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Teaching of Origins in Schools

Letter to the Secretary of State for Education regarding the teaching of origins

Arising out of the debate over Emmanuel College in Gateshead and the teaching of origins in schools, a letter signed by 27 British scientists and educators has been sent to the Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris.  The authors ask her to continue to allow “an open and honest approach to this subject under the National Curriculum.”

The group came together in an ad hoc way to sign this letter, which was not sent by any organisation.  The views expressed by the signatories do not necessarily represent the views of their respective organisations

The letter was reported in the Times Educational Supplement of April 26, 2002, page 14, by Clare Dean.  The title of her article was “Let's Teach Science Pupils How To Think”. The opening paragraphs explain the purpose of the letter:

“CREATIONISM and evolution should be considered side by side in school science lessons, 30 scientists and academics have told Education Secretary Estelle Morris. The group has urged her to ensure scientific objectivity in the national curriculum and pressed for lessons in secondary schools to present alternative theories, all of which should be critically appraised.

“Their letter to Ms Morris opposes recent calls by eminent scientists and philosophers for changes to the national curriculum in the wake of the row over creationism in schools.

“The group, which includes specialists in biology, physics, geology and chemistry, challenges the view that only one theory of life's origins - evolution - should be taught in schools.”

The Rt Hon Estelle Morris, MP
Secretary of State for Education and Skills

copies to:

Sir William Stubbs, Chairman QCA
Mr Mike Tomlinson, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Ofsted
Mr Andrew Adonis, Policy Unit

Dear Secretary of State

Teaching of Origins in Schools

The undersigned academics, scientists and educationists are deeply concerned that the reasonable position taken by the QCA in National Curriculum science and by Ofsted concerning the teaching of origins at secondary level has been challenged.  (We write as a group of individuals and consequently the views expressed do not necessarily represent the view of those organisations with which we are associated).

The National Curriculum requires that Darwinian evolution is put across as the dominant scientific theory but also requires that pupils are taught "how scientific controversies can result from different ways of interpreting empirical data". Science should be taught with the critical appraisal of alternative theories. Such debate concerning opposing theories provides rigour in scientific method and contributes to the development of critical thinking by pupils.

We find it most inappropriate that some well-meaning scientists have given the impression that there can only be one scientific view concerning origins.  By doing so they are going way beyond the limits of empirical science which has to recognise, at the very least, severe limitations concerning origins.  No one has proved experimentally the idea that large variations can emerge from simpler life forms in an unbroken ascendancy to man.  A large body of scientific evidence in biology, geology and chemistry, as well as the fundamentals of information theory, strongly suggest that evolution is not the best scientific model to fit the data that we observe.

We ask therefore that, where schools so choose, you ensure an open and honest approach to this subject under the National Curriculum, at the same time ensuring that the necessary criteria are maintained to deliver a rigorous education.

Yours sincerely

Andy McIntosh DSc, FIMA, CMath, FInstE, CEng
Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory, University of Leeds

Edgar Andrews BSc, PhD, DSc, FInstP, FIM, CEng, CPhys.
Emeritus Professor of Materials Science, University of London.

David Back BSc, PhD
Professor of Pharmacology & Therapeutics, University of Liverpool

Stuart Burgess BSc, PhD, CEng, MIMechE
Reader in Engineering Design, University of Bristol

Sylvia Baker BSc, MSc
Head, Trinity Christian School, Stalybridge

Nancy Darrall BSc, MSc, PhD, MIBiol
formerly Research Officer, Central Electricity Generating Board

Graham Everest BSc, PhD
Professor of Mathematics, University of East Anglia

Ian Fuller BSc, PhD
Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University

Nick Fuller BSc, PhD
Post-doctoral research (Molecular Biology), University of Warwick

Colin Garner BTech, BEng, PhD, CEng, MIMechE, MSAE
Reader (Applied Thermodynamics), University of Loughborough

Paul Garner BSc, MIInfSc, FGS
Senior Information Scientist, Cambridge Science Park

D B Gower BSc, PhD, DSc, CChem, FRSC, CBiol, FIBiol
Emeritus Professor of Steroid Biochemistry, University of London

Terry Hamblin MB, ChB, DM, FRCP, FRCPath
Professor of Immunohaematology, University of Southampton

Arthur Jones BSc, MEd, PhD, CBiol, MIBiol
Science Education Consultant

Nigel Jones MS, FRCS
Consultant Vascular Surgeon, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne

Geoffrey Lewis MA, FSA, FMA, HonFMA
formerly Director of Museum Studies, University of Leicester,
past President, International Council of Museums

Derek Linkens BSc(Eng), MSc, PhD, DSc(Eng), ACGI, CEng, FIEE, FInstMC
Research Professor in Systems Engineering, University of Sheffield, formerly Dean of Engineering, University of Sheffield, past President, Institute of Measurement and Control

Jeff Lowe MSc, MCGI, DMS
formerly Principal Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

John Peet BSc, MSc, PhD, CChem, FRSC
formerly Science Coordinator, Guildford College of Further and Higher Education

David Rosevear PhD, CChem, FRSC
formerly Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth

Nigel Robinson BSc, PhD
Post-doctoral research, University of Leicester (Currently teaching Chemistry)

Stephen Taylor BSc, MEng, PhD, ACGI, MIEE
Reader in Electrical Engineering and Electronics, University of Liverpool

David Tyler BSc, MSc, PhD, CertEd, MinstP, CPhys, ACFI
Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

David Walton BSc, PhD
Visiting Lecturer, Dept of Computer Science, University of Durham
Information Systems Consultant

David Watts PhD, FRSC, FInstP, FADM
Professor of Dental Biomaterials Science, University of Manchester Dental School

Tim Wells BSc, PhD
Lecturer in Neuroscience, University of Cardiff

Bill Worraker BSc, PhD
Senior (Software) Development Engineer, Hyprotech UK

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