Sunday, September 09, 2007

Debating Darwin

Debating Darwin
Should evolution be taught as the only truth?
Sunday 10.00am until 10.45am Lecture Theatre 1 Breakfast Banter

The debate over creationism has sprung up as the latest flashpoint in the battle between secularism and religion. While the US has seen extended conflict over the theory of evolution – from the 1925 ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ to the recent Dover, PA court case – new challenges to Darwinism under the guise of intelligent design (ID) have arisen in the UK. Concerns centre on school science education, from Sir Peter Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Foundation to the controversial teaching packs distributed by the anti-evolution group Truth in Science. The rise of ‘Islamic creationism’, modelling itself on ID, adds to concerns that Islam poses a special threat to secularism in Britain. Although the Royal Society and much of the scientific establishment have denounced the teaching of creationism, a recent MORI poll revealed that over 40% of the public believe that creationism or ID should be taught alongside evolution in school science classes.

While few seriously endorse the literal biblical story of creation, ID on the other hand claims to highlight Darwinism’s shortcomings on scientific grounds. Evolution is ‘just a theory’ after all - surely in the spirit of encouraging critical thinking we should ‘teach the controversy’? Science is about questioning received truths rather than establishing certainties for all time. Does this not permit a more flexible approach to science education, where debate is encouraged? Further, the sheer complexity of evolutionary theory leads ID advocates to claim it is best to cultivate a critical eye in pupils, rather than have them take as truth a misunderstood Darwinian theory.

Is science, or ‘scientism’, just as fundamentalist as religion, arrogantly claiming to know everything, or are doubts such as these a reflection of scientists’ failure to make the case properly for what science does have to offer? Is this merely another case of the ‘balance fallacy’ – the mistaken belief that even falsehoods should be given air time?


Professor Steve Fuller
professor of sociology, University of Warwick; author, Science vs Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution
Professor Simon Conway Morris
professor of evolutionary paleobiology, University of Cambridge; author, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe
David Perks
head of physics, Graveney School; lead author, What Is Science Education For?
Alex Hochuli
web editor, Institute of Ideas; producer, Bishopsgate Institute secularism season

Produced by

Alex Hochuli
web editor, Institute of Ideas; producer, Bishopsgate Institute secularism season
Recommended readings

recommended by spiked

Intelligent design and educational stupidity
David Perks, 13 March 2006

Creationism, pluralism and the compromising of science
Joe Kaplinsky, 28 February 2005

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