Monday, September 15, 2008

What Reiss said

A separate post on this as the pillorying of self described "evangelist for evolution" Professor Michael Reiss seems to have made it out as far as the USA.

He did not say creationism should be "taught" in any sense. He said that biology teachers should be better able to deal with it when pupils (almost inevitably) raise it as the world view that their parents have instilled in them.

I was in the telephone press conference on the night before Reiss's talk. I didn't see the debate and I didn't join the face to face briefing he had. However, from my recollection of the telephone briefing (which I didn't tape or take notes on, unfortunately) he made it quite clear that he isn't advocating the teaching of creationism in the sense of "Suggesting that non-science/anti-science concepts should be specified as a course objective in science classes."

He stressed in the press conference that he's coming from this from the point of view of an ex biology teacher and, he stressed, definitely not a creationist.

Teachers have very little time to devote to the teaching of evolution, thanks to the nature of the UK science curriculum. Often, when that lesson is reached, biologists find themselves not teaching biology so much as engaging in theological wranglings with students that hold creationist views.

As Reiss said in his briefing notes: "The implication of this is that the most a science teacher can normally hope to achieve is to ensure that students with creationist beliefs understand the scientific position. In the short term, this scientific world view is unlikely to supplant a creationist one... A student who believes in creationism has a non-scientific way of seeing the world, and one very rarely changes one's world view as a result of a 50-minute lesson, however well taught."

He made it very clear that he is advocating that teachers should not feel the need to to "correct" the views of children who, for many and complex reasons,are not about to give up this world view as a result of a 50 minute lesson. Rather the teachers should use the time more usefully to make sure that the students get a real understanding of what the theory of evolution is.

He went on to say: "depending on the comfort of the teacher in dealing with such issues and the make-up of the student body... if questions or issues about creationism and intelligent design arise during science lessons they can be used to illustrate a number of aspects of how science works."

Prof. Reiss was simply saying that it would be helpful if biology teachers had a better answer than "No - you're wrong" when children raise creationism. Compare the FT article, with the Guardian one. Heck, even with that little word "about" the Daily Mail has managed a more accurate take on Prof. Reiss's position. The Telegraph article also sounds like it came from the same press conference I attended, even if the headline doesn't.

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