GLASGOW, September 2 (RIA Novosti), Mark Hirst – Two prominent Nobel Prize winning-scientists have told RIA Novosti they back calls for a ban on pro-creationist materials in Scottish schools that are being distributed by US religious sects.
“The US is now essentially a theocracy. There must be a separation of church and state otherwise there is no democracy,” Sir Harold Kroto, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry told RIA Novosti.
Kroto and fellow Nobel Prize winner Sir John Sulston, who won the 2002 award for Physiology or Medicine are among 600 signatories to a petition being sent to the Scottish Parliament which seeks to ban pro-creationist materials - that aim to dismiss the Theory of Evolution - being taught in schools.
“This is the 21st Century and we now know how old the Earth is we know how we evolved via Darwin and it seems unlikely that nomadic desert people 5000, 2000, 1300 years ago would have developed the Theory of Everything,” Kroto noted.
Both scientists believe there is a place for religious education but in a comparative context.
“I think there is a reasonable case for teaching comparative religion in schools and how they evolved and how they were involved in the development of various societies,” Kroto elaborated.
“If Christianity is the true religion what has it got to fear?” the scientist added.
Kroto stated the only way to protect individual freedom, whether religious or otherwise, was through maintaining a secular society and pointed to the conflict in the Middle East as an example of where extremist religious doctrine can lead.
“In fact only a secular socio-political-educational infrastructure safeguards personal religious freedom as we can see today with ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Kroto said. “This is the extreme example but the way that Islam and Christianity, with the Crusades, took over in mediaeval and earlier times.”
“Creationism has been concocted clearly to muddy the water of how life evolved which is unequivocally evidence based palaeontology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology and biology. What more do people need to recognize the obvious?” the chemist questioned.
Kroto’s comments were backed by Sir John Sulston who stated, that “the importance lies in the distinction between knowledge and belief.”
“Science is a process of observation and experiment, in which we note carefully our findings and try to build them into a comprehensible picture,” Sulston said.
“Crucially, we are always ready to adjust that emerging picture if it turns out to be incompatible with further research. Through the efforts of many scientists this method has led to remarkable advances in our understanding of the world around us and indeed of ourselves; our growing knowledge is both philosophically game changing, and of great practical and economic value,” he noted.
Sulston added that science teaching plays a pivotal role in developing democracies and democratic values.
“No country can expect to thrive if it does not pay attention to good science teaching - needed for all citizens in their democratic decision making, as well as for those who make their careers in science,” a Nobel Prize winner added.
“Belief is entirely different. It relies on received texts, on personal interactions and on a person's developing views throughout life. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, so long as they follow the golden rule of not causing harm to others,” Sulston stressed.
He insisted that any belief based education in schools should be completely distinct from the teaching of science.
“Belief based teaching should be entirely separate from science teaching, because the premises are different and not alternative,” Sulston said. “I think that schools should provide religion and belief studies in which children can learn about and discuss the various belief systems of the world.”
The scientist also said he was surprised to learn that no guidance existed in Scotland to ensure science and religious education were taught separately since, according to the scientist, Scottish education is widely thought to be superior to that in England.
“I was surprised to learn that, whilst south of the border there are clear guidelines requiring science and religious education to be separated, north of the border in Scotland there are none,” he noted.
“This is a shame; in many aspects Scottish education is superior, but now teachers are coming under unacceptable pressure to adopt religious material for use in science lessons. They deserve support, so that they can get on with their proper job of instructing and inspiring children without unwanted distractions. I therefore thought it appropriate, even as an unworthy Sassenach [Scots Gaelic for Englishman], to sign the petition,” Sulston added.
The Scottish Government responded in a statement, that “teachers, head teachers and professional educationalists decide what is taught in Scotland's schools. This longstanding tradition that politicians should not determine the curriculum is highly valued and remains a cornerstone of Scottish education.”