Teach Evolution, Not Creationism

The British Humanist Association is behind a new campaign called “Teach Evolution, Not Creationism“.

Of course any reasonable person is going to support the campaign. No-one wants creationism taught to children as fact in science lessons. But there are a couple of subtleties that should probably be explained in detail.

Firstly, I’ve seen this as described as an attack on faith schools. Whilst I’m sure that the BHA is no fan of faith schools, it’s important to note that this current campaign has nothing to say at all on this subject. The evolution vs creationism debate is a completely separate one. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of faith schools in the UK are run by religions that don’t subscribe to creationism and won’t be teaching this nonsense to schools. Creationists are good at making their movement seem more important than it is, but most British christians are Catholics or Anglicans and neither of these churches subscribe to these ideas.

This campaign says nothing about the status as faith schools. It just says that creationism should not be presented as scientific fact in state-funded schools.

Secondly, people say that creationism should be taught at school as long as it isn’t presented as fact. And I agree with that completely. I’m very happy for creationism to be discussed in religious studies classes or even as part of a course in the history of ideas. There’s even an argument for covering it in science courses where it could serve as a case study of applying the scientific method to a problem and examining the evidence to come up with the best theory. I don’t want schools to produce children who have never who heard of creationism. I want them to produce children who know about creationism and who know enough about evolution to be able to counter the obvious nonsense that the creationists come up with (“There are no transitional fossils.” “What about this almost complete sequence demonstrating the evolution of the whale?”)

Finally, a friend pointed out that he doesn’t want facts taught in science lessons. He wants science lessons to teach “how science works”. By which he means critical thinking and the scientific method. And I can’t argue with that. That’s exactly what I’d like to see too. My experience of the school science curriculum is over thirty years out of date, but I’d hope that it isn’t just “here’s a fact learn it”. It wasn’t like that when I was at school.

Please read the campaign’s position statement and the progress that has been made so far.

And if you’re in a petition-signing mood, please sign their petition.

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6 Comments

  1. It’s difficult for a creationist to really take you seriously when you say something is not an attack when you include statements like, “the obvious nonsense that the creationists come up with.” That sounds an attack to me. Especially, when you follow that up with a weak argument against evolution and an even weaker refutation of that weak argument as if that’s the best we have to offer and we can’t even counter your weak response.

    On the other hand, your last paragraph (starting with “Finally, …”) is superb. I fully agree that that is what science class should be. Science is about trying to make objective observations and come up with useful categorizations and predictions regarding those observations. Believe it or not, this is just as true for a creationist as it is for you.

    1. Hi Sterling, thanks for commenting.

      Firstly I need to point out that I didn’t say that my post was not an attack on creationism. What I wrote was that this campaign is not an attack on faith schools. Of course my post was an attack on creationism. I don’t deny that for a second.

      Secondly, you need to understand that creationists have nothing but weak arguments against evolution. Every argument that I’ve seen has been trivially countered. No transitional fossils, irreducible complexity, fine tuning – they all collapse under the smallest amount of scrutiny.

  2. My experience of the school science curriculum is over thirty years out of date, but I’d hope that it isn’t just “here’s a fact learn it”. It wasn’t like that when I was at school.

    Then count yourself lucky, because it was largely like that when I was there. My anecdotal knowledge of the matter is that the scientific method is not an explicit part of the curriculum anywhere, even where the curriculum goes beyond a mere litany of scientifically discovered laws and theories. But most curricula don’t, for 95% of their duration.

    Feynman comes to mind, who eloquently complained about the state of education many times in his lifetime.

    1. It was all rather a long time ago. I might well be misremembering.

      But I’m sure we did a lot of experiments and then the teachers lead us in discussions to work out what conclusions we could draw from our results.

      I remember at some point a physics teacher pointing out that he was cheating slightly. The example he gave was that we derived Ohm’s Law from an experiment where we used meters that had been calibrated in the factory using Ohm’s Law. Which makes it a rather circular argument.

  3. //www.trueorigin.org/evomyth01.asp

    In 1999 Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial, said on CNN: “I think we should teach a lot about evolution. In fact, I think we should teach more than the evolutionary science teachers want the students to know. The problem is what we’re getting is a philosophy that’s claimed to be scientific fact, a lot of distortion in the textbooks, and all the difficult problems left out, because they don’t want people to ask tough questions.”

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