Schools minister says creationism has no place in classroom science
UK schools minister, Jacqui Smith, has declared categorically that the government is against the teaching of creationism and so-called ëintelligent designí in science lessons in British schools.
The statement has come as the result of the British Humanist Association (BHA) calling on the minister to justify a parliamentary answer she gave on 17 February 2006, which stated that creationism and ëintelligent designí could be taught in school Religious Education lessons.
Teaching unions, scientists, educationalists, the Archbishop of Canterbury, secularists, bishops and the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia are among those who have expressed concern that creationist dogma ñ which opposes evolutionary biology through a literalist interpretation of the Bible rejected by mainstream Christian scholars ñ could creep into Britain's classrooms.
Ms Smith responded to the BHA by saying that she ìwould like to take this opportunity make clear our position on Creationism and Intelligent Design in the National Curriculumî.
Declared Ms Smith: ì'Creationism and Intelligent Design are not included in either the present science programme of study or the revised science programme of study to be implemented in September 2006.î
She goes on to say that the only ëcontrovers[ies]í that could be taught in science lessons are scientific ones, and that ìCreationism cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy, as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations.î
In her new statement, Ms Smith is equally scathing of ëintelligent designí (ID). She says: ìIntelligent Design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and is not accepted by the international scientific community.î
ID proponents claim that that life on earth may have been produced by an unidentifiable intelligent cause because supposed ëirreducibleí and ëspecifiedí complexities in the world allegedly undermine evolutionary theory.
But critics say that ëintelligent designí is junk science based on poor maths. It cannot be tested by experiment, does not generate any meaningful predictions and proposes no new scientific hypotheses.
This view was rigorously backed in the Dover School Board decision in the USA last year, when US District Judge John E. Jones III ruled, on expert advice, that ID had no scientific basis. He also accused its advocates of falsification and dishonesty in presenting themselves and their views.
Instrumental in the case against ID in Dover were two leading scientific educators who are theists, a senior biologist who is a Catholic, and John F. Haught, Professor of Theology at Georgetown University ñ demonstrating the strength of religious scholarshipís opposition to ID and creationism, too.
Both humanist and Christian commentators have welcomed the statement from the schools minister.
Andrew Copson, British Humanist Association education officer, said: ìIt has always seemed ludicrous that a debate should even exist as to whether creation myths should be taught in school science, even in their pseudoscientific sheepskin of 'íintelligent designí. Now we can hopefully draw a line under this pretend ëcontroversy. Pupils in science lessons should be taught science.î
Simon Barrow, director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia also backed the governmentís position. ìCreationism and ID undermine good science and good theology,î he declared. ìThey should no more be taught in science classrooms than astrology and numerology.î
ìThe question about how creationism arises through what Dr Rowan Williams has rightly called a ëcategory mistakeí in Christian thinking is certainly something which might be considered in Religious Education ñ where pupils should critically examine different life stances,î added Barrow.
He continued: ìHowever, when Jacqui Smith says that ëthe biblical view of creation can be taught in RE lessonsí, this betrays continuing confusion. There are two different ëcreation storiesí in Genesis, not one. And in developed Christian and Jewish thought ëcreationí is not a theory of origins which competes with scientific explanation, but a way of understanding the natural world as gift.î
Concern about creationist ideology infiltrating science lessons has come about partly because of the governmentís controversial academy programme ñ which critics say gives factional religious groups influence for cash.
John Mackay, a US figure associated with creationism, has also been speaking in British schools and colleges this month.
The schools ministerís latest statement will be welcomed by those critical of Tony Blairís equivocal response to leading scientists and Anglican Bishops who lobbied the Prime Minister to outlaw creationism in schools back in 2002.
Earlier this month the Royal Society, Britainís oldest learned association for the natural sciences, declared: ìSome may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so. However, young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs.î
[Also on Ekklesia: Creationists target schools and universities in Britain ; Faith schools may allow extremists in, say critics ; Archbishop of Canterbury criticises teaching of creationism ; Theologians and scientists welcome Intelligent Design ban ; Dawkins attacks creationist plans ; US religious right plans a home-school revolution ; New Christian academy rejects creationism as 'rubbish' ; Creationist school opens ; Faith, science and understanding ]