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Friday, 7 November 2008

Creationism in the classroom

About a third of British teachers think creationism or its pal, intelligent design (creationism but it all took a lot longer), should be taught alongside evolution in classrooms.

This is according to a poll of more than 1,200 teachers. The poll was published to coincide with a week of UK TV programming dedicated to the evolution debate. The poll also showed that nearly a third (30.1 per cent) of schools already consider creationism or intelligent design to some extent during science lessons.

Nearly 50 per cent of teachers also agreed with Professor Michael Reiss’s sentiment that excluding alternative explanations to evolution is counterproductive and alienates pupils from science.

Almost 9 out of 10 (87.9 per cent) teachers took the view, pragmatically, that they should be allowed to discuss creationism or intelligent design in science, if pupils raise the question.

This was more or less Reiss’s position. He didn’t actually say creationism should be taught in science lessons, but his belief that it should be discussed got scientists twitching, and he eventually stepped down from a post as a director of the prestigious Royal Society, which said at the time:

As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately as director of education – a part-time post he held on secondment. He is to return, full time, to his position as professor of science education at the Institute of Education.

And, of course, talking about it in class is OK. It’s a legitimate subject. “Look, kids, people once believed that Earth was created in six days by a deity. It probably seemed a plausible explanation at the time. There are many who don’t believe this, however. Many don’t even believe there is a God, but no one can know for sure. But the evidence for the creation of the universe is overwhelmingly . . .”

That’s teaching about it, not teaching it as fact. It's the way RE should be taught. It’s interesting to talk about in class, no doubt, as one might talk about characters in mythology, without trying to say they actually existed or exist.

Let’s hope that’s only as far as it goes.

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