Britain vs US on creationism

There is a minor controversy going on in the UK now, concerning Michael Reiss, the education director of the Royal Society. One of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies put an Anglican clergyman in charge of its education concerns, and the result was Reiss coming out in sympathy with bringing up creationism and intelligent design in the classroom. Many critics, including some within the Royal Society, want Reiss fired.

The interesting bit is that Reiss has no problem with evolution, and his expressed support for creationism in the science classroom was classic liberal inclusivism. He was concerned that fundamentalist students were being tuned off to science when their beliefs did not get so much as a mention in school. Nothing in Reiss’s statements contradict the mushy but harmless Church of England clergy stereotype. Some of Reiss’s critics, however, are arguing that a clergyperson was inappropriate for education director of the Royal Society in the first place.

It’s hard not to think of the contrast with the United States. Here, someone like Reiss would generally be ideal as a spokesperson for science education. This is very much a Christian nation, and scientific and educational institutions continually suffer from the perception that they undermine religion. We have to have liberal clergy speak up for evolution education all the time. They’re the only ones who can say something relevant against the creationists, which is that Christianity and evolution are compatible. (Never mind whether this is strictly true. This is politics.) Sure, in the US we also face the risk of liberal clergy getting all fuzzy and inclusive. But that’s a risk we have to take.

Britain is clearly different. You actually have people suggesting a clergyperson should not be the education director for a major scientific society. Worlds apart.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University