Creationism In The UK

I’ve never really encountered many creationists. There’s been the odd religious nutter in the streets of Newcastle trying to convert the shoppers but that’s about it. In forty years of teaching evolution I’ve been challenged in the classroom twice, once by a Jehovah’s Witness and once by a Christian fundamentalist. So I was a little surprised when I came across this article by the National Center for Science Education which reports on a poll about the public acceptance of evolution in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Respondents were asked “Which of these statements comes closest to your own point of view regarding the origin and development of human beings on earth?” and offered the choices “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years” and “God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.”   In Britain 68% chose the evolution statement, 16% the creationist statement and 15% were unsure. This compares to 61%, 24% and 15% in Canada. In the USA it was 35%, 47% and 18%. I might take comfort from the fact that we enlightened Brits have a better grasp on reality than our scientifically backward American cousins but it was cold comfort. I’m concerned that over 30% of the British public don’t accept evolution as an explanation for the way things are.

It would seem I am not alone. It’s not the religious nutters in the streets we should worry about, it’s what is happening in schools. There are concerns that creationist organisations are visiting schools and sending them materials promoting their cause. Sciencemag carries an interesting report on the situation. This has prompted a number of eminent UK scientists to call for a re-think about the teaching of evolution in schools under the heading of, “Teach Evolution, not Creationism!”  Speaking of creationism and intelligent design, they say that, “There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.” 

Professor Richard Dawkins, one of the scientists supporting the campaign, has called for evolution to be taught in primary schools. The Daily Mail carried a report which provoked some interesting comments in the online version.

Darwin’s vile book of 1859 was followed by the murder of up to 15m people in the Belgian Congo, followed by all of the various genocides of the twentieth century – probably more than 100m in total. There were atrocities committed before 1859, but very few on a comparable scale to what has happened since. Presumably Richard Dawkins wants more genocide to occur in the future.

To be fair to the Daily Mail (not a statement I ever thought I’d use) that comment is not typical of the responses and has been heavily red-arrowed by other readers. Nevertheless, there is a justifiable concern that creationism is creeping into schools and that needs to be confronted. As a first step, readers of this blog might follow this link and sign an e-petition calling for the teaching of evolution to be mandatory in all publicly-funded schools.