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“Sir, I Don’t Believe in Evolution.” Creation in the classroom II.

Michael Reiss has resigned from the Royal Society.  This <- article does explain what he said he meant. Richard Dawkins, yesterday , in a letter to New Scientist, thinking the ‘resignation’ a bit harsh, also helped to clarify what Reiss meant.  Though all this is not necessary because the notes of Reiss speech is available online.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, didn’t want creationism/ID taught science classes.  Reiss wasn’t asking for it to be taught, merely discussed. But to discuss it properly  requires a set of bigger questions to be asked such as  What is Science?

Evolution vs. Creation is definitely a minority sport.  I’ve always found it fascinating: but there has always been a tug between nailing it again and moving on: the feeling that the time could be better spent on other more important things.

Is it an intriguing debate but does it really matter to society as a whole? Try to imagine a world without Darwin’s theory (well it is in fact in a way because so few people have any idea what it is…) and the subsequent science which underpins it like genetics and the discovery of DNA.  Would it make life any better?  Apart from undermining an existing paradigm, God,  what from knowing that life is a continuum and that one species derives from another  do we get out of it? Or what about no evolutionary theory but a lot known, from Mendel’s peas onwards, about genetics.  At least genetics has had a obvious practical effect. And I would suggest the simplest starting point for arguing the case for evolution. We cannot deny we breed and pass on our genes. Recombination at gametogenesis, all that stuff.  The simple observation that you and I represent a continuous line of successful breeding – not a single break in the transfer of genes – since the first man (even if you don’t want to go back and further) is pretty impressive.

If the science teacher was to venture into this minefield in class its seems a  wise strategy, first, for the doubting student to be asked what it is particularly about evolution he or she doesn’t believe or is unhappy about – the old working from the known to the unknown, which is the cornerstone of teaching. It might be confusion or lack of understanding over origins of life and the origin of species.

It is clear where a big problem lies in the classroom: the student going home to tell parent science teacher was proselytizing for evolutionary theory.

The last post was provoked by Reiss’s suggestion that creationism might be discussed in science lessons and because i have encountered a few students who were prepared to say they didn’t believe in evolution.  They were probably Jehovah’s Witnesses. Possibly Muslims. I can’t remember what I told them. Probably because it was revision time in Year 12, only a few weeks before exams, that if they wanted to pass the exam they’d have to know the facts!

Having read a bit more from the web, it is clear that the biology teacher has to be prepared well for the question, even though it won’t come up very often in British classrooms.  For example: the fundamentalist Christian approach is different in places from the Witnesses, and both might well be different from any Muslim objections:  so lump them all under anti-evolution won’t do if you don’t want to upset someone unnecessarily.

The title of that post hints at my typically British attitude: biology  teacher has quick chat with the unbelievers and moves swiftly on.  In practice, there is no time in a hectic teaching schedule to idly stand around discussing this subject, which if teased out to its fuzzy horizons would encompass everything from what truth is, what science is,  religion,  theology, the philosophy of belief, history, sociology, politics, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n All.

In the States, the problem of the resurgence of creationism/ID has been seen by the American science teaching profession as a serious threat for some time. How seriously they take the anti-science movement can be seen from the existence of books like Defending Evolution in the Classroom by Brian J and Susan Alters, published in 2001(of which there are a few pages in GoogleBook including the complete forward by the late Stephen Jay Gould.) Then there is: Case Teaching Notes for “Equal Time for Intelligent Design?  An Intimate Debate Case” (with undergraduates in mind) by Clyde Freeman Herreid, Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Note the  mention of the fallacy of “false dichotomy”. SEE wiki:false dilemmaBlack-or-White Fallacy.  Also useful portion of GoogleBook, Evolution Vs. Creationism by Eugenie Carol Scott, published in 2005 and a website “Creation “Science” Debunked by Lenny Flank, which deals with every aspect.

This short paper does not do the detail but has some interesting points: Why Creation ‘Science’ Must Be Kept Out of the Classroom.

Creation “Science” Debunked a website by Lenny Flack ( “This website has one very clear objective in mind — to present a history of creation “science” and its latest reincarnation as Intelligent Design “theory”, and to lay bare the political and social roots of this movement.”)

Modern Creationists is a post in a website called Bad Archaeology Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doese.

There is another way to tackle this: What is going on amongst UK intellectuals on evolution vs. creationism?  We know what Dawkins, Dennett and co think. Anything else?  New Humanist covers the argument which ensured from A C Grayling’s review of Sam Fullers’ book, Dissent over Descent.

Sam Fuller was a witness at the Dover trial. Right at the bottom it tells us he is author of book called The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Intelligent Design Theory.

Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne (Guardian 1 September 2005), One Side can be Wrong, in arguing that creationism has no place in science classes, also adds that there is plenty of debate within evolution, which they outline.

There is a link to 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent

(Theobald, Douglas L. “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Vers. 2.83. 2004. 12 Jan, 200)

Reading that Intelligent Design Comes to Blighty ( Or, rather came in 2006. ) I begin to think I might be totally out of touch. You can take any of those links at the bottom of the page and get a  pretty good idea of what had been going on in the last year or so.  Wiki:Truth in Science

Truth in Science looks superficially like a science site.  The About page doesn’t give too much away. Though the Paul Johnson quote in the top left panel does rather give it away:

The truth is that once you embark on Darwinian nihilism there is no resting place. If there is no point in life, everything in the end has to go — duty, laws, arts, letters, society — and you are left with nothing, except ‘proceeding’.

Paul Johnson (The Spectator, 23 April 2005)

Surely all this is at the root of what education is about? For  intelligent !6+ students to get their heads around how  Andrew MacIntosh {2} can be a  serious chemical engineer, while at the same time being a Young Earth Creationist.  I’m think along the lines of  incommensurability of values.

I’m also seeing that the latest upsurge of venom from the UK scientific community against anti-evolutionism has its roots in the  pressure brought to bear by organisations like Truth in Science.  So, in essence, in a mini version of what has been going on in the U.S. for years is beginning in the UK.  Not a lot of people know that.  Not a lot of people really know what evolution is either. A failure of the education system?  The surveys such as the one done by the BBC show a surprising  large number choosing ID.  Perhaps this is because they know little if nothing about evolutionary theory except the slogans of the anti-evolutionists. Is there such a thing as a priming of (for) ignorance?

September 17, 2008 Posted by | science | , , , , , , | Leave a comment