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BHA: Top scientists and organisations come together to say: 'Teach evolution, not creationism!'

Thirty leading scientists and science educators including Sir David Attenborough, Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor Michael Reiss, and five national organisations have signed up to a new statement calling for the extension of teaching of evolution in school science and firmer statutory guidance against the promotion of creationism.

The statement, which appears on a new campaign website, calls on the Government to make statutory and enforceable the current, non-statutory, guidance that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ should not be taught in school science, while at the same time calling for the teaching of evolution to be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools. It has been coordinated by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and is supported by the Association for Science Education, British Science Association, Campaign for Science & Engineering and leading theological think tank Ekklesia; and by thirty leading scientists including three Nobel laureates; naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough; neurobiologist Professor Colin Blakemore; evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins; President of the Royal Society Sir Paul Nurse; and science education expert Revd Professor Michael Reiss.

Welcoming the initiative, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘Evolution is probably the most important idea underlying biological science and we support the view of many experts that it should be introduced right from primary level in all state-maintained schools. This should include Academies and Free Schools, which currently have no requirement to teach it at any level, since they are lifted out of the National Curriculum. At the same time, the threat of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ being taught as science is real and ongoing, particularly as more and more schools are opened up to be run by religious fundamentalists. It has never been more urgent for concrete steps to be taken to ensure that all state schools teach evolution, and not creationism, and we urge the Government to implement the simple and sensible measures suggested in this new statement. Simple but concerted action by government now will prevent many future problems.’

Commenting on the launch, Professor Reiss said, ‘Evolution is an extremely powerful idea that lies at the heart of biology. At the same time, it's a sufficiently simple concept that there's no good reason why it should be left out of the primary curriculum. If creationism is discussed, it should be made clear to pupils that it is not accepted by the scientific community.’

Supporting the statement, Professor Dawkins said, ‘We need to stop calling evolution a theory. In the ordinary language sense of the word it is a fact. It is as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science.’


NOTES

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson at andrew@humanism.org.uk or on 07534 248596.

You can view the statement at http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/ from 00:01 on Monday 19 September. For images of the site please email Andrew West at awest@humanism.org.uk.

The statement reads:

Creationism and ‘intelligent design’

Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.

Organisations like ‘Truth in Science’ are encouraging teachers to incorporate ‘intelligent design’ into their science teaching. ‘Truth in Science’ has sent free resources to all Secondary Heads of Science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have ‘intelligent design’ ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.

The current government guidance that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ should not be taught in school science should be made statutory and enforceable. It also needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and ‘intelligent design’ as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.

Evolution

An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.

Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15), but the government is overseeing a review of the whole curriculum with the revised National Curriculum for science being introduced in September 2012 to be made compulsory from 2013. Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all.

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Organisations signing the statement are the Association for Science Education, the British Humanist Association, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science & Engineering and Ekklesia.

Individuals signing the statement are Jim al-Khalili, Sir David Attenborough, Sir Patrick Bateson, Colin Blakemore, Sir Tom Blundell, Sir Roy Calne, Helena Cronin, Richard Dawkins, Robin Dunbar, R. John Ellis, Sir Anthony Epstein, Dylan Evans, James Gowans, Robert Hinde, Julian Huppert, Hugh Huxley, Steve Jones, Sir Hans Kornberg, Lord John Krebs, Sir Harry Kroto, John Lee, Sir Paul Nurse, Michael Reiss, Steven Rose, Sir David Smith, Sir John Sulston, Sir Fraser Stoddart, Raymond Tallis, James Williams and Lewis Wolpert.

You can read the non-statutory guidance on teaching of creationism in school science at http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/1sja-creationism-guidance-180907-final.pdf

You can read the Department for Education’s guidance on how to apply to open a Free School at http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/doc/f/free%20schools%20%20%20how%20to%20apply%20form%20%20%20mainstream.doc

Read about the BHA’s work on countering creationism at http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.


BACKGROUND

Following the previous Government’s consultation on a new primary school curriculum, evolution was agreed to be added to the curriculum upon passage of the Children, Schools and Families Act; however, the plans were dropped when Parliament ran out of time to pass the legislation before the 2010 general election. With the Government conducting a fresh review of the curriculum, the BHA believe it is now time to introduce evolution into primary schools; as well as taking steps to ensure that Academies and Free Schools, which do not have to follow the national curriculum, must teach evolution.

In May, the Department for Education issued guidance on how to apply for Free School or Academy status. This included the requirement that ‘Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories.’ However, there is nothing statutory to prevent such teaching from occurring and nothing in the funding agreements for Free Schools or Academies preventing them from teaching creationism or ‘intelligent design’. At the same time, Everyday Champions Church, whose church leader Pastor Gareth Morgan has explicitly stated that ‘Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school. It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory’, have seen their proposal to open a Free School in 2012 progress through to the interview stage, the third stage of the application process.

Last month the BHA launched a new e-petition, ‘Teach evolution, not creationism’, where individuals can sign up to a similar statement to that of the new website. The e-petition is one of the most popular on the new Government website, having attracted almost 10,000 signatures so far.-----------------------------------------------------------------------      

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