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Royal Society "Creationist" Resigns 658

Posted by kdawson
from the gap-resistent-to-bridging dept.
Chris_Keene writes in to let us know that the Prof. Michael Reiss, who recently caused a storm with comments about teaching creationism in schools, has resigned from his post as director of education at the Royal Society in the UK. This news coincides with word out of the Anglican church that it is ready to apologize to Charles Darwin, 150 years after it poured scorn on his theory of evolution by natural selection. "The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas. It will call 'anti-evolutionary fervor' an 'indictment' on the Church."
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Royal Society "Creationist" Resigns

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:30PM (#25031911)

    Actually, no, it was survival by the fittest.

    • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:35PM (#25031963)

      Creationists Evolved, Evolutionists were created....

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:49PM (#25032145)

        Creationists Evolved, Evolutionists were created....

        Other way around.

        Creationists exist because a clever human engineered a story ("In the beginning...") that could propagate from believer to believer in spite of of evidence to the contrary.

        Evolutionists exist because "evolution through natural selection" is the theory that has survived a repeated process of that has rendered (thus far) all competing theories extinct.

        If a memetic equivalent of an asteroid strikes (say, a sequence of DNA from a 200-year-old Galapagos Tortoise, that, when translated from base-4 to base-2 and divided into 8-bit bytes, produces ASCII for "This being copyright God, Inc., 4004 BC, and limited license is hereby given to this being to go forth and multiply", and said sequence is discovered before the invention of self-propagating genetically-engineered Galapagos-Tortoise-specific retroviruses), we evolutionists will be happy to reconsider our views. The creationists, not so much.

        • Wow, cool. So the KJV is the original word of God.

  • What a waste. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:31PM (#25031915) Homepage Journal

    More than anything, this is an indictment on the scientists who pressured the good doctor out of his posting. He was bullied out for a misquote.

    Unfortunately, rather than engage in a reasonable debate over the unreasonable subject, he rationally decided to avoid the controversy completely by leaving.

    No matter what, the Royal Society is the loser here. Once they realized they were debating a misquote, the reasonable approach would have been to end the matter. Instead, they let the issue fester until a good man stepped down with a now-tarnished reputation.

    • Re:What a waste. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:37PM (#25031973)
      I don't believe that anti-religious fervor is reaching the point where it's unreasonable. I refuse to believe it, and I suspect you of heresy for even saying it.
    • Re:What a waste. (Score:5, Informative)

      by mdwh2 (535323) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:45PM (#25032095) Journal

      Agreed, and just for reference (since Slashdot, along with the rest of the media, seem unwilling to link to them):

      Here is what he originally said: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2008/sep/11/michael.reiss.creationism [guardian.co.uk]

      Here is the clarification just one day later: http://royalsociety.org/news.asp?id=8004 [royalsociety.org]

      I think he expressed his views rather poorly in what was said originally, making it easy to misread unless you look very closely. And it was reasonable to express criticism over that. But the media should not ignore the clarification after it has been made.

      Sure, there's a valid argument that it's better not to mention creationism at all (even to debunk it and explain why it isn't science, as Reiss was suggesting), but let's be clear: he was not advocating teaching creationism.

      To suggest otherwise is just the sort of thing IDers want - do we really want them to be able to say "Leading scientists support teaching creationism in science lessons"? Of course not, which is why this myth should not be propagated.

      • by irenaeous (898337) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:56PM (#25032217) Journal

        You make this great point when you say:.

        To suggest otherwise is just the sort of thing IDers want. . .

        The effective firing of this man also plays into the hands of the "IDers". They can now decry the persecution of this individual (you know they will) and get good millage out of the argument because they would not have be totally wrong in this case. The Royal Society should not have caved in this way.

        • by mdwh2 (535323) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:37PM (#25032695) Journal

          They can now decry the persecution of this individual (you know they will) and get good millage out of the argument because they would not have be totally wrong in this case.

          That's an excellent point.

          And not just IDers, but also anyone who wants to paint atheists as being unreasonable - for example, I see that the Daily Mail are already at it: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1056715/Top-scientist-supported-teaching-creationism-schools-hounded-Royal-Society.html [dailymail.co.uk] .

          For non-UK readers - the Daily Mail is a conservative right wing tabloid. Whilst it doesn't seem to support Intelligent Design, it is very pro-Christian, and anti-atheism, and this is just the story it loves: look at the references to being "hounded" after a "campaign" by "militant atheists" / "atheist scientists". And the sad thing is that, for once, I can't fault their story for being misleading - despite the biased phrasing, it's one of the few media outlets to be reporting what actually happened.

    • by nietsch (112711) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:58PM (#25032241) Homepage Journal

      While his message was one of tolerance, he was also an ordained priest (or whatever those men in dresses call it). He just showed them why it is not such a good idea to put a religious person at the head of a science organisation. As Richard Dawkins suggested, he could have given up his religious position too, that would have been much more convincing.

      • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:24PM (#25032537)

        He just showed them why it is not such a good idea to put a religious person at the head of a science organisation

        Because people will attack him irrationally? That doesn't make sense.

        he could have given up his religious position too, that would have been much more convincing

        How would that have been more convincing? People thought he was asking to teach creationism in school, which he wasn't, and they were refusing to believe the truth even when the option for evidence was out there. Why would his stepping down from his position as a priest have been any more effective? Because scientists are taking an irrational stance towards religious people?

        The point of the matter is that this is a classic example of intolerance because of his beliefs, not his performance. He was put at the head of the science organization for a reason, so presumably he was a good scientist. Why do his religious beliefs and practices suddenly matter if not because of an irrational bias against religion?

      • by yali (209015) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:33PM (#25032643)

        Richard Dawkins is an atheist who believes that science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, so it makes sense that he'd think that. But that is not a consensus view among scientists. Plenty of other people think that science is compatible with religion and spirituality because they address different concerns.

        Unless the Royal Society is now taking positions on the acceptability of religion, there should be no consideration given, pro or con, to the religious beliefs or affiliations of its officers.

        • by JerkBoB (7130) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:38PM (#25033713)

          Plenty of other people think that science is compatible with religion and spirituality because they address different concerns.

          I'm not sure who these "plenty of other people" are, exactly, but I suspect they're not real scientists if they're comfortable with allowing dogmatic religion to coexist alongside science.

          For many folks, religion is a nice story about what happens when we die. And some stuff about not being assholes to each other while we're alive. That's not incompatible with science.

          The problem comes in when religious nutbars (a certain vice-presidential candidate comes to mind) push an agenda that is hostile to scientific evidence which contradicts their worldview. And those people have become an increasingly vocal presence in US politics.

          Please don't forget that it was only 3 years ago, in 2005, that we had serious Federal (!!) court proceedings to decide whether or not a creationist worldview could be taught alongside scientific theory as an equivalently valid explanation for the existence of life as we know it.

          That is scary, scary stuff. Maybe not scary if you believe in that crap, but imagine if a court had ruled that ALL creation "theories" had to be taught alongside evolution. Are you comfortable with the idea of your children being taught that the world came from fragments of a proto-god's egg? Or that we are effectively a supernatural wet spot after an orgy among creator gods? I could go on for a while, or even make up shit on my own. Where do you draw the line?

          The bottom line is that science and religion are compatible in the same sense that science and literature are compatible. If we all agreed on that, the world would be a much less crazy place.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by syousef (465911)

          Plenty of other people think that science is compatible with religion and spirituality because they address different concerns.

          People who say that usually do so due to pressure to be politically correct and/or to justify irrational beliefs that they themselves hold.

          No spiritual or moral code can be valid if it is inconsist with the truth. The truth is best understood via the scientific method. Sure if it's not provable or ther is some leeway for interpreting the truth, there is room for a moral code and yo

      • by GospelHead821 (466923) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:35PM (#25032667)

        You are correct that it would have been convincing if renouncing and denouncing religion altogether were his aim. Clearly, that is not the case. Nor does the tone of his resignation suggest any disrespect for the theory, practice, or establishment of science. I am quite confident that this man retains both a respect for the scientific method and also his religious faith. He resigned to avoid the appearance of impropriety within the scientific community. Most probably, his church does not feel as though his involvement in science tarnished his faith. On the other hand, this incident has caused the scientific community to question his credentials as a scientist. He resigned from the community that was at odds with what he had said.

    • Re:What a waste. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yali (209015) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:59PM (#25032271)
      Agreed. If you read what Reiss actually said [guardian.co.uk], it is clear that he was NOT advocating for giving creationism any scientific legitimacy in the classroom. Rather, he was giving some very sound and humane advice for how teachers can respectfully reach students who arrive in the classroom as creationists. Among his suggestions:
      • Students should be encouraged to voice their doubts so that teachers can deal with them in the open
      • Educators should see their role as making sure that students know the scientific methods, theories and evidence, even if the students' beliefs conflict with the science
      • Don't expect your students to abandon their long-held beliefs soon, or even at all. Hold them responsible for what they know, not what they believe

      Everything in his essay seems reasonable to me. The fuss arose in part, I think, because attacks on the scientific community have forced scientists into such a bunker mentality that they acted irrationally (i.e., not like scientists)

    • by mangu (126918) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:40PM (#25032729)

      He was bullied out for a misquote.

      Well, that's not what his blog in The Guardian [guardian.co.uk] says. He says: "I feel that creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view".

      Anyone who feels that creationism is not a misconception has no place in the direction of such an important scientific body as the Royal Society. Even if he feels that students who have been raised by creationist parents will not change their point of view easily, that's no reason to tolerate such nonsense in a science class. What next, will he say that one must accept criminal behavior from students that have been raised by criminal parents?

      The correct procedure would be, in my opinion, not to accept discussion of creationist nonsense, but to explain why evolution is a scientifically correct theory.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sockatume (732728)
        I think a distinction should be made. A misconception is usually small, but a "world view" is a very entrenched thing that can be hard to force someone to reassess. Creationism deserves a different approach than a failure to grasp valence bond theory. He's not asking that we respect the creationism worldview, just that we acknowledge it as a sprawling mess of study, and take it on appropriately.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by againjj (1132651)
        Assume both the following are true:
        1) Creationism is a misconception, and
        2) Creationism is a world view.
        When discussing creationism, which of the two is more likely to fuel conflict and which is going to foster understanding? When you have a group of people with a world view that differs from yours, discussion will leave both you and them more enlightened, even if they are wrong. In another context, if certain groups view Americans in a particular (wrong) way, it does not work to say that they are wron
  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@davidge ... k ['co.' in gap]> on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:33PM (#25031939) Homepage

    The contemporary militant Tooth Fairy jihadist movement [today.com] continues to be disrespected by these scientific infidels.

  • romancer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Romancer (19668) <romancer&deathsdoor,com> on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:38PM (#25031987) Journal

    The statement quotes Reiss saying, "Creationism has no scientific basis."

    He goes on to say, "However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.

    "I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'," he goes on to say, "this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It seems to me that his comments were that children who believed in creationism should be taught the difference in a way that wouldn't raise their defenses. This is a good thing, and there's no argument about that. When you're an educator, you need to find methods to teach everyone, not just those who are receptive to what you have to say. In effect, he wanted to teach the difference between religious teaching and science, and that's a good thing for everyone since religion and science aren't mutually exclu
      • Re:romancer (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:59PM (#25032257)

        It seems to me that his comments were that children who believed in creationism should be taught the difference in a way that wouldn't raise their defenses.

        That's exactly what he was saying.

        If you approach someone with a holier-than-thou attitude or mock them, they get pissed off and the discussion becomes a personal conflict. If you insult (not "state something that conflicts with", but actually insult) something that they regard as part of their culture, it becomes a political conflict.

        Once that happens, none of the logic you throw at someone is going to make a bit of difference.

        If you want to fight someone, insult them. If you want to convince someone, educate them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by couchslug (175151)

          " If you insult (not "state something that conflicts with", but actually insult) something that they regard as part of their culture, it becomes a political conflict."

          To the dedicated religionist, there is no difference between disagreement and blasphemy.

  • by pvjr (184849) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:45PM (#25032093) Homepage

    Whether he was right or wrong, as I understamd it, A scientist should be able to state his ideas without fear of reprisals such as that.

    Its the scientific version of the Church vs Galileo.

    • ... and it's fallacious. Make it seem like someone who advocates creationism or intelligent design is under attack and that person garners sympathy, but that doesn't make their point of view a valid scientific argument. It's perfectly fine and reasonable in the scientific community for someone to be religious and have religious beliefs. When you start saying that it's okay to pass religion off as a counter argument to science, well then the scientific community has the right to question your credentials

  • WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by achenaar (934663) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:58PM (#25032233)
    Why the hell did he quit? He was misquoted, taken out of context and made an example of... What in the shitting hell did he say to make this happen? I've read the articles and he has his head screwed on straight so for crying out loud, why hasn't this man been supported?
    ARGH!
    Do we have to deal with athiest fundies now?
    Yeesh!
  • by zrq (794138) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @07:03PM (#25032317) Journal

    I'm not sure about whether he should have resigned or not, but I found this quote from the Royal Society statement interesting (from the BBC article) :

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

  • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @08:02PM (#25032947)
    He said some really important things about the way we deal with creationism in the classroom, the media and blogosphere misinterpreted, abused and parroted incorrect versions of his comments, and he's got the guts to step down, not only saving the face of the organisation but shouldering blame more rightly levelled at the media, too. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I wish him luck.
  • That sucks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:14PM (#25033541)

    I could post my own opinion here, but I think The Panda's Thumb does a much better job of covering this fiasco [pandasthumb.org].

  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:19AM (#25034625)

    He came into his position as head of education under a lot of scrutiny. Many people in the Royal Society felt it was inappropriate for a member of the clergy to hold one of the most important scientific education positions in the country. They were waiting for him to screw up, and he knew it. His view that time in science class should be used by the teacher to debate evolution with creationist students is not at all in line with most of the Royal Society. He should have kept it to himself.

    It's not like he got into trouble for some offhand remarks to a small press outlet somewhere, it was his blog, and his subtitle: "...discussing creationism and intelligent design as alternatives to evolutionary theory." While his comments in their entirety are perfectly normal for any reasonable person, they don't reflect what the membership and leadership of the Royal Society want out there in their name. Does the oldest and most prestigious scientific organization in the world want it to be attributable to them that "because something lacks scientific support doesn't seem to me a sufficient reason to omit it from a science lesson?"

    Yeah, I'm taking his quotes out of context. He had a high profile position and should have been more careful.

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