Do we have a probelm with RE in Schools?

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Creationists love to get an invite into a bona-fide academic institution. Many have e-mailed me because I work at a University to ask if I would like to host a debate on evolution and creationism. I always refuse. Then come the inevitable – ‘ah, so you are scared to debate the truth then are you?’ comments.

I don’t mind a true debate (and yes, my side won that one), but debate is the last thing you get with a creationist. What you get is a polemic on why the world is wrong and creationism (of a specific evangelical Christian type) is right. There is no debate. There is no presentation of argument and a chance that those engaged in the debate could shift their view. They are not interested in any debate, just in getting a captive audience where they try two things.

  1. Fill the venue with creationists to shout down the ‘evolutionist’ (hate that term) and vote against evolution so that they can proclaim loud and clear that ‘victory’ was theirs against the atheistic (regardless of whether he/she is or is not) ‘evilutionist’ (no, not a spelling mistake).
  2. Use the debate on their flyers and CVs to show that they are respectable academics who engage in proper academic work etc.

Neither of these positions will I willingly or knowingly support.

They also like to go to schools where they will have a captive audience of children that they can bamboozle with their false arguments about science and evolution. This is, in my view insidious. The speakers are fully aware of how children can be bamboozled. I know, when I taught twenty-five years ago in one school, I would always have an evolution and creation debate. I would debate as a creationist and always win – because I knew more than they did. My point was that in order to debate you need to know the other side of the argument as well as your own. I stopped doing this when I realised that one or two children were actually taken in and couldn’t see the point I was making. I was very naive 25 years ago about argumentation and how to properly teach the skills.

So I was particularly disturbed to read of a school in Exeter that invited a creationist to talk to year 11 about RE.

If the creationist has stated that his views were non-scientific but evangelical, that he was espousing a faith-based position that was not backed by scientific evidence but a literal interpretation of the Bible I would say OK, off you go, provided the children were aware that your views are a testament to your faith and not a testament to science then at least that would be honest and upfront.

But no, the creationist proclaims his scientific credentials and presents creationism as an alternative scientific standpoint.

Here is where I vehemently disagree. Creationism is not science, never has been, never will be.

I’m aware of the work of the creationist in question, Philip Bell, a former science teacher and scientist trained to teach at Exeter University, who taught science in schools.

He is entitled to his faith, he is entitled to believe what he likes about the origin of the universe, creation and the origin of life. Like all teachers, he is not entitled to deceive children, promote anti-science and he is not entitled to flout the government guidance on presenting creationism or intelligent design as anything other than a faith position (of course it could be argued that the school flouted the guidance and he knew nothing at all about it, but I’m willing to bet he knows exactly what the guidance states and that he would try to exploit the one loophole in it – that’ teaching about’ is not the same as ‘teaching’). The guidance is clear, creationism and ID must not be presented as science.

Sadly the school got it wrong. I suspect they are ignorant of how the creationist community works. Their ideal is a captive audience that they bamboozle.

I’ve not looked very closely at the RE specification and examinations – I feel a summer project coming on…

Of course creationists will say that teaching evolution is ‘indoctrination’, that evolution is faith-based, blah, blah.

Should that be the case, so then is all science.


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