THREE Nobel-winning British scientists have backed calls for a ban on the teaching of creationism in Scottish schools.

Sir Harold Kroto, Sir Richard Roberts and Sir John Sulston have signed a petition lodged at the Scottish Parliament calling for guidance to be introduced for teachers.

The Scottish Secular Society wants a ban in publicly funded Scottish schools of the "presentation of separate creation and Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent and deep time".

The move comes after an incident last year when it emerged that members of a US pro-creationist religious sect, the West Mains Church of Christ, had been working as classroom assistants for eight years at Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride. Children were given books intended to debunk evolution.

In England and Wales the teaching of creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas as scientific theories is prohibited in schools.

Just over 600 people have signed the online petition. They include Kroto, a chemist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize for chemistry and is professor of chemistry at Florida State University. He said creationism was a religious concept and there should be recognition that schools should be teaching facts.

He said: "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."

Roberts, who was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in medicine and is chief scientific officer at research firm New England Biolabs in Massachusetts, said: "This is really an important issue. One should be teaching facts to children, not religion."

Sulston, who was a joint recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in medicine and is chair of the Institute For Science, Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University, said: "Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, so long as they follow the golden rule of not causing harm to others.

"Belief-based teaching should be entirely separate from science teaching, because the premises are different and not alternative."

Spencer Fildes, chair of the Scottish Secular Society, who lodged the petition, 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."

A spokeswoman for teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland said it believed the curriculum was a matter for teachers.

She said: "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: "Teachers, head teachers and professional educationalists decide what is taught in Scotland's schools. This longstanding tradition that politicians should not determine the curriculum is highly valued and remains a cornerstone of Scottish education."