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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
Teachers 'fear evolution lessons'
Scientist with pipette
Creationism is not taught as a subject in schools
The teaching of evolution is becoming increasingly difficult in UK schools because of the rise of creationism, a leading scientist is warning.

Head of science at London's Institute of Education Professor Michael Reiss says some teachers, fearful of entering the debate, avoid the subject totally.

This could leave pupils with gaps in their scientific knowledge, he says.

Prof Reiss says the rise of creationism is partly down to the large increase in Muslim pupils in UK schools.

The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins
Professor Reiss

He said: "The number of Muslim students has grown considerably in the last 10 to 20 years and a higher proportion of Muslim families do not accept evolutionary theory compared with Christian families.

"That's one reason why it's more of an issue in schools."

Prof Reiss estimates that one in 10 people in the UK now believes in literal interpretations of religious creation stories - whether they are based on the Bible or the Koran.

Many more teachers he met at scientific meetings were telling him they encountered more pupils with creationist views, he said.

"The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins."

Instead, teachers should tackle the issue head-on, whilst trying not to alienate students, he argues in a new book.

'Not equally valid'

"By not dismissing their beliefs, we can ensure that these students learn what evolutionary theory really says - and give everyone the understanding to respect the views of others," he added.

His book; Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism, gives science teachers advice on how to deal with the "dilemma".

Further discussion of creationism should occur in religious education as it is a belief system, not one based on science
Hilary Leevers
Campaign for Science and Engineering

He supports new government guidelines which say creationism should not be discussed in science classes unless it is raised by pupils.

But Prof Reiss argues that there is an educational value in comparing creationist ideas with scientific theories like Darwin's theory of evolution because they demonstrate how science, unlike religious beliefs, can be tested.

The scientist, who is also a Church of England priest, adds that any teaching should not give the impression that creationism and the theory of evolution are equally valid scientifically.

Dr Hilary Leevers, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said science teachers would be teaching evolution not creationism and so should not need a book to tell them how to "delicately handle controversy between a scientific theory and a belief".

"The author suggests that science teachers cannot ignore creationism when teaching origins, but the opposite is true," she said.

Teachers could discuss how creationism differed from scientific theory if a student brought up the subject, but any further discussion should occur in religious education lessons, she said.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said it had recently published guidelines to teachers on the issue.

"Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories nor testable as scientific fact - and have no place in the science curriculum. "But we advise science teachers that when questions about creationism come up in lessons, it provides an opportunity to explain or explore what makes a scientific theory."

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