Reiss resigns as Royal Society stifles debate on evolution
Published: 23 September 2008 (GMT+10)
It dared to say that the scientific hierarchy was carrying out an academic persecution—of anyone who questioned evolution. As proof, it interviewed scientists and science teachers who had been sacked for supporting intelligent design (ID) or creationism.
Critics of the film claimed—without proof—that the scientists interviewed were not fired because of their views on evolution.
This week, in Britain, we have had the highest profile proof that even a hint that your views on evolution might differ from those of the scientific establishment is enough to force you out. Prof. Michael Reiss, an evolutionist and the Royal Society’s director of education, resigned under pressure (given the push) within a couple of days of merely suggesting that creationism and ID could be discussed in classrooms—even if it was in order to explain why they were, in his view, wrong.2
Immediately, atheistic scientists called for him to be ousted, claiming he was wanting creationism to be taught as an alternative to evolution. This was not his position, so he was not pushed out because of what he actually said, but because other people misrepresented what he had said. The Royal Society should have defended Reiss against those who were twisting his words, but instead they gave in, thus saving their own reputation for evolutionary orthodoxy.
Note, at the risk of repetition, that Reiss is an evolutionist himself. He was simply saying it was OK for pupils to express their own opinions. He said, ‘There is much to be said for allowing students to raise any doubts they have—hardly a revolutionary idea in science teaching—and doing one’s best to have a genuine discussion.’3
But doubts about evolution are not allowed. Scientific evidence that counters it is ruled inadmissible. So, despite his obvious support for evolution, Reiss received a torrent of abuse from other top-level scientists and members of the Society for even suggesting that evolution could be debated.
Funny, I thought education was all about training children to think for themselves—not brainwashing them. Yet creationists are the ones these scientists accuse of wanting to brainwash students. For example, the notorious atheist Professor Richard Dawkins has likened teaching children creationism to a form of ‘child abuse’. Reiss had the temerity to suggest that Dawkins was wrong: ‘This is an inappropriate and insulting use of the phrase “child abuse” as anybody who has ever worked—as incidentally I have over many years—with children who have been either sexually or physically abused, knows’3 … ’I don’t think that Richard Dawkins would probably at the moment be an ideal teacher for teaching classrooms where a high proportion of the children come from families that hold creationism beliefs.’4
But Dawkins doesn’t like being told he is wrong. In the BBC’s flagship Panorama science programme this week, he once again spouted his vicious view that anyone who disagrees with him on evolution is ‘ignorant, stupid or insane.’
Hmmm. I doubt evolution. I studied biology up to A level, went on to get a 1st class honours degree and won a prize for the best academic performance in my subject at university. It’s pretty hard to do that if one is ignorant or stupid. So, despite never having had any questioning of my mental health by my doctor, family or acquaintances, I must be insane, according to Dawkins’ criterion in this highly unscientific argument against creation.
I’m not alone, either. Since 2001, over 700 Ph.D.-level scientists have signed a ‘Dissent from Darwinism’ statement.5 And that’s just those who feel secure enough to express their dissent publicly. Hundreds of others around the globe keep quiet because they fear for their jobs. And on top of that, there are thousands of scientists around the world who not only disagree with Darwinism but actively support creationism—see for example CMI’s list of scientists alive today who accept the biblical account of creation.
Coming back to the Royal Society’s move against Michael Reiss, let’s look more closely at why he was given the elbow. Guess what? It turns out that Reiss was not just a professor but a clergyman. As The Observer noted (14 September): ‘Reiss, an ordained Church of England minister, has since alleged he was misquoted. Nevertheless, several Royal Society fellows say his religious views make him an inappropriate choice for the post.’6
So now being a Christian makes someone ‘inappropriate’ for a scientific post, despite brilliant scientific credentials!? Yet many secularists say Christians are not being discriminated against in our society.
Richard Dawkins, who just happens to be another member of the Royal Society, said, ‘A clergyman in charge of education for the country’s leading scientific organisation—it’s a Monty Python sketch.’7 Of course he fails to mention that there are other leading members of the Royal Society who are eminent scientists as well as ordained ministers. And that many clergymen were founders of the Society (even Darwin was trained in theology).
Another Royal Society member, Sir Harry Kroto, had demanded Reiss’s head, saying, ‘I warned the president of the Royal Society that his [Reiss’s] was a dangerous appointment a year ago. I did not realise just how dangerous it would turn out to be.’6
So, there you have it. Believing in God is ‘dangerous’. Ever since a Christian was appointed to a high post in the Royal Society, the knives were out. The atheist lobby was just looking for an opportunity to give him the heave-ho. And if ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler’ Richard Dawkins was not pleased, it seems the Society had to bow to his wishes.
The Independent reported that IVF pioneer Robert Winston criticised the Royal Society for condemning someone who was only trying to engage with the growing number of children in Britain who come from deeply religious families holding creationist beliefs. ‘I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself,’ said Lord Winston. ‘This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science—something that the Royal Society should applaud.’8
I’ll end with this quote on evolution from Dr Russell Carlson, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia:9
‘To limit teaching to only one idea is a disservice to students because it is unnecessarily restrictive, dishonest, and intellectually myopic.’
- This was despite screenings being curtailed due to a lawsuit from an opponent. http://movies.yahoo.com/mv/news/va/20080423/120899894300.html Return to text.
- Michael Reiss, Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum? The BA Festival of Science, Liverpool, 11 September 2008, http://www1.the-ba.net/bafos/press/showtalk2.asp?TalkID=301 (link no longer active). Return to text.
- James Randerson, Teachers should tackle creationism, says science education expert, Guardian, 11 September 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/sep/11/creationism.education. Return to text.
- Aislinn Simpson and Richard Grey, Creationism should be taught in science classes says expert, Telegraph.co.uk, 12 September 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/education/2798162/Creationism-should-be-taught-in-science-classes-says-expert.html Return to text.
- A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, http://www.DissentFromDarwin.org Return to text.
- Robin McKie, Creationism call divides Royal Society, Guardian.co.uk | TheObserver, 14 September 2008, http://guardian.co.uk/science/2008/sep/14/religion. Return to text.
- Dawkins and Winston clash in Reiss row, The First Post, 17 September2008,
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/people,1396,dawkins-and-winston-clash-in-royal-society-row,45333 Return to text.
- Steve Connor, Creationist row forces scientist to quit Royal Society post, The Independent, 17 September 2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/creationist-row-forces-scientist-to-quit-royal-society-post-933031.html. Return to text.
- <http://www.facultylinc.com/personal/facoffice.nsf/AllStaffbyStaffID/rcarlson?OpenDocument> Return to text.