An unholy row has erupted over teaching Ulster schoolchildren alternative theories to evolution as part of the science curriculum, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
The Belfast Humanist Society has hit out over DUP moves to have Biblically-based theories like creationism and 'intelligent design' taught in science classes.
Creationists believe the Earth was created by a greater being, God, and that the accounts in the book of Genesis are literally true. They believe that Genesis contradicts the theory of evolution and that it should be taught as part of the science curriculum.
Les Reid, chairman of the Belfast Humanist Society, branded it "totally inappropriate to bring religious ideas into the science classroom".
He was speaking as two DUP members raised the issue in the Assembly and at council level.
"There is already scope in the curriculum for religious instruction. RE teachers have the classes to teach about supernatural beings and the creation of the universe as they see it. That's where creationism belongs," said Mr Reid.
He said politicians who do not have recognised scientific qualifications should not be allowed to dictate the content of the school curriculum.
"Our education system is liberal and accommodating as it stands," he added.
The row was sparked after DUP MP David Simpson, who is a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, questioned Education Minister Caitriona Ruane on the availability of materials and resources for schools wishing to teach alternative scientific theories to evolution as part of the revised curriculum.
Mr Simpson also asked for an assurance that pupils who answer GCSE examination questions outlining creationist or intelligent design explanations for the development of life on Earth, will not be marked lower than pupils who give answers with an evolutionist explanation.
Lisburn council voted last night to write to all its grammar and secondary schools encouraging them to teach alternative theories like 'intelligent design'.
The proposal was made by DUP councillor Paul Givan, who is also a member of the Free Presbyterian Church.
Members of the SDLP and Sinn Fein opposed the proposal, but a spokesman for the DUP confirmed that both Mr Givan and Mr Simpson's views were in keeping with party policy.
In a statement the Department of Education said the teaching of alternative theories was a matter for schools.
A spokeswoman said: "The revised curriculum offers scope for schools to explore alternative theories to evolution, which could include creationism, if they so wish."
In America, Christian fundamentalists succeeded in banning the teaching of evolution from US public schools in the 1960s. However, following high-profile court cases, it was ruled that intelligent design was not science and contravened the constitutional restriction on teaching religion in public school science classes.