Sunday, February 10, 2008

Guidance on the place of Creationism and Intelligent Design in Science Lessons - by the UK Government DCSF

Richard blogged "Is Truth False?" today:

I blogged this subject in September 2007:

after the Governement issued guidelines to all Secondary schools on teaching Creationism / ID in Science classes:

I will try obtain a copy of the letter (sent to my childrens school) by the Department for Children, Schools and Families

Ed Balls is currently Minster for DCSF.

Creationism and intelligent design in the science curriculum (guidance)
by Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)
About DCSF:

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science, but there is scope for pupils to discuss creationism as part of RE in developing their knowledge and understanding of Christianity, and other religions. This guidance is therefore designed to clarify for teachers the place of creationism and intelligent design within the National Curriculum.

I reproduce some of the UK Government document (referred to in the link above) here:-

Scientific theories

The use of the word 'theory' can mislead those not familiar with science as a subject discipline because it is different from the everyday meaning of being little more than a 'hunch'. In science the meaning is much less tentative and indicates that there is a substantial amount of supporting evidence, underpinned by principles and explanations accepted by the international scientific community. However, it also signals that all scientific knowledge is considered to be provisional as it can be overturned by new evidence if this is validated and accepted by the scientific community.

Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study.

Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. However, there is a real difference between teaching 'x' and teaching about 'x'. Any questions about creationism and intelligent design which arise in science lessons, for example as a result of media coverage, could provide the opportunity to explain or explore why they are not considered to be scientific theories and, in the right context, why evolution is considered to be a scientific theory.

Addressing students' questions about creationism or intelligent design

Science teachers can respond positively and educationally to questions and comments about creationism or intelligent design by questioning, using prompts such as 'What makes a theory scientific?', and by promoting knowledge and understanding of the scientific consensus around the theories of evolution and the Big Bang.

Choosing appropriate resources

The DCSF does not specify teaching resources. There is a wide variety of resources available for use in schools and teachers are free to use their professional judgement to select appropriate materials for their science lessons.

Any resource should be checked carefully before it is used in the classroom. If resources which mention creationism or intelligent design are used, it must be made clear that neither constitutes a scientific theory.


Is creationism a valid scientific theory?

'Creationism', a term commonly used as a shorthand for 'young-Earth creationism', is the belief that the Earth and its many species did not gradually come into being over billions of years but were created suddenly and within the last 10,000 years. This proposed timescale can be investigated scientifically with the scientific evidence indicating a much older Earth (between 4,000 and 5,000 million years). The existence of a 'creator' is not scientifically testable.

Is a belief in creation the same thing as 'creationism'?

Belief that God created everything that exists is shared by Christians, Jews, Muslims and many others all over the world. Many of the founders of modern science, as well as contemporary scientists, have held and do hold this belief, one 'that science cannot address' since it is religious/metaphysical. In view of this, in the interest of good science education, it is important that science teachers do not assert or imply that science contradicts traditional beliefs in creation and design. To the belief in creation, creationists have added the belief that the Earth is geologically young, although this is not supported by mainstream science.

Is intelligent design a valid scientific theory?

The intelligent design movement claims there are aspects of the natural world that are so intricate and fit for purpose that they cannot have evolved but must have been created by an 'intelligent designer'. Furthermore they assert that this claim is scientifically testable and should therefore be taught in science lessons. Intelligent design lies wholly outside of science. Sometimes examples are quoted that are said to require an 'intelligent designer'. However, many of these have subsequently been shown to have a scientific explanation, for example, the immune system and blood clotting mechanisms.

Attempts to establish an idea of the 'specified complexity' needed for intelligent design are surrounded by complex mathematics. Despite this, the idea seems to be essentially a modern version of the old idea of the "God-of-the-gaps". Lack of a satisfactory scientific explanation of some phenomena (a 'gap' in scientific knowledge) is claimed to be evidence of an intelligent designer.

Should time be given to creationism and intelligent design in science lessons?

The theory of evolution lies at the heart of biology and should be taught at key stage 4 and in GCE advanced level biology. Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories and do not form part of the science National Curriculum or the GCSE and GCE A level subject criteria. There may be situations in which it is appropriate for science teachers to respond to student comments or enquiries about the claims of creationism or intelligent design. This would be to establish why they are not considered as scientific theories as described above in 'What is appropriate to teach in science lessons'. One way to do this would be to consider the mechanisms by which new scientific knowledge becomes established and why creationism and intelligent design do not meet these requirements.

If questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works. Such aspects include: 'how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories'; 'that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address'; 'how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes'.

Which subject should deal with creationism and intelligent design?

Teachers of subjects such as RE, history or citizenship may deal with creationism and intelligent design in their lessons. If such issues were to arise there might be value in science colleagues working with these teachers in addressing them.

Should I use resources about creationism and intelligent design that are sent to my school?

Decisions about which resources to use rest with schools and teachers. Organisations promoting creationism and intelligent design quite often provide resources for schools; these may include paper-based activities, leaflets, DVDs, CDs, music, workshops, other activities and web resources. While these resources may be used, it must be remembered that they do not support the science National Curriculum and they present a particular minority viewpoint that is not underpinned by scientific principles and evidence.

What about students who hold creationist beliefs or believe in the arguments of intelligent design?

Some students do hold creationist beliefs or believe in the arguments of the intelligent design movement and/or have parents/carers who accept such views. If either is brought up in a science lesson it should be handled in a way that is respectful of students' views, religious and otherwise, whilst clearly giving the message that the theory of evolution and the notion of an old Earth / universe are supported by a mass of evidence and fully accepted by the scientific community.

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