Let's talk (not teach) creationism

19th September 2008 at 01:00

Is it possible to be a scientist and believe in God? Is it reasonable to believe the world was created by a divine being and yet accept the scientific theories of evolution and the Big Bang?

The simple answer is yes. A new survey suggests that as many as a third of science teachers believe a divine creator played some part in the development of human beings. And it is not uncommon for scientists to hold religious views. One such is Professor Michael Reiss, who was asked to stand down as the Royal Society's director of education this week after making a speech arguing that teachers should engage with pupils who raise the question of creationism in science lessons.

Professor Reiss's remarks were widely reported as a call for creationism to be taught in the classroom. In truth, they were nothing of the sort. As Keith Taber points out , he was simply arguing that teachers should respect the beliefs of students and treat them as a starting point for learning about the scientific explanation for how life on earth developed.

As many science teachers will know, Professor Reiss's comments are in line with the latest government guidelines on teaching about creationism and intelligent design, issued last year. These are crystal clear and state that "creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science national curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science". But they go on to say that questions about creationism or intelligent design that arise in science lessons offer a chance to explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories, unlike evolution.

It is unfortunate that the Royal Society has been so dogmatic on this issue. But, as the chief executive of the Association of Science Education says , scientists can afford the luxury of saying "we will have no truck with this", while teachers cannot ignore questions raised by pupils.

If creationism has no place in the formal science curriculum, there is every reason to include the teaching of humanism in religious studies, as even the editor of the Catholic Tablet concedes . No subject should be immune to being challenged by views that run counter to the mainstream. That applies equally to science and religion.

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