Debate organised by the Institute of Ideas and the Humanist Society Scotland. Held in the National Library of Scotland in February 2009 almost exactly 200 years after the birth of Charles Darwin.
The debate over Creationism is one of the hottest flashpoints in the battle between secularism and religion. While the US has seen extended conflict over the theory of evolution, new challenges to Darwinism under the guise of intelligent design (ID) have arisen in the UK. Concerns centre on school science education, from Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation to the controversial teaching packs distributed by the anti-evolution group Truth in Science. Although the Royal Society and much of the scientific establishment have denounced the teaching of Creationism, and the Royal Society's embattled director of education resigned last year after causing controversy by suggesting teachers should discuss Creationism in class, a recent MORI poll revealed that over 40% of the public believe that creationism or ID should be taught alongside evolution in school science classes.
While few seriously endorse the literal Biblical story of Creation, ID on the other hand claims to highlight Darwinism's shortcomings on scientific grounds. Evolution is 'just a theory' after all. Surely in the spirit of encouraging critical thinking we should 'teach the controversy'? As science is about questioning received truths rather than establishing certainties for all time, does this not permit a more flexible approach to science education, where debate is encouraged? Further, the sheer complexity of evolutionary theory leads ID advocates to claim it is best to cultivate a critical eye in pupils, rather than have them take as truth a misunderstood Darwinian theory.
Is science, or 'scientism', just as fundamentalist as religion, arrogantly claiming to know everything, or are doubts such as these a reflection of scientists' failure to make the case properly for what science does have to offer? Is this merely another case of the 'balance fallacy' the mistaken belief that even falsehoods should be given air time? Or should schools teach creationism in science lessons?
* Alex McLellan, Founder and Executive Director of Reason Why
* Dave Perks, Head of Physics at Graveney School in London
* Christopher Brookmyre, Novellist, including Boiling a Frog
* Julian Baggini, writer and philosopher
* Marc Surtees, Edinburgh Creation Group and Paradigm Shift
* Chair - Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Institute of Ideas
We apologise for camera motion in the debate. Due to the high demand for seats and fire regulations we were unable to use tripods for this recording.