Should We Use the ‘C’ Word in a Science Class?

This week I was at the British Science Festival where I was interviewed by the BBC about the resignation of Prof Michael Reiss who was effectively forced out of his post as Education Director at the Royal Society. At the 2008 meeting last year, Prof Michael Reiss suggested that science teachers should be prepared to discuss creationist beliefs in the classroom if asked about them by pupils.

Many scientists think that it is simply unacceptable to use the “c” word in a science class. By even discussing creationism, teachers may be giving it an air of plausibility as an alternative to natural selection. I am not so sure. If anything, it may have been a missed opportunity to address the importance of discussing empirical evidence when evaluating what makes something scientific. This is especially important if the natural inclination in children is towards a creationist stance. Simply ignoring the issue doesn’t make the problem go away.

I would have thought that it must be better to see an argument demolished through reason and evidence than by testimony alone. Creationism is such an easy target that any science teacher could easily dismiss it. There again, people seem to have such a hard time accepting the truth of human evolution through natural selection, then maybe those class hours are better dedicated to fixing this problem. What do you think?

Here’s what I said. I am on 24 mins into the piece.

UPDATE: I spoke to Prof Reiss yesterday as we are on the same advisory panel for the @Bristol Science museum. He confirmed what I suspected, namely that his view has been totally distorted by the press. I thought he was very balanced and not evangelical in the slightest. We must be wary of witch-hunts.


Filed under atheism, In the News, Radio

7 responses to “Should We Use the ‘C’ Word in a Science Class?

  1. podblack

    We had a panel on ‘Darwin’s Bulldogs’ at Dragon*Con, the audio will hopefully be up on the Skeptic Zone podcast in the future. Interesting discussion featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, along with several other teachers and professors. I’ll see if I can get you a quote from it later – but in short, in my opinion, it’s kind of pointless unless you’re willing to give shrift to all OTHER creationist tales?

    Have a look at how one institution has dealt with it:

    “The Cosmology Gallery links science, art and religion, inspired by Einstein’s concept of “Cosmic Religion”. It is a place a where modern cosmology meets multicultural creation stories, expressed through the art of the great world religious-cultural groups. The large domed gallery includes The Multicultural Cosmology Project: cultural creation stories in artworks and movies from various cultural and religious perspectives, Celestial Visions, a photographic exhibition that links the human world to the stars, and the Timeline of the Universe, a 60 meter exhibition that encapsulates the history of the universe and the history of our planet. The project is supported by Templeton Prize Winner Paul Davies, and other patrons including Sir Roger Penrose, Lord Martin Rees, Prof Stephen Hawking, Nobel Laureate Joseph Taylor and astrophotographer David Malin.”

  2. I see no evidence whatsoever for the Darwinian theory.
    But, since its adherents do not fly aircraft into buildings I am not greatly troubled by it.

  3. Mark

    At some point the students need to learn how to tell when an idea has no scientific basis, and therefore doesn’t merit further scientific study. Even if it has huge support in the general population. They also need to learn to not dismiss things *too* quickly. And they should learn about cognitive biases, and logical fallacies. I think the topic of Creation could cover all of that. You could also use it to show how unbalanced the “debate” between Creationism and Evolution is. And perhaps it would be a good opportunity to explain why some people like James continue to insist there is no evidence for Evolution despite the abundance we’ve gathered and validated and reinforced over the years:
    (there’s much much more, but there’s probably no point posting them all, and I’m sure the spam filter wouldn’t like it very much)

    And, podblack, you wouldn’t have to give shrift to any other creationist tales. You could remind the students of the exercise involving the Creation tale, and tell them to apply the same approach to all the rest. In their own time.

  4. jacarandamimosifolia

    Bruce, you say: “Creationism is such an easy target..” and you’re right, of course, but then there are so many astonishingly stupid people….

  5. Bruce,
    The comment above by James is in itself a very good argument for mentioning creationism in a science class, if only to point out the fallacies and to teach the basics of the scientific/empirical method.

  6. hey Bruce, I finished your interesting book last night and did the tests. I got a 7 on the ideation scale

  7. Michael Reiss had to resign from his post because his comments were put forward in a way that could be seen as endorsing creationism. It’s sad since all he was doing was considering how to ‘tackle’ creationism amongst students in school, not how to ‘teach’ creationism in science lessons.

    (You put students in school on the defensive and they will learn nothing. Get them to think about how their own preconceptions might be affected by their research and experiments in class and you might get them to learn something. If their preconceptions are dismissed rather than explored, that’s a bad pedagogy.)

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