The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stepped into the controversy between religious fundamentalists and scientists by saying that he does not believe that creationism - the Bible-based account of the origins of the world - should be taught in schools.
Giving his first, wide-ranging, interview at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop was emphatic in his criticism of creationism being taught in the classroom, as is happening in two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (C), the spiritual leader of more than 70 million Anglicans worldwide, talks with Sudanese Christian children before a mass at Emmanuel Church near Omdurman, north of the capital Khartoum where Islamic Sharia law is in force, February 26, 2006. Williams appealed for religious tolerance on Sunday after arriving in Sudan where a peace deal last year ended two decades of civil war. REUTERS/Mohamed Nurledin Abdallah
"I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it," he said.
The debate over creationism or its slightly more sophisticated offshoot, so-called "intelligent design" (ID) which argues that creation is so complex that an intelligent - religious - force must have directed it, has provoked divisions in Britain but nothing like the vehemence or politicisation of the debate in the US. There, under pressure from the religious right, some states are considering giving ID equal prominence to Darwinism, the generally scientifically accepted account of the evolution of species. Most scientists believe that ID is little more than an attempt to smuggle fundamentalist Christianity into science teaching.
States from Ohio to California are considering placing ID it on the curriculum, with President George Bush telling reporters last August that "both sides ought to be properly taught ... so people can understand what the debate is about." The archbishop's remarks place him firmly on the side of science.
Dr Williams spoke of his determination to hold the third-largest Christian denomination together in its row over the place of gay clergy. He was also highly critical of parts of the church in Africa and said he did not wish to be seen as "comic vicar to the nation", speaking out on issues where he can make no difference.
Speaking of the church's situation in Africa, the archbishop issued snubs to two of the region's archbishops. He described the position in central Africa, where Archbishop Bernard Malango has just absolved without trial Bishop Norbert Kunonga of Harare, accused by his parishioners of incitement to murder, as "dismal and deeply problematic" .
Dr Williams also criticised Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the largest single national church in the Anglican communion, in Nigeria, who has been accused of encouraging violence against Muslims during recent rioting by warning that Christian youth could retaliate against them. Dr Williams claimed the African primate had not made himself sufficiently clear: "He did not mean to stir up the violence ... I think he meant to issue a warning which certainly has been taken as a threat, an act of provocation."
Speaking of the gay debate which threatens to split the church, Dr Williams insisted he would continue to try to hold the communion together. "I can only say that I think I have got to try ... For us to break apart in an atmosphere of deep mistrust, fierce recrimination and mutual misunderstanding is really not going to be in anybody's good in the long run." But he accepted there might come a moment where the Anglican Communion says "we can't continue, we can't continue with this".
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