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May 18, 2006

Creationism debate moves to Britain

The debate over creationism in schools was an American problem. But now the controversy is taking root in Britain. Tim Walker reports.

The Independent

For once, an evolutionary biologist and a creationist agree on something. Professor Steve Jones, the author of an updated version of Darwin's Origin of Species, and John Mackay, an Australian preacher who believes the book of Genesis constitutes literal truth, are both convinced that creationism is making a comeback in British classrooms.

"It's a real social change," says Jones, a lecturer at UCL. "For years, I've sympathised with my American colleagues, who have to cleanse creationism from their students' minds in their first few biology lectures. It's not a problem we've faced in Britain until now. I get feedback from Muslim schoolkids who say they are obliged to believe in creationism, because it's part of their Islamic identity, but the people I find more surprising are the other British kids who see creationism as a viable alternative to evolution. That's alarming. It shows how infectious the idea is."

Creationism encompasses a spectrum of beliefs, from the Bible's account of creation in six days, a matter of mere thousands of years ago, to the more equivocal "intelligent design" (ID) theory, which seeks some form of accommodation with evolution.

Its opponents see the teaching of creationism in any form as an alternative scientific theory as a way for its exponents to drive religious dogma into schools across the entire curriculum. In about 50 independent Christian schools in the UK, creationism has been a feature of biology teaching for about 30 years; the fear is that state schools will begin to follow suit.

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