Page last updated at 19:42 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 20:42 UK

'Creationism' biologist quits job

Dinosaur fossil
Evolution and creationism could both be examined, Prof Reiss said

Professor Michael Reiss has quit as director of education at the Royal Society following the controversy over his recent comments on creationism.

Last week Prof Reiss - a Church of England minister - said creationism should be discussed in science lessons if pupils raised the issue.

He was criticised by other scientists - though misquoted as saying creationism should be "taught" in science classes.

The society said some of his comments had been "open to misinterpretation".

This had damaged its reputation.

'Not scientific'

"As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the society, he will step down immediately as director of education - a part-time post he held on secondment," it said in a statement.

"He is to return, full time, to his position as professor of science education at the Institute of Education."

The Royal Society reiterated that its position was that creationism had no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum.

"However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

I believe the Royal Society should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate
Roland Jackson
British Association for the Advancement of Science

It added that the society greatly appreciated the efforts of Prof Reiss, a biologist, in furthering its work in the important field of science education over the past two years and wished him well for the future.

Creationists take a literal interpretation of the Bible's description of the origin of life and reject the Darwinian concept of evolution.

Prof Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimated that about one in 10 children was from a family which supported a creationist rather than evolutionary viewpoint.

He said his experience had led him to believe it was more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution - rather than simply giving the impression that such children were wrong.


Reacting to his stepping down, Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself.

"This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists.

"This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science - something that the Royal Society should applaud."

Dr Roland Jackson, chief executive of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said Prof Reiss's departure was a "real loss".

"I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say , however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society," he said.

Dr Jackson said the organisation "should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate".

Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of the University of Durham, said: "There should be no room for doubt - creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory, and the only reason to mention creationism in schools is to enable teachers to demonstrate why the idea is scientific nonsense and has no basis in evidence or rational thought."

Read a selection of your comments on this story:

At the beginning of the school year, pupils should be briefly told about creationism. It should be pointed out that this is a RELIGIOUS concept and therefore should be taught in religious education only. Only evolution should be taught in mainstream classes, to avoid confusion
Rita Elliott, Kingston/Jamaica

The persecution of this man - leading to his resignation -- is an embarrassing shame. Have we become so biased (or is it fear?) that we simply cannot discuss a dissenting opinion? Is that really the kind of society we want -- one where people are so afraid of persecution that they are unable to express their views? Shame on you!
S. Lee, USA

It is appalling that Professor Reiss has had to resign. Just because these closed-minded scientists cannot prove creationism doesn't mean it isn't a possibility. Evolution has far from been proved either actually. Interesting how the atheists are more intolerant than those they criticse. What are they afraid of?.....
Francesca Quine, London, UK

Yes, I think there should be open discussion about creationism alongside open discussions about evolution. Otherwise it looks as though evolutionists are closed-minded and are afraid of something.
Kerina Jones, Swansea, Wales

It is sad to see a learned professor resign a post over a media whipped misinterpretation of his intent. However, that seems to be the world we live in, with press readily willing to deliberately mis-represent people in order to create higher sales (of papers) or achieve higher viewing numbers. I do find that objectionable. If Creationism is raised in a Science class, it needs to be made plain that a Scientific Theory has far higher requirements than the definition of the word that merely states "conjecture on limited information". A Scientific theory needs to be presented in a fashion whereby it can be proved incorrect by experimentation. Evolution is presented this way, Creationism is not. Hence Evolution is Science, Creationism is faith.
Rich, Bristol

Freedom of speech and belief are rapidly being destroyed in this country. Evolutionists are free to peddle their godless, atheistic bias, and any considered concepts alien to their 'faith' is shut out. That a leading scientist is put into a position where he has to resign is astonishing. Prof. Higgins, in your report says "creationism is completely unsupportable as a theory..." Wrong. There is considerable evidence that creationism is a valid theory. But if one does not want to believe it, 'any port in storm will do.'
Pete Hodge, Skelmersdale, England

If you let the subject of creationism enter science classes, what next? Flat Earth, Geocentrism? When will there be time for real science?
Mark, Malvern UK

It's a shame that the Royal Society has decided that there should not even be any discussion of creationism in classrooms. If a student brings the subject up, what else is to be done? The question can't be ignored, but should be explored in a reasonable manner. There is plenty of evidence that can be brought to bear to support the theory of evolution, so why the fear of getting into that discussion? Is it, perhaps, that creationism is such a hot potato that the Society wants to distance itself from even the debate about it?
Chris, Glenrothes, UK

After studying biology and natural history for years, the strict biblical interpretation of The Creation leaves, to say the least, much to the imagination. It is, however, my firm belief that a Superior Being started the whole thing going (Big Bang). How can nothing produce something?
Guy Tremblay, Ottawa, Canada

I believe the discussion of creationism in the classroom to be a good thing - even if only to show how utterly preposterous the idea is. Science should have consigned religion to the bin, but the capacity for the human mind to grasp on to superstitions and ancient dogma never ceases to amaze. They say money is the root of all evil; the facts say it is religion.
Tom Croft, Belfast

I think creationism should be explained in class as a theory of what happened at the beginning of time. After all, none of our imminent scientists were there at the "big bang" their's is only an "educated" theory. Both should stand side-by-side.
Julie, Warrington

Of course Professor Reiss should not have resigned, and there should most definitely be a discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories at schools. Our children have to learn about all kinds of religious beliefs at school, whether their parents agree with those beliefs or not. Children are not stupid. If they ask questions, they deserve an answer. If the only answer which can be given is that Creationism is "unscientific" then that is a very poor response, and totally diminishes the reputation of scientists.
Jeanette Stewart, Dingwall, Scotland

Teaching creationism in schools, or even giving it a base as a real theory is akin to informing children that the earth is flat. As the majority of rational thinking people will know, this is not the case! Why people feel the need to justify their existence with what is essentially a made up story is beyond my comprehension. There is enough false information to be found on the internet and on the television, so you would expect that the scientific community would strive to eradicate these archaic beliefs so that our children grow up rational and not tainted by religious fanaticism. Instead, we see the leaders of the scientific education community suggesting that a story be debated as an alternative to a sound scientific theory.
Andy White, Weston-s-Mare, North Somerset

This is not a debate between creationism and evolutionary theory. In fact, the debate is between creationism and the whole of science as we know it. If the universe is less than 10,000 years old, then:

all of geology and biology are wrong; the speed of light has been wrongly calculated, so Einsteinian physics is wrong; the distance and speed of other galaxies has been wrongly calculated, meaning that all of astronomy and therefore Newtonian physics are also wrong. For informed people to challenge accepted scientific orthodoxy on the basis of proper evidence is always healthy, but to debunk the whole of science is another.
S. England, Cardiff

As a scientist, I am thoroughly ashamed of my own breed. Professor Reiss' comments were completely taken out of context. Besides, religion is a very personal spiritual experience. Are you telling me that there are no scientists out there (or in the Royal Society for that matter) who aren't Christians? The more pressing question is how do we acknowledge that both the creationism and Darwinism exist in the classroom, rather than ignore the issue. We let the kids decide for themselves how they reconcile scientific facts and religion.
Michelle, Cambridge

I am very disappointed with Prof. Reiss' resignation and more for him than for criticism in itself. We also know that evolutionism and creationism don't exclude each other and this was a good reason to keep on discussing the subject within a scientific context
Giuseppe Ragazzoni, Florence, Italy

It is exactly because people do not understand what makes a science and what makes a pseudo-science (like Creationism) that are so many misconceptions surrounding scientific theories such as evolution. The idea that creationism should be discussed if raised in a science lesson seems reasonable; kids need to understand why it's not a science. For the majority, it would hopefully develop the critical thinking skills necessary for sifting though all the misconceptions we're fed through life. Why the Royal Society failed to support him I cannot understand.
Laura Morgan, Jersey, Channel Islands

That the director of education has been forced out of his post for his comments is ridiculous. His only error was that he remained unclear by failing to state that when creationism is discussed, it should be in such a way as to show that it has no basis in science or truth & should therefore be dismissed.
Jonathan MacDonald, Madrid, Spain

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