Written by Science

Horizon Tackles Intelligent Design

This week’s Horizon squarely took on creationism “Intelligent Design”, and in many respects it’s a shame. A shame that a science programme had to give up an episode to explode the myth of something that’s propogated by fundamental Christians.
The programme didn’t shirk its responsibility to the subject, and the programme took a familiar structure: spend around half the episode setting up the seemingly damning evidence that makes, in this case, evolution worthless, before taking that evidence apart piece by piece. In this case, it was against the background of the Dover High School court case.
It is scary that in some parts of the world – well America – understanding of science is being replaced by belief in what might as well be “magick”.
It’s fair to say, as Ben Goldacre says at the start of his column in today’s Guardian, that today nobody can understand the broad workings of most things around them. While science becomes marginalised in schools, even those who become specilists in some scientific spheres, may know pretty much nothing about others. There’s too much! But that doesn’t mean we all have to bury our heads in the sand and proclaim no knowledge.
A very worthwhile programme.
But I am concerned about a BBC News website piece seemingly tying itself in with this programme highlighting the fact that only 48% of the British population chose evolution as their view of the origin and development of life.
The research was carried out by Ipsos MORI for the BBC programme, and was among 2,000 people. Of the remaining 52% of the population, 17% said Intelligent Design, 22% said Creationism, and the remainder did not know.
Now that seems to me to be a strange finding. It suggests that 39% of the British population has chosen a minority Christian viewpoint of the origins of life. This is in a country in which, a previous BBC survey tells us, that while only 17% of the country goes to church regularly (once a week or more), 67% calls itself Christian, with only 22% saying they have no faith. Fortunately, in this previous instance, the full tables were actually made available. So we can quickly see that this was a mutliple choice question with other options including Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and Other. Presented with that list, someone is far likelier to say that they’re Christian than say they have no faith – unless they’re ardent atheists or agnostics (and actually understand those words). Christian becomes the easy default choice.
I simply don’t find it credible that 17% of the UK population have even heard of Intelligent Design, much less understand what it means. And the majority of those who have heard of it, are far more likely to believe that it’s a baseless attack on evolution. Even Creationism would need some explanation to the man on the street.
We really need to see the full questions and table to understand how these results came about. I’ll drop an email to BBC News Online to see if I can get hold of the full tables.
If this survey highlights one thing, it’s that science has fallen off the agenda for a lot of people and they simply don’t understand. That’s why there is still a big job to explain some of the fundamentals of our world, to prevent “magickal” reasons being propogated by people with other axes to grind.