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A call to ban creationism in British schools

A group of scientists in the United Kingdom is calling for a "statutory and enforceable" ban on teaching creationism in Britain's publicly funded schools, as well as for evolution to be included "at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools." Among the signatories to the statement are David Attenborough, Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones, Harold Kroto, Paul Nurse (the president of the Royal Society of London), Michael Reiss, and Lewis Wolpert, as well as the Association for Science Education, the British Humanist Association, the British Science Association, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Ekklesia.

In 2007, after a series of controversies about the place of creationism in the science classroom in Britain, the Department for Children, Schools, and Families issued "Guidance on the place of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons," which stated, "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."

But not all concerns were allayed. Creationist organizations such as Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International continued to circulate material to teachers and to present their views at schools. And according to the Guardian (September 19, 2011), "There is no definitive data on the number of UK schools which teach creationism. ... A 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school." (Creationism was defined [PDF] in the Opinionpanel report as the view that "God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.")

Moreover, there were concerns that "free schools" — a relatively new phenomenon, resembling charter schools in the United States — planned to teach creationism. Although the Department for Children, Education, and Schools promised to reject any free school proposing to teach creationism in the science curriculum, the group of scientists calling for the ban observed that there is no way to keep the department to its promise or to ensure that a free school, once approved, would not change its mind and begin to teach creationism. Since such schools do not need to follow the National Curriculum, they could also neglect the teaching of evolution.

The call for the ban on teaching creationism is not without precedent. As NCSE reported in May 2011, a new campaign — Creationism In Schools Isn't Science, or CrISIS — petitioned the government to enforce its stated position on the teaching of creationism, arguing, "that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises." Endorsed by the National Secular Society, Ekklesia, and the British Centre for Science Education, CrISIS garnered over 5000 signatures to its petition.