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Creationists attack secular education in Russia

Sir

Evolutionary biology has come under attack from creationists in the United States and in several European countries, most recently, Poland (“Polish scientists fight creationism” Nature 443, 890–891; 2006 doi:10.1038/443890c). Creationists in Russia are also attacking darwinism, and indirectly attacking the principle of a scientifically founded, secular education system.

The Russian case concerns 15-year-old Maria Schreiber and her family, who have filed a complaint to the federal court in St Petersburg demanding a “free choice” for the girl, as her religious sensibilities have been hurt by “Darwin's controversial hypothesis” (reported in Gazeta.ru 27 October 2006). The plaintiffs criticize the biology textbook for classes 10–11 and wish to change it. The court case began on 25 October and may be decided by mid-December.

In Poland, as your News story notes, the creationist case is supported by the minister and deputy minister of education, and the case against evolution has supporters among prominent politicians. In Russia, Schreiber's case has support from the powerful Orthodox church, and the family's lawyers are distant relatives of the last Russian tsar.

As historians of biology and evolutionary biologists, we are aware of the strong tradition in evolutionary biology in Russia, where prominent scholars did important work throughout the twentieth century, particularly in pioneering research into the population genetics of natural populations.

Maybe we are now seeing the delayed effects of 70 years of enforced atheism and official support for darwinism in the Soviet Union, which kept creationism at bay until its collapse in 1991. With the religious freedom that has been allowed since then, numerous churches have become active in Russia: there were 21,664 religious organizations registered by the Ministry of Justice in 2004. Some of them support creationism, and they find an audience that may relate darwinism to Soviet ideology rather than to empirical natural science.

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