Christians and humanists call on government to rule out 'creationism' in science classes
The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association have joined forces today to write to the UK governmentís education secretary, Alan Johnson, asking him to ensure that their guidelines are explicit in requiring teachers to maintain a wholly scientific perspective on the matter of the origin of species by evolution.
The move comes after a new group calling itself ëTruth in Scienceí sent a letter and free teaching resources to all secondary heads of science seeking space for creationist ideas, and appealed to parents through a new website to challenge the current science teaching agenda.
BHA and Ekklesia are calling on the Government to ensure that teachers know this material is not appropriate for school science.
The concern has been picked up by the Times Educational Supplement, the Times newspaper and the BBC.
BHA and Ekklesia say that they are making a joint statement ìto make it absolutely clear that the issue of the integrity of evolutionary theory as a cornerstone for teaching modern biology is not one of religious or non-religious conviction, but a matter of straightforward scientific truthfulness.î
ëTruth in Scienceí last week (20 September 2006) established a web page which suggests that parents should complain about alleged ëbiasí in science teaching ñ by which they mean the exclusion of anti- Darwinian ideas and so-called Intelligent Design, which proposes that life on earth may have been produced by an unidentifiable extra-terrestrial cause.
The new organisation, established by fundamentalist Christians, also proposes teaching plans and curriculum ideas to introduce these notions into the classroom, claiming that this will be acceptable to OFSTED.
But Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association point out that there is ìno scientific basisî to creationism and ID, as the landmark judgment in the Dover School Board case in the USA last year made clear, on the advice of expert witnesses.
Declared Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow: ìReputable scientists and reputable theologians are clear that the anti-evolutionary ideas propagated by groups like this are in no way comparable to scientific theories of origins. The government and its inspectorate should have no truck with superstition in the modern science classroom.î
Andrew Copson, Education and Public Affairs Officer for the British Humanist Association added: ìThoughtful people of all persuasions reject the use of religion to undermine truthfulness in education. It is vital that the government assure parents that our children will be taught proper science and proper investigative methods, not these wild ideas.î
In April 2006, after a representation by the BHA, the UK schools minister declared categorically that the government is against the teaching of creationism and so-called ëIntelligent Designí in science lessons in British schools and the examinations board OCR gave assurances that they would revise their Science specification to make it clear that creationism and ID should not be taught.
But both the British Humanist Association and Ekklesia say that science teaching may be threatened by publicly-funded schools coming into the hands of extreme religious groups. They say there is evidence that creationism is already on the agenda in some schools, and that anti-evolution activists are trying to confuse parents by claiming there is a ëcontroversy to be taughtí.
ìA clear line from the government, through Oftsted or the QCA will help settle this matter once and for allî, the two bodies stress.
Ekklesia points to the work of bodies such as the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (University of Cambridge) and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (California) as among the major places where scientists, theologians and philosophers enjoy positive interaction.
A spokesperson for Faraday explained: ìWe don't prescribe a viewpoint, but we take the opportunity provided by these courses to critique ID and creationism as they come up in discussion. We also think that the education of church leaders is critical in this context, and in fact we have a course especially for them at Wolfson College, Cambridge, from 7-9 November 2006.î
Simon Barrow of Ekklesia commented: ìPeople advocating creationism try to exploit legitimate arguments within science for their own entirely non-scientific ends, and they also mislead believers into thinking that Genesis offers a theory of origins. This is wrong on both counts. When Christian theology speaks of ëcreationí, it means that the whole world process, which we can now explore and understand through science, may be received as gift rather than as something to be manipulated or regarded as valueless.î
Ekklesia says that the job of the churches and of thinking Christians is to explore and develop such questions. ìExposing the falsity of ëcreationismí and ëIntelligent Designí are issues the churches and religious communities should be confronting. But such arguments arenít for science classrooms, where children are there to learn about findings and questions in the sciences thorough methodological investigation of natural phenomena.î
He continued: ìWithout doubt, ëcreationismí is a serious religious problem. In essence, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, itís a category mistake. Genesis wasnít written to explain how the world comes into being, it was written to contradict other ideas in the Ancient Near East that regarded the world as bad. Also, it has no one ëliteral meaningí. That idea is nonsense. If you read it, you discover it has two main accounts which differ in detail, and several other poetic ways of inviting us to see the world as God's gift. To read it as a modern propositional account about how the universe unfolds is illegitimately to impose (very narrow) modern expectations on an ancient, figurative text."
Concluded the Ekklesia co-director: ìIn Christian history biblical texts about creation have been understood allegorically. In modern times careful theologians have understood the contingency of the evolutionary process as giving us the freedom to invest it with meaning and value ñ or not. Human beings are constantly confronted with life or death choices.î
Ekklesia is a think tank and news service that works to promote transformative religious ideas in public life. It has been listed by the Independent newspaper as one of the top 20 thinktanks in Britain. It raises over £150,000 a year for peace and justice work around the world and has the most visited religious website in the UK, according to the Alexa/ Amazon rankings.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) represents the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned but non-religious people in the UK ñ helping to set the agenda for debate. In working against religious privilege it is committed to human rights, democracy, equality and mutual respect, the BHA works for an open and inclusive society with freedom of belief and speech.
[Also on Ekklesia: Creationism distorts truth in science, says vicar 25/09/06; UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website 25/09/06; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban; Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science; Exam Board rules out creationism in UK classrooms; Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism; Creationists target schools and universities in Britain; Dawkins attacks creationist plans; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics; Creationists plan six more schools; Christians to explore values in science and technology; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish']