I had to read the headline twice, because at first I was afraid they had it backward: schools in the UK are now banned from teaching creationism as science. The fine print: this applies to existing and future “free” schools or academies, which means state-funded academies, which function much like charter schools do here, as well as state-funded free schools that operate independently and are often set up by non-profit organizations. That means private and parochial schools can keep teaching creationism, but everyone else is mandated to “provide a broad and balanced curriculum,” which “prevents the teaching of creationism as evidence based theory.”
Creationism isn’t science, but has been masquerading as such for a long, long time. Some of us who went to school in the U.S. might remember learning about the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a teacher named John Scopes was found guilty and fined for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school. The trial was a big deal for a few reasons, namely putting the modernist v. fundamentalist debate front and center, raising the question of whether evolution and religion could be compatible, and whether the Bible superseded all other knowledge. The case was also famous for pitting William Jennings Bryan against Clarence Darrow in the courtroom. Scopes was found guilty and had to pay a $100 fine, but he later won on a technical appeal. The law Scopes broke was called the Butler Law, the first anti-evolution education legislation, and the ACLU backed Scopes when he got busted for teaching from the textbook Civic Biology, which described evolution. You can learn all you need to know about the trial via Drunk History (below).
The UK government quietly adopted the new clauses last week, providing a definition of creationism and clarifying that even within the Church of England and the Catholic Church, it’s a minority view. Secularists have long campaigned for the ban—they first got it to apply to future free schools and academies, but the new ruling applies it to existing schools as well. Starting in September, the UK’s national curriculum will “include a module on evolution on the primary level.” The wording pretty explicit when it comes to what isn’t allowed: “‘Creationism’…is any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution.” It goes on to say that creationism “does not accord with the scientific consensus or the very large body of established scientific evidence; nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory.”
Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson would agree, though as we know from the Ken Ham debate and from the folks who have censored and/or released statements every Monday taking issue with whatever science explored in the previous night’s episode of Cosmos, that not everyone will be happy with this move. But as a teacher and science nerd, I have to give props to the UK for this one, as well as a big ol’ high-five to science.