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imageScientists win place
for evolution in primary schools

Polly Curtis, educational editor, guardian.co.uk, Sunday 8 November 2009

The government is ready to put evolution on the primary curriculum for the first time after years of lobbying by senior scientists.

The schools minister, Diana Johnson, has confirmed the plans will be included in a blueprint for a new curriculum to be published in the next few weeks.

It follows a letter signed by scientists and science educators calling on the government to make the change after draft versions of the new curriculum failed to mention evolution explicitly.

The open letter sent in July to Ed Balls, the children’s secretary, was signed by 25 leading figures from science and education, who urged the government to rewrite the curriculum before it was finalised.

Among the signatories were the Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, three Nobel laureates and Reverend Professor Michael Reiss, the professor of science education at the Institute of Education in London.

The letter expressed alarm that the theory of evolution through natural selection, which it describes as "one of the most important ideas underlying biological science", was ignored in the revamped curriculum.

"We consider its inclusion vital," the letter said.

In a letter to the British Humanist Association (BHA), which has co-ordinated the campaign for evolution on the curriculum, Johnson confirmed it would be in the final draft. Pupils will start with simple concepts of change, adaptation and natural selection illustrated by the evolution of fish to amphibians to mammals, for example.

Andrew Copson, director of education at the BHA, said: "Evolution is arguably the most important concept underlying the life sciences. Providing children with an understanding of it an early age will help lay the foundations for a surer scientific understanding later on. I congratulate the government for taking on board the contributions from so many supporters of science education."

The government asked its primary school adviser, Sir Jim Rose, to overhaul the curriculum for four- to 11-year-olds last year. His report in the spring set out widespread reforms to the curriculum.

It recommended stripping away the 11 subjects primaries must cover by law, and replacing them with six "areas of learning", including history, science and geography. In the next few weeks, the results of the consultation on Rose’s plans will be published along with the government’s response.

Copson said the teaching of evolution was particularly important in the wake of a recent survey commissioned by the British Council, which found that 54% of Britons agreed with the view that "evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism".

Johnson said: "Learning about evolution is an important part of science education, and pupils already learn about it at secondary school.

"The draft primary curriculum was designed to cover evolution as an implicit part of the new programme of learning for science and technology. After a public consultation on the plans – which took in the views of parents, teachers, the public, subject experts and other interested parties – it is expected that evolution will be covered explicitly in the new primary curriculum. The responses from the consultation will be published shortly."

 

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Richard Dawkins calls for evolution to be taught to children from age five

Dawkins says evolution – ‘the explanation for our existence’ – should be a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum

Nathan Green, guardian.co.uk, 1 September 2011

Biologist Richard Dawkins

Oxford professor Richard Dawkins argues that evolution is more interesting and poetic than the Adam and Eve creation myth. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Guardian

Children in the UK should be taught the science of evolution by natural selection from the age of five, says Prof Richard Dawkins.

The Oxford biologist argues that evolution is so important to our understanding of the world that it should form part of the primary school curriculum. He is dismissive of the notion that evolution is a difficult concept for young children to grasp.

"Evolution is a truly satisfying and complete explanation of existence, and I suspect that this is something a child can appreciate from an early age," he writes in the Times.

"If we are going to be prescriptive about teaching history, comparative religion, maths and English – and I wouldn’t wish to sweep those things away – I don’t see why we shouldn’t be prescriptive about teaching the explanation for our existence."

Although teaching evolution is not compulsory in primary schools, many already introduce some aspects in classes. The proposal to add evolution to the national curriculum – accepted by Labour in 2009 – was dropped last year by the coalition and is currently being reviewed by the Department for Education.

Dawkins expresses surprise that many parents still teach their children the Adam and Eve creation myth even though very few people believe it literally. "Perhaps they think it harmless like Father Christmas."

"But I would argue that the truth of evolution is more interesting and more poetic – even more fun – than this myth, or any of the hundreds of creation myths from around the world," he writes.

Evolution could be taught to young children in a way that would make it "easier to understand than a myth", he adds. "This is because myths leave the child’s questions unanswered, or they raise more questions than they appear to answer."

Dawkins also considers the potential harm in teaching fantasy, even to very young children. "Magical transformations are anti-evolution. And anti-science. Complex things, such as horses, coaches and princes, cannot spring spontaneously into existence from nothing," Dawkins writes.

Apart from being a vigorous advocate for evolution and atheism, Dawkins is a celebrated author of books including The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. His new book, The Magic of Reality, is a set of explanations for scientific concepts such as the composition of atoms, what causes rainbows and ideas about what aliens might look like.

• The Magic of Reality is published on 15 September by Bantam Press and is available from the Guardian Bookshop for £16 (RRP £20)

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Teachers should tackle creationism, says science education expert

Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, says excluding discussion of creationism and intelligent design from science lessons could put some children off science completely

James Randerson, science correspondent, guardian.co.uk, 11 September 2008

Pupils in a classroom

Photograph: Martin Argles

Creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons, according to a leading expert in science education.

The Rev Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said that excluding alternatives to scientific explanations for the origin of life and the universe from science lessons was counterproductive and would alienate some children from science altogether.

He said that around one in 10 children comes from a family with creationist beliefs. "My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science," he said.

"I think a better way forward is to say to them ‘look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved’."

Professor Michael Reiss on teaching science to creationists
Link to this audio

Reiss said he used to be an "evangelist" for evolution in the classroom, but that the approach had backfired. "I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all. Now I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe," he said.

Reiss, who is an ordained Church of England minister, told the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool that science teachers should not see creationism as a "misconception" but as an alternative "world view". He added that he was not advocating devoting the same time to teaching creationism or intelligent design as to evolution.

Reiss’s comments have provoked fury from some parts of the scientific community. "Creationism is based on faith and has nothing to do with science, and it should not be taught in science classes," said Prof Lewis Wolpert, a developmental biologist at University College London. "There is no evidence for a creator, and creationism explains nothing."

He said creationism should be taught in religious studies lessons.

"Science lessons are not the appropriate place to discuss creationism, which is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence," said Dr John Fry, a physicist at the University of Liverpool.

He said challenging evolution scientifically was appropriate in school science classes. But he added: "Creationism doesn’t challenge science, it denies it."

Reiss agreed that creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but he said that did not automatically exclude them from science lessons. "Just because something lacks scientific support doesn’t seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from the science lesson … there is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have – hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching – and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion."

He added that good teaching meant respecting students’ views. "I do believe in taking seriously and respectfully the concerns of students who do not accept the theory of evolution while still introducing them to it," he said.

Prof John Bryant, professor emeritus of cell and molecular biology at the University of Exeter, agreed that alternative viewpoints should be discussed in science classes. "If the class is mature enough and time permits, one might have a discussion on the alternative viewpoints. However, I think we should not present creationism (or intelligent design) as having the same status as evolution."

Reiss also criticised Prof Richard Dawkins’ argument that labelling children as belonging to a particular religion amounted to child abuse. Dawkins has written that, "To slap a label on a child at birth – to announce, in advance … an infant’s opinions on the cosmos and creation, on life and afterlives, on sexual ethics, abortion and euthanasia – is a form of mental child abuse."

Reiss said he understood Dawkins’ point, but said: "This is an inappropriate and insulting use of the phrase child abuse as anybody who has ever worked – as incidentally I have over many years with children who have been either sexually or physically abused – knows."

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Creationism explained

You can believe in a Creator without being a ‘scientific creationist’. The distinction is important and needs preserving

by Andrew Brown Sunday 25 September 2011, guardian.co.uk

It makes a pleasant change to be attacked as an apologist for atheism here. But I thought it would be worth a quick note on the uses of the term "creationism" since it serves all sides to blur some of its distinct meanings. When I use it, "Creationism" is shorthand for the belief that the Bible, or the Qu’ran is a reliable guide to the processes by which life emerged, and where scientific results seem to contradict that, so much the worse for them. This belief is false and should not be taught in schools.

But there are other uses to the word, obviously. In particular, "Creationism" is used in arguments over whether human beings, or the universe as a whole, have a purpose apparent to God. And within that large category of arguments there is a further subdivision, about whether the methods of science can discover or distinguish that purpose.

Now, in the first instance, the arguments are perfectly straightforward: is science or mythology a better way to discover the workings of the external world? And the answer seems obvious, and equally straightforward: science will tell us about the external world, mythology, at best, about the contents of our imaginations.

But the arguments about purpose are much more complicated. They look scientific, but this begs the question of whether science can detect conscious purpose at all. I think one lesson of Dennett’s zombie thought experiments is that science cannot detect conscious purpose even when we know it’s there.

Arguments about this second sort of "creationism" are connected to the ambiguity of the term "design", and indeed "plan", both of which can be used to imply both purpose and structure: the designs I have on you are different in kind to the design of your body, though they may be stimulated by it. Similarly, "I have a plan for this building" is very different from "I have a plan of this building".

The Paleyite argument, which is the obverse of Richard Dawkins‘s, says that by discovering the plan (blueprint) of the world, through scientific methods, we can infer the existence of a planner, and go some way to deducing his plan (purpose) for the world. Now this is an argument about two things, the world, and the hypothetical planner. The study of the one is science and the study of the other is theology. So Paleyite arguments are both scientific and theological. The two inquiries proceed by different rules.

The scientific half of the argument – that the observed complexity of the world couldn’t have arisen naturally, and without help, has been completely defeated. ID, with its talk of "irreducible complexity", is its last, doomed stand.

But there is also the moral aspect of the argument, and that couldn’t be decided scientifically, by reproducible experiment. Of course it can be attacked with reason, but that’s not the same thing. Science is a subset of reasoning, not – as the New Atheists suppose – its quintessence, to which all other forms imperfectly approach.

This moral aspect is the "Devil’s Chaplain" argument, which says, in effect, that the world as produced by natural selection could not be the product of a loving deity. This is a theological, and not a scientific argument in part because it would retain its force – in fact it would gain in force – even if the scientific account were entirely falsified, and we knew that God had in seven days produced a world full of parasites in which sweet fluffy kittens torture adorable mice.

Now, if you are an atheist who takes the Paleyite view – that the existence of God is a question to be settled by an enquiry which is simultaneously and inextricably scientific and moral – then anyone who disagrees with you will appear to be a "creationist" in a sense much wider than the first one.

But the mainstream, orthodox, Christian position is not in fact Paleyite. It doesn’t claim that the purpose of life can be discovered or shown by scientific enquiry; only that this purpose, discovered or known by revelation, is perfectly compatible with the results of science.

This is also a position which can be described as "creationist", but I would never do so, because that muddles an enormously useful and important distinction. The orthodox Christian view cannot be refuted scientifically. It is therefore irrelevant to science classes, unlike the first sort of "creationism" which is actively hostile to science teaching.

(My own point of view is that the question of whether the universe has a purpose is not only one we can’t answer, but one we can’t even properly frame. How on earth could we emerge from a game whose rules were comprehensible to us?)

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Scientists demand tougher guidelines on teaching of creationism in schools

Sir David Attenborough among those accusing ‘fundamentalists’ of seeking to portray creationism as scientific theory in class

Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent, The Guardian, 19 September 2011

attenborough-dorkins

Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, above, are among 30 scientists demanding tougher government guidelines on the teaching of creationism in schools. Photograph: Alastair Thain for the Guardian

Prominent scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, have called on the government to toughen its guidance on the promotion of creationism in classrooms, accusing "religious fundamentalists" of portraying it as scientific theory in publicly funded schools.

A group of 30 scientists have signed a statement saying it is "unacceptable" to teach creationism and intelligent design, whether it happens in science lessons or not. The statement claims two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are "touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science".

"Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools," the scientists say.

"There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type."

The scientists claim organisations such as Truth in Science are encouraging teachers to incorporate intelligent design into their science teaching.

"Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools."

Free schools and academies were not obliged to teach the national curriculum and so were "under no obligation to teach evolution at all," it added.

Truth in Science denied advocating the teaching of creationism in schools. "We wish to highlight the scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and to encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution in schools and universities," it said in a statement.

Creation Ministries International was unavailable for comment.

The statement appears on a website, Evolution not Creationism, aimed at driving out creationism and intelligent design from classrooms and marks the latest attempt to reinforce evolution teaching in classrooms. Professor Richard Dawkins, president of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse, neurobiologist Professor Colin Blakemore and theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili are among the other signatories.

Although teaching evolution is not compulsory in primary schools, many already introduce some aspects in classes. The proposal to add it to the national curriculum "accepted by Labour in 2009" was dropped last year by the coalition and is currently being reviewed by the Department for Education.

The Department for Education said: "The education secretary was crystal clear in opposition and now in government that teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories.

"Academies and free schools must have a broad and balanced curriculum. Ofsted takes a strict line with inspecting this. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum."

Earlier this month Dawkins argued that children should learn about evolution from the age of five.

Speaking in support of the statement, Dawkins said: "We need to stop calling evolution a theory. In the ordinary language sense of the word it is a fact. It is as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science."

Last year Michael Reiss, professor of education at the Institute of Science Education and an Anglican priest, told the Guardian that while it was "important" for organisations that did not accept the theory of evolution to be "allowed to exist and to proclaim their message" in a free society, the arguments against the theory of evolution were invalid.

He said: "In a school setting this means that while teachers of science are perfectly at liberty to address creationist and ID issues, should they so wish, students must not be given the impression that there is a scientific controversy over whether the Earth is very old (about 4.6bn years old) or whether all species descend from very simple common ancestors."

He was responding to the launch of the Centre for Intelligent Design which aims to promote public understanding of intelligent design and its implications.

In the classroom

There is no definitive data on the number of UK schools which teach creationism. The Department for Education says all schools must teach a broad and balanced curriculum, and creationism should not be taught as scientific fact.

But a spokesman for the British Humanist Association (BHA) said: "That’s precisely what we want to be monitored."

The BHA says that some schools continue to promote creationist ideas in place of established scientific facts. It bases its conclusions mainly on information shared with it by parents. A 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school.

In the same year, Truth in Science, a group which says it promotes "a critical examination of Darwinism", said that it had received dozens of positive responses to creationist teaching materials sent to the heads of all secondary schools in the country.

The BHA says materials from Truth in Science continue to be used in UK schools.

A number of faith schools say that they teach creationism in religious studies but not in science and then leave students to decide.

The Everyday Champions Church, in Newark, Nottinghamshire, submitted its proposal for a 652-place school in January. Its leader, Gareth Morgan, said creationism: "Will be embodied as a belief at Everyday Champions Academy, but will not be taught in the sciences".

In 2009, an Ipsos Mori survey found that more than half of British adults think that intelligent design and creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school science lessons – a proportion higher than in the US.

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Creationism should be taught as science, say 29% of teachers

James Randerson, science correspondent , The Guardian, 7 November 2008

Twenty-nine per cent of teachers believe that creationism and intelligent design should be taught as science, according to an online survey of attitudes to teaching evolution in the UK. Nearly 50% of the respondents said they believed that excluding alternatives to evolution was counter-productive and would alienate pupils from science.

The survey, by the website and TV station Teachers TV, also found strong support for the views of Prof Michael Reiss, the former director of education at the Royal Society, who resigned in September over comments about including creationism in science lessons.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed with Reiss that teachers should engage with pupils who raise creationism or intelligent design in science lessons. Reiss said at the time that creationism was not science and he did not advocate giving it equal time alongside evolution, but he was forced to step down after furious reactions to his comments in the media from some Royal Society fellows.

"This poll data confirms that the debate on whether there is a place for the teaching of creationism in the classroom is still fierce," said Andrew Bethell, chief executive of Teachers TV. Teachers TV emailed 10,600 education professionals, of which 1,210 responded. Because the sample is self-selecting, only those teachers with the strongest views might have replied.

Most controversially, 29% said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the government’s guidelines on teaching evolution which states that "creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science national curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science". Fifty-three per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.

Thirty-one per cent of respondents and 18% of the 248 science teachers in the sample said they thought creationism or intelligent design should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, although this question did not specify whether it was referring to science lessons or the curriculum in general. Twenty-two respondents said they had been pressured to teach creationism or intelligent design by their school.

In September Reiss advocated a pragmatic approach to tackling creationism in science classes. "I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view." He said that teachers should not dismiss pupils with creationist views, but engage with them.

But senior Royal Society fellows disagreed with his position. "I think it is outrageous that this man is suggesting creationism should be discussed in a science classroom," said Sir Richard Roberts, winner of the 1993 Nobel prize for Medicine.

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