Royal Society for protection of rubbish

FOUNDED as it was in 1660, just a few months after Britain gave up its experiment at being a Roundhead republic, you might think the Royal Society was all about preserving the then newly- restored monarchy.

Aidan Semmens

FOUNDED as it was in 1660, just a few months after Britain gave up its experiment at being a Roundhead republic, you might think the Royal Society was all about preserving the then newly- restored monarchy. Not so.

Its full title is the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge and it receives £40million a year from the government to act as Britain's senior science academy.

Bit of a surprise, then, for its director of education, Professor Michael Reiss, to stand up for the teaching of creationism in school science lessons.

Creationism is the belief of those who think the scribes of a small tribe of Middle-Eastern nomads a few thousand years ago knew better than the collected scientists of the past two centuries about the origins of the world.

It may be a belief held - allegedly - by 47 per cent of Americans and about ten per cent of Brits, but that doesn't mean it isn't completely barking mad.

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To be fair to Professor Reiss (who is also, interestingly, a Rev), he didn't say he believed in creationism himself. Only that if children asked, the belief should be treated “with respect”.

This, obviously, is a good thing.

I hope the same courtesy, the same academic dignity, will be afforded to those who believe that the Earth is flat. That the moon is made of cream cheese. Or that this planet was designed by a space-alien called Slartibartfast at the behest of a race of super-intelligent white mice.

Equally, I trust time will now be found in RE lessons for the explanation of microbiology, thermo-nuclear chemistry and quantum physics.

I should say at this point that I am a great believer in the Bible.

Not only is it a cornerstone of our culture and our history. It's also a great read - well, some of it is. It contains some splendid ideas and some excellent poetry. And if taken for what it is, it has a lot to teach us about ourselves.

The same could be said of King Lear, Cinderella or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even, maybe, the Harry Potter books.

There are universal truths, as well as entertainment, to be found in all of those. I don't know anyone, though, who thinks the stories are literally true. I'm sure none of their writers did.

And, do you know what? I suspect the original writers of the Book of Genesis were intelligent enough not to take their own creations literally too.

SPEAKING of creationists, whatever are we to make of John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his electoral running-mate?

Is it, as at least one respected US political commentator suggests, evidence that the old man is going senile?

Perhaps I should have written about her two weeks ago, but frankly I was in shock.

In any case, since Palin herself refused to meet the press for a fortnight after her nomination - presumably to mug up on a few basic facts of political life - I think it's only fair I should have taken a similar spell to mug up on her.

I now know she's a god-fearing, gun-toting, bear-hunting opponent of abortion. At least part of which may be a disappointment to the boy who was declaring he didn't want kids right up until it was revealed he's about to be the father of her grandchild.

I know too that her level of ignorance has staggered even a country used to George W Bush.

Let's just hope that reality sets in in time for the “Palin bounce” to bounce back and drag the McCain vote down into oblivion.

If the net result of Barack Obama's freshness and Hillary Clinton's femininity is to open the back door of the White House to the nightmare that is Palin, it'll be time to start building the bomb-shelters.

AS soon as I sat down last week to write about 9/11 it was inevitable I'd get another dollop of e-mail abuse from online readers across the pond.

Just to set the record straight, I didn't say the twin towers were brought down from within by explosive charges - only that the theory exists. As it happens, I think it's nonsense.

But the very fact that many people, including Americans, believe it shows how little they trust their government to tell them the truth. And that, I think, is very revealing.

As is this excerpt from one of those e-mails: “If you had a gun held to your head, and was asked whether the attack on the twin towers was caused by foreign terrorists, or the US government brought them down, what would you say?”

I'd say that here in the UK we don't play with guns.