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12.3 Views on Human Evolution

Human Being As We Know Them

While the controversy has been prominent in the United States, it has flared up in other countries as well.

12.3.1 Europe

Europeans have often regarded the creation-evolution controversy as an American matter. However, in recent years the conflict has become an issue in a variety of countries including Germany, The United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Serbia. Council of Europe’s resolution 1580

On October 4 2007, The Council of Europe released the ‘Provisional edition’ of resolution 1580: “The dangers of creationism in education”. The resolution rejects that creationism in any form, including “Intelligent Design”, can be considered scientific (Article 4), and though recommends its inclusion in religion and cultural classes (Article 16). The resolution concludes that teaching creationism in school as a scientific theory may threaten civil rights (Articles 13 and 18). The resolution summarizes itself in Article 19:

“The Parliamentary Assembly therefore urges the member states, and especially their education authorities to:

  1. defend and promote scientific knowledge;
  2. strengthen the teaching of the foundations of science, its history, its epistemology and its methods alongside the teaching of objective scientific knowledge;
  3. make science more comprehensible, more attractive and closer to the realities of the contemporary world;
  4. firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion;
  5. Promote the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory in the school curriculula.” Countries

United Kingdom

In each part of the United Kingdom, there is an agreed syllabus for religious education with the right of parents to withdraw their children from these lessons. The religious education syllabus does not involve teaching creationism, but rather teaching the central tenets of major world faiths. At the same time, the teaching of evolution is compulsory in publicly funded schools.

For instance, the National Curriculum for England requires that students at Key Stage 4 (14-16) be taught:

  1. that the fossil record is evidence for evolution
  2. How variation and selection may lead to evolution or to extinction.

Similar requirements exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, leader of the Church of England, has expressed his view that creationism should not be taught in schools.

The efforts to introduce creationism and Intelligent Design into schools in the UK is being opposed by an organization called the “British Centre for Science Education”. The BCSE has been involved in government lobbying and has a website which presents information on the relevant issues.


In the Netherlands some factions teach creationism in their own schools. In May 2005, the Delft University of Technology’s physicist and author of a book on Intelligent Design, Cees Dekker, convinced education minister Maria van der Hoeven that debate about Intelligent Design may encourage discourse between the country’s various religious parties. She then sought to “stimulate an academic debate” on the subject. Following strong objection from the nation’s scientists, she dropped plans of holding a conference on the matter. After the 2007 elections, she was succeeded by Ronald Plasterk, described as a “molecular geneticist, staunch atheist and opponent of Intelligent Design”.


In interview sessions during 2002, less than 10% of the interviewed Danes declared the theory of evolution false.


In 2006 the deputy education minister, Mirosław Orzechowski, denounced evolution as “one of many lies” taught in Polish schools. However his superior, Minister of Education Roman Giertych, stated that the theory of evolution would continue to be taught in Polish schools, “as long as most scientists in our country say that it is the right theory.” And so the theory of evolution continued to be taught in Polish schools, however, students who feel that their religious believes are offended by the teaching can refuse to attend. According to a 2007 survey, 72% of respondents agreed with the religious instruction in public schools as a balance to scientific teachings.


Serbia’s education minister, Ljiljana Čolić, suspended the teaching of evolution for one week in 2004, but later allowed schools to reintroduce evolution into the curriculum if they also taught creationism. After a deluge of protest from scientists, teachers and opposition parties the decision was reversed.


In December 2006, a schoolgirl in St. Petersburg, Russia, and her father took the teaching of evolution in Russian schools to court. The Russian Ministry of Education supported the theory of evolution and the Court rejected the case. The suit has been backed by representatives of Russian Orthodox Church.

12.3.2 Other countries Australia

With declining church attendance in Australia too, there has been some growth in fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christian churches. In Queensland State in 1980 lobbying was so successful that Queensland allowed the teaching of creationism as science to school children. Public lectures have been given in rented rooms at Universities, by visiting American speakers, and speakers with doctorates purchased by mail from Florida sites.   Brazil

In 2004, teaching of creationism in religious education classes by Rio de Janeiro’s education department sparked protest from Brazilian scientists.   Turkey

In Turkey, a mostly Islamic country, evolution is often a controversial subject. Evolution was added to the school curriculum shortly after the Turkish Revolution of the 1920s and 30s. There was some resistance to this, but opposition was not particularly powerful. In the 1980s, conservatives came into power, and used the American ideas of scientific creationists as a method of discrediting evolution.

One anti-evolutionist group is the Istanbul based “Bilim Arastirma Vakfi” (BAV), or “Science Research Foundation”. It campaigns against the teaching of evolution. It has been described as one of the world’s strongest anti-evolution movements outside of North America. US based creationist organizations such as the “Institute for Creation Research” have worked alongside them.

The situation is very fragile, and the status of evolution in education varies from one government to the next. For example, in 1985 Education Minister Vehbi Dincerier had scientific creationism added to high school texts, as well as the discredited Lamarckism presented alongside Darwinism. Only in 1998 was this changed somewhat, with texts presenting a more balanced view, though still mentioning creationism and Lamarckism. At present the moderate “Islamist Justice and Development Party”, which is sympathetic to creationist views, holds power. It was elected in 2002 and again with a greater majority in 2007.

In general, material that conflicts with religious beliefs is highly controversial in Turkey. For example, in November 2007 a prosecutor launched a probe into whether biologist Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, is “an attack on religious values”. Its publisher could face trial and up to one year in prison if the prosecutor concludes that the book “incites religious hatred” and insults religious values.

Turkish academics who have defended evolutionary theory have received death threats. Opposition to creationism is not very powerful.  Pakistan

As of 2005, evolution was not taught in Pakistani universities. In 2006, the “Pakistan Academy of Sciences” became a signatory of the “InterAcademy Panel Statement” on “The teaching of evolution”. Many of the contemporary titles on the creation-evolution controversy, such as those by Richard Dawkins, have been translated into Urdu.


12.3.3 Creation and evolution in public education

The status of creation and evolution in public education can be the subject of substantial debate in legal, political, and religious circles. The situation ranges from countries not allowing teachers to discuss the evidence for evolution or the modern evolutionary synthesis, to allowing evolutionary biology to be taught like any other scientific discipline.

While some religions do not have theological objections to the modern evolutionary synthesis as an explanation for the present form of life on Earth, there has been much conflict over this matter within the Abrahamic religions, some adherents of which are vigorously opposed to the consensus view of the scientific community. Conflict with evolutionary explanations is greatest in literal interpretations of religious documents, and resistance to teaching evolution is thus related to the popularity of these more literalist views.

In Western countries, the inclusion of evolution in science courses has been mostly uncontroversial, with the exception of parts of the United States. There, the Supreme Court has ruled the teaching of creationism as science in public schools to be unconstitutional. Intelligent design has been presented as an alternative explanation to evolution in recent decades but, it too has also been ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.  United States

In the United States, creationists and proponents of evolution are engaged in a long-standing battle over the legal status of creation and evolution in the public school science classroom. Early law

Until the late 19th century, creation was taught in nearly all schools in the United States, often from the position that the literal interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. With the widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution from the 1860s, and developments in other fields such as geology and astronomy, public schools began to teach evolution. This new science was reconciled with Christianity by most people, but considered by a number of early fundamentalists to be directly at odds with the Bible.

In the aftermath of World War I, the “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy” brought a surge of opposition to the idea of evolution, and several states introduced legislation prohibiting this teaching. By 1925, such legislation was being considered in 15 states, and passed in some states, such as Tennessee. The “American Civil Liberties Union” offered to defend anyone who wanted to bring a test case against one of these laws. John T. Scopes accepted, and he taught his Tennessee class evolution in defiance of the Butler Act.

The trial was widely publicized -by H. L. Mencken among others- and is commonly referred to as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. Scopes was convicted but the widespread publicity galvanized proponents of evolution. When the case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court overturned the decision on a technicality (the judge had assessed the fine when the jury had been required to). Although it overturned the conviction, the Court decided that the law was not in violation of the First Amendment. Modern legal cases

The Supreme Court of the United States has made several rulings regarding evolution in public education.

In 1967, the Tennessee public schools were threatened with another lawsuit over the Butler Act’s constitutionality and, fearing public reprisal, Tennessee’s legislature repealed it. In the following year, 1968, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in “Epperson v. Arkansas” that Arkansas’s law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was in violation of the First Amendment.

In reaction to the Epperson case, creationists in Louisiana passed a law requiring that public schools give “equal time” to “alternative theories” of origin. The Supreme Court ruled in “Edwards v. Aguillard” that the Louisiana statute, which required creation to be taught alongside evolution every time evolution was taught, was unconstitutional.

While the Court held that creationism is an inherently religious belief, it did not hold that every mention of creationism in a public school is unconstitutional.

Just as it is permissible to discuss the crucial role of religion in medieval European history, creationism may be discussed in a civics, current affairs, philosophy, or comparative religions class where the intent is to factually educate students about the diverse range of human political and religious beliefs. The line is crossed only when creationism is taught as science, just as it would be if a teacher were to proselytize a particular religious belief. Movements to teach creationism in schools

There continue to be numerous efforts to introduce creationism in US classrooms. One strategy is to declare that evolution is a religion, and therefore it should not be taught in the classroom either. Or that if evolution is a religion, then surely creationism as well can be taught in the classroom.

In the 1980s Phillip E. Johnson began reading the scientific literature on evolution. This led him to write “Darwin on Trial”, which examines the evidence for evolution from religious point of view. This book was the start of the “Intelligent design” movement. Intelligent design asserts that there is evidence that life was created by an “Intelligent Designer”. Proponents claim that ID takes “all available facts” into account rather than just those available through naturalism. Opponents assert that ID is a pseudoscience because its claims cannot be tested by experiment and do not propose any new hypotheses.

Many proponents of the ID movement require that it be taught in the public schools. For example, the conservative think-tank “The Discovery Institute” and Phillip E. Johnson support the policy of “Teach the Controversy“, which entails presenting to students evidence for and against evolution, and then encouraging students to evaluate that evidence themselves.

Evolutionists point out that there is no scientific controversy, but only a political and religious one, therefore “teaching the controversy” would only be appropriate in a social studies, religion, or philosophy class. Many, such as Richard Dawkins, compare teaching Intelligent Design in schools to teaching flat earthism, since the scientific consensus regarding these issues is identical. Dawkins has stated that teaching creationism to children is akin to child abuse.

In June 2007 the Council of Europe‘s “Committee on Culture, Science and Education” issued a report, “The dangers of creationism in Education”, which states “Creationism in any of its forms, such as ‘Intelligent Design’, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes.” It described Intelligent Design as “anti-science” and involving “blatant scientific fraud” and “intellectual deception” that “blurs the nature, objectives and limits of science” and links it and other forms of creationism to denialism. Recent developments in US state education programs


In 1996, the Alabama State Board of Education adopted a textbook sticker that was a disclaimer about evolution. It has since been revised and moderated.


A case was filed in spring 2006 by the “Association of Christian Schools International” against the University of California claiming religious discrimination over the rejection of five courses as college preparatory instruction. On August 8, 2008, Judge Otero entered summary judgment against plaintiff ACSI, upholding the University of California’s standards. Agreeing with the university’s position that various religious books on U.S. history and science, from A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press, should not be used for college-preparatory classes. The university found the books “didn’t encourage critical thinking skills and failed to cover ‘major topics, themes and components'” and were thus, ill-suited to prepared students for college.


On August 11, 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education changed the state science education standards removing any mention of “biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the Universe. It was left to the 305 local school districts in Kansas to teach evolution or not. Challengers in the state’s Republican primary who made opposition to the anti-evolution standards their focus were voted in on August 1, 2000. On February 14, 2001, the Board voted 7–3 to reinstate the teaching of biological evolution and the origin of the earth into the state’s science education standards.

In 2004 the Kansas Board of Education had a majority of religious conservatives and, influenced by the Discovery Institute, they arranged the “Kansas evolution hearings”. On August 9, 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education drafted new “science standards that require critical analysis of evolution –including scientific evidence refuting the theory,” which opponents analyzed as effectively stating that Intelligent Design should be taught.

The Kansas’ state Republican primary elections on August 1, 2006, elected moderate Republicans who took control away from the anti-evolution conservatives. On February 13, 2007, the Kansas State Board of Education approved a new curriculum which removed any reference to Intelligent Design as part of science.


In October 1999, the Kentucky Department of Education replaced the word “evolution” with “change over time” in state school standards.


In 2002, proponents of Intelligent Design asked the Ohio Board of Education to adopt Intelligent Design as part of its standard biology curriculum. In December 2002, the Board adopted a proposal that permitted, but did not require, the teaching of Intelligent Design.


In 2002, six parents in Cobb County, Georgia in the case Selman v. “Cobb County School District” sued to have the following sticker removed from public school textbooks: “This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.” The Supreme Court had say that one can’t teach creationism in the public schools so one can’t have an equal-time provision for evolution and creationism. These disclaimers were a new effort to skirt the line.

On January 14, 2005, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that the stickers should be removed as they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The school board appealed the decision and the appeal court panel appeared critical of the lower court ruling.

On December 20, 2006, the Cobb County Board of Education reversed its views and no longer mandate that biology texts contain a sticker stating “evolution is a theory, not a fact.” Their decision was a result of compromise negotiated with a group of parents that were opposed to the sticker.


In 2004 the Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board voted that a statement must be read to students of 9th grade biology mentioning Intelligent Design. This resulted in criticism from scientists and science teachers and caused a group of parents to begin legal proceedings to challenge the decision. On November 8, 2005, the members of the school board in Dover were voted out and replaced by evolutionary theory supporters.

This had no bearing on the case and, on December 20, 2005, federal judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover School Board had violated the Constitution when they set their policy on teaching Intelligent Design, and stated that “In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”


Despite proponents urging that Intelligent Design should be included in the school system’s science curriculum, the school board of Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia decided on May 23, 2007, to approve science textbooks for middle and high schools which do not include the idea of Intelligent Design.


On November 7, 2007 the Texas Education Agency director of science curriculum, Christine Comer, was forced to resign over an e-mail she had sent announcing a talk given by an anti-Intelligent Design author. Over 100 biology professors from Texas universities signed a letter to the state education commissioner denouncing the requirement to be neutral on the subject of Intelligent Design.


On February 19, 2008, the Florida State Board of Education adopted new science standards in a 4-3 vote. The new science curriculum standards explicitly require the teaching of the “scientific theory of evolution”, whereas the previous standards only referenced evolution using the words “change over time.” Recent polls

In 2000, a “People for the American Way” poll among Americans found that:

  • 29% believe public schools should teach evolution in science class but can discuss creationism there as a belief;
  • 20% believe public schools should teach evolution only;
  • 17% believe public schools should teach evolution in science class and religious theories elsewhere;
  • 16% believe public schools should teach creation only;
  • 13% believe public schools should teach both evolution and creationism in science class;
  • 4% believe public schools should teach both but are not sure how.

(1% had no opinion)

In 2006, a poll taken by Zogby International commissioned by the Discovery Institute found than more than three to one of voters chose the option that biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also “the scientific evidence against it”. In contrast, one in five (21%) chose the other option given, that biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it. One in ten was not sure. The poll’s results are often regarded as worthless however, because the wording of the poll question implies that significant “scientific evidence” against evolution actually exists. Consequences

Over the past few years, there have been several attempts to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools. Tactics include:

a-   Claims that evolution is “merely a theory“, which exploits the difference between the general use of the word theory and the scientific usage, and thus insinuates that evolution does not have widespread acceptance amongst scientists.

b-   Promoting the teaching of alternative pseudo-sciences such as Intelligent Design.

c-   Completely ignoring evolution in biology classes.

In general, these controversies, at the local school district level, have resulted in Federal and State court actions (usually by parents who are opposed to teaching of religion in school). However it is clear that:

  • The teaching of religious doctrines, such as Creation Science and Intelligent Design, relies upon an understanding of and belief in the supernatural. Science, on the other hand, only relies on natural, reproducible, testable forces to explain phenomena. This could lead to the disabling of students’ abilities to develop the critical thinking skills necessary for all scientists.
  • The costs to school districts to defend their actions in imposing religious teaching over the science of evolution are high, diverting funds that the districts could use for the education of their students
  • The lack of proper science education will have a long-term effect of eroding the technological leadership of the US.

Most biology and medical research institutions assume a well-grounded undergraduate education in biology, which includes the study of evolution.