“Wilful Ignorance” of the English National Curriculum

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The media in the UK have been alight in recent days, following allegations that the teaching of creationism is being introduced to state schools.

The Church of England and creation/evolution—a preliminary comment

AiG–US/UK is preparing a commentary to post soon that will examine the controversial remarks (released today, March 21) made by the Archbishop of Canterbury to a UK newspaper about creation and evolution. (The transcript of the interview was posted today on the Guardian newspaper website.)

Archbishop Rowan Williams, the day-to-day head of the Church of England (technically, the Queen heads the church), was asked in an interview with the Guardian newspaper if he was comfortable with the teaching of creation in schools. Dr. Williams replied: “Not very.” He curiously added: “I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories. … Whatever the biblical account of creation is, it’s not a theory alongside theories” [apparently referring to the theory of evolution].

Archbishop Williams’s views on creation/evolution will no doubt be closely followed throughout Great Britain (and even the Episcopal Church in America). Incidentally, the Church of England is one of the largest denominations in the world.

See our full response to these comments in “Anglican Leader Rejects Creation.”

The media in the UK have been alight in recent days, following allegations that the teaching of creationism is being introduced to state schools.

The Times Educational Supplement—the principal weekly journal of education in the UK—reported (critically) that Jacqui Smith, the Government’s schools minister, said, “Pupils should however be taught about ‘how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence’”.1

Just call me “Fred Flintstone”

An interesting corollary to this web article on UK curriculum occurred on March 10. I was invited by BBC Radio Leeds (a station covering the West Yorkshire area) to take part in a lunchtime debate about these curriculum issues. I was simply told that there would be someone else putting the opposite point of view.

Imagine my surprise as I waited for the discussion to start and heard the presenter, Liz Green, say, “Speaking against teaching creationism in schools, we have on the line from Oxford, Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science.” I was then introduced, and this famous professor, who never debates creationists (we are told)—apparently not knowing that he was going to be on live radio with a creationist—was obliged to have a ten-minute radio debate with me.

Thankfully, I actually had on hand my book of quotes from his well-known TV documentaries, and was able to quote them back to him … while deconstructing them along the way. That he was uncomfortable with the debate was obvious. He described my views as “ignorance,” and at one point called me a “caveman.”

It is worth picking up on one of his comments. He said that if we were to ask any “reputable” theologian, he would tell us that it is not necessary to have a literal view of the Bible in Genesis. We have pointed out so many times on this website the dangers of some pastors and theologians taking people away from the truth of Scripture.

I have to say that it is a bit rich for Britain’s best-known atheist, who was recently given two hours of prime time network TV to try to persuade us all to be atheists, to tell us, as Christians, which theologians we should listen to. Truly reputable theologians are those who treat the Bible as God’s Word. What matters to them is their reputation—not with other people, but with God.

In three parts of the United Kingdom—England, Wales and Northern Ireland—state education is regulated by what is known as the National Curriculum (NC); Scotland has a separate education system. Children studying in the three countries under the NC usually face examinations at age 16, called General Certificate of Education (GCSE). A complicated procedure—often not fully understood by parents here—requires that a certain minimum quantity of science is compulsory to GCSE level, taking two GCSE exams, even though students usually study a “balanced” programme of three sciences—biology, chemistry and physics.

Examination boards produce syllabi, which must adhere to their country’s version of the science NC. The current controversy surrounds a syllabus produced by the OCR board (formerly Oxford and Cambridge), which simply suggests that pupils look at different methods of interpreting fossil evidence, including creationist interpretations. Their syllabus is entirely in accord with the English NC Science document. Indeed, it is what good science instructors have been teaching for years. Only two weeks ago, I met an atheist science teacher after one of my talks, who disagreed with what I said about evolution, but nevertheless wanted his pupils to learn about the controversy.

The huge media frenzy has failed to notice that Ms. Smith’s comment (quoted above) actually includes a direct quote from the English NC Science document.2 The NC document actually mentions Darwin’s theory of evolution as a specific example of the sort of scientific controversy that can be taught. Since the OCR board and the Government minister are only restating existing NC policy that has existed under successive Governments, one can only conclude that the controversy has been deliberately whipped up, as part of the recent UK media obsession with Christian-baiting (as seen in recent nationwide TV programmes such as Robert Winston’s The Story of God and Richard Dawkins’s The Root of All Evil.

For example, Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said, “It seems inconceivable that the Government should give even tacit approval to the teaching of creationism as a scientific theory”.3 As Copson is the education officer for the BHA, it seems inconceivable that he is not aware of what the Science NC states—a clear case of “wilful ignorance” (to loosely borrow from 2 Peter 3:5).

I have written before on issues arising from NC science. Nevertheless, for all its faults, it is undeniable that there are sensible statements in the NC science document, which allow good science teaching and avoid the litigation which we have recently observed in America.


  1. Paton, G., Unholy row on planet of the apes, Times Educational Supplement, March 10, 2006, p. 8.
  2. Science: The National Curriculum for England, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, statement Sc1.1b, p. 46, 2000.
  3. Quoted in TES article, reference 1.


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