Michael Gove, the DfE, and creationism in schools

Michael Gove, the DfE, and creationism in schools

On 12 May 2011 an open letter was sent to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, signed by key figures from both the scientific and religious communities. It calls for a change to the national Department for Education (DfE) guidelines to prevent creationism being taught, presented, or otherwise promoted as a valid scientific position to children in publicly-funded schools.

The full letter, with signatories, reads as follows:

The Minister
Department for Education
Castle View House
East Lane
Runcorn
Cheshire
WA7 2GJ

cc: Nick Gibb (Minister for Schools)
Lord Hill of Oareford CBE (Undersecretary)

Dear Mr Gove,

Despite existing Department of Education guidance on the teaching of creationism, some recent events at St Peter’s, a state secondary school in Exeter, Devon, show additional protection is necessary.

In March 2011, Philip Bell, a full time Evangelical preacher and Chief Executive of Creation Ministries International (who presents creationist views that the world is about 6000 years old as scientific fact and denies the validity of the theory of evolution) was invited by the school to lecture to Year 11 students as part of an RE revision day.

It should be noted that his organization states on its website that their preferred method of evangelizing is infiltrating at a grassroots level via a sympathetic teacher, introductions and magazines, as they feel this is a more successful method of achieving conversions. His website showed that he considered the event “Ministry to school students”. Mr Bell and his colleagues have already made appearances at other schools and according to his website more are planned.

The school is adamant it has done nothing wrong within the current guidelines despite presenting creationism on equal terms with modern science to sixteen year olds and in a letter to a parent describing Mr Bell as a “scientist” who “presented arguments based on scientific theory for his case” and describing modern biology as “evolutionism “. This echoes Christian Schools Trust policy on evolution which is to teach biblical creationism as historical and scientific fact, present evolution and creationism as competing scientific standpoints, and present evolution in such a way that it will not be believed. [See references below]

Recently, the Department of Education has stated that you are ‘crystal clear’ that creationism has no scientific validity and should not be taught as science. Yet here we have a school presenting Creationism as a valid scientific position, and justifying this by reference to Religious Education. These events show that creationists are now openly using the RE syllabus to advance their claim to be offering a valid scientific alternative to established knowledge, from within the State-funded school system.

Therefore, we believe that the guidelines need clarifying to prevent Creationism being presented as a valid scientific theory both in lesson time and outside of it in state funded schools, as we are aware that this is also happening in clubs in and out of school time. Given the nature of the internet, we also believe that the Guidance should state that websites which promote creationism as a valid scientific theory, like other unsuitable resources, should not be used. We believe this is necessary to protect the plain intent of the current Guidelines.

In addition, you will shortly have to deal with applications for Free School status from Everyday Champions Church (ECC), the Christian Schools Trust and for Academy status for St Peter’s among many others. Recent public statements from ECC and its associates suggest, if anything, an even more anti-scientific approach in its preferred teaching. This would suggest that the current Guidelines will need modification to reflect emerging practice.

The parent involved in the Exeter school incident (Laura Horner) and the British Centre for Science Education, together with the groups and individuals listed at the end of this letter, have therefore come together to launch CrISIS (Creationism In Schools Isn’t Science), whose views are summarised in our petition:

Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact. We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises.

Since this is in accord with Government policy as we understand it, we look forward to your support in this matter and a clarification of the Guidelines to reflect these demands.

Respectfully,

• Laura Horner B.Sc., PGCE (CrISIS founder and parent)
• Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics, Professor of Public Engagement in Science, University of Surrey
• Simon Barrow, Co-Director, Ekklesia (religion and society thinktank)
• Dr Susan Jane Blackmore, BA (Hons), MSc, PhD
• Professor Paul S. Braterman M.A. D.Phil , D.Sc (Oxon), British Centre for Science
• Education (BCSE)
• Andrew M. Colman, BA (Hons), MA, PhD, Professor of Psychology
• D. Colquhoun FRS, Professor of Pharmacology, University College London
• Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford
• Prof Christopher C French, Professor of Psychology, BA PhD
• Adam Hart-Davis, MA (Oxon), D Phil (York)
• Julian Huppert, Member of Parliament for Cambridge
• The Rev Canon David Jennings, M.Phil., B.D., A.K.C., Rector of Burbage,Canon
• Theologian of Leicester Cathedral
• Professor J Steve Jones, professor of genetics, and formerly Head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London
• Dr Stephen Law, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London
• Clifford Longley, Consultant Editor to the Tablet, BBC Radio 4 ‘Moral Maze’ panellist
• Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
• Rev Michael Roberts, M.A. (Oxon - geology) B.A. (Dunelm- theology) F.R.Hist.S, Vicar of Cockerham, Winmarleigh and Glasson, Honorary Research Fellow in History, Lancaster University.
• Simon Singh MBE, author, journalist and TV producer specialising in science and mathematics
• Canon Professor J. S. K. Ward D.D. (Oxon) D.D. (Cantab), F.B.A., Emeritus Regius Professor of Theology, Oxford University
• James D. Williams BSc MEd FSB CSciTeach, Lead Science Tutor and Lecturer in Science Education, University of Sussex.

References:

[1] http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/crisis-creationism-in-schools-isn-t-...

[2] Christian Schools Trust 2009 Policy on the Teaching of Evolution, quoted in full by Sylvia Baker, Ph.D. Thesis in
Education, 2009, available at http://go.warwick.ac.uk/wrap/3115, pp. 354

[3] On http://www.creationscience.co.uk/hello-world-2-2/

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