Some really good news on the evolution-education front: according to the BBC News, the British government will, starting next year, withhold funds from “free schools” (schools run by charities, parents, or religious groups) that don’t teach evolution as a “comprehensive and coherent scientific theory,” which I take to mean “as a fact.” The BBC report:
Any attempt to present as fact the view that God made the world could lead to new free schools losing their funding under government changes.
The new rules state that from 2013, all free schools in England must teach evolution as a “comprehensive and coherent scientific theory”.
The move follows scientists’ concerns that free schools run by creationists might avoid teaching evolution.
Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said it was “delighted”.
Sir Paul told BBC News the previous rules on free schools and the teaching of evolution versus creationism had been “not tight enough”.
He said that although the previous rules had confined creationism to religious education lessons, “the Royal Society identified a potential issue that schools could have avoided teaching evolution by natural selection in science lessons or dealt with it in a such a perfunctory way, that the main experience for students was the creationist myth”.
So far 79 free schools have opened in England with 118 more due to open in 2013 and beyond. They are funded directly by central government but unlike other state-funded schools are run by groups of parents, teachers, charities and religious groups and do not have to abide by the national curriculum.
The new rules mean if a free school is found to be acting in breach of its funding agreement – for example, teaching creationism as a scientific fact or not teaching evolution – the Department for Education will take “swift action which could result in the termination of that funding agreement”.
In a letter to the Royal Society, the Schools Minister, Lord Hill, said: “While we have always been clear that we expect to see evolution included in schools’ science curricula, this new clause will provide more explicit reassurance that free schools will have to meet that expectation.”
My one worry here is that teaching evolution as specified leaves room for other theories, like creationism, to be also taught as “comprehensive and coherent scientific theories.” As I’ve pointed out before, Islamic faith schools tend to teach evolution in one class and undercut it in another. I’m not sure how the new rules will deal with that.
At any rate, the faithful weigh in as well, and although some favor this change, they can’t help putting in a plug for God. As the BBC reports:
Dr Berry Billingsley who leads a Reading University project on how secondary schools handle questions that bridge science and religion cautioned against an oversimplified debate.
“Evolution is a fantastic theory and explains so much about how humans come to be here. It is backed up by evidence and supported by the vast majority of scientists in the biological sciences. Many of those scientists also believe that the Universe is here because of God.
“The importance of studying evolution is indeed the first thing to be said but children also need opportunities somewhere in the timetable to explore the ‘Big Questions’, which our research shows they want to consider and it is often the science lesson that stirs up those questions.”
“Big Questions,” is, of course, the euphemism that Templeton and other accommodationists use for “what religion does.” If the students want those questions answered, let them go to their parents or their pastors, but not to their teachers. Why do they need “opportunities in the timetable” to ask about God, meaning, purpose, and values? Finally, this:
Paul Bate, of the European Educators Christian Association, agreed schools should teach a broad and balanced curriculum: “Science and religion need each other in this debate. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all time said, ‘Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.'”
That statement from Einstein, which as far as I know is genuine, has always puzzled me. Einstein had no truck with a personal God, and didn’t say many nice things about religion. I’m not sure what he meant by “Science without religion is lame,” but it doesn’t sound good. Perhaps he meant “religion” as “that sense of wonder that motivates scientists,” for remember that Einstein also said this:
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man.”