Thinking Anglicans

Creationism in science lessons? – Tuesday update

Updated Tuesday evening to add Guardian and Telegraph articles.

Following his remarks about creationism and science lessons the Revd Professor Michael Reiss has resigned his position as the director of education at the Royal Society.

The Royal Society issued this statement today.

Royal Society statement regarding Professor Michael Reiss

16 Sep 2008

Some of Professor Michael Reiss’s recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as the Royal Society’s Director of Education, were open to misinterpretation. While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society’s reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately as Director of Education a part time post he held on secondment. He is to return, full time, to his position as Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education.

The Royal Society’s position is that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific.

The Royal Society greatly appreciates Professor Reiss’s efforts in furthering the Society’s work in the important field of science education over the past two years. The Society wishes him well for the future.

BBC ‘Creationism’ biologist quits job
New Scientist Royal Society prof resigns over comments
Lewis Smith and Mark Henderson in The Times Royal Society’s Michael Reiss resigns over creationism row
Ian Sample, science correspondent, in The Guardian Michael Reiss resigns over call for creationism in science lessons
Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent, in the Telegraph Royal Society scientist loses post in row over creationism in schools

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Merseymike
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Merseymike

Quite right too. It is imperative that creationist delusion merchants are not allowed to peddle their fantasies as anything other than what they are – religionist myth

David Keen
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David Keen

That’s a great shame, and evidence, if it were needed, of how hard we find it to have a rational discussion about this stuff. Michael Reiss is entirely in agreement with the Royal Society’s position as expressed in that second paragraph. And he’s managed to spark a debate, which is a good thing. Robert Winston is right: “I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself. This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science –… Read more »

magistra
Guest

This strikes me as an own-goal for those who accept and promote the theory of evolution. Reiss has resigned despite the fact that the Royal Society statement shows them holding essentially the same position as him: that teachers should not teach creationism, but be prepared to discuss it if students bring the topic up. His resignation will inevitably be spun by creationists as ‘proving’ that the scientific establishment is ‘intolerant of dissent’, wrecks the careers of those who dare to step out of line, etc. It isn’t good tactics for the side of debate who argue for careful and thoughtful… Read more »

Violetta
Guest
Violetta

Hi Thinking Anglicans,

Here’s a thinking way to deal with this debate before it gets any worse. Try a totally neglected POV; it’s here:

http://phoebekate.com/2008/09/14/randomness-creationism-and-intelligent-design

Pluralist
Guest

Probably the media sausage factory has another victim to its name. The whole business of science teaching has become muddled, muddled because the State has allowed religion to become too involved in providing education as a means to discipline and ‘values’. Into this mix, and money held by over opinionated industrialists and benefactors, comes creationism, defended because some children may express it as part of their family and community identity. It is time this was sorted out, that creationism has no place in scientific lessons, and that evolution is not a theory but a tested, observed (small islands, bird species… Read more »

John Bassett
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John Bassett

Now when Michael Reiss made comments which were difficult to comprehend and gave rise to misconceptions, he resigned. Rowan Williams, on the other hand, has made making these kind of statements a career. Thankfully the Royal Society issued a clarification rather than holding an Indaba group discussion on the issue.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Methinks that the Box of Pandora is operative here – or rather the fear of opening such a one…

The superstitiousness of certain religionists (and the possible outcome of the on-going American elections) make this very serious indeed.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

This is quite appalling. A man has been hounded out of office for something he *didn’t say*. Looking at the earlier reports, it is clear that he did NOT advocate teaching creationism. What he did say was that *if children had questions* about creationism, that they should not just be told that they are wrong, but teachers should explain the difference between a religious world view and scientific theory. The point of this engagement would be to point out that creationism is not scientific. So: he didn’t advocate teaching creationism; he suggested that if children brought it up then teachers… Read more »

Mark Wharton
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Mark Wharton

If creationism is simply “religionist myth” to quote Merseymike and we fail to see the deep reality of what the scriptures tell us, then we are all in great danger of becoming deconstructionists Christians with a deep suspicion of anything that we don’t agree with and the end result of this is not Christianity but a Godless religion where we are in the very centre doing and believing what we want to.

DCooling
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DCooling

What a shame that those in the media supposedly so committed to the facts can’t be bothered to carefully attend to the facts of what Prof. Reiss actually said and wrote. It says more about the media than the Royal Society that he had to resign. Merseymike, Reiss precisely wasn’t saying that creationists be given time to “peddle their fantasies”, as you put it. He point blank said that creationism is not science (see his Guardian article) but a worldview and that science teachers can use their lessons to point out its status as such, AND NOT AS SCIENCE. As… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

What Mark Wharton expresses so succinctly is the anti Modern error par preference…

Fear.

Creationism is nothing to fear – it is simpy wrong.

If the Bible tells us that creationism is right – then there is something the matter with our reading.

Cheryl Va.
Guest

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…” which continues Genesis 1:27-28 “…in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them….” Genesis 2:20-25 “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

He advocated that it should be explained as ‘an alternative world view’. That is too wishy-washy. It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be ‘respected’ as scientifically credible.

I am not at all sure whether religion should have any place in the public sphere in any case. I have become more and more convinced that it should be formally separated from public life, given that the harm it does outweighs the good so comprehensively, at least in its conservative guise.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“the end result of this is not Christianity but a Godless religion where we are in the very centre doing and believing what we want to.” No, I’d say the end result is a kind of spiritual starvation. Denial of the mystical, the ineffable, of that side of us that needs these things leads to all sorts of bad places. One obvious place is fundamentalism, Dawkins being no less fundamentalist than those who are such in the name of religion, and for the same reasons. And isn’t all religion about believing what we want to? Who forces the Evangelical to… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Creationism is nothing to fear – it is simpy wrong.” No, it’s just not history. What’s wrong is trying to make a metaphysical explanation of our human experience into science, vilifying those who recognize the foolishness of the attempt, and silencing those who suggest there might be room for dialogue between these two unrelated fields. “It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be ‘respected’ as scientifically credible.” Of course it isn’t, but that not what we’re talking about here. Seen the other way around, evolution is an utterly unspiritual and risible view which should not be… Read more »

Pluralist
Guest

No, sociology is not a science. It is a social science. Although open to research, its findings cannot be wholly falsified (except claims to naturalistic universalism) in that a falsification makes something untrue, when parts of a society may continue on. For example you can falsify universalistic notions of the family, but not any one kind of family. Richard Dawkins has nothing to do with any of this. He has never denied any sense of wonder either. Michael Reiss’s recent comments have been a victim of reporting and of a muddled school system and series of identities of schools and… Read more »

peterpi
Guest
peterpi

Something is seriously amiss if a misunderstanding of Professor Reiss’ statements led to his dismissal/transfer. It reminds me of a cabinet member of former President Clinton’s administration who was fired for merely suggesting that a discussion of America’s drug policies was needed. If we can’t even talk about something, things are out of whack. As far as I’m concerned, science is about the “how” questions, religion is about the “why” ones. Cheryl Va: The Creation story in Genesis 1 specifically states that male and female alike, we were created in God’s image. I also suspect that, given the overall context… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

“He advocated that it should be explained as ‘an alternative world view’. That is too wishy-washy. It is an entirely unscientific and risible view which should not be ‘respected’ as scientifically credible.” Absolutely. I am sorry to hear that the creationists/intelligent design gang have any traction over there. They have done great mischief in the US. You cannot give them an inch. Two years ago one of the campus program offices that brings speakers to the university sponsored a ‘debate’ on evolution/creationism by one of a number of pairs of people who offer such programs. Our science division protested and… Read more »

rick allen
Guest

On the other hand, perhaps the Royal Society might feel inclined to apologize to Prof. Reiss a hundred and fifty years from now.

RudigerVT
Guest
RudigerVT

I teach science: the scientific study of behavior (DBA psychology). I don’t have *time* to discuss creationism, because I don’t have time to get to all of the interesting research I’d like to cover. Real research. Science.

The thought that I’d interject creationism would be funny if the suggestion weren’t basically so very, very sad. That makes me reactionary? So be it.

LPR

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“In my humble opinion Genesis 1 comports with the theory of evolution (both of life and of the Universe).”

Nope. Genesis has plants forming before there are sun and moon to determine seasons and days, an impossibility, since plants depend on light and weather for growth.

It also has birds and fish (actually all water-living creatures, including whales) created at the same time, with birds coming before other land-dwelling animals. Wrong again…birds are the last of the vertebrates to develop.

Hugh of Lincoln
Guest
Hugh of Lincoln

Teachers should not be afraid of challenging ignorance – after all that is what they are paid for. It’s just the manner in which it is done that is the point here. And Professor Reiss seems to be striking the right balance, even if creationism has become such a political hot potato that to have a senior representative of the Royal Society appear to depart from the orthodoxy amounts to heresy. But why stop at creationism? Why not include discussion of the physical resurrection, virgin birth and miracles in the context of what we understand about the physical sciences? Rather… Read more »

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

I’m glad the victimisation of the esteemed professor has been multiply acknowledged, for the abuse that it was. I now want to discuss a very small point in the debate: Pluralist said: “sociology is not a science”. That seems wrong to me. Why? Well, science is a matter of method, not a matter of the subject(s) of research. One can ‘do’ sociology from a positivistic, natural sciences perspective if one wishes; the same methodological principles can be applied. And we find that kind of work IS done, but not often. Why is that? At the simplest level, because human systems… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Ford,

I agree with you, but I still think you muddle the two; (bad) science and religion, conflating them ;=)

Creationism is not in any way or form science. The two must not be mixed.

orfanum
Guest
orfanum

Cynthia: “It would be like having a ‘debate’ between actual historians and Holocaust-deniers.” This is precisely what Deborah Lipstadt had to do in regard to David Irving – although Irving appears unrepentant, the views of the judge in the case between them severely damaged any lingering reputation he had as a military historian. Having a debate does not concede legitimacy to a correspondent – it’s inviting that correspondent to state their case in public. I’ll give it to him that Dawkins for his part is at least prepared to do this, despite the evident distaste he feels in possibly allowing… Read more »

Mark
Guest
Mark

This wouldn’t have happened if there weren’t legions of well-organized, well-funded people out there who are in fact trying to get creationism (or intelligent design) taught as science. Their tactic is to say “of course we’re not trying to get creationism taught as the only answer, just as another credible theory, which can be rejected or accepted by the student — what could be more reasonable and scientific?”

So all this “alternate world view” talk can sound to people who are in the midst of a pitched political battle as the nose of the camel getting into the tent.

Pluralist
Guest

If someone makes a universalist statement, such as the family is a universal feature of humanity, then sociology can falsify it. However, sociology can use science-like methods for tendencies in human patterns, but will miss out on the qualities of those patterns – and so why it introduces qualitative research. But qualitative research has no broader reach like the quantitative. So this is rather different from science. It is not quite as in the arts, but not science. A good point is made about creationism and then virgin births, resurrection and the like. On the latter two, science and history… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Creationism is not in any way or form science.” I didn’t say it was: “What’s wrong is trying to make a metaphysical explanation of our human experience into science” I see nothing wrong with, for instance, exploring the various religious and cultural understandings of the universe as part of, if you will, an introduction to biology or physics. If we know where we have been, we can have a better understanding of where we are going. What’s wrong with Creationism as science? Comparing the two would show exactly what’s wrong with it. All that people know now, on both sides,… Read more »

The Rev'd LJ Roberts
Guest
The Rev'd LJ Roberts

Do ‘the Creationists’also like to set aside established medical science and be treated with ‘eye of newt and tail of frog’ –or whatever?

I bet they demand the best and the latest that science can buy (them).

Peter Jones
Guest
Peter Jones

How difficult it is for scientists to deal with the possibility that Science is not the Alpha and the Omega.
How barren their quest- for they make a god of their puny human conquests.
And how deceitful that they who preach young people should be given the freedom to make up their own minds – is that not education?- deny that freedom to a new generation but rise up in self-righteous horror when one of their own dares suggest anything but the mantra of the Dawkins of this world.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“I bet they demand the best and the latest that science can buy (them).” Not all of them. There are cases every so often of people refusing medical treatment, “believing God for a miracle” is how they put it, I think. Now, there have been many billions of humans in times past who would likely have considered it a miracle to have been born in a country where they have free access to the best that modern medical science has to offer, but, hey, what did they know? I mean, we all know what a miracle looks like, right? It… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

It does not help that, in these reports, no-one ever seems to make clear whether ‘creationism’ is being understood to mean (a) ‘6-day/Genesis creationism’ or ‘belief in a creator tout simple, ie something similar to Intelligent Design’. This lack of clarity is parallel to another ubiquitous lack of clarity: that which sees the origin and the development of the universe as the same issue, confusing (a) the original big-bang creation with (b) the separate ‘creation’ [as opposed to evolution] of different species. Few scientists would quibble if one said that they (like the rest of us) have little idea how… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“no-one ever seems to make clear whether ‘creationism’ is being understood to mean (a) ‘6-day/Genesis creationism’ or ‘belief in a creator tout simple, ie something similar to Intelligent Design’.” I think I’ve been pretty clear on this point, actually, Christopher, can you explain how you think I haven’t? I DO balk at “intelligent design” all the same, like I balk at most Evangelical catch phrases. “‘Why is there something rather than nothing?'” “‘Given that something exists, and also given that it’s so fine-tuned, by what process did intelligent life emerge/evolve?’. But this third-level question does not even remotely exist at… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Ford:

Further, of course, Christopher is incorrect in saying that scientists do not seek answers to the first two questions. Indeed, a grand experiment is underway–the Hadron Super-collider–designed to find answers to precisely those questions.

What science does not seek an answer to is philosophical/religious questions of why a particular thing occurred as it did…only that it did and how it did. There is SOME “why” in science…but only in the sense of a physical option: For example, why do planets generally rotate counter-clockwise, not clockwise?

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Pat- Forget the labels ‘philosophical/religious’ – I did not use them. The point is that mapping evolution is merely a descriptive process, not properly an explanatory process. It is explanatory only ion the limited sense that it provides sub-explanations within a system that is only a subsection of the unexplained overall system. I thought the CERN super-collider was designed to replicate what happened after the big bang, not so much to give us insights into how it could be that there was anything there to go bang in the first place. I may be wrong there. Ford- I was… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Pat-
You are right to question the use of ‘why?’ on some occasions, since one cannot presuppose that everything happens for a *planned/intentional* reason. It is, however, quite correct to say that everything is caused to happen in some way, whether mindlessly or mindfully. Hence I often use the phrase ‘how come’ instead of ‘why’ – as in today’s ‘Guardian’.

Ford Els
Guest
Ford Els

“The point is that mapping evolution is merely a descriptive process, not properly an explanatory process.” Yes it is, Christopher. How is an explanation of “how” not properly explanatory? It does not explain “why”, but science does not concern itself with “why” in that sense. Even the LHC experiments, sadly shut down for months now, apparently, aren’t about “why” in the sense you mean. Causality, to which you refer, is, I guess in some sense “why” but that’s just an elaboration of chance. “The person in the street is bound to think it means ‘belief in a creator’; whereas in… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Ford- Where did I oppose evolution? A general belief that higher being[s] than we are around, within a universe with more stars than grains of sand, and that they are involved with making things the way they are – that is bound to be a more tenable proposition than that one given culture’s creation stiory is literally true. ‘Genesis is allegory’ – quel generalisation! Several portions of it are aetiology / aetiological legend – often within a wider framework of family legend/saga. I.e. events passed down however accurately through oral tradition. Joseph (Gen 37-50) is often classed as a… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“How could it be possible to believe in God but not in intelligent design?” Intelligent design is nothing more than an attempt to make creationism palatable to those with a brain, Christopher. I oppose any such attempts. I believe there is a God, Who created all that is, space, time, the works. Big Bang theory is an attempt to explain how He did it, evolution is an attempt to explain how the process got to us, and how God’s creation is “so wonderfully made” that it keeps on changing and adapting. I won’t quibble about the semantics of “etiological legend… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“How could it be possible to believe in God but not in intelligent design? Only if God were unintelligent, not involved in any designing, or both.” How can I put this clearly? Any theory which resorts to supernatural or divine or outside intervention (in this I include those theories that say extraterrestrials were involved in Earth’s development) is not “science”. It requires the observer to presume an actor that is not part of the system being observed. Science must operate by theorizing only from what can be observed or demonstrated, not by making leaps that say “well, since I cannot… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

I suppose the only answer anyone can attempt to the current conundrum about the universe(s) is contained in the old saw taught to us in (Church) schools; that nothing tangible (that we can locate or detect scientifically) exists that does not have a greater cause of its existence. Whether this (cause) is God or ‘intelligent design’ is, to my little mind, a question that comes down to a matter of ‘faith’ or agnosticism. What I do object to is being forced – by anyone, or any educational curriculum, to ‘believe’ one way or another. In the argument of science versus… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

Father Ron:

It is one thing to believe in a Creator; it is quite another to use that belief in a scientific inquiry to fill the holes you can’t currently fill with observable or demonstrable data.

And it is another thing all together for a secular society to enforce one particular version of that Creator (and its concomitant creation myth) in science classes.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Ford- As I said, ‘how come?’ is close to ‘why?’. They differ, however, in that ‘why?’ is more likely to imply personal intention or plan, which is an element which one cannot assume. Similarly, ‘reasons’ and ’causes’ are almost the same but not quite. The former implies a personal element, the latter does not. Hi Pat- Exactly! The *technical* meaning of ‘Intelligent Design theory’ is more or less equivalent to ‘God of the gaps theory’. Millions believe in intelligent design (small case) who do not subscribe to ID/God-of-gaps. That is, they believe that there is a Creator-Designer involved, who… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Science must operate by theorizing only from what can be observed or demonstrated, not by making leaps that say “well, since I cannot currently figure out how this happened, I will presume the action of an outside force [God, aliens, whatever] upon the system.”” I believe the cause of much of our debate here is that some simply do not understand this basic point. Whether it be poor education in science, self deception, or a need to justify religious belief, I can’t say. Look at the lack of understanding of what a scientific theory is, or how the scientific method… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
Guest
Pat O'Neill

“Why on earth use ‘Creationism’ in a technical sense that has (incredibly enough) very little to do with ‘belief in a creator’, or ‘Intelligent Design’ in a technical sense (meaning: God-of-the-gaps) that has very little to do with belief in intelligent design? Debate and explanation are supposed to increase clarity, not to confuse.” Why? Because those who argue politically for Creationism and Intelligent Design mean exactly those “technical” terms…not just “belief in an intelligent creator”, but specifically, in the first case, belief in the literal words of Genesis 1 and, in the second case, belief that the “gaps” must always… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“That is, they believe that there is a Creator-Designer involved, who is presumably intelligent.” On the rare occasions when we agree on something, Christopher, I feel obliged to acknowledge it. I guess this describes me. I believe in a Creator because there’d be little point in being a Christian otherwise. It’s not so much a matter of there being “proof”, as you can tell from my backing and forthing with Ben, more that I see a need in myself for contact with the Divine, and Traditional Christianity with its concept of Creation redeemed by a loving God who interacts with… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Pat What you say is true but irrelevant. The basic point remains unanswered: The idea of making ‘Creationism’ only one subset of belief in a creator and ‘Intelligent Design [lage case]’ only one subset of intelligent design [small case] is guaranteed to confuse most readers. It violates the principle of clarity. Hi Ford- One can say ‘science does not do this or that, does not answer this or that question’ – but the real world is prior to science. Science is only our means of studying the real world. Lawyers play this in-group game: ‘That is not a question… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“Science is only our means of studying the real world.” I’d word it as “Science is only our means of studying Creation.” “For humans to say science does not deal with certain questions is circular” I don’t agree. Science deals with the measurable. It requires concrete observable evidence that can be quantified. So, you can measure, say, the bending of light around a star and calculate the star’s mass, or you can observe the teeth of dinosaur and comes to some conclusions about its diet. But how can you measure God? This is the thing: science, properly done, must remain… Read more »

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“If a question arises that is outside their traditional parameters/boundaries, how does that make the question a whit less meaningful or in need of an answer.” Sorry to be posting willy nilly, but I just twigged to this. Christopher, the fact that science cannot address questions that deal in unmeasurables like the Divine does not mean the questions are not meaningful or don’t require an answer. Saying “I am not equipped to answer that” does not mean “That question is not worth answering”. As I said, some scientists are hostile to religion, as though science somehow counters religion, but Christians… Read more »

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Ford-

I agree with much of what you say, though not with ‘science must remain agnostic about things religious’.

Do we really think that a God great enough to create the universe belongs in a little box labelled ‘things religious’? If the world is God-created it follows that God is a real-world reality and a whole-world reality. The category ‘religious’ is redundant (unless to describe human behaviour).