Teachers still confused over creationism in science classrooms

By staff writers
November 7, 2008

A survey carried out by an education TV station indicates that there is a degree of confusion and disagreement among teachers over what to do in science classrooms over views that challenge standard evolutionary biology.

However, the limits of the sampling and questioning make it difficult to draw any clear conclusions.

Nearly 50% of the respondents to an online teachers' survey said they believed that refusing to discusss anti-evolution views in science classrooms was counter-productive and would alienate pupils from the subject, according to an online survey of attitudes to teaching evolution in the UK.

The survey, by the website and TV station Teachers TV, found strong support for the views of the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, the former director of education at the prestigious Royal Society, who resigned in September 2008 over comments about responding to creationism in science lessons.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed with Reiss that teachers should engage with pupils who raise creationism or intelligent design in science lessons rather than dismiss or ridicule them.

Professor Reiss said at the time that creationism was not science and he did not advocate giving it equal time alongside evolution or any kind of equivalent status.

However the leading science educator was forced to step down after furious reactions to his comments in the media from some Royal Society fellows, many of whom seemed to have heard mis-reports of his remarks or had not appreciated the distinction he attempted to make between curriculum content and responding to pupils.

"This poll data confirms that the debate on whether there is a place for the teaching of creationism in the classroom is still fierce," said Andrew Bethell, chief executive of Teachers TV, as reported in the Guardian newspaper.

Teachers TV emailed 10,600 education professionals, of whom 1,210 responded. Because the sample was self-selecting, those teachers with the strongest views are more likely to have replied, placing question marks about the validity of the findings.

It appears that 29% of those surveyed said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the government's guidelines on teaching evolution, which state that "creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science national curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science".

Fifty-three per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

Thirty-one per cent of respondents and 18% of the 248 science teachers in the sample said they thought creationism or intelligent design should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, although this question did not specify whether it was referring to science lessons or the curriculum in general.

Twenty-two respondents said they had been pressured to teach creationism or intelligent design by their school.

"It looks as if the government needs to do more to communicate its guidelines and to engage with teachers so that there is greater understanding of the difference between treating pupils with respect, which is vital, and teaching as science worldviews which have no scientific grounding and indeed reject scientific research, which is clearly inappropriate," commented Simon Barrow of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, which says that creationism and ID are bad theology as well as non-science.

"Equally, the Royal Society might reflect further on what it can do, given the rumpus over Professor Reiss's comments, which raised important issues, even if their initial expression was less than helpful."

Ekklesia, a Christian think-tank, is among those, alongside scientists, educationists and the British Humanist Association, who urged the government to adopt clear guidelines in the face of pressure on schools from well-funded creationist lobby groups.

See Ekklesia's briefing paper: 'Theology, science and the problem of ID' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.