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