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Criacionismo Persiste na Europa

Criacionismo Persiste na Europa

www.sciencemag.org SCIENCE VOL 323 27 FEBRUARY 2009 1159 NEWS OF THE WEEK DORTMUND, GERMANY—News coverage of the creationism-versus-evolution debate tends to focus on the United States, where surveys consistently show that less than half of Americans accept the theory of evolution. But in the past 5 years, political clashes over the issue have also occurred in countries all across Europe. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s government briefly tried to halt the teaching of evolution in schools in 2004. In 2006, a deputy Polish education minister called the theory of evolution “a lie.” In 2007, the education minister of a major German state courted controversy by advocating that creationism and evolution be taught together in biology classes. Indeed, creationism remains alive and well in Europe, according to researchers gathered here last week for a conference on the state of European science education and European teachers’ attitudes toward and knowledge of evolution. European educators haven’t yet conducted regionwide surveys, but snapshots from Germany, Turkey, and the United Kingdom presented at the meeting showed that creationist notions are more prevalent than researchers had expected, and that the understanding of evolution among teachers and teaching students—including biology teachers—is often problematic. “This isn’t just an American problem,” says Dittmar Graf of the Technical University of Dortmund, who organized the meeting. Even the birthplace of Charles Darwin is struggling with evolution, despite the myriad celebrations for the 150th anniversary of his On the Origin of Species. “Creationism is on the rise in the U.K.,” says James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex. “Creationists have adopted the attitude that if you get to children young and early, you can indoctrinate them before they even start talking about evolution in schools.” Williams cited a December 2008 Ipsos Mori poll of 923 primary and secondary schoolteachers in England and Wales: 37% of the respondents agreed that creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution. Even among biology and science teachers, the number was 30%. Within Europe, unity on the importance of teaching evolution has been hard to come by. In 2007, the Council of Europe—a body composed of 47 European countries that promotes the region’s integration—had an unexpectedly close vote on a statement saying that it “firmly oppos[es] 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.” The measure eventually passed but only after fierce opposition from some delegates and outside groups, says Luxembourg’s Anne Brasseur, the rapporteur of the council’s Committee for Culture, Science and Education. She says the council was lobbied intensively by the Vatican, which some believe has moved away from acceptance of evolution since the beginning of Benedict XVI’s papacy. In Western Europe, the reasons for creationism’s tenacity lie as much in the classroom as in the churches, researchers suggested at the meeting. Graf reported a survey of 1228 German students planning to become teachers that evaluated their knowledge of and attitudes toward evolution. The results of the 108- question study—part survey, part quiz— revealed surprising gaps. Twenty percent of those studying to teach biology, for example, thought that evolution could be explained in part by Lamarckism, or the idea that traits acquired during a parent organism’s life can be passed on to his or her offspring. And less than a third were able to answer basic questions about the role of reproductive fitness in evolution. The survey also probed the students’belief in creationism, and Graf reported that the most likely predictor of creationist thinking wasn’t religious belief but a lack of confidence in science, followed closely by a poor understanding of scientific principles. “What surprised me wasn’t that religion correlated with antievolutionist thinking but that the correlation between a failure to understand science and not believing in evolution was very strong,” Graf says. Compared with Germany, where about 20% of the public holds creationist beliefs, creationism is even more deeply entrenched in the Muslim world, according to a study of teachers reported by Universite Lyon 1 researcher Pierre Clement. Well over half of biology teachers in Senegal, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria agreed with the statement: “It is certain that God created life.” And Turkey has also seen a recent rise of an Islamic creationist movement (Science, 16 February 2007, p. 925). In Turkey, a country pressing hard for membership into the European Union, schools are supposed to be secular institutions; teaching creationism is even officially banned at the university level. But many university students training to become elementary- and secondarylevel teachers haven’t gotten the message, apparently. Graf collaborated with Haluk Soran of Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, to give those students the same survey given in Dortmund. More than 75% rejected the theory of evolution. “There’s a minimal understanding of evolution in Turkey,” Soran says. “The more religious people are, the more they forget about evolution.” What’s the solution? Graf offered a prescription for Germany, one subsequently echoed by many of his fellow Europeans at the meeting. Science teachers in Germany have to compete with years of religious education, which is part of public school curriculum from first grade. Evolution, on the other hand, is generally first taught late in high school and not well integrated into the overall biology curriculum. “Many students who get evolutionary theory in science classes come as creationists,” Graf says. “We need to be teaching evolution earlier and teaching the nature of science more intensively.” –ANDREW CURRY Andrew Curry is a freelance writer based in Berlin. Creationist Beliefs Persist in Europe EVOLUTION Fertile ground. Turkish creationist Harun Yahya’s antievolution tome went down well in parts of Europe. CREDIT: PATRICK ROBERT/CORBIS Published byAAAS