The German Anti-Darwin Industry

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The German Anti-Darwin Industry: Twentieth Anniversary of a Multi-Media Business
Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
12–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In June 2004, a German television show focused on creationism in the United States. One episode, filmed at an anti-evolution propaganda meeting, was very impressive and revealing. Accompanied by a cowboy-hat–wearing guitarist, groups of happy American children, supported by their devoted parents, were shown singing a country song that culminated in the refrain "I don't believe in evolution, I know creation's true." A few months earlier, a German video film entitled Was Darwin nicht wissen konnte (What Darwin Could Not Have Known) was released, wherein the Munich microbiologist Siegfried Scherer rephrased the song quoted above as follows: "I don't believe in evolution, but in creation." This film is part of a series of films promoted by a small but influential group of German young-earth creationists, the Studiengemeinschaft Wort und Wissen (Word and Knowledge Society; see http://www.wort-und-wissen.de in German, and the supplementary web site http://www.genesisnet.info in German, English, and Spanish). In their first opus, entitled Hat die Bibel doch recht? Der Evolutionstheorie fehlen die Beweise (Is the Bible Right? There is No Evidence for the Theory of Evolution, 1998), the main actor is Scherer, who is supported by the geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, and claims that "there is no evidence for macroevolution". Charles Darwin and Ernst Haeckel are described as the spiritual fathers of the Nazi Holocaust; this episode is accompanied by moving scenes showing Jews in concentration camps. At the end of the film, a Bible appears and the narrator remarks: "There is a book wherein the origin of species is reliably described … all living beings were created according to their own kind." More than 50 000 copies of this award-winning film were sold. An enthusiastic laudatio, authored by John C Lennox of Oxford University, is published on the internet. Videotape and DVD versions are available in German, English, Russian, and Persian. The implicit claim of this and other German anti-evolution films is that Darwinism — "a pseudo-scientific construction" — is largely equivalent to "atheism, materialism, and Hitler's Nazi ideology" (see http://www.dreilindenfilm.de).

In addition to the Bible, a second book is promoted via these videos: Evolution — Ein kritisches Lehrbuch (Evolution — A Critical Textbook). Now in its sixth edition (Giessen: Weyel, 2006), the book was written and edited by Reinhard Junker and Siegfried Scherer, both affiliated with Word und Wissen (see RNCSE 2003 Nov/Dec; 23 [5–6]: 17–8 for details). They are supported by a team of co-authors; several are scientists at German universities, but no professional evolutionary biologists are among them. The aim of this book is summarized in the preface of the fifth edition (2001), wherein the authors point out that "there exists an alternative to the (unproven) assumption of macroevolution that is motivated by the revelations of the Bible — the theory of creation." The first edition was published two decades ago under the title Enstehung und Geschichte der Lebewesen: Daten und Deutungen für den schulischen Bereich (Origin and History of Organisms: Data and Interpretations for Biology Classes; Giessen: Weyel, 1986). In this book, aimed at teachers and pupils as target audience, a radical version of young-earth creationism is presented. In accordance with the US "intelligent design" (ID) movement, the contents of the fourth (1998) and subsequent editions were updated and a new, broader title was chosen, with explicit references to "the Designer" and the "ID theory". Earlier editions of the Junker and Scherer volume have been translated into several languages: this text, which was awarded a German schoolbook prize, has become one of the pillars of the European anti-evolution movement (see RNCSE 2004 Sep/Oct; 24 [5]: 11–2).

Throughout their book, Junker and Scherer argue against the unscriptural "atheistic belief" in macroevolution (that is, the emergence of novel body plans as documented in the fossil record; for instance, the transition of theropod dinosaurs into early birds during the Cretaceous). Then the authors propose their theistic alternative. The "Intelligent Designer" (the God of the Bible) created "Basic Types", such as horses, ducks, dogs or humans, "after their own kinds" (see RNCSE 2006 Jul/Aug; 26 [4]: 31–6 for discussion).

It must be acknowledged that the authors refer to and describe the contents of a selection of recent key publications on molecular and organismic evolution. However, due to their firm Bible-based belief, they misrepresent and re-interpret biological facts to such an extent that a web of science and religious dogmas is woven that is difficult to entangle. To the chagrin of most biologists, this flagship of Euro-ID creationism has been mistaken by non-specialists for a serious textbook on evolution. For instance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, referred to the Junker and Scherer book in a published lecture delivered on November 27, 1999, at the Sorbonne in Paris. In this speech, Ratzinger quoted from the preface of the fourth edition (1998) and summarized some of the standard arguments "against macroevolution" that it presents.

The twentieth anniversary edition (2006) is accompanied by a new website that provides supplementary information free of charge for students and teachers (see http://www.evolutionslehrbuch.info; in response to this novel propaganda instrument of the German creationists, I established a counter-website (see http://www.evolutionslehrbuch.com) where I describe my own textbook on evolutionary biology. The 2006 version of the ID textbook will again cause trouble in public schools, where copies of previous editions of this book, submitted as a gift by members of Word und Wissen, have already been deposited in the libraries. In encounters similar to creationist activism in the US, religiously motivated pupils in Germany have confronted their biology teachers with this "academic weapon against Darwinism". Moreover, at some high schools in Germany, this book is used as a supplement to a conventional biology text. But at this point, the real impact of this colorful Bible of the European ID movement is unknown. If the evidence in the form of internet and print journals that look like scientific periodicals and professional video productions tells us anything, it is that creationism made in Germany is an ongoing success story.

About the Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institute of Biology
University of Kassel
Heinrich-Plett-Strasse, 40 D-34109
Kassel, Germany
kut@uni-kassel.de

Ulrich Kutschera is Full Professor of Plant Physiology and Evolutionary Biology at Universität Kassel, Germany; he was recently a visiting scientist at the Carnegie Institution and the Department of Plant Biology at Stanford University. He is the author of seven textbooks and about 140 scientific publications.