Saturday, September 13, 2008

Science and Wonders

According to a report in Thursday's Guardian newspaper, Michael Reiss, the Royal Society's Director of Education has encouraged the idea that teachers should tackle the ideas of creationism in the classroom, alongside evolutionary teaching.

I find his comments extremely interesting. Reiss has a foot in both camps, he is both an ordained minister... and a Professor of biology. He is yet another example to us that science and faith do not have to be enemies. I especially find the background story to his statement intriguing. He used to teach evolution quite brutally, but has understood that respecting where people are at is an important aspect of helping them take on board new ideas. This is an attitude I think both believers and unbelievers... indeed all human beings need to take on board.

Diplomacy is not just required international politics, we need to be respectful of other people's personal sovereignty. You wouldn't walk into another country and tear apart it's political infrastructure just to make it look like yours. That is how wars, and violent insurgencies start. The best way to make people open to your arguments is to be virtuous towards them and to show them the merits of your position without directly assaulting their own.

The antithesis of this position is perhaps demonstrated by one of Reiss' critics, the physicist Dr John Fry. Fry responds in the same article by saying:

"Science lessons are not the appropriate place to discuss creationism, which is a world view in total denial of any form of scientific evidence"


"Creationism doesn't challenge science, it denies it."

Fry has set up a straw man argument. He is making the fatal assumption that creationists all believe the world was made in six days. I have pointed out several times in this blog, that the document that provides the basis of that idea - The Bible, in it's original Hebrew does not restrict the Genesis account to a literal six day occurrence, nor does it require a belief that the Earth existed before the Sun.

I think some militant atheists are guilty of jumping on the Genesis account purely because it provides them with an easy and a lazy excuse to justify their position. If they can easily dismiss the idea of God, then they can stay in their comfortable, cosy shell and not have to face the challenge of differing views.

I changed my position on Creation because I was willing to listen to my opponents, reflect on their arguments and redefine my own beliefs and ideas based on my increased knowledge. Ironically it is about evolution. You find yourself faced with something that threatens your position... and you either adapt to move beyond and overcome it, or you concede defeat and are eliminated - survival of the fittest. I chose the former.

That said, I do in some ways agree that the science room may not be the best forum for this debate. While I do believe it is necessary to create a crucible where students can air their theories and philosophies on how we got here... perhaps it's best to create a separate subject or discussion group for this.

However I also fundamentally believe that it is not the remit of Science to peddle atheism. Science should be about understanding the mechanics, systems and wonders that enable our universe to operate and thrive in it's magnificence. The deeper philosophical truth of how those processes were put in place and who or what put them there, is a question for every individual to discover for themselves based on the things they learn scientifically, theologically, philosophically, spiritually and emotionally.

There must be balance and there must be freedom.

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