NEARLY one in 10 student scientists does not believe in evolution, according to a survey of more than 3,000 undergraduates.
A significant minority of biology and medical students believe in creationism - that God created life out of nothing.
The findings show that teachers should not assume that creationist views are an American phenomenon, said Dr Roger Downie of Glasgow University's Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences. He said British teachers needed to be aware of the scale of anti-evolutionary opinion in their own classrooms.
Effective teaching of evolution was difficult enough without having to confront deep-seated opposition, he said. The findings also present teachers with an ethical problem, as they must tell students to learn something that they strongly disbelieve.
Dr Downie's survey of more than 2,850 first-year biology students over 12 years plus one year's cohort of 225 medics at Glasgow University showed that a significant minority (between 4 and 11 per cent) rejected conventional theories of evolution.
He reported a decline in creationists during the survey, but concluded that he could not be confident that the trend would continue.
Dr Downie found that students who rejected evolution were much more ikely to have a religious belief than their peers.
He said: "Since we tend to think of anti-evolutionary thinking as a mainly American trait, it is salutary to find as many as 11 per cent of a UK university class rejecting biological evolution.
"We would not be concerned if students, having assessed the evidence, were sceptical of aspects of evolution.
"However, most rejectors did so on the basis of religious belief: this is hardly compatible with the open-mindedness expected of a prospective scientist."
Evolution rejectors were more sceptical of science in general than their classmates, the survey found.
They were slightly less likely to accept three unrelated scientific propositions: that cigarettes cause lung cancer; that emissions from power stations cause acid rain; and that gases from aerosols deplete the earth's ozone layer.
These students were also much less likely to believe in the theory of continental drift which holds that the earth's surface is made up of moving plates.
"Evolution and religion: attitudes of Scottish first-year biology and medical students to the teaching of evolutionary biology" is published in the latest Journal of Biological Education, published by the Institute of Biology.