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Originally posted March 10 2006 at 19:03 under Physics. 0 Comments. Trackbacks Disabled. Last modified: 24 March 2006 at 01:01

Creating Scientists

Annoyed and worried

Just when you thought that we were safe from some of the greater excesses of our transatlantic cousins it turns out that anything the US tries we have to just import. Not content with our president prime minister following his leader’s lead in being led by “God” the whole creationism thing raises it terrible, rearing, but only 4500 year old head. It’s seems somebody thinks this sort of thing should be introduced to science lessons. Probably they think it will make it more modern and relevant. The only problem is that this sort of thing has very little to do with science.

To be honest reading through this seems a slight over reaction in various quarters. It’s not so much that creationism should be taught as science but that it could be used as an example of “scientific controversy” and the social context of science. Having said that, this it is a very dangerous precedent to set and part of the previous sentence shows where it falls down. Make no mistake, nothing about a creationism versus Darwinism debate is at all a scientific controversy. Scientists aren’t arguing about this. There are plenty of controversies and downright arguments within science; but they are arguments based on scientific principles and available data. Creationism and “intelligent design” are not and do not represent valid theories and do not debate their points in a scientific manner, no matter how much they would attempt to make out otherwise. If this is all pointed out to students, and they are led to the reasons why the so called theory shouldn’t be called such then all well and good but what are the real chances of that?

Indeed if one wants to talk about scientific controversy and social context then why pick on Darwanism? You want scientific controversy? Cold fusion anyone? The influence of social context on science? Surely the classical example is the proposition of the heliocentric solar system. In fact the idea that the Earth moves around the Sun allows us to show more than just the possible social resistance to scientific ideas (and for a moment here let us forget the actual complex nature of the “social resistance” involved in this example). It allows us to show the progression, in a scientific manner, of understanding as better theories are developed. The theory that the Sun orbits the Earth is not a particularly bad one, given a limit amount of evidence. Children could discuss the steady state theory in a similar context. For some time there was in fact a raging scientific debate amongst those who supported a steady state universe and those who supported a big bang model. This is an ideal example of the scientific process at work. There are clear moral and social issues in a number of other areas of biology, not least cloning. Where is the need to introduce creationism or intelligent design at all?

Part of the reasons that such debates don’t generally fall under the auspices of GCSE science is that they take time to discuss properly. The syllabus is crammed with ideas and concepts as we attempt to give the best overview we can of what we know, as best we know it. Introducing something so blatantly unscientific stinks not of an attempt to address (the admittedly important) abilities of the students to form opinion based on fact but of pressure from the christian religious movement to enforce what they would like to see coupled with a desire of examination boards to be seen as progressively with the times. That there is a problem to be addressed is fairly obvious. It is worrying that 40% or so believe intelligent design should be in science (at least that’s not as bad as the US). This is worrying and we should be equipping our students with the skills to realise for themselves exactly why it shouldn’t be, but it’s introduction is not the best way to do this. Careful analysis of the scientific method, principles, ideals and its reliance on evidence (rather than some misguided “democracy” where every crank must have his day) is.

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This Crazy Fool

Dr Ian Scott
Croydon (and Gateshead), United Kingdom
Bullding Services Engineer (EngDesign), PhD in Physics (University of York), football fanatic (Newcastle United), open source enthusiast (mainly Mozilla)

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