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September 17, 2008



I agree. That really was quite shameful...

Francis Sedgemore

"Reiss’s discussion and the Royal Society’s explanation should be the same thing."

They are the same thing. There is nothing woolly-headed about Reiss's thinking on the teaching of evolution, to which he is committed.

Richard Roberts, John Sulston and Harry Kroto remind me of French revolutionary zealots with their self-destructive hatred of the clerical caste. Their letter to Martin Rees displays a petulance unbecoming of experienced and world-renowned scientists, and they appear to have no idea about the challenges involved in teaching children in a complex, multicultural world.

As for the Royal Society, theirs was a managerialist response to what they perceived to be a PR crisis. The result is serious damage to the society's reputation.

In correspondence with Michael Reiss, I suggested that he and Richard Dawkins might work together on the subject of teaching evolution to school students. It seems that they have already, at least to a small degree. On one occasion Dawkins and Reiss gave talks to the same group of teachers, and Reiss tells me that the differences between them were smaller than some might have expected.


perhaps it should be studied in cognitive psychology class.


Death to the infidel


The Royal Society has been ill-behaved in recent years. Its receipt of public funds is close to being a disgrace. That's such a pity, but it's a rather predictable effect of the babyboomers I suppose.


Of course he hasn't resigned. He's been sacked. Us taxpayers will be paying for his pay off. Richard Roberts, John Sulston and Harry Kroto should foot the bill, not us.

I think we're seeing the intolerance of a chunk of the atheist community revealed to the world. Unfortunately, a lot of them are leaders of that community.

Nick Rowe

Agreed. Science is also a _process_ in which one theory gets replaced by another theory that better fits the evidence. We need to teach that process, not just teach the list of currently accepted theories.


An awful, knee jerk response from the Royal Society that implies that a Christian minister (with a science vocation) supports creationism. A conclusion that is not supported by the minister's own words.

So how about it, Royal Society board, admit that you got it wrong and reappoint Michael Reiss. Reappointment isn't all that difficult: minor egg on face, but it is a great opportunity to talk about science in schools.


I'm not sure the Royal Society doesn't have a point. If you look at what Reiss said, he does seem to be suggesting that teachers' responses to kids who espouse creationism actually shouldn't include telling them they're wrong. In an ideal world this would lead into the kind of free-ranging scientific discussion Chris describes, but in the average classroom it's just going to leave the impression that Sir said creationism is a valid point of view.

I also think - although this probably wasn't what the Royal Society management was thinking - that kids love to derail boring lessons by starting irrelevant discussions, and any teacher who *encouraged* a discussion of whether creationism was scientifically valid would be lucky to get any teaching done for the rest of the term.

"But, Sir, evolution is just a *theory*, isn't that right?"


Science is a process, but I wouldn't fault most teachers and students from not knowing that that means at all. Courses are titled things like "Physics" and "Chemistry". You learn things like "here's what happens when you heat a gas". That's the bulk of what goes on in a science class--perhaps through even college.

Of course, this isn't completely the case. We did often talk about the "scientific method". I wouldn't have been able to tell you when I was a student whether there was something to it or if it was bureaucratic bookkeeping.

I think I know why this happened though. It's too philosophical. As Chris mentions, it requires a better teacher than may be available.

Letters From A Tory

You fail to make the necessary distinction.

The Royal Society say that a teacher should be capable of dismissing creationism, which is true. If students raise doubts, they are rightly told that their views are not scientific.

Mr Reiss wants to have a 'discussion' (no limits on how, why or when) about creationism if someone brings it up in class. If students raise doubts, they are discussed in a science classroom, presumably at length.

The two positions are very different.


Can we see creationism as a victory of the scientific ideology? What it is trying to do is to give a 'scientific' alibi to the religious beliefs. The mere feeling that religion needs to do that is a clear sign that science has overcome in all fields.


Is applying physical laws by force to the metaphysical good science, Chris?


Is applying physical laws by force to the metaphysical good science, Chris?


Is applying physical laws by force to the metaphysical good science, Chris?


With horror, just saw this triple comment above. Assure you I pressed the button once only. Sorry.


James - clearly higher powers at work here...


What if instead of evolution, religious fundamentalists had attacked Newton's Laws. "God can move objects how he feels, and doesn't have to observe any so called laws of conservation of momentum and law of gravity."

We show how Newton's laws explain all we observe and say no this is how the universe is. But then we find at high velocities these laws don't hold. Where does that leave us? The religious fundamenalists say see we told you so.

And as it happens, we use Newton's Laws all the time even though we know they are low velocity approximations. This illustrates another aspect of the creationist/evolutionary argument; a good scientific theory is useful, as it helps us understand the world around us, and make predictions based on it. A theory that says "the world is like this becaue it is" may or may not be right, but is quite definitely useless as a tool to help us understand what we see around us.

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