Thursday, December 11, 2008

Creationism and Evolution

Perhaps it's my need to question. Perhaps it's that I also teach physics and I feel for those science teachers who are caught in this debate.

I have one simple, straightforward question for all of those parents and religious types who are pushing for science teachers to teach creationism in their classrooms.


Why would you want me saying anything about your beliefs? I am a fairly non-religious but non-atheist curmudgeon who isn't of your brand of religion. I don't know what you think, I don't know what you believe, I don't have any sense of whether you feel the Earth is flat or is resting on a giant turtle, was created in 7 days or 7 ages. Do you really want me to teach your kid what I know nothing about?
"almost nine out of 10 believed they should be allowed to discuss creationism if pupils bring it up."
What if MY religious beliefs are that Thetans (8foot tall humanoids) created the Earth and populated it, not some Almighty Power? Would you like me to preach that "truth" in class on an equal footing with "God created the Earth in 7 days about 10,000 years ago" and that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster ("Touched by his Noodly Appendage")? Didn't think so.

Don't pretend to yourself that I could fake it well enough to satisfy all of my students and their families. My mentioning anything about another religion would be coming from an outsider, with an outsider's lack of true understanding. Wouldn't your Sunday School teacher be far better at explaining your beliefs than I?

In the U.K., nearly a third of teachers felt that creationism should have equal status with evolution in a classroom and nearly all agreed the religious students would feel "excluded" if their views were ignored.

Well, if I'm worried about kids feeling "excluded" when their views are ignored, how about we expand the discussion a bit (partial Straw Man argument coming) and consider other views that students might hold.

If I teach a law class to seniors, should I stick to the US Constitution or should other countries' laws have equal footing? The need to stone a girl to death if she becomes unclean? A woman in the company of a man she's not related to is gangraped by seven men as punishment - should we be talking about how the girl should also get 200 lashes with a whip as a legal punishment from the courts? (For talking to someone and for daring to appeal the original sentence for being raped.) If one of my students tells his "boys" to grab a girls and rape her for insulting him, should his views gets equal standing so he doesn't fee "excluded"? It's obviously something he "feels" is right. (Like the boys who did that to a 14yo for insulting one of them). Should we include all views like that in the classroom?

Of course not. Ignore the StrawMan and keep to the specifics and the answer's still the same. Let me teach my algebra or physics or whatever. You teach the religion. It's better that way.

I brought this up because of the article reprinted below.

One in three teachers believes schoolchildren should be taught that creationism is just as valid as evolution, according to a survey.
By Martin Beckford, London (UK) Telegraph Religious Affairs Correspondent
07 Nov 2008

The poll also disclosed that pupils in almost a third of schools already learn about the controversial divine explanation of the universe, with even science teachers thinking it has a place in classrooms.

Almost all of those questioned by Teachers TV, a satellite television channel, agreed that children with strong religious beliefs would feel excluded from science lessons if their views were ignored.

The findings support the views of the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, who lost his job as director of education at the Royal Society, Britain's prestigious scientific academy, after calling for creationism to be included in school science lessons.

The ordained Church of England minister said the idea that the Earth was made by God 10,000 years ago should be discussed if pupils raise it, because "banging on" about natural selection would not lead evangelical Christians or Muslims to change their views.

But he was forced to step down after his views were denounced as "dangerous" and "outrageous" by two Nobel laureates and the Royal Society claimed he had damaged its reputation.

Commenting on the results of the survey of 1,200 viewers of Teachers TV, its chief executive, Andrew Bethell, said: "This poll data confirms that the debate on whether there is a place for the teaching of creationism in the classroom is still fierce."

The poll found that 31 per cent of teachers agree that creationism or intelligent design – the theory that the universe shows signs of having been designed rather than evolving – should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, including 18 per cent of science teachers.

Half of those questioned agreed that excluding the alternative to evolution would alienate religious pupils, and almost nine out of 10 believed they should be allowed to discuss creationism if pupils bring it up.

Mr Bethell said: "Although over half of teachers either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea that creationism should be given the same status as evolution, there is a significant minority who believe that it should be given equal weight.

"Nearly half of teachers also agreed with Professor Michael Reiss' sentiment that excluding alternative explanations to evolution is counter-productive and alienates pupils from science.

"Perhaps most telling is the fact that, almost nine out of 10 teachers take the pragmatic view that they should be allowed to discuss creationism or intelligent design in science, if pupils raise the question."

The survey was conducted ahead of a programme on Teachers TV, to be broadcast at 7pm on Saturday, which asks if the teaching of evolution is under threat from increasing religious fundamentalism among pupils.

It is thought that as many as one in 10 children in British state schools now holds creationist views.

Earlier this year the prominent atheist Professor Richard Dawkins accused the Government and teachers of "bending over backwards" to respect pupils and parents who do not believe in evolution.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "The findings in this survey are extremely alarming.

"It is time for the Government to issue instructions to schools that creationism is not to be given credence in science lessons. The place to discuss it is in religious education classes."

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