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Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Monday, 15 September 2008 18:06 UK

Who are the British creationists?

Adam and Eve

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Widely believed in the United States, creationism - the belief that God created the earth and man in six days - is enjoying a resurgence of support in the UK, say its believers and its critics.

At first glance the Genesis Expo museum, in the naval town of Portsmouth, looks like any other repository of natural history exhibits: fossils of dinosaurs and unusual rock formations.

But focus on the narrative of the information panels alongside them, and you start to realise this is a museum with a difference - one dedicated to the theory of creationism.

The revelation that US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin says creationism should be taught in schools, alongside that of evolutionary theory, has raised few eyebrows in the US. An estimated 47% of Americans reject outright Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, accepting instead the Bible's account of the creation of the universe - as laid out in the first chapter of Genesis.

If we came from nothing and go into nothing... that encourages people to lead reckless and materialistic lifestyles
Rev Greg Haslam, Westminster Chapel, London

But in Britain, where a portrait of Darwin appears on the back of the 10 note, his theory of life evolving from primitive to complex structures by means of natural selection appears to be unchallenged orthodoxy.

Not so, say those on both sides of the creationist divide - a point amply proved by the existence of the Genesis Expo museum, to date Britain's only creationist museum. The museum is the work of Britain's oldest creationist group, the Creation Science Movement, which has built Genesis Expo to visibly challenge the theory of evolution .

In its walk-through display, fossils in glass cases purport to show that ancient animals - including man - did not evolve from lower creatures but were instead divinely created "after their kind" (Genesis Chapter 1, verse 21).

A picture of a landslide-causing volcano is used to counter the scientific understanding that rock strata took millions of years to build up.

And throughout the display are scattered examples of "intelligent design" - complex creatures that "could not have evolved" as the result of natural selection.

Gravestone exhibit

Leading British scientist and author Dr Richard Dawkins has warned of creationist "brainwashing" in the UK - spurred on by an unwillingness of the authorities to offend religious sensibilities. His creationist adversaries say their ideas are beginning to gain wider acceptance within these shores as dissatisfaction grows with "materialist" evolutionary explanations of how life began.

10 note
The pocket evolutionist - Charles Darwin, on the back of a 10 note

Museum curator Ross Rosevear describes himself as a "Young Earth" creationist, who believes that the earth was created in six days "less than 10,000 years ago."

Standing before the museum's prize exhibit - a mock gravestone inscribed: "Here lies the Theory of Evolution" - he rejects as "unreliable" the scientific tests that fix the age of the earth at more than four billion years. While he concedes his convictions are intimately connected with his Christian faith, he insists the evidence presented in the displays could convince even non-believers of the "fatal flaws" in Darwin's theory of evolution.

"All we are saying is that it is not unreasonable to present an alternative explanation of how life began," he says.

For some, it's an explanation that has gained a surprisingly wide acceptance in the UK.

A 2006 survey for the BBC found that more than a fifth of those polled were convinced by the creationist argument. Less than half - 48% - chose evolution.

And while the Church of England this week issues a formal apology to Charles Darwin, after initially denying his theory, other churches - mostly on the evangelical Christian wing - adhere to old beliefs.

Growing support

Justin Thacker, head of theology for the Evangelical Alliance, says research in 1998 found one third of the Alliance church members were "literal six-day creationists." The other two thirds embraced evolutionary theory to a "greater or lesser degree" he says.

Ross Rosevear
British creationist and curator of Genesis Expo, Ross Rosevear

"Since that survey was done, I'd say fewer of our members are out-and-out creationists - it has become more acceptable to embrace some form of Darwinism," he says.

But Keith Porteous Wood of the Secular Society is unconvinced.

"There is no question that creationism is growing," he says. "It is increasingly well funded, and well organised."

The society says Britain is beginning to follow the lead of the US where supporters and opponents of creationism have joined battle - in the school classroom. Two years ago the government sought to clarify the rules on creationist teaching, following revelations that the head of science at one of its new academies was the director of an anti-evolution pressure group.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families says creationism is not included in the science curriculum because "it has no scientific basis... but it can be discussed in [religious education] lessons".

Creationist schools

But that ruling was questioned last week by an influential figure. The Rev Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, says science teachers ought to be willing to talk about creationism if students bring the subject up.

He told the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool that while making clear creationism is not accepted by the scientific community, teachers should convey a message of respect that does not "denigrate or ridicule" children's beliefs.

Charles Darwin - 200 years from your birth (1809) the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you
Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, of CofE's mission and public affairs department

It's a sentiment that inflames the anti-creationist lobby, which sees any compromises in the classroom as a betrayal of children's interests.

"Creationism is anti-science," says Mr Porteous Wood. "Teaching it to children is a form of intellectual child abuse, because it gives them the wrong facts about life." His passionate views echo those of Prof Dawkins, who last month accused teachers of "bending over backwards" to respect "prejudices" that children have been brought up with at home.

And secular groups also point out that while state school pupils are "protected" from creationist teaching, similar guidelines do not exist to cover children who attend private religious schools - Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

One such school that teaches creationism as a science is the respected Islamic Karimia Institute in Nottingham.

"We teach what it says in the Koran, that God created Adam and Eve, and from them came the rest of humanity," says institute director Dr Musharraf Hussain. "We do not teach that man is descended from a lower animal - we say that God created the different species on their own."

This shared belief in the origins of man - and the universe - is uniting unlikely bedfellows in the anti-evolution cause.

The Rev Greg Haslam, who preaches the creationist Christian creed to his 400-strong congregation at Westminster Chapel in London, welcomes the determination of Muslims to impart a religious-based view of the world.

"Science does not have to be taught in conflict with faith or religion," he says. "I believe the current debate over creationism versus evolution is beginning to draw more and people over to our side of the argument

"The materialist explanation of the creation has nothing to offer - if we came from nothing and go into nothing, then that encourages people to lead reckless and materialistic lifestyles.

"Evolution is a world-view that leads to futility. It's no wonder people are dissatisfied with it."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Greg Haslam fails to get the point. Why should evolution offer us anything? Plus far from it being futile, to me it's inspiring. I like the fact that I'm a tiny part in a long and continuing story.
Lauren, York

The media wrongly describes this as a debate between creationism and evolutionary theory. In fact, the debate is between creationism and the whole of science as we know it. If the universe is less than 10,000 years old, then: all of geology and biology are wrong; the speed of light has been wrongly calculated, so Einsteinian physics is wrong; the distance and speed of other galaxies has been wrongly calculated, meaning that all of astronomy and therefore Newtonian physics are also wrong. For informed people to challenge accepted scientific orthodoxy on the basis of proper evidence is always healthy, but to debunk the whole of science on the back of a story passed down by some Iron Age goat-herders is just self-delusion.
Neil Butcher, Brighton

I don't understand why evolution leads to futility? It leads to self-knowledge and awareness, the opposite of futility.
Sam, Leeds

I have long been at a loss to understand how it is possible to believe the evolutionary theory, riddled with holes and inconsistencies as it is, more that the creationist view. The facts we see in front of us fit the notion of a rapid creationist view far better than a long evolutionary one, and why the evolutionary theory is considered to be "science" but the creationist theory is not eludes me completely. It was partly a serious study of evolution that led me to conclude that I'd rather be the product of a creationary God than an evolutionary accident, and so embrace Christianity. I am so pleased I did, life has become so much less gloomy.
Robert Harper, Battle, England

Since when was evolution re-catagorised as "fact" therefore making other opinions obsolete and open to derision? Evolution is a theory and theories have often proved to have been wrong. What is wrong with letting those that believe in God also believe in what God did?
Chrono, Norfolk

The Rev Haslam's complaint that the theory of evolution "encourages people to lead reckless and materialistic lifestyles" neatly exposes the true basis of religion - social control. Just because evolution doesn't keep people cowering in fear of eternal damnation, doesn't make it any the less true. Sadly pursuit of truth doesn't seem to be of much importance to religious leaders.
Sarah, London

Creationism - and Biblical literalism in general - as a widely supported theological doctrine is actually relatively recent. It only kicked off in the 19th/20th Centuries. The great theologians of old - Aquinas for instance - did not believe in taking the Bible literally and saw it - or at least the Old Testament - as a metaphor.
Vince Garton, Eton, UK

It's as if we're going backwards. The US was founded as a secular society by people fleeing religious extremism (Puritans) and the founding fathers insisted on the separation of church and state. Now, we see an presidential electoral process where religion takes centre stage and people campaign on the basis on their religious views on abortion, gay marriage etc. And now even the scientific achievements of Darwin and other enlightenment figures are being rejected in favour of biblical literalism and other such nonsense. If these anti-evolutionists insist on turning their gaze backwards that's fine - we'll all end up living in caves, then go back to being monkeys in trees, thus proving Darwin right. Genesis should be relegated to the kindergarten along with all other fairy tales.
Hilary, Edinburgh, Scotland

Since when did wishful thinking have anything to do with scientific reality? People can be dissatisfied with evolution all they want. So what? I'm dissatisfied that there is no Santa Claus but that's no reason for me to start believing in him in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
Steve Finney, Manchester

How refreshing to see the BBC publish an article on creationism that does not set out to ridicule it or to portray creationists as naive or non-scientific. Creationists actually have the same scientific evidence as evolutionists - it is the way that evidence is interpreted that makes the difference. Evolutionists begin with the pre-supposition that there is no God (having a pre-supposition is NOT a scientific approach) and so have to interpret the evidence accordingly - any suggestion that what we see may have its origin in Almighty God will not be entertained for a moment by such scientists - one has to ask "why?" It must also be seen that a belief in evolution is exactly that - a belief, a faith system (as admitted by Richard Dawkins himself in one of his early books) - it is by no means fact as it is far from proven. A true scientist will examine all possibilities and given an honest interpretation of what we see around us in the light of what the Bible teaches about a worldwide flood then a young earth created with intelligent design by an Almightly God is not only a very real possibility but actually a probability.
Martin Green, Bradford

I believe adults should be free to believe what they like, but children should only be taught the facts and science, so they will grow up to be able to make their own informed decisions.
Russ, Edinburgh, UK

As a born again Christian, I believe in creationism and will teach my children the same belief. People like Dawkins are always at hand to weigh in with their hyperbole and try to dismantle basic Christian tenets - but he is only doing what he is supposed to do as a man with no belief. Prof Dawkins and people alike always talk about science fact - but can everything we experience in life, both physically and emotionally, be proved by science? Where does science come from and the rules that subject every man and woman, Christian or otherwise, to the same laws of gravity? I always heard about the THEORY of evolution and I always believed that theory is not proof. Trying to prove that Man evolved from monkeys because there may be some similarities, is like trying to prove that humming birds evolved from helicopters because they both fly.
Andre Odogwu, London

Some people seem to pick and choose which bits of science to believe in i.e. I'll accept the life saving medical treatment, the PC, the mobile phone, etc but not evolution. Besides evolution is a fact whether or not anyone chooses to believe it the same as the Earth being round.
Claire Stevens, Lancaster

To anyone that has any doubts about the creationist/evolutionist argument, please consider: You have a bone in your buttock-area called your coccyx, which you can feel. It is the remains of a tail. Now do you still believe in creationism?
James Spalding, London

I have had the theory of evolution rammed down my throat throughout my education (private Catholic School). I was taught that creationism was an out-dated idea which was widely dismissed. It was not until I went to university and did some more study into the subject when I realised that creation of the world was pretty irrelevant, and evolution posed more questions than it answered. I find creationism more plausible, easier to understand, and leaving oneself quite satisfied. If God does exist, then why not? I do not believe creationism should be taught along side Darwinism in science classes, however I do not believe that Darwinism should be presented as fact as it was to me.
Stefan, London

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