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Professor Reiss and Intelligent Design in Education


Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, has argued that science teachers in the UK should allow alternatives to evolution to be discussed in the science classroom such as creationism and intelligent design. Banning such discussions he argues is counterproductive and only serves to alienate school children from science, especially with so many children from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds in the state education system.

He commented that; “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…”

Reiss, who is an ordained Church of England Minister, was speaking at the British Association – Festival of Science in Liverpool, where he commented that science teachers should consider creationism as an alternative world-view, and not see it as a “misconception.” He commented that good teaching is about respecting the 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.”

Prof John Bryant, who is a retired professor of cell and molecular biology at the University of Exeter, agreed that alternatives could be admissible for discussion in science classes. “If the class is mature enough and time permits, one might have a discussion on the alternative viewpoints [to evolution].” (Although he doesn’t think intelligent design or creationism should be placed on an equal footing).

Reiss was also critical of Prof Richard Dawkins for saying that teaching creationism is akin to child abuse. “This is an inappropriate and insulting use of the phrase child abuse as anybody who has ever worked [in this area] knows.”

Professor Reiss is not a creationist, but a one-time ‘evangelist’ for Darwinism who now recognises that respectful dialogue is the way forward with the present impasse between evolution and creation. I believe this is a welcome development that can only increase understanding of the complexity of biological life for both sides.

Reiss is co-author of the book Teaching About Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism, Peter Lang Publ. 2007. (With L.S.Jones)

Read some of the articles in the press

Daily Telegraph article
Times online article
Reiss – Guardian science blog
Guardian article

See also recent comments on the Science and Values blog

Yes - the nice friendly Guardian writer is calling for scientists to 'nail' the creationists and Riess could be 'Expelled' for merely wanting debate in the classroom. The irony is that the Guardian is the first paper to call for greater employment rights for everyone else, other than Christians. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/14/evolution.religion Andrew Sibley
No good deed goes unpunished. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/sep/14/religion pvoce
There is a basic flaw in this discussion or the understanding of Professor Reiss. He views evolution as separate from Intelligent Design. Now I understand how creationism could be set aside as an alternative explanation of life but Intelligent Design is completely in sync with the development of life over 4.5 billion years and the origin of new species at various times during that period and much of it due to natural processes. Creationism is not. ID does not say that natural laws are not responsible for most of life just that some of it is best explained by intelligence. ID can be quite comfortable with most of biological evolution as now portrayed in the science curriculum, just not all of it. If you are a believer in front loading then the intelligent input may have been only once. I will let others speak for how much creationism and which variants of it are consistent with a naturalistic explanation. But by lumping creationism and Intelligent Design in the same phrase, Reiss indicates he does not understand Intelligent Design and it is the responsibility of those who profess ID to forcefully make the distinction. None of this has anything to do with a belief of when God may have infused a soul in his image into man. jerry

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