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Battle of Ideas: Debating Darwin by David Perks

Battle of Ideas: Debating Darwin

by David Perks

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55 Min.
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Debating Darwin: Should evolution be taught as the only truth? at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.

The debate over creationism has sprung up as the latest flashpoint in the battle between secularism and religion. While the US has seen extended conflict over the theory of evolution - from the 1925 'Scopes Monkey Trial' to the recent Dover, PA court case '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. The rise of 'Islamic creationism', modeling itself on ID, adds to concerns that Islam poses a special threat to secularism in Britain. Although the Royal Society and much of the scientific establishment have denounced the teaching of creationism, 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'? 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?


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