Biologist Quits Job Over Creationism

on September 20, 2008

BBC News: “‘Creationism’ Biologist Quits Job” “[S]cientist urges teaching of creationism in schools” blared alarmist headlines after Michael Reiss, Royal Society director of education who claims “creationism has no scientific basis,” nevertheless let his toe slip from the evolutionary line on education. Now, after less than a week, Reiss has been, well, expelled, one might say.

The controversial comments came last week at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool. According to the BBC, Reiss, who is not a creationist, made the following comments:

"Banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all.”

An increasing percentage of children in the UK come from families that do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe and the evolution of species. What are we to do with those children? 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 that one really wants them to learn. I think a better way forward is to say to them, “Look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved.”

Reiss, a qualified biologist and former science teacher who is also a Church of England minister, added that he “realized that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all.”

Soon under fire from evolutionists and facing misleading news headlines (see The Times and The Daily Mail), Reiss issued this clarification (emphases added):

Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis.
However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.
I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.

Meanwhile, fellow members of the Royal Society continued to attack Reiss, even claiming he was unqualified to hold the director of education post because of his religious views. Nobel laureate Richard Roberts wrote scathingly to the Royal Society president, “We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?” Nobel laureate Harry Kroto, also a member of the Royal Society, took aim at Reiss’s background as well: “I warned the president of the Royal Society that [Reiss] was a dangerous appointment a year ago. I did not realise just how dangerous it would turn out to be.”

Reiss finally tried to end the controversy himself by quitting his post as director of education.

Atheist Richard Dawkins, also a Royal Society fellow, quipped: “A clergyman in charge of education for the country’s leading scientific organisation—it's a Monty Python sketch.”

Reiss finally tried to end the controversy himself by quitting his post as director of education “in the best interests of the society,” a news release stated. Reiss is reportedly returning to full-time work as professor of science education at the University of London’s Institute of Education.

Unsurprisingly, the resignation sparked further furor, with Imperial College London’s Robert Winston, a professor of science and society, noting that Reiss “was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science—something that the Royal Society should applaud.”

The comments were echoed by Ronald Jackson, head of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. “I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society,” Jackson said. He added that the Royal Society “should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate.”

Evolutionary theory won’t tolerate competition.

It seems that in this row over Reiss’s comments, many evolutionists have revealed their true colors at least as much as Ben Stein’s film Expelled might have. By attacking one of their own for even suggesting that creationism be dealt with in some way other than outright dismissal, they have reminded us that evolutionary theory won’t tolerate competition, even when handling legitimate questions from students. As we’ve asked repeatedly, if evolutionists have such confidence that Darwin’s idea is scientifically superior, why must creation be censored so completely in school classes? And why are evolutionists so eager, even if it means sacrificing one of their own, to avoid any discussion of the creation/evolution controversy in the classroom? After all, no one said anything about not teaching evolution. We can only conclude that, in imagining away the scientific basis for arguments against evolution, they believe that if they repeat the story of evolution enough times, without competition, eventually students will succumb.

Sadly, it looks like they may be right—and if the world fails to take note of the treatment of Michael Reiss and others like him, we can only expect increasing attempts to marginalize the origins controversy.

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.