Council of Europe 2007 resolution on the teaching of creationism
In 2007, the Council of Europe passed The dangers of creationism in education, a non-binding motion promoting the teaching of evolution, and condemned attempts to bring religious belief in to science in the form of creationism.
What follows is the statement issued, and the RationalWiki response.
|Dangers of creationism in education
|Cheers from the gallery
|The aim of this resolution is not to question or to fight a belief – the right to freedom of belief does not permit that. The aim is to warn against certain tendencies to pass off a belief as science. It is necessary to separate belief from science. It is not a matter of antagonism. Science and belief must be able to coexist. It is not a matter of opposing belief and science, but it is necessary to prevent belief from opposing science.
|The resolution quite correctly starts out by stating the importance of freedom of religious belief. This is even more explicit in Section 1 Article 9 of The European Convention on Human Rights  : "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
|For some people the Creation, as a matter of religious belief, gives a meaning to life. Nevertheless, the Parliamentary Assembly is worried about the possible ill-effects of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights, which are a key concern of the Council of Europe.
|This is a conciliatory statement, and one that reaffirms the right of people to believe in pretty much whatever they wish. This is important, since it's not the religious beliefs of people that are being attacked. What is being challenged are their efforts to harm scientific endeavor by injecting supernatural elements into science.
|Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Today creationist ideas are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states.
|This describes correctly the situation in the US. Creationism is now starting to show up in Poland and Romania and is also present in the UK.
|The prime target of present-day creationists, most of whom are of the Christian or Muslim faith, is education. Creationists are bent on ensuring that their ideas are included in the school science syllabuses. Creationism cannot, however, lay claim to being a scientific discipline.
|It is quite clear that creationism is not science and any claim to the contrary is, at best, willful ignorance, and at worst is simply dishonest.
|Creationists question the scientific character of certain areas of knowledge and argue that the theory of evolution is only one interpretation among others. They accuse scientists of not providing enough evidence to establish the theory of evolution as scientifically valid. On the contrary, creationists defend their own statements as scientific. None of this stands up to objective analysis.
|Hear hear! If there were any merits to creationism then the person who published serious evidence in support of creationism would become the Einstein of their generation - causing much of what we understand about biology, paleontology, archaeology, physics, and many other fields of science to have to be seriously revisited. Quite simply this discovery would be equivalent to proving that atomic theory is false, which would force a revision of most of modern physics and cosmology, and certainly the "no atoms" idea enjoys as much scientific support as creationism.
|We are witnessing a growth of modes of thought which challenge established knowledge about nature, evolution, our origins and our place in the universe.
|This, of course, needn't be a bad thing. However, it certainly is if these new modes of thought are not based on evidence but rather wishful thinking and a desire to foist one's own religious ideals onto others.
|There is a real risk of serious confusion being introduced into our children’s minds between what has to do with convictions, beliefs, ideals of all sorts and what has to do with science. An “all things are equal” attitude may seem appealing and tolerant, but is in fact dangerous.
|Otherwise known as teach the controversy. The creationists seek to set up a false perception of conflict within the scientific community. In fact, while scientists may strongly disagree on the details of evolution, there is no controversy at all when it comes to the broader picture. It is simply the case that the vast majority of scientists agree that evolution by means of natural selection is the best supported explanation for the diversity of species observed today. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous, and as observed, dangerous. To use an analogy, the scientific acceptance of evolution is akin to acceptance that Julius Caesar existed. There may be questions with regards to the finer details of his life, but no credible historian could reasonably justify wholesale denial of his existence.
|Creationism has many contradictory aspects. The “intelligent design” idea, which is the latest, more refined version of creationism, does not deny a certain degree of evolution. However, intelligent design, presented in a more subtle way, seeks to portray its approach as scientific, and therein lies the danger.
|This really depends on which version of Intelligent design you are going with. Not all people who claim to believe in Intelligent Design accept evolution and common descent. The CoE is also, in the polite language of such resolutions, effectively calling ID a false flag operation and the ID movement a front group for creationism.
|The Assembly has constantly insisted that science is of fundamental importance. Science has made possible considerable improvements in living and working conditions and is a rather significant factor in economic, technological and social development. The theory of evolution has nothing to do with divine revelation but is built on facts.
|This reminds us of one of the great ironies of those who support creationism. The same people who deny evolution enjoy the many benefits derived from our understanding of evolution - the development of medicines being just one example.
|Creationism claims to be based on scientific rigour. In reality the methods employed by creationists are of three types: purely dogmatic assertions; distorted use of scientific quotations, sometimes illustrated with magnificent photographs; and backing from more or less well-known scientists, most of whom are not specialists in these matters. By these means creationists seek to appeal to non-specialists and spread doubt and confusion in their minds.
|Creationism as a theory cannot compete with evolution in the same way that General Relativity replaced the Newtonian understandings of gravity. Creationism instead competes through dishonest attempts to insert it in to schools, and by trying to be more popular among the general public. This is simply not how science is done, and if that were the case it's highly unlikely that we'd ever have developed iron ships. Everyone knows that iron sinks, so why would anyone in their right mind build an iron ship?
|Evolution is not simply a matter of the evolution of humans and of populations. Denying it could have serious consequences for the development of our societies. Advances in medical research, aiming at combating infectious diseases such as AIDS, are impossible if every principle of evolution is denied. One cannot be fully aware of the risks involved in the significant decline in biodiversity and climate change if the mechanisms of evolution are not understood.
|Much the same can be said of any form of denialism. When you have a group determined to deny good-faith advances in our understanding of life and the world in which we live in order to promote their own narrow agenda, that group endangers the very society in which they live. Our modern way of life is based entirely on science and technology, and those who seek to halt or even reverse the advances of science are the enemies of those of us who enjoy the many benefits those advances have brought us.
|Our modern world is based on a long history, of which the development of science and technology forms an important part. However, the scientific approach is still not well understood and this is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism. The total rejection of science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human and civic rights.
|Science is not always intuitive. How many people, if asked, would think that the rotation of Earth is what generates its magnetic field? How many people know that gravity, based on the current consensus, is not a force - but the curvature of spacetime? When there is a need to have a computer repaired, most people are happy to entrust the work to an expert without needing to offer advice and opinions on how the computer works, and the same principle, if being rational and fair, would apply to evolution. Honest questioning is useful, but marching in and proclaiming with no evidence that the experts are all wrong is simply the height of ignorance and arrogance.
|The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism closely linked to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter, and this has been exposed on several occasions, is that some advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.
|Setting aside the problems that the adoption of creationism poses to scientific progress, it is worth considering what happens when "truth" is legislated by governments. Imagine if the Catholic Church was in a position to legally enforce its claims that condoms are somehow evil. This, to a certain extent, already happens in parts of Africa, and certainly the Republic of Ireland saw the effects of allowing religion to impose its beliefs on the population as a whole. Even today abortion and divorce laws in Ireland are seriously restrictive - both of which can be traced back to Catholic and Church of Ireland influence over the development of Ireland's constitution.
|All leading representatives of the main monotheistic religions have adopted a much more moderate attitude. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, as his predecessor Pope John-Paul II, today praises the role of science in the evolution of humanity and recognises that the theory of evolution is “more than a hypothesis”.
|The Catholic Church has, and continues to hold, many unsupportable beliefs, but they realise that the evidence for evolution is too compelling to be dismissed. Even as far back as the third and fourth century CE, Saint Augustine recognised the problems inherent in holding to literal interpretations of scripture when they are obviously contradicted by observable fact. The modern-day "worship" of the Bible itself is a more modern phenomenon, and one that certainly was not present in early Christianity - not least of all because the Bible as we know it did not exist until the fourth and fifth centuries CE.
|The teaching of all phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific theory is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies. For that reason it must occupy a central position in the curriculums, and especially in the science syllabuses, as long as, like any other theory, it is able to stand up to thorough scientific scrutiny. Evolution is present everywhere, from medical overprescription of antibiotics that encourages the emergence of resistant bacteria to agricultural overuse of pesticides that causes insect mutations on which pesticides no longer have any effect.
|Let creationism explain how all of that happens. Do they believe God is a jerk, for allowing all those things to appear?
|The Council of Europe has highlighted the importance of teaching about culture and religion. In the name of freedom of expression and individual belief, creationist ideas, as any other theological position, could possibly be presented as an addition to cultural and religious education, but they cannot claim scientific respectability.
|Take that, ID!
|Science provides irreplaceable training in intellectual rigour. It seeks not to explain “why things are” but to understand how they work.
|And belief, no matter how comforting, does not. Goddidit is not an explanation that promotes further enquiry.
|Investigation of the creationists’ growing influence shows that the arguments between creationism and evolution go well beyond intellectual debate. If we are not careful, the values that are the very essence of the Council of Europe will be under direct threat from creationist fundamentalists. It is part of the role of the Council of Europe’s parliamentarians to react before it is too late.
|As we saw at the Dover trial, creationism and "intelligent design" both are little more than veiled proselytizing that fundamentalists wish to sneak into schools in advance their views at the expense of everyone else's. It should be the responsibility of every secular authority, and of all reasonable religious groups, to ensure that no one faith is allowed to hold the reins of government or promote itself at the expense of the taxpayer. This is the only way that the religious freedom of every citizen can be maintained.
|The Parliamentary Assembly therefore urges the member states, and especially their education authorities to:
19.1. defend and promote scientific knowledge;
19.2. strengthen the teaching of the foundations of science, its history, its epistemology and its methods alongside the teaching of objective scientific knowledge;
19.3. make science more comprehensible, more attractive and closer to the realities of the contemporary world;
19.4. firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion;19.5. promote the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory in the school curriculums.
|The Assembly welcomes the fact that 27 academies of science of Council of Europe member states signed, in June 2006, a declaration on the teaching of evolution and calls on academies of science that have not yet done so to sign the declaration.