On May 12, the Education and Culture Committing of the Scottish Parliament formally closed consideration of the Scottish Secular Society’s petition, as having run its course. This petition sought guidance to exclude creationism from Scotland’s publicly funded schools. The Committee had asked the Scottish Government to clarify its position, and in his reply the Minister responsible had finally brought himself to say that creationism should not be taught in science classes. For more on the year-long process that led to this point, see here and here.
The Herald story itself remains top of the “most read” list at time of writing, after 5 days, and has attracted 57,000 on-site Likes.
To my surprise, the story has gathered international attention. A story in The Independent (does that count as international? Are England and Scotland part of the same nation? Do not attempt to answer this question here. The same comment applies to a summary by the London-based National Secular Society.) A report from our good friends at the California-based National Center for Science Education; also from Patheos. Favourable comment from Russia Today. An interview on The Sceptic’s Guide to the Universe, the leading US podcast of its kind (episode #516, about half way through; 100,000 downloads).
And a story on I Freaking Love Science , whose FaceBook posting had earned 292,706 Likes, 38,006 Shares, and 9,754 comments in its first 24 hours. A followup hostile letter in The Herald, May 31, notable for the comments it drew which were the very opposite of what the writer was hoping for; a report on that letter by The Sensuous Curmudgeon, a widely read and superficially facetious but in fact well-informed critic of Creationists. A further commentary in the Herald on June 2 by Andrew Denholm, Education Correspondent, who celebrates a victory for common sense, while denying that anything has happened. (I will add details here if yet more stories appear about the Petition.)
So what has happened, and why does it matter? What has happened is that the Scottish Government has moved from merely saying that creationism is not part of the syllabus, to saying that it should not be taught in science classes. A shift from “need not” to “must not”. In terms of mechanical application of the rules, no real change. In terms of framing and context, pivotal. If Creationism is not scientific in the science class, how can it be scientific elsewhere?
In the course of its submission to the Scottish Parliament regarding our petition, the Society for Biology commented:
We recognise that questions regarding creationism and intelligent design may arise in the classroom, for example as a result of individual faith and beliefs or media coverage…. [W]e urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.
Quite so. But why only in science lessons? Creationism is, and should be, regularly discussed in Scottish schools, not in the context of science, but in that of Religious, Moral, and Philosophical Studies (RMPS).
As most readers will know, “Creation Scientists” and Intelligent Design proponents want to claim scientific respectability for the doctrine of separate special creation. The Government’s new position will make it far harder for them to do so. Nonetheless, it would run counter to the entire spirit of RMPS for instructors to tell students what to think. So teachers, who may themselves have had little formal training in biology, have to convey quite detailed evidence in such a way that students can come to their own well-informed conclusions. My colleagues and I are putting together materials that all those involved in these classes might find helpful, and would appreciate suggestions.
1] Filter-protected version of the real name