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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaching creationism: Just say no

A rather depressing news item reached the Tree of Life blog this week: According to a survey, 60 per cent of adults in Great Britain think creationism and intelligent design should be taught in science lessons alongside evolution.

Overall, of 11,000 people in 10 countries surveyed, 53 per cent of respondents felt that other perspectives on evolution should also be taught. In China and South Africa, one in five thought that other perspectives – and not evolutionary theories – should be taught.

The results appear to be the latest released from the IPSOS–MORI poll commissioned by the British Council, the initial results of which I wrote about a few months ago.

Obviously the results of any survey have to be taken with a pinch of salt. But it still makes for depressing reading, coming just a few days after similarly depressing news from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Education Bureau came under fire in February when it issued new science curriculum guidelines that appeared to allow for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in secondary schools.

While previous guidance suggested that teachers "guide students to review the differences between scientific theories and other nonscientific modes of explanation," the new wording read: "In addition to Darwin's theory, students are encouraged to explore other explanations for evolution and the origins of life, to help illustrate the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge."

Following protests, the Bureau agreed last month to change the ambiguous language. However, Science report that they have not in fact revised the guidelines, choosing instead to issue its pro-evolution statement as an annex.

"It appears that the bureau is unwilling to confront the Christian schools openly, and the schools will probably continue to teach creationism as part of the science classes," Sun Kwok, science dean at Hong Kong University, told Science.

Worrying, worrying, worrying. But better to know about it – and address it – than sleepwalk into ignorance.

This week (25–30 October), the Wellcome Trust, along with the British Council, the National Science Learning Centre and the Natural History Museum are holding an international symposium on teaching evolution in York.

Communicating Darwin’s Ideas: Richness and Opportunity Symposium will see policymakers, curriculum bodies, public engagement and education specialists and teachers examine policy issues relating to public engagement with evolution and Darwinism in four major themes; the teaching of evolution and Darwinism in formal education; the challenges of working in differing social and cultural contexts; wider implications of teaching about the use of scientific evidence; and new experimental work for teaching evolution.

Look out for a guest post on the Symposium by Derek Bell, Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, on this blog next week.

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