When is a fossil not really so old?

10th March 2006 at 00:00
Creationism is poised to join the GCSE science syllabus. Graeme Paton reports

Pupils will be asked to discuss creationist theories in science lessons under a new GCSE syllabus, The TES has learned.

The recommendation, part of a move to tackle the subject's decline in popularity, will prove hugely controversial and follows criticism over similar lessons in schools run by evangelical Christian groups.

The contentious modules, contained in new biology syllabuses, say students should be aware that creationism - the strict Biblical theory that God created the Earth in six days - contradicts Darwin's theory of evolution.

In one paper by the OCR exam board, pupils are asked to consider that the existence of fossils has been "interpreted differently over time (for example, creationist interpretation)".

A draft scheme of work, drawn up by the Edexcel board, asks pupils to discuss "creationist rejection of fossil evidence".

Pupils in Wales could be affected by the changes, as some schools enter for English exam board papers. The Welsh Joint Education Committee's new biology GCSE specification says pupils should "discuss the controversy surrounding the acceptance" of the theory of evolution, but does not mention creationism.

Critics said it was misguided to confuse Biblical theory with accepted scientific fact, suggesting they only had legitimacy in religious education. Last week Jacqui Smith, England's schools minister, fuelled the debate by hinting that pupils should be allowed to consider creationism and intelligent design in science lessons.

In a written answer to a Parliamentary question, she said it was not in the science national curriculum, but that children had to debate how "scientific controversies" can arise from different interpretations of evidence.

The appearance of creationism in syllabuses follows guidelines from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority which say pupils should be encouraged to debate controversial issues, such as nuclear power and human cloning.

John Noel, OCR science qualifications manager, said: "It is simply looking at one particular example of how scientific interpretation changes over time."

David Rosevear, chairman of the Creation Science Movement, said: "There is nothing wrong with presenting a different point of view to promote debate."

But James Williams, science course leader at Sussex university school of education, said: "This is not science, it is not recognised by the scientific community and to legitimise it like this is wrong."

Much of the debate surrounding creationism in UK schools has focused on academies sponsored by the Emmanuel Foundation, a charity founded by Peter Vardy, the evangelical Christian car dealer, where pupils are encouraged to doubt the theory of evolution.

A recent poll for BBC's Horizon programme found that more than half of Britons do not accept the theory of evolution and more than 40 per cent believed creationism or intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons.

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