Royal Society issues statement on evolution

A statement opposing the misrepresentation of evolution in schools to promote particular religious beliefs was published on April 11, 2006, by the Royal Society of London, the United Kingdom's national academy of science. Describing evolution as "the best explanation for the development of life on Earth from its beginnings and for the diversity of species" and as "rightly taught as an essential part of biology and science courses in schools, colleges and universities across the world," the statement also emphasizes the importance of evolution in understanding and solving problems of practical importance in medicine and agriculture.

Acknowledging that "[m]any people both believe in a creator and accept the scientific evidence for how the universe, and life on Earth, developed," the statement remarks that "some versions of creationism are incompatible with the scientific evidence, citing young-earth creationism. As for "intelligent design": "Its supporters make only selective reference to the overwhelming scientific evidence that supports evolution, and treat gaps in current knowledge which, as in all areas of science, certainly exist -- as if they were evidence for a 'designer'. ... The theory of evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence; the theory of intelligent design is not."

The statement mentions possible roles for teaching about creationism as part of religious education and in order to illuminate the nature of science. It also suggests that students "have a right to learn how science advances, and that there are, of course, many things that science cannot yet explain, adding, "Some may wish to explore the compatibility, or otherwise, of science with various religious beliefs, and they should be encouraged to do so." "However," the statement concludes, "young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge and understanding in order to promote particular religious beliefs."

In a press release, David Read, Vice-President of the Royal Society, said, "We felt that it would be timely to publish a clear statement on evolution, creationism and intelligent design as there continues to be controversy about them in the UK and other countries." The Royal Society's statement follows less than a month after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, told a newspaper that he opposed the teaching of creationism in science classrooms, and about six months after the president of the Royal Society, Lord May, criticized "intelligent design" -- which he described as a "disguised variant" of creationism -- in the course of his fifth and final anniversary address to the Society.