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Darwinism and Intelligent Design: The New Anti-Evolutionism Spreads in Europe

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Darwinism and Intelligent Design: The New Anti-Evolutionism Spreads in Europe
Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institut für Biologie, Universität Kassel
Volume: 
23
Issue: 
5–6
Year: 
2003
Date: 
September–December
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
According to a 2002 poll of adult Europeans conducted by a professional institute (IHA-GfK, Hergiswil, Switzerland), only 40% of the respondents agreed with the statement that the universe, the earth, and all organisms of the biosphere are entirely the product of a natural evolutionary process. Twenty-one percent were adherents of theistic evolution, 20% believed that God created all organisms at one time within the last 10 000 years, and 19% answered “don’t know/ other opinion” (http://www.factum-magazin.ch/whats_new/news.cgi?v=news&c=Schoepfung&id=04073104514.shtml). Among the 20% who believed in a recent creation — mostly fundamentalist Christians who are biblical literalists — the highest percentage was in Switzerland (21.8%), followed by Austria (20.4%) and Germany (18.1%). Compared with the situation in the United States, where almost half of all adults deny evolution as a fact of nature (see for example Futuyma 1995; Gross 2002), the creationists in German-speaking European countries (Kutschera 2003) are still a minority that accounts for just one fifth of the population. Who are the conservative Christian anti-evolutionists in Europe and how are they organized? What role does the “intelligent design” (ID) argument play in the anti-evolution propaganda in European countries?

Creationism and ID in Europe

In March 2002, British newspapers revealed that Emmanuel College in Gateshead, a prestigious Christian-run secondary school that has been praised by Prime Minister Tony Blair, presented the creationist view as a “scientific” alternative to evolution (Gross 2002). After leading scientists, including Richard Dawkins, wrote to the Office for Standards in Education, and the bishop of Oxford intervened (“Evolution is a theory of great explanatory power … and not a faith position as the college in Gateshead alleges”), the teaching of creationism as a scientific alternative was suspended (Gross 2002).

In Switzerland and Germany, two societies, pro Genesis (http://www.progenesis.ch) and the Studiengemeinschaft Wort und Wissen (http://www.wort-und-wissen.de) are the dominant anti-evolutionist associations. They publish newsletters, distribute videotapes, and promote their viewpoint via two professional journals, factum and Studium Integrale Journal (Kutschera 2003). The most important production of the European anti-evolutionists is a book edited by the Wort und Wissen employee Reinhard Junker and the microbiologist Siegfried Scherer (a fellow of the Discovery Institute) entitled Evolution: Ein kritisches Lehrbuch [Evolution: A Critical Textbook] (2001). In the preface, the authors elucidate their aim: to present an alternative to the “concept of macroevolution”, which is, in their view, not supported by convincing data. Interestingly, microevolution (the origin of new species that display the same basic body plan) is accepted, but the occurrence of novel “types” in the fossil record is disputed and described as an unsupported claim of the Darwinists.

Junker and Scherer revitalized the Bible-based pre-Darwinian “theory of creation” as a theistic alternative to evolution. In order to circumvent logical problems concerning the documented continuum between micro- and macroevolution, the authors introduced a new “species concept”, the so-called Basic Types of life. Since, according to chapter 1 of Genesis, God created animals and plants after their own kind (microorganisms, fungi, and protoctista are not mentioned), these kinds must represent higher taxonomic groups. As examples, Junker and Scherer discuss the following Basic Types: Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans), Canidae (dogs, wolves, and foxes), Triticeae (wheat, barley, and oats) and humans (one species, Homo sapiens). This novel “Bible-based theory” postulates that God created an in-built capacity for variation within a kind, but not between different Basic Types. Hence, what the Darwinists label as macroevolution is replaced by supernatural acts of the Creator, but microevolution (that is, the diversification of the Basic Types, with the exception of humans) is theistic–naturalistic evolution. This concept was introduced by Scherer several years ago at the Third International Conference on Creationism and at the European Creationist Congress (http://www.pages.org/bsc).

In the last chapter of their book, Junker and Scherer discuss the possibility that the Creator may communicate with the biologist via “design-signals”, which are expressed in the beauty of flowers, butterflies, and other creatures. On these pages, the designer is equated with the biblical Creator-God. This European version of modern “theobiology” has been classified as ID-creationism (Kutschera 2003).

The impact of the Junker and Scherer textbook is difficult to assess. Due its low price and its attractive design, many more copies have been sold than of academic textbooks on evolution. It has been translated into several European languages (Russian, Serbian, Finnish, and Portuguese), was awarded with a German textbook prize (sponsored by private conservative Christian associations), and is used in some public schools. However, the textbook is not accepted by the German Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs as an official schoolbook, in spite of several lobbying attempts by German creationists. Positive book reviews are largely restricted to periodicals published by Bible-educated Christians. However, the international journal Flora, which is edited by a team of respected plant scientists, published a positive review of this book (Weberling 2002). This fact documents that anti-evolutionism in German-speaking countries has already infiltrated some academic circles.

Darwin’s answer

The discussion concerning the argument from design is as old as evolutionary biology itself. In his autobiography, Darwin treated this issue as follows: “The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man” (Barlow 1958). Indeed, modern scientists successfully explain the real world without reference to miracles, “intelligent designers”, or other products of human imagination. If we were to admit “intelligent designers”, “vital forces”, and other spiritual entities, modern science would soon cease to exist (Futuyma 1995; Mahner and Bunge 1997).This is the main reason that scientists reject the modern version of Bible-based creationism under the cover of the currently popular ID rubric.

Charles Darwin provided an appropriate answer to the claims of the creationists of his time when he wrote: “It should be well to bear in mind that by the word ‘creation’ the zoologist means ‘a process he knows not what’” (Darwin 1872). Likewise, the currently popular statement “the designer did it” is no answer, but a synonym for “we believe, but have no evidence”. For those who believe no proof is necessary, discussions between scientists and the dogmatic proponents of ID are difficult and usually do not lead to a consensus.

References

Barlow N, editor. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. London: Collins, 1958.
Darwin CR. On the Origin of Species, 6th ed. London: John Murray, 1872.
Futuyma DJ. Science on Trial, 2nd ed. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates, 1995.
Gross M. Red head: US-style creationism spreads to Europe. Current Biology 2002; 12 (8): R265–6.
Junker R, Scherer S. Evolution: Ein kritisches Lehrbuch, 5th ed. Giessen (Germany): Weyel Verlag, 2001.
Kutschera U. Designer scientific literature [letter]. Nature 2003 May 8: 423:116.
Mahner M, Bunge M. Foundations of Biophilosophy Berlin: Springer, 1997.
Weberling F. Buchbesprechung [review of Junker and Scherer 2001]. Flora 2002; 197 [4]: 490–1.

About the Author(s): 
Ulrich Kutschera
Institut für Biologie
Universität Kassel
Heinrich-Plett-Strasse 40
34109 Kassel
Germany
kut@uni-kassel.de