14 March 2006

 
Creationism in the Curriculum?

Jacqui Smith, schools minister, indicated last week that pupils should be allowed to consider creationism and intelligent design in science lessons. Now the Times Educational Supplement reports that creationism is to be included in the GCSE Biology module:

http://www.tes.co.uk/search/story/?story_id=2202842

See also the debate in their 'staffroom'.
It was even mentioned in The Sun:"Can you Adam and Eve it?"

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006110502,00.html

There was more detail in the Times:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2078747,00.html

"OCR, one of the three main exam boards in England, said that the syllabus was intended to make students aware of scientific controversy." John Noel, OCR's science qualifications manager, told TES: "It is simply looking at one particular example of how scientific interpretation changes over time. The history of scientific ideas not only has a legitimate place in science lessons, it is a requirement of the new programme of study."
Here is a link to the curriculum PDFs from OCR:

http://www.gcse-science.com/teachers_subpage.php?pg_id=245

Lamarck is mentioned, and the only mention of creationism is a single entry in the 'higher' part of the curriculum: "Explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)." Taken at face value, this could just be an example of an unscientific explanation being ousted by a scientific one. However, Noel as quoted seems to be suggesting that evolution has been ousted. It might on the whole be better to complain that the ambiguity of the syllabus exposes it to being hijacked by religous teachers, or used for propaganda.

The Guardian's take on the GCSE is here:

http://tinyurl.com/rdjpk

Experienced science teachers are worried.

There's a robust discussion started up on the Internet Infidels board:

http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=157939

in the Evolution/Creation section.
One of the administrators came up with a sample PDF exam paper:

http://tinyurl.com/opajq

The question "We cannot be sure that birds and reptiles had the same ancestor. Write down one reason why we cannot be sure." sounds dodgily creationist. If you go back far enough they most certainly did have the same ancestor.

And the BBC's caught up with it now:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4793198.stm

The article on the BBC News website says:Teachers are asked to 'explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)'.

Many of the above links, and some o the comments, are from posts on the NSS Yahhoo group, secular newsline. The history of ideas about fossils and cration and evolution, before and after Darwin can be found on this site:

http://www.strangescience.net/index.htm

It is important for students of science to know the history of their subject. I'm sure I was taught about phlogiston in my Chemistry lessons, and caloric in Physics, and Ptolemaic astronomy in Geography, and I certainly read a lot of science history for my own interest.

Before Darwin the views of Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) were influential, see:

http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/cuvier.html

http://www.strangescience.net/cuvier.htm

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/cuvier.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/02/1/l_021_01.html

My own first comments on the issue were:

As regards the history of 'creationism', there is an article in the latest 'New Scientist' about Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis & Clark expediton (1804). He fully expected them to find Mastodons roamingthe wild west, but when they found none he came to accept the view of Georges Cuvier that such creatures had become extinct.

The first 'creationist' who argued that God put the fossils in the rocks to give the impression of evolution was Philip Gosse in his 'Omphalos' written after Darwin's 'Origin of Species'.

In that pdf exam paper from OCR the answer to question 7(c): "We cannot be sure that birds and reptiles had the same ancestor. Write down one reason why we cannot be sure." is given at the end as: "Fossil record not complete". No scientist normally would use the word "sure" would they? We cannot be sure of anything, in the sense of "absolutely certain". Also what does it mean for the fossil record to be "complete" - that every creature that ever lived was preserved as a fossil?

Other links:

http://www.freethoughtfilter.com/story.php?id=35

http://www.badscience.net/?a=xdforum&xdforum_action=viewthread&xf_id=1&xt_id=184

http://jimyojimbo.livejournal.com/132628.html

Tez Burke's comment: And I suppose they'll be teaching alchemy, astrology, eugenics and phrenology as modules in science lessons next. Bloody disgraceful.

Comments:
I'm glad to see the Archbishop of Canterbury has at last made a pronouncement against teaching creationism in schools:

in the guardian

Personally I think he should direct his guns more in this direction, against the anti-science evangelicals, rather than concentrating on the homosexual question, which can only lead to worse divisions in his church.
 

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