Sunday, June 24, 2007

PARIS — Europe’s primary human rights body will vote on a proposal this week to defend the teaching of Darwinian evolution and keep creationist and intelligent design views out of science classes in state schools in its 47 member countries.

The unusual move shows that a U.S. trend for religiously based challenges to the theory of evolution is worrying European politicians, who now see such arguments put forward in their countries by Christian and Muslim groups.

A report for the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly said the campaign against evolution has its roots “in forms of religious extremism” and is a dangerous attack on scientific knowledge.

“Today, creationists of all faiths are trying to get their ideas accepted in Europe,” it said. “If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”

The council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

Creationism teaches that God created the world and all beings in it, as depicted in the Bible. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism in science class in public schools violates the separation of church and state.

Supporters of intelligent design, which holds that some life forms are too complex to have evolved, say it is a scientific theory that should be taught in school. But a U.S. court also has rejected this argument and the council report dismisses it as “neo-creationism.”

The proposed resolution, to be put to a vote Tuesday, says member states should “firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution by natural selection.”

“The teaching of all phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific theory is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies,” the resolution said.

The resolution would not be binding, but the debate and vote could serve as a barometer of pro-evolution thinking in Europe.

The report, drawn up by French Socialist Guy Lengagne for the Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Science and Education, recommended that creationist ideas be discussed in nonscientific contexts, such as courses on culture or religious studies.

“All leading representatives of the main monotheistic religions have adopted a much more moderate attitude,” it added, noting that Pope Benedict XVI stated in a recent book that the Catholic Church did not share the creationists’ Biblical literalism.

The report highlighted a recent Muslim creationist campaign by Turkish writer Harun Yahya, whose lavish 750-page “Atlas of Creation” has been distributed free to schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.

The report cited University of Paris biologist Herve Le Guyader, who called the challenge from Islamic thinkers “much more dangerous than the previous creationist initiatives, which were often of Anglo-Saxon origin.”

The report also cites small groups of creationists — mostly Christians — working in France, Switzerland and Britain, and notes that some officials have questioned the teaching of evolution in Poland, Italy, Serbia and the Netherlands.

Britain’s Royal Society — the national academy of sciences — and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have spoken out against teaching creationism in English schools.

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