing the wording of this part of the Gateway Science (Biology) specification for the next editionî.
They continue that ìmore immediately, we shall be issuing guidance in the many In-Service Teacher training (INSETs) and Network meetings we carry out during the year for the specification.î
The comments come in response to a letter from the British Humanist Association (BHA), which ñ along with teaching unions, scientists, educationalists and mainstream Christian theologians ñ has expressed public concern about creationist ideology creeping into classrooms.
OCR says that it envisages the guidance to teachers being ìalong the following lines: Only a creationist interpretation of the fossil record prior to, or contemporary, to Darwin needs to be explained in this context - such that students are able to understand the fundamental departure of Darwin's work from the religious norms of his time.î
Concerns had been raised that the inclusion of creationism in the specification might operate as a Trojan horse for those who wished to smuggle it and its cousin, so-called Intelligent Design (ID), into their science teaching. The new guidance makes clear that this should not occur.
Intelligent Design was condemned as non-science in a recent landmark judgement in Pennsylvania concerning the policy of the Dover School Board. Among those giving evidence against it was noted scholar John F. Haught, Professor of Theology at Georgetown University, and author of ëGod After Darwin? A Theology of Evolutioní.
Andrew Copson, education and public affairs officer for the BHA, commented: ìWe welcome the sensible decision of OCR. Too many creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design hide behind the claim that they want nothing more than for schools to 'teach the controversy'. Now it will be made clear that no scientific controversy does in fact exist.î
Educational commentators point out that there is a fundamental difference between the lively debates that take place within the fields of evolutionary biology and philosophy of science, and non-scientific claims of creationism, whose supporters are found in fundamentalist Christian, Islamic and Jewish circles.
The question of the fossil record raised in ëGateway Scienceí was thrown into relief by the recent visit to Britain of Australian creationist John Mackay, who sought an audience in schools and universities.
Evangelical Anglican vicar and geologist Michael Roberts told Ekklesia: ìJohn Mackay and other ëcreationistsí, who believe that the earth is only 6 to 10 thousand years old and that the fossils were laid down in the twelve months of Noahís flood are utterly wrong.î
Having made a careful study of creationist texts, he says: ìI soon found that they were wrong on three counts. First, they misunderstood standard geology. Second, their proposed alternative that all fossil-rich strata were laid down in the Flood results in absurdity. Thirdly, and most serious, was the frequent and systematic misquotation and misrepresentation of standard scientific sources.î
Adds Roberts: ìLike the majority of Christians, past and present, I see no clash between science and the Bible.î
Noting that in America campaigners have ìtried to force the teaching of ëcreationismí into schools in every stateî, Michael Roberts says that ìthe situation is not so advanced in Britain.î But he believes that, despite denials, academy schools are teaching creationism.
Today the Department of Education and Skills said that trust-backed schools, a widely criticized component of the governmentís education reforms, would be subject to the same rigorous inspection as other state schools. The Education Bill is currently entering the report stage in the House of Commons.
Education minister Jacqui Smith, replaced in PM Tony Blairís latest cabinet reshuffle, is on record as stating on behalf of the government that creationism and Intelligent Design should not be part of the science curriculum.
Vatican astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno, a Jesuit priest who has pioneered the field of gravitoelectrodynamics, recently described creationism as an unfounded superstition which undermines both legitimate science and theological understanding.
[Also on Ekklesia: Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; New education minister walks into row on faith schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Education Secretary hits back over faith-based academies; US religious right plans a home-school revolution; Creationists plan six more schools; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish']