Naturalist Sir David Attenborough and atheist Prof Richard Dawkins are among the academics arguing that evolution should be taught from the time children start school, as opposed to waiting until they start their GCSEs, as happens at present.
The academics say on their new website that creationism and intelligent design “are not scientific theories” but rather only 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,” they said in a statement.
“But this is not enough. 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.”
Signatories of the statement include the British Humanist Association, theology think tank Ekklesia, and the Rev Prof Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education, in the University of London.
Rev Prof Reiss supports the theory of evolution but quit his Royal Society post in 2008 after a row broke out over his suggestion that science teachers approach creationism in the classroom “not as a misconception but as a world view”.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the new website today, he 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.”
Prof 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.”
In reponse, Elfed Godding, national director of the Evangelical Alliance of Wales, said he was “baffled” by the group’s position.
He called for a "balanced" curriculum.
“Education at all levels involves the careful analysis of a variety of ideas and viewpoints. To insist on the validity of one theory alone to the detriment of all others exemplifies intolerance and doesn’t belong in the classrooms of Wales and the rest of the UK,” he said.
“Christians hold different views when it comes to the origins of the universe. Although believing passionately in the creative activity of a loving God, Christians hold a range of scientific opinions in relation to how the universe has taken shape.
“Children and young people are entitled to be exposed to these opinions within the context of a balanced curriculum.”