Overthrowing Darwin


The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin’s theory, like all other attempts to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural.

Jean Louis Agassiz, Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874)

Texans are probably feeling a touch despondent, not that it affects them directly. It would have been nice, however, if they could have pointed to Nebraskans instead of Russians as another example of enlightened thinking.

After the stories of the Texas School Board’s success in putting evolution in its place in Texas text books and giving Creationism and its fellows a more prominent role in educating the young, news from Nebraska’s Board of Education has to distress the non-evolved who object to the notion that they have, should or might, (including especially the Texas Board of Education) the Omaha World Herald on June 13, 2010 reported that the teaching of evolution will continue as a cornerstone of science education in Nebraska if proposed new standards are adopted by the state Board of Education. Three of the board’s members have said they know of no efforts to introduce intelligent design into the curriculum and Jim Woodland, director of science education for the Nebraska Education Department, told the World-Herald that the board expects students “to develop an understanding of biological evolution.”

The adoption, when it comes, will stand in marked contrast to Texas where Don McLeroy, former school board president, commenting on Texas’s successful assault on evolution in Texas textbooks said: “Whooey. We won the grand slam and the super bowl. . .Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution.”

Disappointed in Nebraska, as they may well be, Texans should take comfort in a new found ally, Russia, although as of this writing it is not clear whether it is a reliable ally.

Russia is a country that in neither this nor former times, (except for its size) would have seemed a natural ally for Texas. A recent report suggests that fundamentalists in Russia, however, like the same group in Texas, are concerned with what their children are being taught in schools. The concern is inspired not by some minor sect that lacks credibility, being out of the main stream, but by the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to a report by Conor Humphries for Reuters, the church is concerned about the fact that in Russian schools there is a “monopoly of Darwinism.” Railing against the teaching of evolution, Hilarion Alfeyev, (who was elected Bishop of Volokolamsk on March 31, 2009 and elevated to the post of Archbishop on April 20, 2009) was quoted by Reuters as saying in a lecture to a group of officials from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow that: “The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion [sic]. These ideas should be left in the past. Darwin’s theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too.” Reuters said his talk was “dedicated to fighting ‘fanatical secularism’ of liberals hostile to religion.”

Texas can view the Archbishop’s attack on Darwin as just another benefit of the collapse of communism in Russia. When the Soviets governed, atheism was the official state religion and Darwin was its useful ally since the explanations offered by him for evolution ran counter to the religious teachings of fundamentalists as to the origin of the species. Nonetheless, Texans should not get their hopes up. Neither should the Archbishop. If past is prologue to the future, Russian courts may not be much help to those seeking to overthrow Darwin.

On August 1, 2006 Maria Schraiber and her father of St. Petersburg filed suit against the Ministry of Education of Russian Federation demanding that Darwin’s theory of evolution, that they described as not scientifically grounded, be excluded from school textbooks. Maria said that schoolbooks that only teach evolution violated freedom of conscience and religious rights and were, therefore, unconstitutional. Her father said that: “Darwin only presented a hypothesis that has not been proved by him or anyone else. Therefore, we think that when schools impose this theory on children as the only scientific option, they violate the human right of free choice.” The court did not agree.

On February 21, 2007 it ruled against Maria. Maria left Russia and moved to the Dominican Republic where at last report she was working in a real estate and travel agency. Evolution continues to be taught at her former school. Given that depressing result (from the perspective of Maria and the Archbishop) the Archbishop should probably limit his efforts on behalf of creationism to speeches and writing and Texas should look elsewhere for allies in its ongoing battle against Darwin.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.





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