U.K. Scientists Challenge Creationism in Schools

Daniel is a deputy news editor for Science.

Thirty prominent U.K. scientists today released a statement raising concern about the teaching of creationism in British publicly-funded schools. They highlight organizations that are visiting schools and sending them teaching materials that question the validity of evolution and promote "intelligent design" as an alternative theory. They argue that current government advice that creationism and intelligent design should not be taught in school science lessons needs to be made statutory and enforceable.

The list of signatories to the statement includes figures such as naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, transplant pioneer Roy Calne, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, chemist Harry Kroto, and geneticists Paul Nurse, Steve Jones, and John Sulston. It's also supported by various organizations, including the Association for Science Education, the British Science Association, and the British Humanist Association.

The warning comes at a time of change in U.K. education, as the first "free schools" begin teaching pupils. Free schools, introduced by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, can be set up by nonprofit organizations, charities, or groups of parents. They receive funding from central government but are free from local government control, unlike normal state schools. They set their own curricula, so are not required to teach evolution, and are not prevented from teaching creationism. (The same applies to "academies," another type of independent state-funded school set up by the previous, Labour, government.)

According to today's statement, one organization, called Truth in Science, sent teaching materials to the heads of science and librarians of all secondary schools in the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution. On its Web site, Truth in Science writes that "it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a more critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be exposed to the fact that there is a modern controversy over Darwin's theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and that this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications."

Another body, Creation Ministries International, has sent speakers presenting themselves as scientists to a number of schools. On its Web site, the group says "the scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge."

In their statement, the scientists argue that government guidance "needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and 'intelligent design' as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable."

Posted in Evolution, Europe, Education