Tuesday, August 04, 2009

More creationism in schools?

Two articles on creationism in schools have been making their rounds of Singaporean student mailing lists recently.

The first is a report from the Guardian newspaper in the UK that the government agency Naric, which gives information on the standards of 'lesser-known qualifications', has ruled that the International Certificate of Christian Education is equivalent to the A-levels. Seems like a routine piece of news until one reads that:

One of the textbooks tells pupils: "Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie,' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."

And this anecdote is supposed to be an item of proof for the falsehood of evolution.

In Singapore, The Online Citizen, a news and opinion website, has run an article raising concerns about creationist viewpoints being 'sneaked' into secular classrooms, both by teachers and by supplementary books which creationist content.

Unfortunately the biologist quoted in the article gives his opinion under a pseudonym. I'm sure that there are practicing scientists out there who would be willing to state their views plainly under their real names. While I agree with his standpoint (i.e. opposed to creationism and anti-evolutionism), I was disappointed in some places by how it was put across.

Referring to a children's encyclopedia that touts the 'Theory of Creation', he says that it is "Rubbish... Stupid", and that: "For this reason alone, this book would be outlawed in a heartbeat and taken off the shelves in the U.S. and in Europe."

Someone familiar with the diffusion of creationist and anti-evolutionist ideas would recognize that the origin of modern creationism is precisely in the United States, and this is where the public debate on the place of creationism in public schools is the strongest. Furthermore, belittling the opposing camp may feel satisfying and win approval from like-minded peers, it does not help in convincing those who espouse creationist ideas that evolution is 'more than a theory' and is based on solid, rational facts and principles.

Creationism's popularity lies in the feeling of embattlement that many religious people feel when they engage with the secular world. As biologists and educators (at least I imagine that is the audience of this blog) we should take care not to escalate the tension. Our frame of mind should be that of persuasion, regardless of how strongly-held our views are, because it is very hard to convince someone in a hostile mood.

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