Origin Day Lecture: Audience Question Six

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Would the panel care to comment on the grip that creationism has on the minds of the wider public?

By: Armand Leroi (Imperial College, London) , Sandy Knapp (Department of Botany) , Professor Peter Bowler (Queen's University, Belfast) , Randal Keynes (Guest)

  • Duration 5 mins
  • Updated Wednesday 25th November 2009
  • Introductory level
  • Posted under History of Science
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Copyright British Council



Armand Leroi (as Chair) 

Ladies and gentlemen, let me throw it open to the floor, to the audience.  I instantly see a series of hands going up, the one thing I will ask is that you have a microphone in your hand before you speak. Gentleman, right in front of me on the left.

Male speaker (in audience)

Thank you.  In this institution which has pioneered the promotion of the public understanding of science, I think there’s a small elephant in the room.  Professor Wilson has outlined exciting areas for research and development to promote evolutionary theory, but have we, to use the phrases by Randal Keynes, failed to use the power of the idea to explain when a large percentage of the population believes in creationism and intelligent design to the extent if statistics are to believe up to a fifth of science teachers in the United States believe it should be taught in science classes as a viable alternative.  Would the panel care to comment on the grip that creationism has on the minds of the wider public?

Armand Leroi   

Very briefly.

Randal Keynes

The simplest suggestion, just, you know, to offer science?

Armand Leroi    


Peter Bowler

Well, I think it’s, coming from Northern Ireland where this is a particular problem, more so than most other areas of the United Kingdom, one is aware of the strength of the institutional religious promotion of creationism, and I think we do have a difficult problem balancing our desire to teach and inform about science without alienating people who are coming from very different cultural, intellectual background to what many of those of us who are interested in science come from.  And so I think there are serious issues to be debated here about how we present evolution, and you can probably imagine where I would go from there if I had the time, but I’ll leave it at that.

Armand Leroi

Sandy, debate them or ignore them?

Sandy Knapp

Well I think actually one of the things that is interesting about science is science is often portrayed as something which is proved, and I think one of the things we have to fight against as scientists is the concept of proof in science, science is about evidence and support of evidence.  And the other thing that I think is kind of frightening about science and about being a scientist is scientists are often set aside from society.  Scientists are a part of society so I say to people, and I've said it in this very room, to a room full of eight year olds, I've said okay who here is a scientist, and no one raises their hand but they all sit there, so who here is a scientist?  Come on.  In true tradition of the Royal Institution, I would argue that every single one of us does a scientific experiment every single day, when we set our alarm clock five minutes later and see if we can still get to work on time.  And if you can describe science in that way, then we’re all scientists and it becomes less mysterious, so I think the mystery of science needs to be beaten back.



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EO Wilson Copyrighted image Copyright: British Council Professor EO Wilson's lecture to mark Origin Day


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