As some of you may have noticed, I didn’t get round to writing a summary of the final episode of Richard Dawkins’s Channel 4 series “The Genius of Charles Darwin.” The truth is, I’ve only just got round to watching it myself — and forgot to make notes!
To make up for it, I’m going to suggest that you read the excellent summary provided by John over at Homo economicus’ Weblog. You could do a lot worse than add this blog to your feedreader. John has excellent credentials and his blog is always a good, well-informed read.
One thing I would like to talk about regarding this particular episode, however, is the attitude of teachers in British schools to the teaching of Darwin/evolutionary theory. In the course of this episode, we are introduced to a gentleman called Nick Cowan, who is a science teacher at Liverpool’s Blue Coat School (the school isn’t named in the documentary, but this gentleman didn’t take much finding!)
Mr Cowan can be seen in this segment, about seven and a half minutes in, and in the following segment — and if you haven’t already seen the documentary, or if you haven’t guessed, he is a creationist.
Watching, I was utterly dumbfounded. At one point, Dawkins asks the viewer if he/she would want someone like Mr Cowan teaching their children, and it was like being five and at a pantomime all over again! I actually shouted “no!” at the screen, that’s how strongly I felt about this issue.
Choosing my words carefully, I have to say that from where I’m sitting Mr Cowan’s credentials as a science teacher of any kind are completely undermined by the nonsense he spouts during this segment. If I had kids and this man was teaching them I would have been waiting at the school gates on Tuesday morning suggesting very strongly that he should be dismissed.
Now some might argue that because he isn’t teaching creationism as part of the science curriculum (he teaches it in a general studies class), I shouldn’t have an issue with this. But the man is a scientist, for God’s sake! (Yes, that was deliberate.) A scientist believing in God is bad enough, but I can just about accept that. But a scientist (okay, a science teacher — not always the same thing!) believing in creationism?… no, it’s too much of a dichotomy, and whilst he might be able to live with that and rationalise it using the unscientific intelligent design copout, I certainly can’t.
It is extremely depressing. People like Nick Cowan are potentially damaging our future understanding of science and quite possibly contributing to shortages of properly qualified scientists in science-related industries. Evolutionary theory is a fundamental part of biology. It’s vital that these kids have an accurate and truthful understanding of it, that they know just like I know, just like Dawkins knows, just like many, many of my regular readers know that it is a fact. The evidence is so overwhelming that it is now, in spite of what creationists and intelligent design proponents might claim, simply absurd to “believe” otherwise. It is a fact, as Dawkins points out, in the same way that gravity is a fact.
As my former headmaster, Phil Willis MP, says concerning the creationist packs that were sent to five thousand secondary schools in the UK back in 2006,
“There’s little enough time with the school curriculum to deal with real science like climate change, energy and the weather.
“This is quite frankly a distraction that science teachers can well do without.”
In April of 2006, the Royal Society summed it up quite perfectly, however. I leave you with their comment and the first segment of Episode Three of “The Genius of Charles Darwin”.
“Young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs.”
© 2008 Gary William Murning