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To teach or not to teach creationism: that is the question.

To teach or not to teach creationism: that is the question.

posted by Gill Robins   Wednesday 29th January 2014

Each week, TES runs a watercooler poll, a straw poll relating to a question of the moment.  Last week, following Professor Alice Roberts’ statement that teaching creationism equated to indoctrination, the question was: ‘Should creationism ever feature in teaching?’  The result: No: ninety-eight percent, Yes: ten percent.

I find this worrying, not because it influences my personal belief in a Creator God in any way, but because a staggering 89% of teachers who responded to the poll are keen to arbitrarily ban the teaching of an aspect of religious belief - and their subtext is probably the banning of religious belief in totality. 

Belief in a Creator God is not limited to Christianity, although this is the faith which seems to be the focus for the attention of the banning brigade.  All three mono-theistic religions believe in a Creator God and Seikh, Hindu and Buddhist religions also attribute the beginning of everything to a god.  So, if all major world religions share a common belief about the origin of the world and those religions pre-date the emergence of science as a discipline, teachers have a duty to introduce these concepts to children, regardless of any personal view of their validity.  It is not, and never should be, the role of any teacher to ban something which they disagree with when it forms part of the canon of human knowledge.

Some significant questions emerge from this current, irrational reaction of prohibition.  For example, what are the criteria for a ban?  And who defines the criteria? One respondent to Alice Roberts’ original article suggested sarcastically that we should return to teaching that the Earth is flat.  Well, guess what.  I do just that.  Oh, and also that the Earth is a spheroid.  It doesn’t take students long to examine the evidence for both views and work out which one is correct.  But what it also does is open fascinating discussions: How did we discover that the Earth is spheroid?  Before it was proved, why did people believe that it was flat?  And the killer question: So why do some people still believe that the Earth is flat when the evidence proves them wrong?  The outcome of that discussion is usually similar – that people are free to believe whatever they want, even when the evidence is conclusive.  Belief, as pupils seem to understand better than many of the adults that teach them, is a personal matter and in a democratic society that prides itself on tolerance, people should be able to believe whatever they choose to believe.

The fulcrum of this argument seems to be that people with religious belief, and more specifically Christian belief, indoctrinate students.  I hold a political view that is at variance with roughly half of the country in which I live.  That doesn’t impair my ability to facilitate learning across the political spectrum or to respect the right of anyone, even a right wing extremist, to hold and express a different view.

A final thought, in closing.  You cannot ban creation without also banning all of the art, music, literature and poetry which belief in a higher being has inspired over thousands of years.  Is that the sort of world in which you want to live and teach?   


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