Creationism in British schools? Not!

For a moment it looked as if American science curriculum battles were about to commence in Great Britain just as the Church of England was about to honor Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday. Not so fast, says Dr. Michael Reiss.

Thinking Anglicans reports that the Rev. Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society and a priest in the Church of England, is reported to have told the British Association for the Advancement of Science that creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons. This created a media storm.

Today, Dr. Reiss released a statement. Ekklesia reports:

A leading biological scientist, and the prestigious Royal Society he works for, has said that his comments on creationism and the classroom have been misrepresented – and that it is opposed to creationism being taught as science.

“Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Society expressed in a speech yesterday,” the Royal Society declared in a statement on 12 September 2008.

The Rev Professor Reiss, also an Anglican clergyman, has issued a further statement which is being described by the Society as a clarification.

He said: “Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview’; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”

The Royal Society, the organisation declared, “remains committed to the teaching of evolution as the best explanation for the history of life on earth. This position was highlighted in the Interacademy Panel statement on the teaching of evolution issued in June 2006.”

Government guidelines make it clear that neither creationism nor its cousin ‘intelligent design’ can be regarded as valid scientific theories.

A Church of England spokesperson, the Rev Dr Malcom Brown, who heads up the denomination’s mission and public affairs unit, also made it clear that the Church has no truck for creationist propaganda – which is based on fundamentalist readings of Scriptural texts and denies 150 years of modern evolutionary biology.

The message that the media largely missed is that creationism ought not to be ignored but contextualized.

The British Humanist Association said that creationism was “simply wrong” but agreed that those who struggle to accept science should be engaged by science teachers rather than ignored.

Andrew Copson, director of education and public affairs for the BHA, said it was better to take the opportunity to talk rather than to belittle children. “Should a teacher say, ‘Shut up, that’s for RE’? Obviously not,” he said. “If a child raises it in a classroom you don’t say, ‘Shut up’. You say, ‘That’s not a scientific perspective.’ It can be an opportunity to demonstrate what a scientific perspective is.”

Read the rest here.

Thinking Anglican reports here.

Addendum: Professor Reiss has resigned his post. Thinking Anglicans has a roundup of links. It is worth checking the links before deciding if he was wrong or wronged.

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