Blair accused of complacency on classroom creationism
Educationists, scientists and a Christian think-tank are concerned that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is too complacent in dismissing the propagation of anti-science ëcreationistí views within the education system.
The PM told New Scientist magazine on Friday (3 October 2006) that creationism, which denies the evolutionary foundation of modern biology on the basis of crude readings of Genesis, would only be a concern if it became the ìmainstreamî of education.
He said the idea that creationism was making headway was ìhugely exaggeratedî and that scientists should concentrate on fighting the right ìbattlesî - such as on GM food or climate change.
Representatives of bodies ranging from the Royal Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association have been pushing for a clearer position on the issue, particularly after a group misleadingly calling itself ëTruth in Scienceí sent creationist materials out to 3,000 schools at a likely cost of some £100,000.
The group has adapted the US technique of ìteach the controversyî (trying to equate its ideas with scientific ones) as a way of getting fundamentalist-style religion into the science classroom. The majority of its supporters believe that the world is only 6-10,000 years old.
Among TiSís prominent backers is Steven Layfield, most recently Head of Science at Emmanuel College, one of a range of publicly-funded city academies sponsored by hard-line evangelicals.
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, said today: "The PM's comments seem worryingly complacent, given that a senior figure associated with faith-based academy schools has recently participated in a well-funded venture to promote creationism to secondary-school heads of science.î
Declared Barrow: ìCreationism should not be taught in science classrooms for the same reason that astrology and tarot shouldn't. It isn't science, it's bad theology based on wholly inadequate readings of biblical texts.î
He added: ìIt is also important to understand that the discredited claims of creationists and so-called 'intelligent design' advocates are part of an organized political lobby on behalf of narrow religious interests which do not accord with mainstream Christian thinking or the work of serious scientist-theologians.î
ìOne only has to look to the US to see the way this issue can get out of hand, and how it can compromise good educational practice. Waiting until it becomes a major issue, as Mr Blair seems to advocate, is no substitute for proper DfES guidelines now. A big fuss isnít needed. Clear action is.î
The Ekklesia co-director added: ìThis is an issue church leaders should also be taking far more seriously at an educational level within their own communities. Creationist-style ideas misrepresent the Christian doctrine of creation - which is about the ongoing goodness and giftedness of all life in the purposes of God, not a specific theory of origins.î
He concluded: ìBy seeking to unravel 150 years of scientific endeavour and the evolutionary cornerstone of modern biological investigation, creationists and IDers both harm the proper search for truth and discredit the faith they wrongly claim to speak for.î
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has also dismissed creationism, calling it a ìcategory mistakeî in its mishandling of the Christian message.
In 2002 a range of Anglican Bishops and scientists wrote to the Prime Minister warning him about creationism and asking him to take care over what was taught in science classrooms.
ìEvolution is not, as spokesmen for the [Emmanuel] college maintain, a ëfaith positioní in the same category as the biblical account of creation, which has a different function and purpose,î they stated in the letter, which was drafted by Bishop Richard Harries, then of Oxford. ìIt is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines.î
They continued: ìThe issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college. There is a growing anxiety about what will be taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schoolsî, adding: ìWe believe that the curricula in such schoolsÖ need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.î
Recently Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association made a joint appeal for greater clarity from the UK governmentís education secretary, Alan Johnson. They did so to stress that the issue of rejecting creationism in the science classroom should not be one to divide thinking people of religious or non-religious opinion.
"Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum, the Truth in Science information pack is therefore not an appropriate resource to support the science curriculum",
Jim Knight, UK Minister of State for Schools and 14-19 Learners, said in response to a parliamentary qustion from Graham Stringer MP on 1 November 2006.
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.
[Also on Ekklesia: Christians and humanists call on government to rule out 'creationism' in science classes; Creationism distorts truth in science, says vicar; UK anti-evolutionists seek to lure parents with new website; 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']