Creation row back on the boil

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Teach intelligent design in science and RE, says the Church of England's new head of education

the church of England's new head of education wants schools to teach the controversial theory of intelligent design.

The Rev Jan Ainsworth, responsible for 4,690 schools, said the theory - which suggests that a guiding intelligence, such as God, is behind the existence of living things rather than evolution - could be taught as part of science or RE lessons.

"While it is not something I would subscribe to, it is a recognition that there are different ways of looking at the evidence," she told The TES.

Intelligent design has been adopted by evangelical Christian groups as a more acceptable version of creationism, the biblical theory that God created man and the world 6,000 years ago.

Mrs Ainsworth's comments take a row previously restricted to a Gateshead city technology college right to the mainstream of English education. She appears to contradict the views of the leader of her own church and has been criticised by a Christian think tank.

Mrs Ainsworth made the remarks after it emerged that the Church of England was in talks with the Government about opening a network of 100 academies.

Speaking at a seminar on faith schools last week, she initially said intelligent design should be restricted to RE.

Afterwards she went further, telling The TES it could also feature in science. "You would get howls of protest from the scientific community, which would say there is absolutely no place for it in the curriculum," she said. "But you could do it in history of science, which some syllabuses do have. I think there are places there."

The science national curriculum for both 11 to 14 and 14 to 16-year-olds includes the history of science.

But last year the Government said that creationism should play no part in science lessons, even as an example of controversy.

Jacqui Smith, then schools minister, said: "It has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations."

Intelligent design was a term first coined in the late 1980s by American creationists, who wanted to see schools give the same weight to their explanation of the origin of man as was given to the theory of evolution.

It has won increasing support from evangelical Christians in the UK and the US. But it has never been given credence by the Anglican or Catholic hierarchies, which both accept evolution.

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said in an interview last year that creationism should not be taught in schools.

Asked whether she would be requiring CofE schools to teach intelligent design, Mrs Ainsworth said: "I would expect them to be looking at national curriculum orders as a foundation for science teaching. RE would include an exploration of what different organisations believe."

She did not know how many schools were teaching intelligent design, but thought it would be a good thing if they did.

Simon Barrow, director of Ekklesia, a Christian think tank, said: "If the Church of England decides to flirt with intelligent design, it is pointing an intellectual gun at its head and cocking the trigger.

"First, intelligent design isn't science, it is creationism masquerading as science with the same faulty mathematics attached to it.

"Second, it is appallingly bad theology, which substitutes some notion of an extraterrestrial being for a traditional understanding of God, who is beyond our notion of being."

Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society president, said intelligent design had no place in teaching "impressionable young children" a science-based understanding of the world.


A group of academics and clergy, calling themselves Truth in Science, sent teaching packs to 5,000 schools last year, calling for intelligent design to be taught as part of the science curriculum. The Government responded by confirming that creationism should play no part in science lessons.

Academies and a city technology college set up by Sir Peter Vardy, an evangelical Christian former car dealer, have attracted criticism for pushing an overtly religious agenda. The three schools teach the theory of evolution in science, but use creationist arguments to debate its validity.

In 2005, conservative Christians in Kansas, US, launched a court case, which questioned the theory of evolution and attempted to force schools to teach intelligent design.

In Britain, the OCR exam board was forced to redraft its science syllabus in 2006 after biology questions called on pupils to discuss creationist theories alongside those of Charles Darwin.

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