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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Intelligent Teaching

New Labour’s attitude towards the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design has always been a bit slippery, while they never come out in actual support of these so-called alternatives to the theory of evolution they don’t seem that eager to stand in their way either. So it comes as little surprise that they’re doing nothing to prevent the use of information packs provided by ID advocates Truth in Science in science classes.

Both the parliamentary science and technology select committee and Department for Education and Skills have declared the packs inappropriate and unscientific, but they’ve found some support with Education Secretary Alan Johnson and some teachers. They claim that teaching ‘alternatives’ to evolution is the best and most scientific way to go. And on the face of it that’s a fairly credible stance.

The problem with teaching Intelligent Design though is that it’s 10% bad science and 90% bad metaphysics. The only aspect of it that has any real claim to being scientific is the concept of Irreducible Complexity, an idea dismissed by the majority of the scientific community and the subject of not one peer-reviewed paper or article. When held up to the harsh light of day it represents about as credible a challenge to evolutionary theory as breatharianism, and as such it seems quite pointless taking up valuable teaching time to deal with it.

This isn’t to say that Darwinism should be regarded as a ‘sacred cow’. Science at GCSE level should be aimed at teaching students basic scientific principles within the context of mainstream scientific opinion. Emphasising the speculative nature of science and letting children know that a number of important theories are disputed by some is essential for them to really grasp the way science works. But teaching theories accepted only by a minority of people is a waste of time and resources, and should ideally be left for higher education. Even then it shouldn’t rely on information packs from biased organisations.

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