Friday, 12 September 2008

Creationism in schools redux

I suppose the debate as to whether you should teach creationism in science class will always be with us. Here's Prof Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, wading into the morass in today's Guardian. My opinion on this, for what it's worth, is that what needs to be taught is what science is, how it is done, and what it's useful for. Without that context, students don't have the tools to evaluate the arguments, and you're basically engaged in indoctrination, whether you're teaching evolution or creationism. In my view, the evolution versus creationism debate is a perfect opportunity to provide that context; simply pretending that there's no discussion is not helpful.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the position that Reiss is taking. From the article:

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".

This seems to be taking the rather wishy-washy view that all world views have equal explanatory power. To me, creationism is not a way of 'understanding' the universe: it's a way of refusing to understand it. For all I know, there could be a creator of some kind. But that is not a scientific hypothesis that enables me to understand anything I observe. The place of creationism in science class is as an example of what is not science, and where the limits of scientific enquiry might lie.

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