Banning creationism in Scottish schools?

Flag-map of Scotland via Wikimedia Commons

A petition calling on the Scottish government to ban creationism from Scottish public schools is to receive a hearing in the Scottish parliament on November 11, 2014. Filed on behalf of the Scottish Secular Society, the petition asks (PDF) the parliament "to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time," adding, "Nothing in this request precludes the discussion of such doctrines in their proper place, as part of the study of ideas, neither does it nor can it infringe on individual freedom of belief."

Such a ban is in place elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In 2007, as NCSE previously reported, the Department for Children, Schools, and Families in England issued a statement explaining that creationism and "intelligent design" are not legitimate scientific theories and "therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study." Subsequent actions by the government added evolution to the national curriculum at the primary level and required that free schools and church academies in England — the equivalent of charter schools in the United States — teach evolution and not creationism.

As the Glasgow Herald (August 30, 2014) reported, the petition to enact a similar ban in Scotland was endorsed by three Nobel laureates, Harold Kroto, Richard Roberts, and John Sulston. Roberts commented, "This is really an important issue. One should be teaching facts to children, not religion." A spokesperson for the Scottish government, however, replied, "Teachers, head teachers and professional educationalists decide what is taught in Scotland's schools. This longstanding tradition that politicians should not determine the curriculum is highly valued and remains a cornerstone of Scottish education."

Part of the impetus for the petition was recent creationist incursions into the Scottish classroom. In 2013, for example, as the Telegraph (September 13, 2013) reported, it was discovered that a school chaplain in East Kilbride distributed creationist literature calling evolution a myth. The petitioners fear that such incidents may have been just the tip of the iceberg. As the Reverend Michael Roberts, writing on behalf of the British Centre for Science Education, told (PDF) the parliament, "It is almost impossible to determine the extent to which such creationism has influenced classroom teaching."

"NCSE applauds the effort to ensure that students in Scotland can learn science without the interference of creationists," NCSE's executive director Ann Reid commented. "It's entirely appropriate for the government to ensure that science and only science is taught in the science classroom. Without official guidance from the Scottish government, the risk is that schools will fail to present evolution to their students altogether, or present it alongside a pseudoscientific alternative such as 'creation science' or 'intelligent design,' or fail to present it forthrightly — as happens all too often in the United States."