Dawkins criticises 'spread' of creationism
Creationism was insinuating itself into British schools, Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, told teachers today.
"As ever, when we have fanatics to contend with, we need to be vigilant because otherwise the fanatics win by default," said Professor Dawkins, author of a series of influential popular biology books on genetics and Darwinism.
Speaking at a conference on a new AS-level on public understanding of science, he strongly criticised Emmanuel College, Gateshead, for teaching creationism as a valid alternative "faith position" to evolution.
He said most sane religious people believed the earth was millions of years old and humans were cousins of apes, but this was not the view of the head of science at Emmanuel College, Steven Layfield. The school, however, has twice had its science teaching approved by Ofsted, despite criticism by Professor Dawkins and others.
There were literally thousands of creation myths, said Professor Dawkins. "They are all different. Many of them are hauntingly beautiful. I think it is an excellent idea to teach them because it will bring home to the pupils that there is nothing to choose between them. And there is certainly no reason to prefer the Genesis creation myths (because Genesis itself has two different creation myths). "Of all the thousands and thousands of origin accounts we can teach our students, one and only one stands out as different from all the rest. This is the complex of origin accounts given by science. And what singles out the scientific account by contrast with all the rest? It is supported by evidence. Lots and lots of evidence. Evidence that can be publicly demonstrated and which will persuade any reasonable person, no matter what their cultural background."
Michael Reiss, professor of science education at the Institute of Education, London, said creationism should be taught in schools and colleges, though not necessarily in science lessons, because so many students came with creationist beliefs. "You cannot understand why the theory of evolution has aroused such deep feelings unless you understand creationism," said Professor Reiss, who is a Church of England priest and "extremely comfortable" with the theory of evolution.
Even 10% of UK biology students held creationist beliefs and there was a higher proportion of such beliefs among Muslims than other religions.
The new AS-level will be offered to all schools in England from September and will allow students to consider the cultural context of science.
[The Guardian, 19/6/02]