Sir Harold Kroto, Sir Richard Roberts and Sir John Sulston have signed an online petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for teachers to receive guidance on the issue.
The Scottish Secular Society is leading the campaign, urging Holyrood to stop state schools presenting “separate creation and Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent and time”.
It started the petition in the wake of news last year that members of the West Mains Church of Christ, a US-based pro-creationist sect, had been employed for eight years as classroom assistants at Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride. They had given pupils books purporting to rubbish evolution.
In England and Wales the teaching of creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas is not allowed in schools. In Scotland, there is no suggestion that the above incident is not extremely rare.
Spencer Fildes, chair of the Scottish Secular Society, said: “We just want the government to turn round and say let’s clear this up, let’s get rid of all the ambiguities – this is the guidance we are going to set out.”
Sir Harold Kroto, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize for chemistry and is now professor of chemistry at Florida State University, said creationism was a religious notion and it should be formally recognised that schools only teach facts. “I am very staunch about the separation of church and state ... if parents want their children to be educated in religious instruction, then there are plenty of churches and Sunday schools for them to do that,” he told the Sunday Herald.
Sir Richard, who won the 1993 Nobel Prize in medicine and is chief scientific officer at a research firm in Massachusetts, said: “This is really an important issue. One should be teaching facts to children, not religion.”
Sir John, joint winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in medicine and chair of the Institute For Science, Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University, said everyone was entitled to their own beliefs, as long as they did not harm others. But belief-based teaching “should be entirely separate from science teaching, because the premises are different and not alternative”.
However, a spokeswoman for the Educational Institute of Scotland said the curriculum was a matter for teachers. “The EIS is confident that our members would not support any set of beliefs which would undermine the current curricular guidance in science or in religious education. Supporting proscription of beliefs such as creationism is not a matter on which we have a policy.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said that teachers, headteachers and professional educationalists decided what is taught in schools. The added: “This longstanding tradition that politicians should not determine the curriculum remains a cornerstone of Scottish education.”