Schools in Hampshire, England are receiving information on how to incorporate creationism into the classroom. It’s hard to judge whether this is good or bad without seeing the actual materials, but I’m inclined to say it’s probably a bad idea, since it’s supported by people claiming the point is to “analyse different views in a balanced way.” That is the wrong way to teach this stuff.
I incorporate creationism into my introductory biology course, too, but I don’t think I do it quite the way creationists want. What they want is that we be respectful of their views, explain it as an alternative, and nod sagely in the direction of Charles Darwin and Philip Johnson. We got a picture of what they want in Dover, Pennsylvania, when the school board mandated a vague statement about critical thinking that did not actually exercise any critical thought, and that waved a hand in the direction of some fifth-rate books that students ought to examine. No, that’s not how you teach a subject in science.
For instance, I’m teaching a course in transmission genetics right now. If I taught it the creationist way, I would have said something like this:
Uh, this is a course in the theory of genetics. There are some other theories out there, maybe you can find some books on them somewhere, but, ummm, keep an open mind. We teach something about genes getting passed down from generation to generation. That’s enough. There are some other details, I suppose, but right now we should spend some time on preformation and acquired characters, which I suppose are equivalent theories.
And then I could be done and sit down for the rest of the term. It sure would be easier. That’s the thing about creationist “ideas” — they’re so danged fuzzy and unteachable, either falsified already or so incoherent that they’re untestable.
The way I actually teach genetics is essentially a temporal series of criticisms. I start with Darwin’s pangenesis for a little historical background, and tell them this is wrong, and here’s why, criticizing it on the basis of it’s ad hoc nature and its failure to fit experimental observations. Then I introduce Mendel, and we see his view of particulate, quantifiable inheritance, and how it superseded Darwin, and then I show how parts of it are wrong, with experiments that show how it fails, which leads into linkage. And then I show how some of our initial concepts of chromosomal inheritance are wrong, with work done on extrachromosomal factors. Step by step, we build a case for a complex and detailed understanding of the rules of heredity by experiment…where even the experiments that go “wrong” (that is, don’t show us the results we expected from existing theory) help us acquire a deeper understanding of the process.
In a way, it’s a pretty ruthless business. Weak handwaving, of the sort that Darwin was doing in his theory of inheritance, doesn’t cut it and gets chopped apart savagely with the bloody cleaver of experiment. Creationism is far, far weaker than Darwin’s 19th century proposal, so you can guess how it fares.
When the proponents of creationism ask that their nonsense be taught in school, there is an implicit expectation that the scientists will put away their implements of destruction and suspend the savagery while their delicate little flower of unsupportable fluff is discussed reverentially. That is not going to happen. If it did, it wouldn’t be a science class.
A lesson plan that includes creationism should plainly show that experiment and observation have irrefutably demonstrated that it is now a splintered pile of cack-minded gobshite, wrecked by a century and a half of discovery, and that its supporters now are reduced to pathetically feeble rationalizations that rely almost entirely on people’s emotional dependence on the legitimacy of their religious beliefs. A science class isn’t the place to rip into airy-fairy religiosity — we have other venues for that — but it should uncompromisingly demolish every attempt to link natural, material events to pious metaphysics. If a student comes out of such a class believing that maybe there is still something to the Genesis explanation of the origins of life, then the instructor has not done her job. Her job was to explain with science how the world works, and if anyone wants to smuggle in the seven days and the magic fruit tree and the talking snake, it should be so the teacher can show the students that that is not how it works.
I’m willing to grant creationism an hour or two in the classroom, as long as its role is to be an easy victim, to demonstrate how science can be used to eviscerate bad ideas (I also know from experience that most students find that extremely entertaining, as well as informative). From what I’ve seen of most of the creationist curricula advanced by these quacks, that isn’t what they want. To which we have to say, then it isn’t science.