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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
South: Creationism
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Producer Politics Show
BBC South

Just how factual do you think evolution is? Would you put it on a par with gravity or that the Earth is round?

Is it something that can be taught in our schools as incontrovertibly true and not up for discussion?

Many people - (how many people, do you reckon? See the bottom of the page ... ) - would answer yes.

But there is an increasingly vocal group who argue that it is no more than a theory, and should not be taught to our children as if it were scientific fact.

Indeed, that alongside evolution, children should be taught other theories of how we came to be, creationist theories like Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design

Supporters of Intelligent Design argue that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved randomly on its own along Darwinian principles and must be the work of a supernatural creator.

President Bush reckons it is something that should be taught in American classrooms, and there is currently legislation proposed in Missouri to only teach science that can be proven by experimentation.

It is not just a case of "Only in America ... " either.

Tyrannosaurus Rex: Evolved or created?

The Creation Science Movement got going in this country in 1932, and they recently hosted a speaking tour by the Australian creationist John Mackay - with two dates in Bournemouth, two on the Isle of Wight, and one in Oxfordshire.

With the expansion of faith-based schooling, the teaching unions are already manning the barricades.

Teachers call for ban

At their Easter conference the National Union of Teachers (NUT) passed a resolution critical of faith-based teaching, and their General Secretary Steve Sinott has called for a ban on the teaching of "creationism or intelligent design as a valid alternative to evolution".

Not just evolution is getting the thumbs-down from creationists - Dr David Rosevear of the Creation Science Network rejects Big Bang theory and carbon-dating as well.

"We have to ask which is more believable - to believe that once upon a time there was nothing that exploded into everything, that non-living chemicals organised themselves into the first living thing, and that from this all living kinds developed naturally - or rather that an Intelligent Designer made everything."

It would be too easy to dismiss the creationists as just anti-science.

Peter Palmer
Peter Palmer: One theory among others

David Rosevear is a chemist, and Peter Palmer teaches science at a school in Portsmouth:

"I am not sure that I would want to teach just creationism, if you like, as in the world was created in six days as an absolute.

"But maybe give a better range of possibilities than we have at the moment.

"Still teach evolution in the sense that: here is one of the theories, here are some of the others as well.

"Make your own mind up based on the evidence rather than simply being told this one's the best solution."

Churches concerned

But just to complicate matters, many senior religious figures see no conflict between science and their beliefs.

Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, argues "Creationism is a false science that should not be taught in schools.

The implications of evolution for a religious or non-religious view of life need to be argued out in philosophy or RE classes and down at the pub".

So what do you think we should be teaching our children? Evolution? Creationism? Both?

Join Peter Henley this Sunday at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford - scene of a vigorous debate in 1860 between Thomas Huxley (arguing for evolution) and the then Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce.

In the course of the debate the Bishop famously asked Huxley whether it was "through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey?"

Oh, and those figures - a poll for the BBC's Horizon series this January had the following response to what was the best explanation for the development of life:

  • 48% Evolution
  • 39% Creationism/Intelligent Design
  • 13% Don't Know

So evolution has not entirely convinced everyone, even after 140 years.

And more than 40% of the people surveyed believed that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons.

The Politics Show

The Politics Show on Sunday 21 May 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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Politics from around the UK...

'Creationist' school is praised
26 Apr 06 |  Education
Creationism to be in GCSE papers
10 Mar 06 |  Education
Creationism 'no place in schools'
11 Apr 06 |  Education
Fears over teaching creationism
21 Mar 06 |  Education
A question of creation
15 Aug 05 |  Magazine
11 Sep 05 |  England

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