Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Emmanuel College

  Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to your Committee's inquiry into Science 14-19 and to clarify some matters in relation to the recent press coverage regarding Science and Creation. You may also know that OFSTED have written to Sir Peter Vardy, our Chair of Governors, asking some similar information.

  I am afraid that much of the "cloudiness" on these matters involves a lack of clarity over the term "creationism" and the wrong view that Emmanuel sees the Science curriculum to be in conflict with biblical perspectives. I hope that what follows will clarify the matters for you and answer, albeit in a different order, the nine questions that you pose in your letter.

  In spite of giving live interviews with, amongst others, the Channel 4 News, Jimmy Young Programme (BBC Radio 4), Breakfast with Frost and Easter Monday News (BBC Radio 4), there seems to remain a widely-held misconception that:

    (c)  the College formally teaches as fact, within its Science curriculum and elsewhere, that Earth History can be clearly dated to show that the world is younger than 10,000 years; and

    (d)  that our Science Department teaches as fact that the universe was made in six days, each made up of 24 hours.

  The truth is that our Science Department teaches neither.

  Within the assumption that "creationism" is defined as being the belief that the two underlined propositions mentioned in (a) and (b) above are fact, such "creationism" is not and has never been taught within Emmanuel College.

  This information/clarification was given to the DfES in March, together with relevant Teaching Notes, through our normal Spring Meeting of the College's Governing Body and is being reiterated in our reply to OFSTED. This should come as no surprise to either party, given the College's close relationship with DfES and our recent OFSTED Inspection (published in March 2001) in which our teaching methods were highly commended.

  The teachers within the College's Science Department, nevertheless, hold a wide variety of views regarding these issues, ranging from atheistic evolution giving rise to life from nothing to the concept which sees everything as having been created by an Intelligent Designer God from nothing. There are, of course, many places in between.

  However, these are the personal views of individual teachers, held in good conscience, and respected by the College in the spirit of Academic Freedom. In this regard, staff are also free to express their views as they arise within the proper consideration of their science topics, regardless of whichever side of the debate they prefer. As a learning institution, we would find any attempt to silence such views as being inappropriate and censorial. This said, in Assemblies, RE and elsewhere, the College stands upon the traditional Christian view that "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth." Perhaps this should be less surprising than it appears to be to some, given that the College has always been pleased to take a clear stand on the Christian Foundation upon which it was established in 1990 whilst enjoying a student population drawn from all faiths and from those with no faith at all.

  College does not, however, hold an absolute view as to how or over how long a period the Creation came into being. It does, however, ask staff and students to develop and retain their critical thinking faculties in approaching the interface between fact and faith. College does, however, hold that Almighty God is the Creator of Natural Laws and is able to over-ride them through Miracle such as Virgin Birth and Resurrection. In this sense, College holds to a traditional view of what constitutes Christianity.

  In this regard, the National Curriculum Programme of Study for Science does expect Science teachers to tackle some of the scientific controversies surrounding subjects such as Evolution, including the Fossil Record as well as Variation and Selection. Many of these questions are raised by Darwin himself as well as by current theistic and atheistic scientists. By doing so, Science teachers are responding to clear guidance given within the National Curriculum for Science (SC1) which seeks to encourage healthy scientific enquiry, debate and an understanding of "the kinds of questions science can and cannot answer" as well as "uncertainties in scientific knowledge". It is therefore expected that all state school Science Departments are tackling these very questions and we have sought confirmation from OFSTED that all of their current and future Inspections will include inspection of this precise National Curriculum expectation, just as they have sought detail from us on the matter.

  It should, however, be pointed out that Emmanuel College, together with the other 14 City Technology Colleges (CTCs) in the country, is not obliged to follow the National Curriculum Programmes of Study, including those which demand consideration of Evolution within Science.

  However, we do this through choice, given the huge impact that evolutionary theory has had on the history of scientific thought over the past 150 years. Were we a proselytising institution, as some have sought to assert, we would simply ignore this topic and "ram home" a one-sided view that denied children access to other viewpoints. Such a position would be perfectly within our rights but, interestingly, as well as being rank "bad education", it would doubtless result in the proper revolt of our students against such attempts to brainwash. Whether or not students in College agree of disagree with the various theories about the origins of life and the world, it is at least clear that, at Emmanuel, they have more than one side of the debate to consider.

  Whilst we are obliged to teach the core and foundation subjects and have no obligation to follow the Programmes of Study, examination syllabi state what should be taught in order to pass examinations. Naturally, all of the necessary content is taught at GCSE, "A"-Level and AVCE to ensure that these, and topics such as Big Bang and Genetics/Selection, are fully covered.

  In this regard, College believes that our students are able to distinguish well between theoretical and empirical science. We fear that an inability to distinguish on this point is one of the reasons why Science has become of less interest to students at Sixth Form Level. In this sense, we stand on the view that Science is about observation, hypothesis and experimentation in search of verification. As such it is "tentative" and remains reluctant to declare that anything is scientifically provable beyond doubt. This view encourages young minds to see Science as an open rather than a closed book into which they can delve, question and arrive at their own ideas which can in turn be critiqued by others.

  In situations, however, where it is not possible to devise an experiment to verify a theory, often because one cannot re-create the precise conditions necessary for replication, students are encouraged to assess the validity of the various theories which have been proposed in relation to what "may" or "is likely to" have happened. Here, students become aware of the limitations of scientific enquiry.

  College regrets, therefore, that it has been so misrepresented in much of what has been said and written recently. It notes, with equal regret, the suggestion of some who wish to see scientific questions about evolution and Earth History demonised under some "anti-science creationism" tag and so removed from the National Curriculum altogether. This would be a huge backward step for an education system which should be about opening young minds, not closing them. Indeed, it is a startling proposition for scientists, of all people, to make when their discipline above all others should at least have come to value the importance of continually asking questions, however uncomfortable they may first appear, in order to advance understanding.

  This said, and although such a deletion from the National Curriculum would not be relevant to CTCs, the removal of scientific scepticism over evolutionary theories would deny students in every other state school in the land the opportunity to develop and deploy the key skills of scientific enquiry in order to arrive at informed decisions for themselves.

  Against such a background, you would be rightly horrified if any part of the College's sponsorship was dependent upon the teaching of Creationism, as defined at the outset, either in its own right or to the exclusion of all other views. Happily, our sponsors seek to equip our young people with well-tuned critical thinking skills with which they can consider a huge variety of views on a whole range of issues and from which they can emerge with their own thought-through opinions.

April 2002

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