Letter from Sir Richard Roberts asking Reiss to step down
By SIR RICHARD ROBERTS
Added: Sun, 14 Sep 2008 23:00:00 UTC
9-16-08: UPDATES from Richard here and here
President of the Royal Society
September 13th, 2008
I am writing on behalf of myself and my colleagues Sir John Sulston and Sir Harold Kroto.
We are greatly concerned by the remarks recently made by Professor Michael Reiss, who is currently Director of Education at the RS. We appreciate that there will be a clarification, but the fact that the comments were made in the first place by an official representative of the premier scientific society in the UK, if not the world, is most disturbing.
We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way? Creationism, Intelligent Design etc. have no place in a science classroom discussion and should not be legitimized as acceptable alternative theories to evolution by anyone who claims to be a scientist. Ill-conceived opinions by a representative of the RS will only encourage those teachers, both scientists and otherwise, with a creationist agenda to speak about it to their students in the classroom.
We would urge that Professor Reiss step down, or be asked to step down, as soon as possible.
Sir Richard Roberts Ph.D. F.R.S.
1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Chief Scientific Officer
New England Biolabs
Covered in The Observer:
Creationism call divides Royal Society
by Robin McKie, Science Editor
Two Nobel prize winners - Sir Harry Kroto and Sir Richard Roberts - have demanded that the Royal Society sack its education director, Professor Michael Reiss. The call, backed by other senior Royal Society fellows, follows Reiss's controversial claim last week that creationism be taught in schools' science classes.
Reiss, an ordained Church of England minister, has since alleged he was misquoted. Nevertheless, several Royal Society fellows say his religious views make him an inappropriate choice for the post.
'I warned the president of the Royal Society that his [Reiss] was a dangerous appointment a year ago. I did not realise just how dangerous it would turn out to be,' said Kroto, a Royal Society fellow, and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
Roberts, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on gene-splicing, was equally angry. 'I think it is outrageous that this man is suggesting that creationism should be discussed in a science classroom. It is an incredible idea and I am drafting a letter to other Nobel laureates - which would be sent to the Royal Society - to ask that Reiss be made to stand down.'
Zoologist Richard Dawkins, a Royal Society fellow, said: 'A clergyman in charge of education for the country's leading scientific organisation - it's a Monty Python sketch.'
A spokesman for the Royal Society rejected the principle that it was inappropriate for a clergyman to hold a senior post at the organisation. 'Michael Reiss's views are completely in keeping with those of the Royal Society,' he said.
The row over Reiss's remarks is the second recent controversy over the society's stance on religion. Fellows, including cancer expert and Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse, complained about the financial links that had been established between the society and the Templeton Foundation, a conservative US organisation that seeks to establish links between science and religion. The latter funded a lecture course at the society.
Many fellows fear the society, the world's oldest scientific organisation, is failing to take a sufficiently robust stance against the spread of fundamental religions which oppose scientific teachings about the origins of the Earth and humanity. 'The thing the Royal Society does not appreciate is the true nature of the forces arrayed against it and the Enlightenment for which the Royal Society should be the last champion,' Kroto said.
Thanks to Catalin for the link.
Letter: Richard Dawkins on the Royal Society row
Before Michael Reiss stepped down as director of education for the Royal Society, Dawkins sent New Scientist his thoughts on the creationism row that blew up last week
The Reverend Michael Reiss, the Royal Society's Director of Education, is in trouble because of his views on the teaching of creationism.
Although I disagree with him, what he actually said at the British Association is not obviously silly like creationism itself, nor is it a self-evidently inappropriate stance for the Royal Society to take.
Scientists divide into two camps over this issue: the accommodationists, who 'respect' creationists while disagreeing with them; and the rest of us, who see no reason to respect ignorance or stupidity.
The accommodationists include such godless luminaries as Eugenie Scott, whose National Center for Science Education is doing splendid work in fighting the creationist wingnuts in America. She and her fellow accommodationists bend over backwards to woo the relatively sensible minority among Christians, who accept evolution.
Get the bishops and theologians on the side of science — so the argument runs — and they'll be valuable allies against the naive creationists (who probably include the majority of Christians and certainly almost all Muslims, by the way).
No politician could deny at least the superficial plausibility of this expedient, although it is disappointing how ineffective as allies the 'sensible' minority of Christians turn out to be.
The official line of the US National Academy, the American equivalent of the Royal Society, is shamelessly accommodationist. They repeatedly plug the mantra that there is 'no conflict' between evolution and religion. Michael Reiss could argue that he is simply following the standard accommodationist line, and therefore doesn't deserve the censure now being heaped upon him.
Unfortunately for him as a would-be spokesman for the Royal Society, Michael Reiss is also an ordained minister. To call for his resignation on those grounds, as several Nobel-prize-winning Fellows are now doing, comes a little too close to a witch-hunt for my squeamish taste.
Nevertheless — it's regrettable but true — the fact that he is a priest undermines him as an effective spokesman for accommodationism: "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he!"
If the Royal Society wanted to attack creationism with all fists flying, as I would hope, an ordained priest might make a politically effective spokesman, however much we might deplore his inconsistency.
This is the role that Kenneth Miller, not a priest but a devout Christian, plays in America, where he is arguably creationism's most formidable critic. But if the Society really wants to promote the accommodationist line, a clergyman is the very last advocate they should choose.
Perhaps I was a little uncharitable to liken the appointment of a vicar as the Royal Society's Education Director to a Monty Python sketch. Nevertheless, thoughts of Trojan Horses are now disturbing many Fellows, already concerned as they are by the signals the Society recently sent out through its flirtation with the infamous Templeton Foundation.
Accommodationism is playing politics, while teetering on the brink of scientific dishonesty. I'd rather not play that kind of politics at all but, if the Royal Society is going to go down that devious road, they should at least be shrewd about it. Perhaps, rather than resign his job with the Royal Society, Professor Reiss might consider resigning his Orders?
Richard Dawkins, Fellow of the Royal Society
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