by Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association
Today we’ve launched a new campaign along with Sir David Attenborough, Prof Richard Dawkins, Prof Michael Reiss, 27 other scientists and four other organisations calling on the government to introduce enforceable, statutory guidance that creationism and intelligent design may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type; and that the teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
The Government has signalled that they are in principle opposed to creationism: ‘teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. We will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.’ But they need to back this commitment up with action.
The guidance on how to apply to open a Free School includes the requirement that ‘Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories.’ We welcomed this. But we’ve been alarmed since then to see Everyday Champions Academy, which has been explicit in their intention to teach creationism, have their Free School bid progress. Worse, the government’s commitment in principle is not reflected in the Free School or Academy model funding agreements, so there is nothing stopping schools, once approved, from going back on their previous statements and deciding to teach creationism.
Quite apart from that, the government needs to recognise that the potential for Free Schools and Academies to teach creationism is not the only problem. Earlier this year, we’ve seen Creation Ministries International touring existing schools in England, presenting their speakers as scientists, and promoting creationism as science, totally legally. This is why we need the current non-statutory guidance to be made statutory and enforceable – so that we can put this issue to bed once and for all.
At the same time, the government needs to show its commitment not just to opposing teaching of creationism but to promoting the teaching of evolution. In 2009 the Labour Government held a broad consultation on a new primary curriculum and following responses from the BHA and leading scientific authorities, concluded that evolution should feature. But the subsequent Bill wasn’t passed in time to be implemented before the election, and the plans were scrapped. They need to be included in the government’s own new plans.
We do not yet have the problems of Romania or the USA in connection with creationism. Determined government action now will ensure we never do.