A new campaign called CrISIS - Creationism In Schools Isn't Science - has been launched with the aim of keeping classrooms places of genuine learning.
Yesterday the campaign delivered an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, signed by key figures from both the scientific and religious communities.
It calls for a change to the national Department for Education (DfE) guidelines, to prevent creationism being taught, presented, or otherwise promoted as a valid scientific position to children in publicly-funded schools in any lesson or activity.
The signatories are Jim Al-Khalili, Susan Blackmore, Andrew Coleman, David Colquhoun, Richard Dawkins, Christopher French, Adam Hart-Davis, Julian Huppert MP, the Rev Canon David Jennings, Professor J Steve Jones, philosopher Dr Stephen Law, religious broadcaster and Catholic columnist Clifford Longley, geologist the Rev Michael Roberts, Simon Barrow of Ekklesia, Terry Sanderson of the NSS, Simon Singh MBE, philosophical theologian Canon Professor J. S. K. (Keith) Ward, and Professor James D. Williams.
Professor Paul Braterman for the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) said: “State-funded schools must not sell children short by allowing beliefs to be promoted as ‘facts’ of equal value with scientific evidence.”
The group has established an online petition over the issue at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/crisis-creationism-in-schools-isn-t-...
The CrISIS campaign was set up by Laura Horner, a parent of pupils at St Peter's state secondary school in Exeter, Devon, where a proponent of creationism was introduced to children as a scientist and allowed to propagate his beliefs as having scientific validity during a Religious Education class debate.
What happened at Exeter has serious implications, say educationists, not only for existing publicly-funded schools, but also in relation to the activities of a group of 'Young Earth creationist' religious foundation schools known to be drawing up applications for Free School status.
These developments illustrate that the existing Department of Education (DfE) guidance on the teaching of creationism is not working, says CrISIS.
CrISIS is being supported by a diverse range of individuals and bodies, including the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE), the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia and the National Secular Society (NSS).
The clearest evidence that the guidelines need changing, say campaigners, is the response from St Peter’s school, which insists it has done nothing wrong within the current guidelines - despite presenting non-scientific creationist ideology on equal terms with modern science.
In a letter to Ms Horner, the school described the visiting creationist as a “scientist” who “presented arguments based on scientific theory for his case”. It also described modern biological science as “evolutionism”.
Ms Horner says she was "appalled to find out that my children had been exposed to this dangerous nonsense and I am determined that the Secretary of State for Education should urgently plug the loophole that allows creationists to do this."
Tessa Kendall, Senior Campaigns Officer of the National Secular Society said, “When teaching evolution, as well as the origins of the universe and the age of the earth, it should be made clear that science is not an ‘alternative’ and that there are not other ‘truths’ of equal value.”
Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which focuses on a wide range of contemporary beliefs and values issues, commented: "The problem of creationism in British schools is not an issue of religion per se, but about attempts to infiltrate eccentric ideas that overtly or covertly reject scientific method while falsely claiming to be scientific.
He continued: "Creationism, it needs to be stressed, has been as strongly criticised and rejected by mainstream churches and competent theologians as it has been by the scientific community.
"In the US vast sums have had to be spent trying to defend science teaching from well-funded assaults by proponents of creationism and its close cousin, ID. This is a huge waste of resources which should be devoted to quality education. That is one of many reasons why the Secretary of State needs to plug the current gap in DfE teaching guidance."
* The full text and signatories of the letter to Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove is available here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14756
* The CrISIS petition can be viewed and signed here: The group has established an online petition over the issue at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/crisis-creationism-in-schools-isn-t-...
* British Centre for Science Education: http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/