Emmanuel college, Gateshead
'Creationist' school has evolution debate
Tania Branigan - The Guardian, Apr 9, 2002 - original
The school at the centre of the row over creationism in education is inviting one of its chief critics to speak to its students about evolution, it has emerged.

Sir Peter Vardy, the multimillionaire entrepreneur who donated 2m to found Emmanuel city technology college in Gateshead, and who remains director of its board, wants Richard Dawkins to take part in a debate.

Emmanuel has been criticised since the Guardian revealed last month that lectures given by its staff, suggested evolution was a "faith position" and urged teachers to "counter [its] false doctrines".

At the time, Professor Dawkins, an authority on evolution, wrote: "Any science teacher who denies the world is billions (or even millions) of years old is teaching children a preposterous, mind-shrinking falsehood. These men disgrace the honourable profession of teacher."

But the two men have been corresponding privately since the dispute broke out and are now planning to meet. Sir Peter said: "We are quite open to talking to anybody. I would like to have a debate at Emmanuel college for the students to hear and I'll be asking him to take part."

He added: "I am not a creationist and neither is Emmanuel college. We have guys who do believe in young earth [theories], but we also have atheists and agnostics and folks that believe in the old earth _ What we seek to do is present all the views of both creation and evolution."

But in a lecture, the school's head of science, Steven Layfield, urged Christian teachers to "show the superiority" of creationist theories.

He added that they should "note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm [millions or billions of years] is explicitly mentioned or implied and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement". Most scientists agree that life on earth is around four billion years old.

"I'm keen to meet Sir Peter and no doubt the idea of a debate will be one of many things we discuss when we meet up," Prof Dawkins said