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Interviews with
SIR PETER VARDY
, sponsor of Emmanuel College, and with
RALPH LEVINSON
, lecturer in science education at the Institute of Education in London

Ten O'Clock News, - BBC Radio 4 - 11/3/02

[Following a report on the Ohio State Board of Education's decision later this year on inclusion of "Intelligent Design" in the science curriculum.]

Presenter: It is not just in the United States that there are growing efforts to get creationism firmly onto the science curriculum. It is emerging that there are supporters of the idea here too.

Last weekend a conference on creationism was held at a City Technology College in Gateshead. Four senior teachers at the school, Emmanuel College, strongly favour teaching creationism as a scientific theory and senior staff have given lectures and the college on promoting that idea.

Emmanuel College was built with 2mn of sponsorship from businessman Sir Peter Vardy, an evangelical Christian. I asked him whether he is a creationist.

Sir Peter Vardy: Well, I think there are varying views on both sides of this argument - both on the creationist side and on the evolution, and there are obviously some folks that are poles apart on their interpretation. I obviously for my own part believe in the Bible and that God created the earth and all that there is in it.

Presenter: Is it the very best in education to teach children Darwinism, evolution and creationism as equal theories, to give them equal weight, when numerous scientists have said that creationism may be valid in the religious education classes but not as a science?

Sir Peter Vardy: Well, numerous scientists also support creationism, so it is a view, it is an opinion that people form. One size does not fit all and what is being rammed down our throats at the moment is that evolution is right and creationism is wrong.

Presenter: Are you trying to redress that balance then?

Sir Peter Vardy: Well, we need to present both. I mean, we live in Christian England. Who started education? It was the churches that started education, and it's amazing that it's come as such a surprise now that churches and Christians believe in creation.

Presenter: Does a child who goes to - a teenager who goes to Emmanuel College - do they get the chance to really make up their own minds, are they presented with all the evidence?

Sir Peter Vardy: They are presented with all of the evidence. We've had reporters there last week. I invited them to go into the college and see the students. We've had an Ofsted report that has been described as exceptional. Now, if there was anything that was being taught that was not in the national curriculum, Ofsted would have picked it up. They've interviewed the students, the staff and everyone else. So there isn't an issue.

Presenter: Are you planning on funding more colleges like Emmanuel?

Sir Peter Vardy: Yes.

Presenter: And will the teaching of creationism in those colleges be an important criteria [sic] for you when you select the teachers and provide the funding?

Sir Peter Vardy: No. We want to create schools with a Christian ethos and parents were interviewed and children have been interviewed as well and they say that they're getting a balanced approach from teaching staff and Emmanuel College. On that basis I'm happy.

Presenter: Sir Peter Vardy, thank you.

With me now is Ralph Levinson, lecturer in science education at the Institute of Education in London. Emmanuel College is teaching creationism. Is that because it is nominally an independent college as a City Technology College, or can any state school in this country teach it as a science if it wants to?

Ralph Levinson: Well, I guess there is nothing stopping any state school teaching creationism. It's certainly not on the national curriculum but that does not mean that it can't creep in somewhere. However, I'm certainly not aware of any schools teaching creationism other than this particular school.

Presenter: Well, does it matter if it's being taught if as at Emmanuel College they do get very good results, they get extremely good Ofsted inspection reports, so they are obviously doing something right?

Ralph Levinson: Yes, it does matter. It does matter, because what is being used is actually a discursive trick - to put creationism on a par with evolution. Evolution is a scientific theory, it holds itself up to be falsified, it has tremendous predictive power, it has really helped to make tremendous developments in science. Creationism really is not a theory, it is a story about - it is a myth, and there is some attempt by fundamentalists to turn it into some kind of competing theory.

Presenter: But the argument is that children should really be able to make up their own minds about that, given that there are two competing opinions on it and that scientists do sometimes get things wrong.

Ralph Levinson: Well, I mean, when we talk about making up their own minds, we must remember who is in the power position here. It is the teachers and it is the teachers in this particular school who are putting over a point of view that creationism is a competing theory with evolution. It is not a competing theory and hence you are asking children who do not have the opportunity to investigate both those things to balance those things out. It's not a matter of balance, it's a matter of evidence, and they're not really providing the pupils with the evidence they need.

Presenter: Briefly, do you think the Government should in some way legislate against - ban it from being anywhere in the national curriculum?

Ralph Levinson: Well, I'm always very wary of legislation of this kind being made. I am concerned that there is an attempt being made to use this in more schools under the aegis of Peter Vardy. I think it certainly needs watching very very carefully.

Presenter: Ralph Levinson of the Institute of Education, thank you very much.

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