New guidance for secondary schools in Hampshire gives teachers the green light to hold discussions in class on creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution.
The discussions form part of a joint syllabus for science and religious education and will be used for 11 to 14-year-olds, according to The Telegraph.
The decision was praised by academics and clergy who said it would encourage students to analyse the different viewpoints about the origins of man and the earth.
According to official government guidance, creationism should be taught in RE and not as part of science lessons, but it does allow discussion on the subject if pupils raise it during debates on evolution.
The new guidance comes from Hampshire Council's multi-faith advisory panel for RE and states, "The tensions between religion and science should not be denied but nor should we paint a black and white picture in this respect, it is more complex than that."
The guidance encourages teachers to talk about why so many people did not accept the theory of evolution by natural selection when it was first developed by Charles Darwin in the 19th century. It also asks students to think about if it is possible to believe both in evolution and a divine creator.
The guidance also says that religious ideas, such as the Roman Catholic view that man evolved but God created the soul and therefore made man in the image of God, should also be debated in RE and science lessons.
The council refuted any claims that it was promoting the teaching of creationism as a scientific theory.
Councillor Anna McNair Scott, chairman of the county's Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, was quoted by The Telegraph as saying, "There is no suggestion in the report that creationism is a science, still less that it should be taught as one.
"The report is intended simply to advise schools about resources they can use to encourage reasoned enquiry and open discussion about creation and evolution, and suggests how the debate can be carried out across the curriculum areas of science and RE."
Teaching creationism or intelligent design in the classroom has caused divisions in the academic community.
In 2008 Professor Michael Reiss was forced to quit as director of education at the prestigious Royal Society, after fellow academics attacked his idea of talking about creationism in biology lessons.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said, "There is a big difference between answering students' questions about creationism and actually introducing it into the lessons in the first place as part of the curriculum. If the teacher raises the topic, then it takes on an authority that it does not deserve."
Andy McIntosh, co-director of Truth in Science, said, "There should be an open and fair discussion about the issues and we should not be presenting pupils with only one view in a closed manner. It is certainly possible to look at the evidence and come up with a different conclusion to the evolutionary position. Indeed, many would see that the evidence fits perfectly well with a design position."
Hampshire schools given green light to debate creationism
Published 11 March 2009 | Jenna Lyle