Evolution and creationism can both be examined, says Professor Reiss
Creationism should be discussed in school science lessons, rather than excluded, says the director of education at the Royal Society.
Professor Michael Reiss says that if pupils have strongly-held beliefs about creationism these should be explored.
Rather than dismissing creationism as a "misconception", he says it should be seen as a cultural "world view".
Teachers should take the time to explain why creationism had no scientific basis, Prof Reiss said.
He stressed that the topic should not be taught as science.
This was more valuable than simply "banging on" about evolution, he said.
Prof Reiss, a biologist and Church of England minister, said he now believed it was more effective to engage with pupils' ideas about creationism, rather than to obstruct discussion with those who do not accept the scientific version of the evolution of species.
Creationists take a literal interpretation of the Bible's description of the origin of life and reject the Darwinian concept of evolution. Some Muslims also support creationist theories.
Prof Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimates that about one in 10 children is from a family which supports a creationist view rather than evolutionary.
He says that in his experience it is more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution.
"An increasing percentage of children in the UK come from families that do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe and the evolution of species.
"What are we to do with those children? My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science that one really wants them to learn.
"I think a better way forward is to say to them 'look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved'.
He also added a clarification on his position regarding creationism in schools.
"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."
Understanding the universe
Prof Reiss said that he had shifted his own views on how to respond to creationism.
"I realised that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn't lead some pupils to change their minds at all.
"Now I would be more content simply for them to understand it as one way of understanding the universe."
This was challenged by Simon Underdown, senior lecturer in the department of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University.
Creationism should be taught within the context of religion rather than science, said Dr Underdown.
"It is not something that fits within the mainstream of science."
With so much to be crammed into science lessons, it was not a worthwhile use of time to include lessons about creationism, he argued.
Others also argued that such views had no place in science lessons.
In a leading article The Times said, "to consider creationism and its stepchild intelligent design as if they were science is to inflict an injustice on schoolchildren".