Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Schools get advice on creationism

Teaching creationism alongside evolution has prompted controversy

Creationism is to be debated alongside the theory of evolution in science and religious education lessons in secondary schools across Hampshire.

Teachers are being given advice on how questions about evolution and God can be explored with 11 to 14-year-olds.

Critics said the advice was "a retrograde step" and should be dropped.

But Hampshire County Council said the report advised schools about resources they may wish to use to encourage "reasoned enquiry and open discussion".

The report was put together by the county's standing advisory council for religious education (Sacre), in an attempt to address the public debate about the relationship between evolution and faith.

The report says the county is "always looking for our students to explore complexity" and sets out how schools may want to take the debate forward in science and religious education (RE) lessons.

Intelligent design

The guidance - issued to 70 secondary schools in Hampshire - covers Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as well as creationism which upholds the biblical story of creation.

It suggests teachers explore with pupils the reasons why Darwin's theories were dismissed and ridiculed in the 19th century.

The advice examines whether it is possible to believe in evolution and a creator God and looks at the concept of intelligent design, which suggests the complexity of the world makes God's intervention the only reasonable explanation.

It considers the heated debate on evolution between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Professor Thomas Huxley, as well as the Roman Catholic Church's stance that mankind may have evolved but that God created the soul.

'Simply to advise'

Sacre chair Councillor Anna McNair Scott said there was no suggestion in the report that creationism was a science, still less that it should be taught as one.

"We asked for the report in the light of recent public debate and decided that we should consider a possible way for schools to address the issue, if they so wished," she said.

"The report is intended simply to advise schools about resources they can use to encourage reasoned enquiry and open discussion about creation and evolution, and suggests how the debate can be carried out across the curriculum areas of science and RE.

"This approach is very much in line with current advice from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, that subjects should co-operate in their development of young people's learning."

But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "There is a big difference between answering students' questions about creationism and actually introducing it into the lessons in the first place as part of the curriculum.

"If the teacher raises the topic, then it takes on an authority that it does not deserve.

"Hampshire should think again about this proposal. It will add nothing to the education of children, but will create confusion in their minds about what is science and what is religion."

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