A Conservative government would not allow schools that teach creationism as if it was science, the shadow schools secretary has said.
Michael Gove MP told BBC1's Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning (14 February) that "fundamentalist groups" who taught in a way that undermined "democratic values" would be challenged, and if necessary, closed down.
He said the inspection regime would be crucial in challenging such schools.
"To my mind you cannot have a school which teaches creationism" he said. "And one thing that we will make absolutely clear is that you can not have schools that are set up which teach people things which are clearly at variance with what we know to be scientific fact."
"But critically, inspection is key here" he continued. "We do have some schools at the moment - independent schools - that have been set up by religious groups. You mentioned Islamic groups. Let's be clear, there are other fundamentalist groups as well which have schools in the private sctor. If those schools are properly regulated and inspected then we can ensure that anyone who teaches in a way that undermines our democratic values can be brought to public light, challenged, and if necessary, closed down."
Educationists point out that while creationism is strong in many areas of the US and has been growing among fundamentalist believers in parts of Europe and elsewhere, it is opposed by the official teaching of mainline churches and by theological specialists.
But a global opinion survey in October last year showed that the British public continued to be confused about how evolutionary science should be taught in school classrooms and whether opposing non-scientific views should be included.
A leading science education specialist, Professor Michael Reiss, who is also an Anglican clergyman, said last year that that creationism should not be taught in science classrooms, but that teachers need to be able to respond and engage with pupils from fundamentalist backgrounds when they raise questions from this perspective.
The Church of England's general synod, meeting in London last week, said that rejecting science "weakens the Christian voice" and that churchgoers should not read the Bible as if it was a modern textbook.
The comments came in a debate on science and religion on Darwin Day - which has also been marked in the US by hundreds of churches affirming the consonance of Christian belief and evolutionary biology.
Creationists - who reject the idea that natural processes are of God, and believe the world was brought about by divine fiat in contradiction to the picture painted by science - are wealthy, numerous in the US 'Bible belt', and politically determined. But all the major churches accept the evolutionary accounts and see these in relation to the world as divine gift.
Also from Ekklesia:
More on 'creationism' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/101
'Theology, science and the problem of ID' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6707