Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Science Just Science - teaching Creationism in schools

The basic principle of the scientific method is that it is impossible to definitively prove anything therefore observations are used to establish a hypothesis which is then attacked by experiment in the attempt to destroy it.

Progressively eliminating possibilities eventually leads to an ever closer understanding of the question, originally described in 'The Logic of Scientific Discovery' by Karl Popper. As Sherlock Holmes once remarked "...when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

The scientific method allows only those theories that survive the assault of every interested researcher that eventually enter into the textbooks and have other hypotheses based upon their foundations.

Science is therefore self-correcting. As a general principle and to ease the extent to which possibilities must be eliminated through experiment the simplest explanation is always explored first. This is known as 'Occam's Razor'.

The process could be imagined as the building of a gigantic monument where each brick is laid by a different person, other people come along and remove the bricks that don't fit and only those that survive this editing ultimately form a part of the edifice. These hurdles, codified in peer review and the experimental process, may seem to form an insurmountable barrier to progress but they provide great confidence in the theory when it emerges through the 'fog of war'.

All the science we know has undergone this process and it could be stated that the definition of science is simply that knowledge that has been accrued through application of the scientific method.

Science is a vital part of our modern world and one of the most important areas of study for all our children especially when so much depends on technology. At this juncture there can be no mistake, science matters.

It is the simple contention of this statement that the science curriculum in British schools must remain limited to those subjects that are truly scientific and there are two reasons why we feel such a statement is necessary.

  • Firstly because a school (Emmanuel College in Gateshead) has already elected to teach non-scientific dogma in science classrooms.
  • Secondly because a group known as 'Truth In Science' has recently sent a pack of non-scientific 'education materials' to the heads of science in all the public schools in the country.
The first of these reasons - the school - is discussed in more detail here.

Emmanuel College in Gateshead, near Newcastle Upon Tyne, is run by a radical Christian (Sir Peter Vardy) and he has employed other Christians in key positions. We do not oppose such appointments, nor do we believe that belief in any theistic position renders an individual less suitable for any position whatsoever, it is absolutely the right of every person to choose what they believe and we respect all such beliefs. While we find the beliefs of this particular Christian sect somewhat baffling it is not those that caused us to initiate this campaign. We understand that the curriculum taught at this school and at others planned in the future includes the teaching of so-called 'Scientific Creationism' in science classes, specifically alongside and in contrast to theories of evolution, abiogenesis and wherever science disagrees with literal interpretations of the Christian Bible.

It may be that the teachers in this school feel that they are offering an 'alternative' but they are actually exploiting their position to introduce theology into science classrooms where it simply has no place. If speculative ideas are to be introduced into science teaching there could be no end to it, religions from all over the world taught in place of actual science. There is no real justification for why Christian creation is taught rather than the creation stories of other religions though many Christian creationists will offer arguments to the contrary. The views held by these creationists seem extreme even to the majority of Christians, Catholics have accepted the theory of evolution for some years now and Anglicans have not opposed it since the nineteenth century, perhaps this underscores how easily cults can gain a foothold in society with just a few wealthy supporters.

It is a beguiling idea that by offering an alternative to the orthodox teaching of evolution these people are broadening the education of the students but it is untrue. These lessons cheapen science and reduce the central message that science must adhere to the scientific method. All non-science taught in the science classroom weakens the understanding of science.

In the case of the Christian creation story it is especially surprising that it be offered as an alternative to science, given that adherence to the Biblical version was the de facto position prior to 1859 when Darwin's seminal work was published and for some time after. It took a great deal of experiment to shift the opinions of many of the great scientific minds of the day towards the then radical new idea of a fully naturalistic explanation for biological diversity so when Huxley crowned himself episcopophagous it must have seemed that the argument was finally over. No unsubstantiated belief was as firmly held as Biblical creation so no belief took so much convincing evidence to change.

As it is now undoubtedly true that the Christian creation was proven not to fit the experimental evidence over a century ago it seems particularly astounding that it is this, entirely discredited, position that is offered in the science classrooms at Emmanuel College.

There is surely suitable provision for the description of religious positions in classes designed for that purpose, it would be entirely inappropriate to use a religious education class to attempt the debunking of any portion of a faith using scientific methods and it is equally inappropriate to offer religious dogma in a science class.

We are asking simply for an inspection of the school to determine independently what is actually taught and if necessary a change to the wording of the national curriculum to insist that science, just science, is taught in science classrooms.

reposted from: Science Just Science
my: highlights / emphasis / key points / comments

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