Darwinists 1, creationists 0

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Academics who complained about a biology question on biblical theory have been victorious, reports Graeme Paton

An exam board has agreed to redraft a science syllabus which encourages pupils to discuss creationist theories alongside those of Charles Darwin.

The OCR board said it would review the contentious module after complaints from academics that the strict biblical theory that God created the Earth in six days had no place in science lessons.

Pupils had been asked to consider that the existence of fossils had been "interpreted differently over time (for example, creationist interpretation)" as part of a biology paper being introduced from September. It was part of a move, promoted by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to tackle the subject's decline by encouraging pupils to debate controversial issues.

But in a letter to the British Humanist Association (BHA), which complained about the syllabus, the exam board admitted the paper was "ambiguous" and officials would be "reviewing the wording" of the module.

In recent weeks religious leaders, including Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Most Reverend Bruce Cameron, the leader of the Scottish Episcopal Church, have denounced the teaching of creationism in science.

Richard Pike, head of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "We should no longer talk of the theory of evolution, as though it is 'just an idea'; so well established is it that it now warrants the designation of an immutable scientific law, and should be taught as such."

Ministers sought to distance themselves from earlier guidance recommending that creationism did have a role in science lessons.

As The TES reported earlier this month, Jacqui Smith, the former schools minister, said in a letter to the BHA that creationism "cannot be used as an example of a scientific controversy, as it has no empirical evidence to support it and no underpinning scientific principles or explanations".

Now Bene't Steinberg, director of public affairs at OCR, has said that, although it is too late to reprint biology specifications due out this September, syllabuses will be redrafted for 2007. In the meantime, he said, new accompanying guidance for science teachers will tell them that "we do not accept that creationism is taught".

It will add that: "Only a creationist interpretation of the fossil record prior, or contemporary, to Darwin needs to be explained in this context, such that the students are able to understand the fundamental departure of Darwin's work from the religious norms of the time."

Andrew Copson, BHA education officer, said: "It is clear OCR never intended that religious ideas should be taught in science, but too many creationists and advocates of intelligent design hide behind the claim that they want nothing more than for schools to 'teach the controversy'.

"We were concerned that highlighting evolution as an area around which there can be controversy gave the wrong impression."

Letters 26

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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