From Anti-evolutionists raise their profile in Europe in the November 23, 2006 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
The teaching of alternative theories to evolution in schools is not just an issue in the United States. Almut Graebsch and Quirin Schiermeier assess whether creationism is threatening science in Europe.
Being a trained biologist doesn’t stop Maciej Giertych from insisting that evolution is a falsified hypothesis1. The 70-year-old Polish member of the European parliament, who has a PhD in tree physiology, also wants to spread the word. In October, he organized a workshop for parliamentarians entitled “Teaching evolution theory in Europe: is your child being indoctrinated in the classroom?”
Although the teaching of evolution has become a highly politicized and hotly discussed matter in the United States, such moves are rare in Europe, and Giertych’s activities have so far met with little response in Strasbourg or Brussels. But a number of similar incidents over the past couple of years, in various countries, are raising fears among the scientific community that creationism may be on the rise in Europe.
Last month, for example, it emerged that creationism is being taught at two schools in the German state of Hesse. The incident, albeit minor, has provoked debate in the country. The Christian view of creation should at least be discussed in science classes, argues Karin Wolf, Hesse’s Christian Democrat education minister. But the Association of German Biologists warns of the dangers of blurring the division between science and religion.
And in Britain in September, the prominent creationist group Truth in Science sent information packs to every UK secondary school. The material suggests intelligent design should be taught as an alternative to the theory of evolution, although the UK government’s education department was quick to say that it does not endorse its use in science classes.
In response, a group called the British Centre for Science Education has been formed to campaign against the teaching of creationism in schools. Meanwhile, British school leavers’ knowledge about evolution is considered so poor, and creationist ideas so widespread, that the universities of Leeds and Leicester are planning to introduce remedial courses next year for first-year science students.
A recent study by Observa Science in Society, a Vicenza-based body that promotes informed debate on scientific issues, shows that only 11% of Italians support the exclusion of darwinism from curricula. But almost two-thirds would prefer lessons to cover both evolutionary theory and the creationist view. “Italy is no longer a completely secular country,” says Telmo Pievani, a philosopher of science at the University of Milan II in Italy. “We are facing a dramatic and worrying cultural and political regression.”
Creationism is a major issue in Turkish politics; the debate is much more tense than in the United States.
In Russia, meanwhile, creationist societies are receiving strong support from the Protestant minority. Besides translating the writings of European and US creationists, Russian groups conduct their own ‘creation research’. In Moscow, for example, the ARCTUR Research Geological Lab is looking for geological and geochemical proof of creationism. The society collaborates with creationists in the West and promotes its findings in several Russian and English-language creationist journals.
Such examples illustrate the complexity of the issue in Europe compared with the United States. Whereas the US drive towards creationism comes mainly from Protestant fundamentalist groups, the European movement has diverse roots. “There is an aggressive anti-darwinism inspired by radical Islamic minorities in immigrant communities in Britain and France; there is a Catholic creationism growing in Poland; there is Protestant creationism in some schools in England,” says Pievani.
In addition to Maciej Giertych, yet another ID-friendly scientist was interviewed and presented in a respectful manner. See: Q&A with Peter Korevaar
Peter Korevaar is head of the physics and cosmology working group of Germany’s Studiengemeinschaft Wort und Wissen, one of the largest creationist groups in Europe. He holds a PhD in astrophysics and now works at IBM in Mannheim. Quirin Schiermeier asks him about his group’s aims.
What are your main goals?
We are a Protestant group. We want to do accurate and honest scientific work under the premise that God has created the world. Scientific naturalism as we know it doesn’t allow for a creator who can interfere with the physical world. Evolution should be taught in schools, and creation discussed along with it.
Do you advocate intelligent design?
There’s an open question about how the many complex structures observed in the Universe came into being. Intelligent design gives an alternative answer to this question. We can subscribe to most of its arguments.
Some of our ideas for discussion topics come from our readers, like “idnet.com.au”. I’d like to thank him for the suggestion of highlighting this issue of Nature.