Lead­ing bi­ol­o­gist pushes cre­ation­ism on Dar­win’s turf

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY AL WEBB

One of the world’s lead­ing bi­ol­o­gists, who is also an or­dained Angli­can priest, has sparked up­roar in both re­li­gious and sci­en­tific cir­cles by cam­paign­ing to teach cre­ation­ism, along with evo­lu­tion and the “Big Bang” the­ory in sci­ence class­rooms.

Cre­ation­ism, an is­sue that has tr ig­gered fur ious de­bates in churches, schools and even courts in the United States, re­jects Charles Dar­win’s the­ory of evo­lu­tion and holds that God cre­ated the uni­verse and all that goes with it — most of all, man — in six days.

Dar­win was one of the early lead­ing lights in Bri­tain’s au­gust Royal So­ci­ety of sci­ence, among whose most em­i­nent present-day mem­bers is the Rev. Michael Reiss, its di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion — and now him­self one of its most con­tro­ver­sial.

Mr. Reiss has truly stirred the pot — and the fury of his fel­low sci­en­tists — by propos­ing that cre­ation­ism has the right to a place in school lessons along with the con­ven­tional the­o­ries of the evo­lu­tion­ary ori­gins of man and the the­ory that the uni­verse ex­ploded from a sin­gle point bil­lions of years ago — the Big Bang.

“My cen­tral ar­gu­ment,” the pro­fes­sor said sim­ply in what turned out to be a stun­ner of an ad­dress at the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion Fes­ti­val of Sci­ence at Eng­land’s Uni­ver­sity of Liver­pool, “is that cre­ation­ism is best seen by a sci­ence teacher not as a mis­con­cep­tion but as a world view.”

Any­way, the pro­fes­sor in­sisted in his speech ear­lier this month that his days as a bi­ol­ogy tu­tor had taught him that “sim­ply bang­ing on about evo­lu­tion and nat­u­ral se­lec­tion didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all.”

Anti-evo­lu­tion­ism has a long his­tory in the United States, in­clud­ing the Scopes mon­key trial case of 1925, cen­tered on the so­called But­ler Act, which pro­hib­ited the teach­ing of Dar­win’s the­ory in the schools of Ten­nessee. That ban was not re­pealed un­til 1967.

In its most pop­u­lar lat­ter-day form, cre­ation­ism re­tains a strong hold in deeply re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties. In the United States, Mr. Reiss es­ti­mates, the pro­por­tion of cre­ation­ist chil­dren is as much as 40 per­cent.

In Bri­tain, per­haps 10 per­cent of stu­dents come from fam­i­lies with sin­cere cre­ation­ist be­liefs.

Its ad­her­ents in­clude Repub­li­can vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Gov. Sarah Palin, whose stance on evo­lu­tion ver­sus cre­ation­ism re­flects that of Mr. Reiss: “Teach both,” she said in a gu­ber­na­to­rial ad­dress in Alaska two years ago.

“You know, don’t be afraid of in­for­ma­tion,” Mrs. Palin said at the time. “Healthy de­bate is so im­por­tant, and it´s so valu­able in our schools.”

As re­cently as June 2007, a Gallup Poll pub­lished in the United States showed that 66 per­cent of those in­ter­viewed be­lieved that cre­ation­ism’s idea that hu­man be­ings were cre­ated by God “pretty much in their present form” in the last 10,000 years was “def­i­nitely” or “prob­a­bly” true.

De­spite his own sig­nif­i­cant clout in the world of sci­ence, when it comes to sup­port for teach­ing cre­ation­ism in any form, Mr. Reiss is al­most on his own.

The Royal So­ci­ety greeted his re­marks in Liver­pool with scarcely con­cealed dis­dain: “The Royal So­ci­ety,” it said in a tersely worded state­ment, “is op­posed to cre­ation­ism be­ing taught as sci­ence.”

“The so­ci­ety re­mains com­mit­ted to the teach­ing of evo­lu­tion as the best ex­pla­na­tion for the his­tory of life on earth.”

Fel­low sci­en­tists were equally scorn­ful.

“Cre­ation­ism is based on faith and has noth­ing to do with sci­ence, and it should not be taught in sci­ence classes,” Lewis Wolpert, a bi­ol­o­gist at Lon­don’s Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Med­i­cal School told jour­nal­ists.

“There is no ev­i­dence for a cre­ator,” Mr. Wolpert in­sisted, “and cre­ation­ism ex­plains noth­ing.”

John Fry, a physics pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Liver­pool, was just as scathing. “Sci­ence lessons are not the ap­pro­pri­ate place to dis­cuss cre­ation­ism, which is a world view in to­tal de­nial of any form of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.”

Even the Church of Eng­land, which once in­structed him in the priest­hood at age 29 and still keeps him on as an or­dained min­is­ter, gave the pro­fes­sor’s cre­ation­ism cam­paign the thumbs down.

“Cre­ation­ism should not be taught as a sci­en­tif­i­cally based the­ory,” said a church spokesman, al­though he con­ceded that it “could be in­cluded in dis­cus­sion of the de­vel­op­ment of sci­en­tific ideas down the ages [. . . ].”

As for the Church of Eng­land, also known as the Angli­can Church, it says it owes Dar­win some sort of apol­ogy.

The Rev. Malcolm Brown, who heads the church’s pub­lic af­fairs depart­ment, re­cently is­sued a state­ment to mark Dar­win’s bi­cen­te­nary and the 150th an­niver­sary of the sem­i­nal work “On the Ori­gin of Species,” both of which fall next year.

Mr. Brown said the Church of Eng­land should say it is sorry for mis­un­der­stand­ing him at the time he re­leased his find­ings and, “by get­ting our first re­ac­tion wrong, en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to mis­un­der­stand [Dar­win] still,” the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Still, Mr. Reiss ar­gued that “an in­creas­ing per­cent­age of chil­dren [in Bri­tain] come from fam­i­lies that do not ac­cept the sci­en­tific ver­sion of the his­tory of the uni­verse and the evo­lu­tion of the species.”

Crack­ing the class­room door to let cre­ation­ism in is the sen­si­ble path, the pro­fes­sor in­sists. Oth­er­wise, “what are we to do with those chil­dren?”

Un­der the gun in his own land: Charles Dar­win

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