Leading article: Keep faith out of science lessons

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The Independent Online

The best thing to have come out of yesterday's debate about creationism at the the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference was that the attack on its teaching in faith schools was led by an Anglican vicar. For too long have the mainstream Christian churches chosen to maintain an embarrassed silence about this pernicious and retrograde belief which is gaining such ground in the US and is now being introduced in Britain at the academies set up by the millionaire car dealer Sir Peter Vardy.

In the end, the Association of Teachers did not go as far as voting for legislation to ban the teaching of creationism. They were right not to do so. Creationism, or "intelligent design" as its more subtle proponents now prefer to promote it, should have no place in the teaching of science. It is a belief with no relationship to facts or proof through empirical inquiry. But as a religious tenet it cannot be excluded from discussion in religious education lessons orfrom observance of the creed of the faith school in question. If you wish to believe that the earth and all its creatures were literally created in six days as the Bible has it, that is a matter for you. If you choose to consider human development as too complex and intelligent for gradual evolution to explain, that also is your right. What you should not be permitted to do is to teach this belief as a self-evident explanation of human evolution in the biology class. It is the antithesis of science.

That danger can be dealt with by proper state inspection of schools and the control of the exam curriculum rather than the law. The more difficult question posed by creationism, however, is how far the Government should be actively encouraging the establishment of faith schools whose culture and beliefs could run directly counter to the general thrust of education in this country. Several speakers, including a priest, at yesterday's conference called for a halt to new faith academies while society better assessed their impact. Others thought that this would be contrary to the diversity and parental choice that government policy wanted to promote.

Until recently, faith schooling has hardly been an issue in education discussion. Most faith schools have been run by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, both of which have adopted teaching courses and selection procedures broadly in line with the state schools. More recently, however, new schools have been set up with the specific aim of being distinct from state schooling - distinct in curriculum and culture. That poses worrying questions of ethnic and educational separation. Creationism is not only wrong in scientific terms, it could be a worrying sign of things to come in the new educational environment.