Let us test Darwin, teacher says

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6187534.stm

Nov 27, 2006

Science teaching materials deemed "not appropriate" by the government should be allowed in class, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has been urged.

Chemistry teacher at Liverpool's Blue Coat School, Nick Cowan, says the packs promoting intelligent design are useful in debating Darwinist evolution.

Education officials insist intelligent design is not recognised as science.

It argues that evolution cannot explain everything so the Universe must have had an intelligent creator.

The packs were sent out to 5,000 secondary schools by a group of academics and clerics known as Truth in Science.

The Department for Education and Skills said they were inappropriate and not supportive of the science curriculum.

Reacting to Mr Cowan's letter, a DfES spokesman said: "Neither creationism nor intelligent design are taught as a subject in schools, and are not specified in the science curriculum.

"The National Curriculum for science clearly sets down that pupils should be taught that the fossil record is evidence for evolution, and how variation and selection may lead to evolution or extinction."

The call from Mr Cowan - former head of the school's chemistry department - comes as the Guardian reported that the Truth in Science materials were being used in 59 schools.

'Sacred cow'

Mr Cowan says they are "very scholarly" and could be extremely useful in helping children understand the importance of scientific debate

He told the BBC: "Darwin has for many people become a sacred cow.

"There's a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.

"We might as well have said Einstein shouldn't have said what he did because it criticised Newton."

He argues that science only moves forward by reviewing and reworking previous theories and that these materials foster an understanding of this.

'Controversy'

He also points out that the Truth in Science materials, which he describes as outstanding, do not mention creationism or even God.

He says the GCSE syllabus requires children to appreciate how science works and understand the nature of scientific controversy.

"The government wants children to be exposed to scientific debate at the age of 14 or 15.

"All the Truth in Science stuff does is put forward stuff that says here's a controversy.

"This is exactly the kind of thing that young people should be exposed to," Mr Cowan added.

'Poorly served'

The chairman of the parliamentary science and technology committee, Phil Willis, said using the packs in science classes "elevated creationism" to the same level of debate as Darwinism and that there was no justification for that.

He added: "There's little enough time with the school curriculum to deal with real science like climate change, energy and the weather.

"This is quite frankly a distraction that science teachers can well do without."

Dr Evan Harris, honorary associate of the National Secular Society and Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said it was worrying that some schools were giving "this nonsense" any credence.

Many leading scientists argue that ideas about intelligent design should not be allowed in school because they are simply not scientific.

Back in April, the Royal Society warned against allowing creationism in school saying that pupils must understand that science backs Darwin's theory of evolution.

The society's statement said: "Young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs."

Recently, the British Humanist Association asked Mr Johnson for greater clarity on the teaching of creationism in schools.