Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

Darwin teaching 'divides opinion'

brown-eyed susan
The subject of evolution teaching remains controversial

More than half of adults in a survey of 10 countries thought school science lessons should teach evolutionary theories alongside creationism.

Among those who knew of Darwinism, on average 53% felt other possible perspectives should also be taught.

The figure was 68% in Argentina, in the poll for the British Council, which promotes educational opportunities.

In Great Britain 60% felt this way. In Egypt, 27% said such theories should not be in science lessons at all.

The British Council, the UK's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations, is running a programme of activities under the banner Darwin Now.

This marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his work, On the Origin of Species.

There are exhibitions and learning resources in about 50 countries and in a variety of languages.

The learning materials vary but can be used without technical equipment, to make them as widely available as possible.

Opinions

The survey to underpin the work was conducted through Ipsos Mori and involved interviews with some 11,000 people aged over 18, mostly face-to-face, last April.

COUNTRIES IN SURVEY
Argentina
China
Egypt
Great Britain
India
Mexico
Russia
South Africa
Spain
USA

Of those, more than 7,000 knew of Darwin's work already.

People were asked which statements were closest to their own opinion about how evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools.

The highest proportion agreeing that evolutionary theories alone should be taught was in India, at 49%, followed by Spain (42%).

One in five in China and in South Africa thought other perspectives - and not evolutionary theories - should be taught.

Those opting for evolutionary theories "together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism" ranged from 38% in Spain to the 68% in Argentina.

'Polarised debate'

"It is quite an interesting response and we need to think about why that is," said the head of the Darwin Now programme, Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker.

Her feeling is that the debate about Darwinism has been portrayed as very polarised: science versus religion.

A previous survey suggested a lot of people were open-minded about having a faith and understanding that evolutionary processes occurred, and she thinks the polarisation of the arguments has confused them about how science works as a process.

"The majority of people in each country polled felt it was acceptable to have faith and think evolution happens by means of natural selection," she said.

So it was necessary to communicate science in a less dogmatic, more sophisticated way, she said.

Darwinism remains controversial.

In March Turkey's scientific and technological research council pulled a cover article about Darwin from its popular magazine, provoking outrage among scientists.

Dr Elsdon-Baker said: "It would be ridiculous to suggest that there haven't been problems with the Darwin anniversary - but the British Council project, which is working in 45 countries, has had a very positive response.

"There's clearly a demand for these kind of science communication activities around Darwin's theory of evolution by means of natural selection."



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