As the House of Lords debates Charles Darwin's bicentenary, Commons universities committee chairman Phil Willis writes on the balance between evolution and creationism in Britain's schools.
The 150th anniversary of Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, has reignited the debate over the theory of evolution through natural selection in a way that would have surprised Darwin himself.
Despite the huge and impressive leaps in scientific knowledge over the past century and a half which provide compelling evidence that the planet earth and all the species on it have developed over a period of 4,000 to 5,000 million years– the sceptical belief that mankind was 'created' by a immortal being or 'designed' by superior intelligence remains a potent force in our society.
Such fundamental beliefs have long gained a strong foothold in the USA where some 40 per cent of children are understood to hold creationist views.
What is perhaps more worrying is that in a recent Ipsos Mori poll 37 per cent of primary and secondary teachers considered creationism of such importance that it should be taught alongside evolution in our schools as an alternative scientific theory. I say worrying, not because I don't think creationism should be discussed in our schools but because it should not be considered as an alternative scientific theory. To traduce the very meaning of science by allowing a theory which does not meet the most rudimentary test of evidence to be considered as science would be a mistake.
Does that mean any 'belief' system should be treated with contempt in our schools? Of course not – it is right and proper to explore religion and belief and to accept that there are some things even the most ardent scientist cannot explain. Hopefully even Richard Dawkins would not wish to introduce a 21st century version of the Tennessee Scopes monkey trial whereby teachers were banned from discussing creationism.
It is important to accept that creationist theory resides in many religions. Jews, Muslims as well as many Christians have long shared the belief that God created the world and every plant and species in it. Using theology to help young people understand what was meant by 'God created the heavens and the earth in six days' is always worthy of debate and discussion but not as a meaningful scientific theory.
The DCSF have got the balance right when in their advice to schools they said the theory of evolution lies at the heart of biology and should be taught at key stage four and in GCSE advanced biology.
Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories and do not form part of the science National Curriculum.' I trust Baroness Hooper and their lordships will re-state this sensible advice when they debate Charles Darwin's contribution to scientific knowledge on Thursday.
Saturday, 21 March 2009
A View From the Pulpit - Phil Willis MP