Posted by: paulgarner | September 19, 2011

New campaign: “Teach evolution, not creationism!”

With something of a media splash, a new anti-creationist initiative was launched today in the UK under the banner “Teach evolution, not creationism!”. The luminaries of the campaign are a roll call of the usual suspects, not many of them known for their warmth of feeling towards biblical Christianity. The biggest coup of the campaign is undoubtedly the public support of Sir David Attenborough, the nearest thing many of my fellow countrymen have to a religion these days. The inclusion of the religious thinktank Ekkelesia among the signatories is tragic but perhaps inevitable, given its track record of antipathy to the biblical teaching on origins.

Now let me state clearly for the record that I do not favour the mandatory teaching of creationism in British state schools, nor do I favour the banning or exclusion of evolution. I do not think creationism should be mandated because it would almost inevitably be taught poorly or in a prejudicial manner by teachers who are fiercely opposed to it. After all, our schools don’t do a very good job of teaching evolution, and most teachers do accept and embrace that. I think it is better that creationism is not taught at all, than taught badly. Nor do I think that evolution should be banned or excluded from state schools. Evolution is a profoundly important scientific theory and familiarity with the evidence supporting it should form a part of every child’s education. In fact, I would like to see improvements in the way evolution is taught in our schools.

But it seems to me that this campaign is going way beyond simply trying to stop the teaching of creationism in school science lessons or seeking to promote the better teaching of evolution. Consider, for instance, this particular campaign demand:

The current government guidance that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ should not be taught in school science should be made statutory and enforceable. It also needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.

Ponder that bracketed clause for a moment: “whether it takes place in science lessons or not”. I can only suppose that the campaign signatories would like this exclusion to apply across the board, and encompass religious education lessons, morning assemblies, after-school activities and even Christian Union meetings. Without clarification, one might even interpret it to apply to churches that hire school buildings in which to hold their meetings or services. In my view, such an intolerant and profoundly illiberal proposal is likely to result in deeper entrenchment of views and further conflict down the line – it certainly won’t promote dialogue, understanding or the true interests of education!

If you feel minded to do so, why not write to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, and the Minister of State for Schools, Mr Nick Gibb MP, pointing out the draconian nature of these ill-considered proposals? You can contact them both at the Department for Education, Castle View House, East Lane, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 2GJ.

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