Don’t dismiss god for Darwin’s sake, British scientist tells schools

September 12th, 2008 - 10:10 am ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 12 (IANS) It is a case of god versus Charles Darwin as a leading British scientist asks the country’s schools to teach creationism in science classes, calling it as legitimate a point of view as evolution.Biologist and director of education at the Royal Society, Reverend Michael Reiss, says it was “self-defeating” to dismiss as wrong or misguided the belief of a section of school students that god created the universe.

Many children who go to school believing in creationism come from Muslim or fundamental Christian families, he said. “Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson.”

His rationale is that creationism should be included in science classes to reduce confusion among school children from orthodox families who have been brought up to reject the principles of evolution.

His observation has put the famous science body on a collision course with the government. Incidentally, Darwin, the author of the scientific concept of evolution, was also a fellow of the Royal Society.

National curriculum guidelines in Britain state that creationism has no place in science lessons. The government says that if it is raised by students, teachers should discuss how creationism differs from evolution, say that it is not scientific theory and that further discussion should be saved for religious classes.

Reiss was speaking at the British Association’s Festival of Science in Liverpool.

His remarks have shocked the scientific community, seen as a turn-around by the Royal Society. Only last year, the society issued an open letter stating that creationism had no place in schools and that pupils should understand that science supported the theory of evolution.

Other scientists were vociferous in their response, saying that creationism should remain entirely within the sphere of religious education.

Lewis Wolpert, a professor at University College Medical School, said: “Creationism is based on faith and has nothing to do with science, and it should not be taught in science classes. It is based on religious beliefs and any discussion should be in religious studies.”

John Fry, a physicist at the University of Liverpool, said: “Science lessons are not the appropriate place to discuss creationism, which is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence. Creationism doesn’t challenge science: it denies it.”

A spokesman for the Royal Society confirmed Thursday that Reiss’s views did represent that of its president, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and the society.

He is quoted in The Times as saying: “Teachers need to be in a position to be able to discuss science theories and explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism isn’t.”

In recent times, the debate around teaching creationism over evolution was at its most heated in 1925 when the state of Tennessee in the US actually banned teaching Darwin’s theory in schools.

In its March 26, 1925 edition, The Times reported of the event: “Yesterday Governor Peay of that state signed a bill providing that it shall be un-lawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normal schools, and all other public schools of the state, which are supported in whole or in part by the school funds of the State to teach any theory that denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man is descended from a lower order of animals.”

The newspaper recorded the governor’s reasoning for his action: “Governor Peay said the bill was a protest against the ‘irreligious tendency to exalt so-called science and deny the Bible in some schools and quarters - a tendency fundamentally wrong and fatally mischievous in its effects on our children, our institutions’.”

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