Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 02 Aug 2007

My children’s RE teacher says she would teach that intelligent design is an alternative theory to evolution. I am shocked.

Hillary's Advice

What have we actually got here? I suspect nothing more than a casual remark to the effect that someone doesn’t think it is completely off-the-wall to acknowledge to pupils the existence of a belief system that many hundreds of thousands of – er – crackpots hold dear.

She is not proposing to rewrite the RE syllabus, or to add in a new module: Only God Could Have Made The World. What she probably has in mind is a touch of straightforward honesty. Look, she might say, the Bible tells us that God created the world in seven days, but the scientific evidence all points to life on earth developing through evolution. However many Christians still believe either that the Bible is literally true, or at least that only God could have made such a complex and intricate world such as this. A lot of people who believe this live in the so-called Bible Belt in America, from where they exert a great deal of influence over things like US foreign policy and what schools are allowed to teach….
She might then go on to allow the discussion to go off all kinds of directions. How can we know if anything true? What is empirical evidence? Why should we think science has all the answers? Doesn’t having a faith always mean believing in something that you can’t prove? Should religion be involved in politics? And so on.

The best modern RE teaching is a heady mixture of philosophy, comparative religion, citizenship and morality. Gifted teachers run electrifying lessons which help pupils wrestle with the most difficult questions of what it is to be human. If your children’s is one of these confident teachers, you should be grateful.