Britain’s Royal Society (of science) has sacked its director of education, Professor Michael Reiss, for advocating a tolerant attitude to creationist views in the science classroom. Prof Reiss agreed to step down after a campaign by senior fellows of the august institution who decided his comments had damaged its reputation.
As we reported recently, Prof Reiss, a biologist and ordained minister of the Church of England, gave a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in which he said that 20 years of teaching biology had taught him that some pupils would never relinquish creationist beliefs. If a teacher “simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science,” he said. It would be better to allow them to express their doubts and present evolution as “one way of understanding the universe”.
This was described as “outrageous” by Nobel Prize winner Sir Richard Roberts. A letter from angry Royal Society members to its president rejected the idea that teachers might treat creationist beliefs “not as a misconception but as a world view”. The government demanded an explanation of the society’s position. In a statement the society said Prof Reiss’s comments “were open to misinterpretation” of the Royal Society’s position, which is: “that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific.”
But Prof Reiss was not completely without support from the scientific community. Celebrity scientist Lord Robert Winston said: “I fear that in this action the Royal Society may only have diminished itself. This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science — something that the Royal Society should applaud.” ~ The Times (UK), Sep 16