Clash Over Creationism Is Evolving In Europe's Schools
LONDON - After the Sunday service in Westminster Chapel, where worshippers were exhorted to wage "the culture war" in the World War II spirit of Sir Winston Churchill, cabbie James McLean delivered his verdict on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. "Evolution is a lie, and it's being taught in schools as fact, and it's leading our kids in the wrong direction," said McLean, chatting outside the chapel. "But now people like Ken Ham are tearing evolution to pieces." Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, a Kentucky-based organization that is part of an ambitious effort to bring creationist theory to Britain and the rest of Europe. McLean is one of a growing number of evangelicals embracing that message - that the true history of the Earth is told in the Bible, not Darwin's "The Origin of Species." Europeans long have viewed the conflict between evolutionists and creationists as primarily an American phenomenon, but it recently has jumped the Atlantic Ocean with skirmishes in Italy, Germany, Poland and notably Britain, where Darwin was born and where he published his 1859 classic.Darwin's defenders are fighting back. In October, the 47-nation Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, condemned all attempts to bring creationism into Europe's schools. Bible-based theories and "religious dogma" threaten to undercut sound educational practices, it charged. Schools are increasingly a focal point in this battle for hearts and minds. A British branch of Answers in Genesis, which shares a Web site with its American counterpart, has managed to introduce its creationist point of view into science classes at a number of state-supported schools in Britain, said Monty White, the group's chief executive. "We do go into the schools about 10 to 20 times a year and we do get the students to question what they're being taught about evolution," said White, who founded the British branch seven years ago. "And we leave them a box of books for the library." Creationism is still a marginal issue here compared with its impact on cultural and political debate in the United States. But the budding fervor is part of a growing embrace of evangelical worship throughout much of Europe. Evangelicals say their ranks are swelling as attendance at traditional churches declines because of revulsion with the hedonism and materialism of modern society. "People are looking for spirituality," White said in an interview at his office in Leicester, 90 miles north of London. "I think they are fed up with not finding true happiness. They find having a bigger car doesn't make them happy. They get drunk and the next morning they have a hangover. They take drugs but the drugs wear off. But what they find with Christianity is lasting." Other British organizations have joined the crusade. A group called Truth in Science has sent thousands of unsolicited DVDs to every high school in Britain arguing that mankind is the result of "intelligent design," not Darwinian evolution. In addition, the AH Trust, a charity, has announced plans to raise money for construction of a Christian theme park in northwest England with a 5,000-seat television studio that would be used for the production of Christian-oriented films. And several TV stations are devoted full-time to Christian themes. Terry Sanderson, president of Britain's National Secular Society, a prominent group founded in 1866 to limit the influence of religious leaders, fears the groups advocating a literal interpretation of the Bible are making headway. "Creationism is creeping into the schools," he said. "There is a constant pressure to get these ideas into the schools." The trend goes beyond evangelical Christianity. Sanderson said the British government is taking over funding of about 100 Islamic schools even though they teach the Quranic version of creationism. He said the government fears imposing evolution theory on the curriculum lest it be branded as anti-Islamic. The rupture between theology and evolution in Europe is relatively recent. For many years, people who held evangelical views also endorsed mainstream scientific theory, said Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, a British-based, Christian-oriented research group. He said the split was imported from the United States in the past decade. "There is a lot of American influence, and there are a lot of moral and political and financial resources flowing from the United States to here," he said. "Now you have more extreme religious groups trying to get a foothold." In some cases, the schools have become the battlegrounds. Richard Dawkins, the Oxford university biologist and author of last year's international best-seller "The God Delusion," frequently lectures students about the marvels of evolution, only to find that the students' views already have been shaped by the creationist lobby. "I think it's so sad that children should be fobbed off with these second-rate myths," he said. "The theory of evolution is one of the most powerful pieces of scientific thinking ever produced and the evidence for it is overwhelming. I think creationism is pernicious because if you don't know much it sounds kind of plausible and it's easy to come into schools and subvert children."