The announcement that Turkey is to remove teaching about human evolution from secondary education has reignited debate about the relationship between Science and Religion in the twenty-first century.
The official line from the Turkish Government is that this material may be confusing or damaging for secondary school pupils, and is best left for university courses. However, given that a comparatively high percentage of the population still do not go to higher education, and obviously many of those who do opt for subjects not involving Biology, this is a worrying stance, and presumably, the majority of young people will not cover Darwinian theory as part of their formal education. Whatever the governmental spin might be, the material is being side-stepped, rather than deferred.
Nevertheless, it would be a grave mistake to suggest that similar issues could not arise in the United Kingdom. Although the official policy is that schools in receipt of direct Government funding may not present Creationist theories as facts, there is evidence that this is still happening.
Furthermore, children who are home-schooled are not legally required to receive any teaching on evolution, and children who are educated in “illegal” schools are beyond the reach of any regulation and protection when it comes to curriculum content.
Therefore, although we are not being faced with an entire generation of citizens going through the educational system without tackling Darwin, a significant number of young people in British society will most certainly experience such a gap. This is not just crucial in terms of dignity, autonomy, and allowing children free access to information, as well as an opportunity to develop their own beliefs and conclusions, but it also may have practical consequences. The fact is that Biology cannot be taught effectively with key bits edited out. Not only will these young people potentially have their future career and educational opportunities impaired, they may also be in a worse position if they ever have to make medical choices about genetic diseases, , or political and consumer decisions about genetically modified food. Undoubtedly, knowledge is power, and denying students such knowledge is essentially disempowering them.
At the same time, it is equally true that children have a right to education free from state indoctrination and that in a liberal democratic society minority groups and beliefs must be respected. It should be borne in mind that he faith groups rejecting Darwinian theory would see themselves as imparting knowledge, and regard the scientific consensus as a distortion of reality.
The questions around when and how the State should step in and interfere with parental choices about a child’s upbringing are highly complex, and a source of constant debate. However, in a democracy, they have to be resolved by political decision-making and the rule of law. So we are bound to ask why are children in state funded schools still having forms of Creationism presented to them as scientific theory, and why are any children in unregistered schools? In both of these cases the legal position could not be clearer. Therefore, why is it not being properly implemented?
It is tempting to get side-tracked into a never-ending conversation about clashing ideas and worldviews when it comes to Creationism v Evolution. It is also easy for positions to become stereotyped or confused. Religious people are often presented as opposing evolution but this is completely misleading, as a huge number of people with a faith embrace evolution and the scientific claims which lie behind it. Some religious people reject evolution, but many do not, and both insiders and outsiders can see acceptance or rejection of evolution as a talisman, something which leads faith and identity to either stand or fall.
Arguably, none of this is especially helpful, but for present purposes it is not the key issue. The circus ring is elsewhere. The point is that our legal and political system have set down certain parameters within which state schools must operate, and within which all school based education (private or publicly funded) must work. These limits are clearly not being respected at present, and children are therefore not receiving the level of education and protection to which we have collectively decided they are entitled. To sum up, there is good reason to be concerned about recent developments in Turkey, as learning about evolution and Biology more widely is crucially important. However, our concern should also lead us to look at the position closer to home.
- Are Turkey’s schools dropping evolution and teaching jihad? (BBC News – 22/08/17)
- Education in Turkey (World Education News and Reviews – 04/04/17)
- Creationism still taught in faith schools despite Government funding threat (The Telegraph – 02/05/17)
- Home education (Gov.Uk website)
- The full extent of unregistered schools in England revealed (Independent 18/02/17)
- How genetic conditions are inherited (NHS website)
- Scientists apply for GM wheat trial in UK (BBC News – 04/11/16)
- Guide on Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights: Right to education (PDF)
- The Scientific Case Against Evolution (Institute for Creation Research)
- #BBCtrending: The man who says he can ‘destroy’ evolution (BBC News – 03/06/16)
- Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not ‘a magician with a magic wand’ (Independent – 28/10/14)
- Creationist views ‘risk going unchallenged in schools’ (The Telegraph – 28/01/16)