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