Letter from Sir Richard Roberts asking Professor Reiss to step down

I have already blogged on the issue – and it seems that the letter below does indeed need the clarification which I included in the blog. If Reiss is against creationism being taught in the science classroom, then the move to have him removed is based on his religious belief – rather than his ability to perform the job.

I hope that Reiss can confound his critics and show that he is active in promoting science and not intelligent design in the classroom. If he cannot make that clear the voice of discontent will cause friction. At the moment it looks like a witch hunt rather than evidence that he is ineffective and not doing his job.

Is it possible that Sir Richard has not read Reiss’ actual articles? Hopefully with the clarification by Reiss Sir [Richard] Roberts may realise that the whole issue is based on a spinning of what Reiss actually said. But I agree that unless Reiss shows himself to be a godsend (like Ken Miller is for evolution) to science education then the critics will have something to go on.

But criticism of Reiss should be based on his actions, and not speculation or misunderstanding of what he has done.

by Sir Richard Roberts

Lord Rees
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

Reiss clarified his remarks this way at the Royal Society website 12 September 2008 saying:

“Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. 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’; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.”

You may notice the dates. Sir [Richard] Roberts sent his letter the day after the Royal Society sent a press release with Reiss’ clarification. My concern is that this whole fiasco will turn into a farce that will not exactly show secularist[s] and those for science education in a positive light.



Filed under Michael Reiss, Science

3 responses to “Letter from Sir Richard Roberts asking Professor Reiss to step down

  1. I’m particularly disappointed with Sulston’s name being on there. He has always struck me as a man who considers his opinions carefully. As far as I can see, the only threat to reason here comes from its self-proclaimed defenders.

    So what do we have? A letter circulating demanding the sacking of Michael Reiss. Phil Willis MP, Chairman of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills committee has said he is ‘horrified’. Dawkins calls it a Monty Python sketch, showing that he believes that his mandate is not science education, as it nominally is, a task he shares with Reiss, but the demonising of the religious (of which I am not one). Harry Kroto is quoted as saying; ‘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’.

    And all this as a response to what? The suggestion that if you are a science teacher in a class dominated by children who believe in a creationist explanation of the world, then you need to deal with that. And deal with it sensitively, not by shouting and dismissing, else you will teach those children nothing.

    If they are horrified by that, if they think that teaching science well – as in, actually teaching children evolutionary ideas, rather than having them shut out the teachings all together – is some kind of challange to civilisation they have lost the plot.

    It appears that it boils down to one (or more) of three things:

    1] All these eminent people are utter idiots, who read a tabloid and bark about it like disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. In which case, who is the threat to the Enlightenment?

    2] These people have a problem with a ‘rev’ being head of science education at the RS, irrespective of his performance, or his standing in educational studies. In which case they are whipping up a controversy as cover for the pursuit of their prejudices, mis-informing millions of people along the way. This appears to be the case, given the letter mentions his Reiss’ religious post but says nothing of what he actually said. In which case, who is the threat to the Enlightenment?

    3] These people would rather that children were not taught evolution, if to teach evolution to children who believe in creationism involves teaching with more sensitivity than simply ‘shut up, you’re wrong’. If Reiss is right, and it is his field of expertise, not Kroto’s, not Richard Roberts’, and, seemingly, despite his job title, not Dawkins’, and children learn more about evolution by being taught this way, then who is the threat to the Enlightenment?

  2. Pingback: Letter: Richard Dawkins about Reiss Creationism controversy « Homo economicus’ Weblog

  3. Found your blog on Yahoo and was so glad i did. That was a great read. I have a tiny question.Is it alright if i send you an email???…

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