Intelligent design creeps on to courses

June 23, 2006

Creationism will be 'compulsory', report Jessica Shepherd and Steve Farrar

Creationism - the belief that the biblical story of creation is scientific fact - is beginning to make inroads into the science curricula of UK universities, The Times Higher can reveal.

Leeds University plans to incorporate one or two compulsory lectures on creationism and intelligent design into its second-year course for zoology and genetics undergraduates next Christmas.

At Leicester University, academics already devote part of a lecture for third-year genetics undergraduates to creationism and intelligent design.

In both cases, lecturers intend to present the controversial theories as fallacies irreconcilable with scientific evidence. But that these alternatives to evolution have been proposed for formal discussion has sparked concern among the UK science community.

David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, said: "It would be undesirable for universities to have to spend a lot of precious resources teaching students that creationism and intelligent design are not based on scientific evidence. It is pretty basic stuff."

A Times Higher investigation has also discovered there are at least 14 academics in science departments who consider themselves creationists. They argue the world is thousands not billions of years old and believe Noah's flood explains fossil remains. Several others are proponents of intelligent design, which rejects evolution as a discredited theory.

Some are heads of departments, seven lecture in the life sciences and seven are professors. They work in universities such as Bristol, Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan and Southampton.

They include Jonathan Swingler, head of Southampton University's School of Engineering Sciences, who believes dinosaurs co-existed with humans; and George Marshall, lecturer in neurobiomedicine at Glasgow University, who claims the complexity of the eye makes him "balk at evolutionary theory".

There was concern from some of Britain's top scientists at the findings of The Times Higher 's investigation.

John Armour, professor of human genetics at Nottingham University, said he thought giving two lectures on alternatives to evolution was "like geologists spending time discussing the Earth being flat".

Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate, insisted that creationism should not be discussed as science. "But this issue should be discussed in universities as it would help clarify what is and what is not science," he said.

The Leeds plan to include lectures on alternatives to evolution is the result of student feedback. Michael McPherson, director of the Undergraduate School in Biological Sciences, said: "Our students are likely to be exposed to proponents of creationism and intelligent design. It is essential they understand the historical context and the flaws in the arguments these groups put forward."

Randall Hardy of the Creation Research organisation in the UK said the heyday of Darwinism had probably passed. "What is almost certainly happening is that the secular atheists, who have hijacked science for their own ends, are being found out."

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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