Fifty leading scientists in Poland have signed an open letter in protest against an aggressive anti-evolution campaign launched by the League of Polish Families (LPR), the ultra-right-wing coalition partner in the conservative Polish government.

“The theory of evolution is a lie,” Mirosław Orzechowski, Poland's deputy education minister, told the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza on 14 October. “It is an error we have legalized as a common truth.”

The LPR entered the ruling coalition in May 2006. Its leader, Roman Giertych, is also known to favour creationist views. These, as well as his openly homophobic, anti-Semitic and nationalistic opinions, have sparked student demonstrations in Warsaw since he took the minister of education job in May.

Giertych's father, Maciej Giertych, is an LPR member in the European Parliament and is lobbying for obligatory inclusion of creationism in Polish biology curricula. Maciej, who holds a PhD in tree physiology from the University of Toronto, Canada, claims darwinian evolution is refuted by scientific evidence.

Orzechowski's comments have rattled Poland's science community. Researchers are concerned that the LPR campaign could infiltrate biology teaching in schools.

Maciej Żylicz, a senior researcher at the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw, says he was “shocked” by the remarks. “We really did not expect a creationist movement to emerge in Poland.”

“It is a catastrophe,” adds Bartosz Borczyk, who is completing a PhD in zoology at the University of Wroclaw and wrote to Nature about the issue. “People could easily get the impression that there is a controversy about evolution among scientists.”

Michał Seweryński, Poland's minister of science, has criticized the LPR's position. “There is no need for a discussion,” he told Nature. “Scientific evidence is clear and the opinion of a minority will not change teaching in schools.”

Members of the Polish Academy of Sciences protested against the LPR campaign in an open letter that was published in several Polish newspapers on 17 and 18 October. Żylicz, who signed the letter, says he hopes the quick response will avert damage to Polish science and education. “However, the point that really requires further discussion is not evolution, but how a minister can say such stupid things.”

Neither Roman nor Maciej Giertych, nor Orzechowski, responded to Nature's request for comment.