Top scientists and educationalists, including Sir David Attenborough and a leading science educator who is an Anglican priest, together with five national organisations, have put their names to a statement calling for the teaching of evolutionary science, not creationism, in school science classrooms.
The statement, which appears on a new website (http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/), calls on the government to make statutory and enforceable the current, non-statutory, guidance that creationism and so-called ‘intelligent design’ should not be taught in school science, while at the same time calling for the teaching of evolution to be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
The organisations backing the statement are the Association for Science Education, the British Humanist Association, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Christian beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia.
The thirty leading scientists backing it include three Nobel laureates; naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough; neurobiologist Professor Colin Blakemore; evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins; President of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse; and science education expert the Rev Professor Michael Reiss.
Commenting on the launch, the Rev Professor Reiss said: "Evolution is an extremely powerful idea that lies at the heart of biology. At the same time, it's a sufficiently simple concept that there's no good reason why it should be left out of the primary curriculum. If creationism is discussed, it should be made clear to pupils that it is not accepted by the scientific community."
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, added: "Mainstream religious bodies as well as mainstream scientists reject the ideology of 'creationism', which posits an unnecessary and intellectually flawed conflict between faith and science. They regard it as vital that proper science is taught and respected in Britain's classrooms, and indeed among civic organisations, both religious and non-religious. Teaching creationism as if it was scientific is dishonest and harmful."
In June 2006, the Royal Society and other national academies issued a joint statement on the teaching of evolution and creationism.In September 2006, following on from the launch of the ‘Truth in Science’ creationist group, the BHA and Ekklesia wrote a joint letter to DfES outlining their concerns, and asked the Department to counter ‘Truth in Science’. The Government replied that they were now willing to take action.
Subsequently, in September 2007, DfES issued ‘Guidance on the place of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons’.
Following the previous government’s consultation on a new primary school curriculum, it was agreed that evolution would be added to the curriculum upon passage of the Children, Schools and Families Act.
However, the plans were dropped when Parliament ran out of time to pass the legislation before the 2010 general election. With the coalition government conducting a fresh review of the curriculum, many believe it is now time to introduce the basic concepts of evolutionary science into primary schools; as well as taking steps to ensure that Academies and Free Schools, which do not have to follow the national curriculum, teach evolution accurately.
In May 2011, the Department for Education issued guidance on how to apply for Free School or Academy status. This included the requirement that "Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories," as the 2007 DfES guidance put it.
However, critics point out that there is nothing statutory to prevent such teaching from occurring and nothing in the funding agreements for Free Schools or Academies preventing them from teaching creationism or ‘intelligent design’.
Last month a new e-petition, ‘Teach evolution, not creationism’, was launched by the BHA, inviting individuals to sign up to a similar statement to that of the new website. The e-petition is one of the most popular on the new Government website, having attracted almost 10,000 signatures so far.
* More information: http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/
* e-petition to the government: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1617
* Theology, science and the problem of ID (Ekklesia, November 2008): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707