Church hints at school lessons on theory of intelligent design

London, England - State schools could teach the theory of intelligent design in science lessons, the Church of England's new head of education has suggested.

The Rev Jan Ainsworth, who is responsible for more than 4,600 schools, said intelligent design - which argues that living species are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must therefore be the product of a guiding "designer" such as God - could form part of discussions in science lessons.

The church stressed that she was not backing intelligent design as a valid theory but arguing that it could be included in a study of the history of science.

In an interview in the Times Educational Supplement, Mrs Ainsworth said: "While it is not something I would subscribe to, it is a recognition that there are different ways of looking at the evidence. You would get howls of protest from the scientific community ... but you could do it in history of science." Religious education lessons in CofE schools included discussions of different beliefs, she said.

A spokesman for the church said Mrs Ainsworth was "representing the fact that some schools currently discuss intelligent design within the context of lessons exploring how our understanding of science has developed historically".

He continued: "Mrs Ainsworth was not suggesting that intelligent design should be taught as a scientifically based theory, but merely stating that some schools do include the topic on their history of science curriculum, and that she does not propose to prevent them from doing so."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Intelligent design is nothing to do with science and therefore nothing to do with the history of science. We challenge the Church of England to keep religion out of science lessons and unless it does so its educational reputation will be tarnished with the stigma of fundamentalism."

Stephen Cox, executive secretary of the Royal Society, said: "The theory of evolution is supported by the weight of scientific evidence. The theory of intelligent design is not. The society supports questioning and debate in science lessons, as long as it is not designed to undermine young people's confidence in the value of scientific evidence.

"Young people are poorly served by deliberate attempts to withhold, distort or misrepresent scientific knowledge to promote particular religious beliefs."

Last year, the national science academies of 67 countries called on schools to stop denying the facts of evolution. They warned that scientific evidence was being "concealed, denied, or confused".