I’m not at home right now, and don’t know whether I’m blowing this out of all proportion, but a story just appeared on BBC News saying that the UK science education is going to contain creationist teachings. Specifically, the OCR syllabus says:
Teachers are asked to “explain that the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time (e.g. creationist interpretation)”.
A spokesperson for the exam board said candidates needed to understand the social and historical context to scientific ideas both pre and post Darwin’s theory of evolution.
“Candidates are asked to discuss why the opponents of Darwinism thought the way they did and how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence,” he said.
“Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not regarded by OCR as scientific theories. They are beliefs that do not lie within scientific understanding.”
The National Curriculum, meanwhile, says the following:
Classes should also cover “ways in which scientific work may be affected by the context in which it takes place (for example, social, historical, moral, spiritual), and how these contexts may affect whether or not ideas are accepted.”
I can see their point, but the language seems a little lax. If this is just a matter of mentioning that before Darwin the favoured explanation was from design, but that the theory of evolution has rendered this null and void, then fair enough. But “the fossil record has been interpreted differently over time” leaves the door open for post-Darwin arguments, which have no evidence and should most definitely have no place in the science classroom.
“[H]ow scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence” is more sinister. If this is a direct reference to creationism “vs” evolution, then I don’t like it at all. That particular debate is not a scientific controversy if you define this as meaning a disagreement within the scientific community. Science says evolution – full stop. It’s other people saying that creationism has any basis, and they do this entirely outside of the scientific method. Graduated evolution vs. punctuated equilibrium would be what I think of as a scientific controversy. Saying that fundamentalist religious claims contribute to ‘scientific controversy’ is dangerously close to the “teach the controversy” argument used in the US to try to force intelligent design into the classroom. By that argument I could claim that gravity is caused by invisible monkeys holding us on the ground, argue with a scientist about it, then demand it be discussed in the classroom.
I don’t think I like this very much. I haven’t read OCR’s syllabus properly yet, but the BBC article suggests the language is weak. If so, it’s a foot in the door for anti-science campaigners.