Department for Education clarity needed over ‘creationism’ in schools

LONDON & EDINBURGH, May 16, 2011: Organisations and individuals from scientific, religious and secular backgrounds have joined together to call for clarity in Department for Education guidance on the teaching of ‘creationism’.

Schools should not be letting beliefs that reject modern scientific method be taught as scientific, in much the same way as flat-earthism and alchemy would never be presented in schools as scientific ‘alternatives’, say concerned commentators.

They point out that the mainstream scientific community, advisers to government and major religious bodies and theologians all firmly reject creationist ideology as mistaken belief.

The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), the Christian think-tank Ekklesia [1], the National Secular Society, scientists, educationists, clergy, theologians, an MP and other public figures have supported the Creationism in Schools Isn’t Science (CrISIS) initiative – which has written to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove seeking clarity over the issue [2] and has backed this up with an online petition [3].

Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, commented: “Government ministers have made it known that the teaching of creationism and its variants as valid alternatives to scientific method and theory in schools is unacceptable. But recent instances, including a dispute at an Exeter school, indicate that the DfE guidance needs tightening to end confusion of the kind that well-funded, determined creationist groups can exploit.”

He added: “Senior religious figures from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the head of the Vatican Observatory have long rejected creationist claims as incompatible with both mainstream science and theology. [4] Understanding how creationist misunderstandings come into existence and are propagated is important. But having them taught as scientific or the equivalent of science in publicly-funded schools is evidently not.”

Along with leading science figures such as geneticist Professor J Steve Jones and physicist and educationist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, signatories [5] of the CrISIS letter to Mr Gove include the Rev Canon David Jennings, Canon Theologian of Leicester Cathedral; the Rev Michael Roberts, Honorary Research Fellow in History at Lancaster University; Clifford Longley, Consultant Editor to the Tablet and BBC Radio 4 ‘Moral Maze’ panellist; and Canon Professor J. S. K. Ward, Emeritus Regius Professor of Theology at the University of Oxford.

Concerns have been expressed that looser controls over Free Schools and an increase in the number of religious foundation schools may heighten the problem of creationists seeking to proselytise within the school system.

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from an engaged Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. The full text of the letter can be viewed here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14756

3. The petition is online at: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/crisis-creationism-in-schools-isn-t-... The British Centre for Science Education is at: http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/

4. See: 'Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition', CathNews (Vatican astronomer says creationism is superstition), and 'Archbishop: stop teaching creationism', Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/mar/21/religion.topstories3), both 2006.

5. The full list of signatories can be found at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14756

6. For further comment, please contact: simon(dot)barrow at ekklesia.co.uk