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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Man or Monkey?
Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
The Politics Show Northern Ireland

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin: still a controversial figure in Northern Ireland

The teaching of creationism in schools has long been thought of as an American issue. European secularists like to think of it as something dreamt up by mid-western Christian fundamentalists.

But there is a growing call for alternatives to evolution to be taught in Northern Ireland's schools.

This week on Politics Show from Northern Ireland, Rosy Billingham reports on how some of our senior politicians are getting involved in the debate.

Victorian caricaturists were wont to depict Charles Darwin as a cartoon monkey.

The Old Man of Evolution made quite a convincing orang-utan.

Today's anti-evolutionists prefer a more scientific approach.

The theory known as intelligent design has emerged in recent years.

It suggests that some aspects of the universe point to an intelligent origin. This leaves open the possibility of creation by a god.

Supporters of the hypothesis say it has scientific legitimacy and should be taught in schools as a valid alternative to evolution.

Opponents, including the vast majority of scientists, see no validity in the theory and no place for it in the science classroom.

Creationism judgement

Mervyn Storey
What we have to ensure is that children have all of the evidence and all the facilities at their disposal to make judgements
Mervyn Storey

Two DUP MLAs, Mervyn Storey and David Simpson, have lobbied the Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, to have creationism included in the science curriculum.

Mr Storey tells Rosy it is a matter of allowing children the information they need to come to a considered opinion.

"What we have to ensure is that children have all of the evidence and all the facilities at their disposal to make judgements", he remarks.

The Minister has said there is a place for the discussion of alternative theories of the origin of the universe, but that place is not in the science class.

"The revised curriculum provides opportunities for alternative beliefs to evolutionary views to be explored. The obvious place for this is religious Education," says Caitriona Ruane.

UK Government says 'no'

In England, teachers have been supplied with government guidance that comes down firmly on the anti-creationist side of the argument.

That guidance states: "Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case, as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study."

The guidance goes on to advise that all learning materials should be checked for mentions of creationism or intelligent design.

The Big Bang, Noah's Ark and the Giant's Causeway all play starring roles in this tale of two theories.

Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim Fitzpatrick presents Politics Show in Northern Ireland

Be sure to join presenter Jim Fitzpatrick for Politics Show from Northern Ireland - this Sunday 21 October 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.

You get a second chance to see the programme again that night, at 22:55 BST on BBC One.

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