A group of 30 scientists, including Sir David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins, are urging the government to toughen its guidance on the promotion of creationism in classrooms, saying it is sometimes portrayed as a scientific theory by "religious fundamentalists" working in publicly funded schools.
The group has issued a statement which appears on a new campaign website, warning it is "unacceptable" to teach creationism and intelligent design in school science lesson and called for the teaching of evolution to be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
In addition to the 30 scientists the new campaign has been has been coordinated by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and is supported by the Association for Science Education, British Science Association, Campaign for Science & Engineering and leading theological think tank Ekklesia.
According to the statement two organisations, Truth in Science and Creation Ministries International are "touring the UK and presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science".
"Creationism and intelligent design are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly funded schools," the scientists say.
"There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly funded school of whatever type."
"Truth in Science has sent free resources to all secondary heads of science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have intelligent design ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools."
The statement also highlighted that neither free schools nor academies were obliged to teach the national curriculum and so were "under no obligation to teach evolution at all."
Following the statement, Truth in Science has denied advocating the teaching of creationism in schools. "We wish to highlight the scientific weaknesses of neo-Darwinism and to encourage a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution in schools and universities," The Guardian reported the organisation as saying.
The new campaign was set up as a proposal aiming at the inclusion of the theory of evolution in school curriculums had been "accepted by Labour in 2009" but later on dropped by the coalition, while now being reviewed by the Department for Education.
The Department for Education said: "The education secretary was crystal clear in opposition and now in government that teaching creationism as scientific fact is wrong. He will not accept any academy or free school proposal which plans to teach creationism in the science curriculum or as an alternative to accepted scientific theories.
"Academies and free schools must have a broad and balanced curriculum. Ofsted takes a strict line with inspecting this. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum."
As the debate is heating up, there is, as of yet, no definitive data on the number of UK schools which teach creationism, but a 2006 survey by Opinionpanel found that nearly 20% of UK students said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school.
Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Professor Reiss said, "Evolution is an extremely powerful idea that lies at the heart of biology. At the same time, it's a sufficiently simple concept that there's no good reason why it should be left out of the primary curriculum. If creationism is discussed, it should be made clear to pupils that it is not accepted by the scientific community."
Supporting the statement, Professor Dawkins said, "We need to stop calling evolution a theory. In the ordinary language sense of the word it is a fact. It is as solidly demonstrated as any fact in science."
The statement reads:
Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type.
Organisations like 'Truth in Science' are encouraging teachers to incorporate 'intelligent design' into their science teaching. 'Truth in Science' has sent free resources to all Secondary Heads of Science and to school librarians around the country that seek to undermine the theory of evolution and have 'intelligent design' ideas portrayed as credible scientific viewpoints. Speakers from Creation Ministries International are touring the UK, presenting themselves as scientists and their creationist views as science at a number of schools.
The current government guidance that creationism and 'intelligent design' should not be taught in school science should be made statutory and enforceable. It also needs to be made comprehensive so that it is clear that any portrayal of creationism and 'intelligent design' as science (whether it takes place in science lessons or not) is unacceptable.
An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools.
Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15), but the government is overseeing a review of the whole curriculum with the revised National Curriculum for science being introduced in September 2012 to be made compulsory from 2013. Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all.