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
See also recent comments on the Science and Values blog