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UK’s top scientists tell the Welsh Government: ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’

Around 50 of the UK’s leading scientists and science organisations have urged the Welsh Government to ensure that students are taught evolution at primary school and to explicitly ban the teaching of creationism as science in all Welsh schools, in an open letter published today.

In the letter, 46 scientists and educators including Sir David Attenborough, Humanists UK and its President Professor Alice Roberts, the British Science Association, the Association for Science Education, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Revd Professor Michael Reiss, and other scientists and science commentators, have expressed their concerns to the Welsh Government over its draft national curriculum, which does not see evolution taught until ages 14-15, and currently allows for creationism and pseudoscience to be taught as science in all schools.


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The letter, which received coverage in BBC News Online, has been organised by Humanists UK, which ran the successful ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign in England that led to a ban on creationism being taught as science, and which saw evolution being added to the national curriculum for primary schools. It is now reviving the campaign for Wales.

The letter says:

‘As scientists and educators we believe that good science teaching is vital to the education and development of all children, wherever they live in the UK. We note the Welsh Government is currently consulting on a new national curriculum that will drastically overhaul education in Wales, including science education. The new Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE) doesn’t explicitly prohibit presenting creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, and evolution is only mentioned once (and only at secondary level at that).

‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. It is a fundamental concept that describes and explains the development of the diversity of life on the planet. Pupils should be introduced to it early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else. What’s more, without an explicit ban on teaching creationism, intelligent design, and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum, when it is vital children in Wales are not exposed to pseudoscientific doctrines masquerading as science.

‘State schools in England, including primary schools, are already required to teach evolution ‘as a comprehensive, coherent, and extensively evidenced theory’, and ‘must not allow any view or theory to be taught as evidence-based if it is contrary to scientific or historical evidence or explanations’. We urge the Welsh Government to introduce the same requirements in Wales.’

The currently proposed curriculum reforms will see more flexibility given to schools over what is taught, and Humanists UK is concerned that teaching creationism as science could become possible where currently it is more difficult. This campaign, if successful, would prevent that possibility.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented: ‘Under the current draft Welsh national curriculum, there is no ban on teaching creationism as science. Coupled with the fact that the curriculum will allow schools much more flexibility over what they teach, this is very worrying, as it could make it much easier for a school, such as a religious school, to openly teach creationism as science. This would deny Welsh students the right to a high quality, evidence-based education that enables them to understand how life came to be, to reason scientifically, and to be equipped to tackle misinformation in everyday life.

‘We urge the Welsh Government to follow a similar approach to that in England which introduces the teaching of evolution in primary school and makes it explicit that schools cannot teach creationism as scientific fact.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘The signatories to this letter are united in calling for children in Wales to learn about evolution from a young age so that they have a thorough understanding of how life came to be. They also agree it is crucial for students to learn scientific reasoning so that they can challenge pseudoscience and other types of misinformation which they will encounter in their day to day lives.

‘We hope the Welsh Government will make these changes so that young people are best prepared for life in 21st century Wales.’

Signatories to the letter:

Organisations:
Shaun Reason, Chief Executive, Association for Science Education (ASE)
Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive, British Science Association
Dr Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE)
Simon Barrow, Director, Ekklesia
Kathy Riddick, Wales Humanists

Individuals:
Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE FRS FinstP
Dr Iolo ap Gwyn FRMS
Professor Peter Atkins
Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS
Dr Susan Blackmore
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore FBA
Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS FRSC FMedSci MAE
Professor Paul Braterman
Dr Helena Cronin
Marianne Cutler, Director, Curriculum Innovation, ASE
Dr Helen Czerski
Professor Richard Dawkins FRS FRSL
Professor Athene Donald DBE FRS
Professor Robin Dunbar FBA FRAI
Professor Sir Anthony Epstein CBE FRS FMedSci
Dr Dylan Evans
Dr Diana Fleischman
Professor Chris French CPsychol FBPsS FRSA
Professor Dame Anne Glover DBE FRS FRSE FASM FRSGS
Professor Janice Griffiths CSciTeach, Co-chair, ASE
Dr Julian Huppert FRSC
Professor Laurence D Hurst FMedSci FRS, Director of the Milner Centre for Evolution and President of the Genetics Society
Professor Saiful Islam FRSC
Professor Steve Jones FRS
Professor Armand Leroi
Professor Pat McKeown OBE FREng
Richard Needham CSciTeach, Chair of Trustees, ASE
Professor Mark Pallen
Simon Quinnell, Chair-elect, ASE
Reverend Professor Michael Reiss FRSB FRSA AcSS
Viscount Matt Ridley  DL FRSL FMedSci
Professor Alice Roberts
Professor Adam Rutherford
Angela Saini
Alom Shaha
Dr Simon Singh MBE
Professor Fred Spoor
Dr Geertje van Keulen
Mary Whitehouse CSciTeach
Dr James Williams CSciTeach FRSB FLS
Professor Lewis Wolpert CBE FRS FRSL FMedSci

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on science education.

Read more about the ‘Teach evolution, not creationism!’ campaign.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services, benefiting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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