Not science

Archbishop of Canterbury strikes a blow for reason

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- it is not often that one of the pillars of the religious establishment strikes a blow against obscurantism. Which is why the archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican church, must be complimented for coming down on the side of reason in the controversy over intelligent design. The debate, which has been on for a while, is whether the theory of intelligent design (a thin euphemism for the biblical version of the genesis of life, the universe and everything) should be taught alongside scientific theories like those of evolution and natural selection in science courses. Some states in the us allowed the inclusion of intelligent design in science classes, but courts moved swiftly against this retrograde move.

The archbishop, Rowan Williams, makes a simple point: that creationist theories should not be taught in science courses, because they are not science. The biblical narrative of creation follows no standard of investigation -- evidence, verifiability, and, indeed, falsifiability -- that is required of a theory to aspire to the status of science, as the geneticist Richard Dawkins argued in a swinging riposte to those who said that students had to be given the opportunity to make choices. That is not to say that people are not free to believe that a god of some description created the universe and life. It is only to assert that the epistemological status of such beliefs does not lie in the realm of science. They could unexceptionably be taught in optional religious studies classes.

Williams's intervention in the debate is particularly welcome given that a recent survey in the uk has shown that an inordinate number of science students from varying religious backgrounds -- in both schools and universities -- believe in creationist theories and aggressively campaign for their inclusion in science curriculum. Such interventions in various other parts of the world would be more than welcome. Closer home, responsible representatives of the religious establishment would be feted in rationalist circles if they pointed out that persistent demands for the inclusion of courses like Vedic mathematics, as a part of a so-called value-based system of education in academic curriculum, are thoroughly misplaced. Again, the point is that religion may have a place in the social universe of a people, but to conflate it with scientific knowledge is dangerous.

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