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LONDON (Reuters) - Science teachers should be prepared to discuss creationism in class, one of the leading professors of education said on Friday, fuelling a debate about the teaching of the origins of life.
Michael Reiss is a professor of science education at London's Institute of Education and an Anglican priest, as well as an evolutionary biologist.
He argues in a new book that while evolution is the established theory of how life began, teachers should allow pupils to bring up creationist beliefs in class so they can be discussed openly.
"I'd like science lessons to be places where teachers take the views that students come in with seriously and respectfully, and then teach about evolution and about the early history of the universe," Reiss told BBC radio.
"There are lots of pupils who come to science lessons from families where they very seriously believe the world was created in a few days 6,000 or 10,000 years ago.
"I want to try and not ridicule those students but to help them understand the scientific way in which we can also understand the universe."
Creationism hews to the Biblical account that the world and all life on it was created in six days by God. It dismisses Charles Darwin's accepted theory of evolution as atheistic.
Reiss, says he has no doubts about which theory of life's origins he believes in, but says that doesn't mean that creationism cannot be discussed.
"If you're a science teacher and some of your pupils bring it (creationism) up in a lesson, one approach is to say that we're not going to discuss that here," he said.
"The approach that I prefer is that if the science teacher wants to, they can discuss it in science lessons. I like science lessons where you can discuss almost anything."
New teaching guidelines issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in January this year suggested that creationism and the related theory of "intelligent design" should be taught in religion classes alongside evolution.
While many teachers don't disagree that competing theories of the origins of life should be taught in religion class, they argue that the science laboratory is not the place to hammer them out.
"We have to make the distinction between what is belief, and therefore is not part of the science curriculum, and what is the acceptance of evidence," James Williams, a lecturer in science education at Sussex University, told BBC.
"Evolution has plenty of evidence for it, we accept that evidence and that's what we teach in science. There's a place for talking about creationism, there's a place for talking about belief. It isn't the science lesson."