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Science - Creationism: a 'very real threat' in schools

news | Published in TES magazine on 17 January, 2014 | By: Richard Vaughan and Irena Barker

Ban ‘indoctrination’ and focus on the evidence, campaigners urge

New laws are needed in the UK to crack down on the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution in private faith schools, the president of the Association for Science Education (ASE) has warned.

Regulations that ban the teaching of creationism during science lessons in state schools must be extended to the independent sector to stop the “indoctrination” of children, according to Alice Roberts, presenter of BBC programme The Incredible Human Journey and professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham in England.

The comments by Professor Roberts, who began her term as ASE president this month, are part of a growing fight against creationist teaching and “science deniers” on both sides of the Atlantic. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a US not-for-profit group, has also highlighted the challenges it faces to keep evolution and climate science on the curriculum.

From this September, children in England will be explicitly taught evolution from primary school onwards as part of the redrafted science curriculum. But Professor Roberts said that too many young people were still at risk of being “indoctrinated” by religious organisations.

“There should be regulation that prevents all schools, not just state schools, from teaching creationism because it is indoctrination, it is planting ideas into children’s heads,” she told TES. “We should be teaching children to be much more open-minded.

“People who believe in creationism say that by teaching evolution you are indoctrinating them with science, but I just don’t agree with that. Science is about questioning things. It’s about teaching people to say, ‘I don’t believe it until we have very strong evidence.’”

Graham Coyle from the Christian Schools’ Trust (CST), a network of 38 private religious schools, said that teaching creationism alongside evolution in science was common in his organisation’s schools, but insisted that it did not amount to indoctrination.

He added that he would be “very surprised” to find that a CST school was not offering alternative scientific points of view to creationism, although he admitted that he could not say with “hand on heart” that it did not happen.

“There are schools [in the CST] with a strong sympathy to a Young Earth, six-day creation, but the way they conduct themselves appears to be entirely correct, in that they are teaching in a balanced way,” Mr Coyle said. “There are people who would outlaw the discussion of creationism but that is a very dangerous position to adopt. Indoctrination is a misused word - it really means a point of view without any opportunity for discussion.”

Existing inspection systems should be enough to ensure that schools are not taking an “extremist” point of view, he added.

Paul Medlock, headteacher of Maranatha Christian School near Swindon, also said that it was wrong not to have a debate about evolution. His school follows the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which has been criticised for its creationist perspective.

“The general trend of education is towards letting children choose. Closing down the options and saying there’s only one thing - evolution - is a form of extremism in itself,” he said.

But Richy Thompson, campaigns officer at the British Humanist Association, said that teaching creationism in science was the same as a geography teacher “telling their students the world was flat”.

“We don’t want to see any children being taught creationism for the simple reason that it’s not true,” Mr Thompson said. “The scientific consensus is overwhelming and the evidence is overwhelming in supporting the theory of evolution.”

Meanwhile, Ann Reid, executive director of the NCSE in the US, described the anti-science lobby as a “very real threat”.

Legislation has already been passed in Louisiana and Tennessee that allows creationism to be taught as a “critique” of evolution. More opposition is expected after the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, which aim to standardise the teaching of science across the country.

“Part of the challenge with evolution and creationism is that the public has come to see evolution through the lens of religious conflict, with a significant number believing they must choose between evolution and religious faith,” Ms Reid said. “The same dynamic could be developing around climate change.

“The aim of science deniers is to make these topics seem scientifically controversial, and therefore intimidate teachers from covering those topics.”

GREAT DEBATE

Controversy has surrounded a number of applications by Christian groups in England to run free schools, which are state-funded but autonomous.

These include Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, a private school that became a free school last September. It drew criticism for previously appearing to support the teaching of creationism in science lessons.

The school insists that it teaches evolution in science and is planning to open a second school because of high parental demand.


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Comment (17)

  • “There are schools [in the CST] with a strong sympathy to a Young Earth, six-day creation, but the way they conduct themselves appears to be entirely correct, in that they are teaching in a balanced way,”

    How can they possibly teach 'in a balanced way' that Earth is only 6,000 years old?

    This is sophistry bordering on mendacity.

    I guess I must reluctantly concede that it is the prerogative of parents to inculcate a Dark Ages mindset in their kids but it is utterly wrong for the state to collude by funding such willful ignorance.

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    13:00
    17 January, 2014

    AndrySimpson

  • Accelerated Christian Education does not let the students choose for themselves. The way in which evolution is presented is nothing but a caricature with warped "facts" and misleading descriptions.
    The A.C.E. books employ just about every logical fallacy to indoctrinate impressionable minds with creationism.

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    13:39
    17 January, 2014

    TheoGoth

  • Should we also still debate the theory of gravity and allow children to walk out of fifth floor windows to check out the alternative?

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    13:58
    17 January, 2014

    AramMcLean

  • Creationism belongs in a religious education class, not a science class.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    15:41
    17 January, 2014

    Louisehaig

  • Personally I think we should teach intelligent falling http://www.theonion.com/articles/evangelical-scientists-refute-gravity-with-new-int,1778/ and we should never forget the great debate about whether Flying Spaghetti Monster (Sauce be upon Him) or the Holy Marmalade Man is the root of all Quantum Uncertainty. In the modern world of wordy processors and I-thingies it is nothing short of a scandal that our children's scientific education should be marred by such egregious omissions.

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    17:12
    17 January, 2014

    BernardHurley

  • Evolution is as much a religion as creationism.. both take faith, evolution cannot be supported by hard evidence (probably because it doesnt happen)

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    17:31
    17 January, 2014

    Thebibleistruth

  • Succeeding generations of living organisms undergo physical changes. This is a fact and it is called evolution. Darwin proposed a scientific theory to account for these changes. So far, as a scientific theory, it remains valid.

    There seems to be a misconception that Darwin's Theory of the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (as opposed to artificial selection by botanists, animal breeders etc) attempts to explain the origins of the universe, Earth and the life thereon . It does no such thing. The Theory of Evolution takes phenomena which can be observed and measured and, as with all sciences, seeks understanding and testability. There is nothing metaphysical here. The Theory of Evolution is not, repeat not, a religion.

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    18:36
    17 January, 2014

    AndrySimpson

  • Wouldn't it be nice if Mr Graham Coyle from the Christian Schools’ Trust (CST), a network of 38 private religious schools, showed the courage to pop his head over the parapet and explain on here how it is possible to teach children 'in a balanced way' that our planet is only 6,000 years old.

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    23:30
    17 January, 2014

    AndrySimpson

  • It is unfortunate that Alice Roberts has added her voice to the campaigning of the British Humanist Association. The arguments are invariably based on prejudice, not on the evidence of what actually is being taught and what are the educational outcomes.
    To give an idea of what I mean, here are some paragraphs from my feedback to the DfE on the “Draft National Curriculum for science”. I am concerned about brainwashing and indoctrination in what is being proposed. For those who need the detail, this relates to Paragraph 149: "Pupils should be taught to explain how the human skeleton has changed over time, since we separated from other primates, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being on two feet rather than four." Here are my comments as submitted to the DfE:
    -0-
    The proposed explanation of human skeletal changes takes pupils outside the domain of empirical science. Whatever hypotheses are considered, they cannot be tested by experimental methods. Before this topic can be satisfactorily addressed, students need to be equipped with skills associated with historical science. Without getting to grips with methodology, pupils are in danger of being brainwashed rather than developing a scientific mind.
    Paragraph 152 has: “Pupils can apply their knowledge and skills by: recording the evolutionary progression of the human skeleton e.g. through drawings, charts, displays, and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of being on two feet rather than four.”
    Surely those preparing this text are aware of the controversies around the phrase “evolutionary progression”? Evolutionary theorists do not use the word “progress”, because it has cultural overtones of direction and goal. These theorists would expect the phrase to be something like “evolutionary transformation”.
    The “evidence” that would have to be used to respond to this part of the curriculum would have to be supplied as drawings and charts. Pupils have no means of checking the content. They are being forced outside the realm of empirical science without realising what is happening. This is how brainwashing is implemented.
    There is no problem with discussing “the advantages and disadvantages of being on two feet rather than four.” But this does not need an evolutionary context to be meaningful. A design perspective can handle this well, and allow the pupils to appreciate why the body has so many features relevant to bipedalism.
    -0-----
    Richy Thompson of the BHA appeals to consensus: “The scientific consensus is overwhelming and the evidence is overwhelming in supporting the theory of evolution.” The appeal to consensus is not an argument scientists should ever use, because any consensus changes with time. If the argument from evidence is so overwhelming, why is the BHA so opposed to allowing the evidence to be interrogated in a critical manner? And which "theory of evolution" does it support? There are plenty of examples of scientists who realise that Darwinism does not deliver mechanisms that can build biological complexity and who are looking for new theory. Why should students not be exposed to these issues? The new National Curriculum never gets beyond Darwinism - which is why I gave this feedback to the DfE on the word "adaptation":
    ". . pupils should be aware that Darwin’s work on adaptation is being increasingly questioned and relegated to a marginal status. But these students are not yet equipped for handling such issues. Why should they be taught “adaptation” as an explanation of origins when they will later have to unlearn this and realise it relates only to the ecology of animals and plants?"

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    12:56
    20 January, 2014

    DavidJTyler

  • Darwin did not know much about DNA.

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    6:52
    21 January, 2014

    the hippo

  • It is called the THEORY of evolution not the FACT of evolution. I believe both THEORIES should be taught an children should be informed that neither has been proven conclusively.

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    11:22
    22 January, 2014

    Nicohl

  • For those who liken debates about evolution to the "theory" of gravity:

    Gravity is something which can be tested by a process of repeat experiments; something science like to do in order to know that something is not just a one-off fluke. Each experiment can yield very similar results, hence the theory stands and is concluded to be fact.

    Evolution is a theory to explain the past. Unless a person can travel back in time to observe the past, it is impossible to say for certain what actually happened. All that can proved is what happens from the time data is first recorded (within the last few centuries) up to the present time. Even if the theory were to be extended into the future, it would still remain speculation and would require the passage of time to prove the theory.

    It surprises me that scientists are so quick to dismiss everything except the latest "theory" (unproved), thereby ignoring the scientific testing methods they purport to be best.

    From a mathematical standpoint, when it comes to evolution, scientists take data collected from just a few hundred years and use it to predict what has happened over the last tens of millions of years. In other words, they use 0.001% of possible history to detail the other 99.999%.

    I'm not wishing to get into the whole debate here, and I'm not really fussed whether people believe in creation or evolution (I grew up in a school where creation wasn't taught in any lesson). But I would like to see a little less scientific hypocrisy in the debate.

    Atheists are using schools to indoctrinate society, putting it forward as "free thinking." Atheists comprise less than 3% of the world's population. The other 97+% of the population believes in some sort of supernatural power or spirituality. The scientific method is not suitable to test spirituality as it is a process for purely biological, physical or chemical testing. Therefore science is not a suitable excuse to write off spirituality or the supernatural.

    Therefore, science needs to be taught in schools, but there also needs to be teaching on the limits of scientific testing. Similarly, religion lessons should focus on questions like "Does God exist?" or "Do miracles happen?" etc. where by the very existence of the supernatural is questioned, but should rather focus on understanding the worldview of religions and faiths. Just as science will expose pupils to environments which support the scientific outcomes (various experiements, apparatus, methods etc), perhaps RE lessons should also endeavour to expose pupils to environments which support religious viewpoints. (And I'm not just talking about your local dying Anglican church building, I mean events which advertise healings and miracles.)

    Just a thought.

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    1:11
    25 January, 2014

    Baggy_T

  • So....many...morons...on this thread

    If I see the argument that it is only a theory one more time I will beat that person to death with a thesaurus.

    The meaning of theory in science has a much more precise and technical definition than common parlance.

    Evolution can be tested. Has been tested. Has been proven. Experiments on living things with short generation times have demonstrate evolution:the change, over generational time of one group of organisms, to another that cannot interbreed with the original group to create fertile offspring.

    My yr 9 students know this.

    And no. Don't say 'I've never seen a dog turn into a cat'

    That is a lazy argument that shows complete ignorance of the facts.

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    14:20
    5 February, 2014

    Rhys Baker

  • I do hope that some of the posters here are not teachers, or I charge of the education of children. The misuse of the word theory in a scientific context is a real bugbear. A theory is a model used to explain observations. Evolution is an observable fact. The theory of Natural selection can explain that fact. It has been tested by many different methods, and always holds up. It has therefore earned the name Theory.
    Why are people trying to bring atheism into this. I know many Christians (although they are in the minority of my age group and profession) yet I know none personally who doubt the fact of evolution. Those who show fear of science due to their religious beliefs do their religion no favours.

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    19:57
    6 February, 2014

    TenderHooligan

  • cymraeg_bachgen (5 Feb): "Evolution can be tested. Has been tested. Has been proven. Experiments on living things with short generation times have demonstrate evolution:the change, over generational time of one group of organisms, to another that cannot interbreed with the original group to create fertile offspring."

    Experimental evolution does show change. If this is what "evolution" means - let's stick to this meaning. It is much more difficult to demonstrate experimentally a group of descendants that cannot interbreed with the original group. The pervasive nature of hybridisation also puts question marks over Mayr's biological species concept. There are real problems extending evolution based on experimentally-observed variations to evolution meaning "the origin of species from an ancestral cell". Yet this conceptual leap in the meaning of the word is routinely made in educational contexts. It is bad educational practice, because students will need to unlearn what they have been told.

    The stance taken by Stephen Jay Gould is still valid: "Darwin's vision may prevail in the here and now of immediate adaptive struggles. But if we cannot extend the small changes thereby produced into the grandeur of geological time to yield the full tree of life, then Darwin's domain is a limited corner of evolutionary explanation. [. . .] The Darwinian struggle does not extrapolate to the tree of life." (Gould S.J., "The Confusion over Evolution," The New York Review of Books, Vol. 39, No. 19, November 19, 1992, pp.47 54, pp.52 54)
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/reviews/gould_confusion.html

    Failure to use the word "evolution" with precision is intellectually lazy and not in the interest of science. The BHA is quoted as saying: "“We don’t want to see any children being taught creationism for the simple reason that it’s not true.” I think that “We don’t want to see any children being taught Darwinism for the simple reason that it’s not true”. What I am seeking is a critical evaluation of evidences pertaining to origins, and any rational and coherent theory about origins should be tested by reference to evidences. That, to me, is what the scientific method requires us to do.

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    11:44
    12 February, 2014

    DavidJTyler

  • To 'bibleistrue' and DavidJTyler - Your statements are typical religious canards - without foundation! Evolution works perfectly and the universe is natural with no supernatural intervention. There is no god, no heaven, no hell. Religion is poison and kids can do without your nonsense polluting their tiny minds. Keep creationism out of the science class!

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    14:02
    6 March, 2014

    DaveTheDalek

  • DaveTheDalek:
    "To 'bibleistrue' and DavidJTyler - Your statements are typical religious canards - without foundation! Evolution works perfectly and the universe is natural with no supernatural intervention. There is no god, no heaven, no hell. Religion is poison and kids can do without your nonsense polluting their tiny minds. Keep creationism out of the science class!"

    Oh, wow. There's a very opinionated and unjustified paragraph!!

    TenderHooligan:
    "Those who show fear of science due to their religious beliefs do their religion no favours."

    Be careful, you're almost into the realm of saying, "Religious people know nothing of science." I know that's not quite what you're saying, but you're close.

    I love science, and I think it has done many great things for the human race. But I am a mathematician. I find it very hard to accept a formula (that's me avoiding the word "theory"!) which is based on "the best conclusion for the given evidence." I can accept it as "a possible formula" but I would need much better evidence than that. Unfortunately no one can prove beyond doubt that humans evolved from a different species.

    I once calculated mathematically that the percentage error needed between the dinosaurs living 60 million years ago and 6,000 years ago was just 8%. I know that might seem like quite a big margin for error, but given the sizes of samples being tested, the randomness of decay rates, and the number of particles actually present in the material, 1 or 2% error would not seem to be unreasonable..... unless, of course, you trust in the inerrancy of the measuring equipment and the complete accuracy of a material's half-life.

    (Using carbon-14 as an example, its half life is calculated to be 5,730 years. Considering the equipment to measure it has only been around for 1-3% of that time, and also considering the randomness of carbon-14 decay, precision is surely difficult to come by. Note: I am aware that the dinosaurs were not calculated using carbon-14 dating!)

    Just some thoughts. I would just hate for people to say, "This must be fact, it must be taught everywhere!" and then a few years down the line, to say, "Oh wait, we made a slight error..." which is what seems to happen in the farming industry (according to a university agricultural student, on the subject of the use of various pesticides and use of GM-ing).

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    2:16
    22 March, 2014

    Baggy_T

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