Government issues guidelines to teachers on creationism and ID

By staff writers
26 Sep 2007

After a number of requests from teaching unions and civic bodies, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association, the UK Department of Children, Schools, and Families has issued guidance for teachers uncertain whether and how to discuss creationism – which is rejected by both scientists and theologians as lacking factual and theoretical value.

A statement on Teachernet, a government website, states that "Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science" and describes "intelligent design" as "a creationist belief" that "is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community."

It adds that "there is scope for schools to discuss creationism as part of Religious Education - a component of the basic school curriculum - in developing pupils' knowledge and understanding of Christianity and other religions."

However, Religious Education specialists point out that while creationism is strong in many areas of the US and has been growing among fundamentalist believers in parts of Europe and elsewhere, it is opposed by the official teaching of mainline churches and by theological specialists.

The mainstream contemporary Christian understanding is that God gifts the whole of life, not that a special theory about the mechanics of the world process in competition with science is required, points out the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

Archbishop of canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has described creationism as "a category mistake" in religious thought.

The Teachernet press release and a corresponding document entitled "Guidance on the place of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons" (dated 18 September 2007) came about after a propaganda exercise in late 2006 on the part of a newly formed creationist organization calling itself Truth in Science.

Packets of creationist-backed teaching materials were sent to the science heads of every secondary school in the United Kingdom. Following complaints, the government issued a series of statements and disclaimers, including a 21 June 2007 statement affirming that creationism (including "intelligent design") "should not be taught as science" and promising guidance for schools "in due course."

Now the promised guidance seems to have arrived. After explaining the place of science and religious education in the British national curriculum, the guidance document unequivocally states: "Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study."

Apparently with Truth in Science's materials in mind, it recommends, "Any resource should be checked carefully before it is used in the classroom. If resources which mention creationism or intelligent design are used, it must be made clear that neither constitutes a scientific theory."

The guidance document explains that although it is inappropriate to teach creationism, it is not necessarily inappropriate to teach about creationism as an ideological movement and philosophy.

It says: “Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory. ... Science teachers can respond positively and educationally to questions and comments about creationism or intelligent design by questioning, using prompts such as 'What makes a theory scientific?', and by promoting knowledge and understanding of the scientific consensus around the theories of evolution and the Big Bang.”

It also refers to a Religious Education model unit entitled "How can we answer questions about creation and origins?" from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website), which "aims to deepen pupils’ awareness of ultimate questions through argument, discussion, debate and reflection and enable them to learn from a variety of ideas of religious traditions and other world views."

Pupils will be able to investigate and role-play past disputes between religion and science, as well as gaining an understanding of modern insights in both areas.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia, welcomed the new guidelines as “an important step forward”.

He commented: “Creationism and Intelligent Design are not legitimate scientific theories. They are constructs based on discredited ideas about biblical texts, a misunderstanding of the idea of creation (which is an understanding of the world process as gift, not a theory of origins in competition with evolution) and a god-of-the-gaps approach rejected by serious theologians.”

Ekklesia argues that creationism is a well-funded political movement primarily orchestrated by the religious right in the USA as a response to its wider loss of power and influence.

“Pupils seeking to acquire an understanding of religious and other life stances need to understand how and why fundamentalist world views emerge”, said Barrow. “But they also need to know why they are rejected by mainstream theologians and scientists. Likewise, as the government rightly says, creationism and ID have no place in school science classrooms.”

Mike Brass, chairman of the British Centre for Science Education said, ”We are very pleased that the Government has issued such a strong statement and clear instructions to schools, which should go a long way to prevent children being misinformed. However, we remain deeply concerned that creationist groups are still being allowed to operate or influence City Academies and similar schools outside the mainstream. The Government should close this loophole immediately.”

The guidance to teachers can be viewed here: http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/docbank/index.cfm?id=11890

With acknowledgments to the National Center for Science Education in the USA: http://www.ncseweb.org/

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