Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Is this a New "Monkey Trial"?

Izvestia of 20 March 2006

Not long ago an unusual lawsuit was filed in court in St. Petersburg on behalf of a 15-year-old high school student*. The girl Masha is demanding the inclusion of the creation of living beings according to God's will (Izvestia wrote about this on 2 March 2006) in the secondary school curriculum instead of "obsolete and erroneous" Darwinism. If this happens then one can expect similar lawsuits against Lomonosov or Newton. By the way, there exists a definition of a divine force based on just Newton's Second Law. Namely: a divine force is equal to the product of divine mass times divine acceleration (even in such a formula the definition is erroneous, since the "divinity" becomes squared). But in fact we don't feel like laughing; the attack on Darwinism is only the most blatant example of the interference of obscurantism in the life of our still secular society.
Concerned by the situation which has been created, leading scientists of the country have sent a letter to the editor of Izvestia.

The first "Monkey Trial" ended in the United States 80 years ago. Unburdened by scientific knowledge but indignant by the very fact of kinship with apes American extremists have again and again turned to the courts and organized noisy propaganda campaigns against the teaching of the Darwinist theory of evolution in schools. Unfortunately, these people do not know how many solid confirmations science has acquired about evolution in recent decades. From time to time scandalous stories have also arisen in other countries with attempts to replace Darwinism (Italy, Serbia, and Ukraine). Recently in Turkey five schoolteachers were fined for teaching Darwinism and "trampling on the religious sensitivities of students". And the fashion of "monkey trials" has finally reached us. A case about the equal rights of evolution and creationism ("an intelligent plan", "intelligent design", "creationism theory", the hypothesis about the creation of the world and man by God) has been accepted for consideration. A regional court quickly begin to examine how and when the universe arose, whether there was evolution, and from whom Man came. Although we have not yet had such absurd trials there have been attacks on Darwinism. Here's a recent statement by Metropolitan Kliment of Kaluga and Borovsky: "Textbooks are still old and Darwinism dominates them. The Soviet mentality is still present in the educational system". It follows that the problem is in the mentality. As soon as it is driven out of us the hated Darwinsim will be discarded on the trash heap of history.

Less than a year ago 38 Nobel laureates published an open letter about the latest "monkey trial" in the U.S. This is the opinion of the scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to the development of science. "It follows from experience that evolution is understood as an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modern biology its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA. In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent".

Evolutionary theory is recognized by the scientific community as the only reasonable explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and the adaptiblity of organisms to changes in environmental conditions. This recognition is based not on faith in the authority of Darwin but on the fact that Darwinian concept of evolution explains the entire set of facts accumulated by science.

These sciences are incontestible proof that life has existed on Earth for more than three billion years, and not several thousand years as supporters of the "creationism theory" state. The research of paleontologists proves that the characteristics of living organisms which populate the Earth have constantly changed and not remained constant. The paleontological record of the origin of Man from an ancestor in common with modern anthropoid apes has been traced in great detail. During the 20th century archeologists observed an extraordinarily convincing number of transitional forms between Man and his anthropoid ancestors. The fact of evolution is confirmed by the results of the DNA analysis of modern and extinct animals. These analyses unambiguously indicate the genetic kinship of all currently existing organisms with one another and consequently their origin from common ancestors. It was recently proven that there are fewer differences between the genomes of Man and the chimpanzee than between the genomes of mice and rats. This fact gives us evidence of the close kinship of Man and anthropoid apes independent from, but compatible with, archeological finds. An end has been put to arguments about the origin of Man.

Evolutionary biology not only explains the past but also gives a key to the solution of a number of practical problems with which mankind is faced. Methods are being developed to preserve disappearing species on the basis of an analysis of the mechanisms of the evolution of populations. The study and evolutionary comparison of the genomes of various species allows the identification of genes which cause hereditary human diseases. The methods and principles of evolutionary biology allow the mechanisms for the appearance and spread of inflectious diseases to be established, the resistance of bacteria and viruses to drugs to be anticipated, and the characteristics and ways for renascent pathogens to mutate to be predicted. Modern biology sees the results of evolution in the AIDS and avian flu viruses and develops a strategy to combat them on this basis (the creation of vaccines and other antiviral medicines). "Creationism theory" views these viruses as God's curse and can only suggest prayer as a means of combatting them.

The theory of evolution does not boil down to classic Darwinism. It is based on reliable scientific evidence and should remain in school textbooks. The clumsy attempts to portray creationism, which is based on dogma, as a scientific theory which is an alternative to evolutionary theory and drag it into the schoolroom seem ridiculous. Such labors are absolutely hopeless.

It needs to be said that the Catholic Church long ago rejected attempts to interfere in science. The Orthodox [Church] did not previously engage in this at all and it would not be worth it for them to engage in this fruitless business now. In our times some statements by leaders of the RPTs [Russian Orthodox Church] seem more than strange. At one press conference in Moscow the aforementioned Metropolitan Kliment lamented that Darwinism is still being taught in schools although there is already an "excellent alternative" to this theory. He offered the Biblical theory of the origin of the Earth as such an alternative. Unfortunately this is by no means the first attack on the schools by the ROC (and not only on schools). We will mention only the repeated attempts to introduce religion into the schools. The fact that such a introduction into secular schools violates the country's Constitution does not trouble senior religious leaders for some reason.

In recent decades discussions have been held in Russia about the introduction of the history of the primary religions of the world (religious studies) into schools. Religions are a part of world culture. Moreover, a familiarity with other confessions should promote an improvement in mutual understanding between the representatives of different ethnic groups and religious convictions. By the way, some days ago a group of experts in human rights from the Council of Europe headed by A. Gil-Robles came to a similar conclusion. There can be no doubt that the planned course in the history of the main monotheistic religions will be introduced in European schools. How this will finish for us is hard to say. In the recent Christmas lectures in the Kremlin Place A. Fursenko, the Minister of Education and Science, reported that work had been concluded in Russia on a textbook [entitled] "The History of World Religions". Lobbyists fighting for Orthodoxy in the schools have organized wild howls about this under such slogans as "Orthodoxy in the schools immediately!". We would like to note that there are people of practically all the world's religions living in Russia. And one also ought not to forget about atheists. They are also citizens of our country and there are not so few of them as some religious leaders would like to think. A peculiar Orthodox chauvinism is insulting both to atheists as well as to believers who represent other confessions and in no way promotes the unity of the country. We think that the textbook "The History of World Religions" mentioned by the Minister ought to be introduced into the schools (of course, with the condition that other religions will not be viewed as an insignificant appendage of Orthodoxy), but certainly not "The History of Orthodoxy", which would soon become religion. But to in order to do this the authorities ought to remember that according to the Constitution they lead a secular, multinational, multi-confessional country.

Ye. B. Aleksandrov, Academician
P. M. Borodin, Doctor of Biology, Professor
V. L. Ginzburg, Academician
A. P. Derevyanko, Academician
I. K. Zakharov, Doctor of Biology, Professor
S. G. Inge-Vechtomov, Academician
A. V. Kanygin, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences
S. P. Kapitsa, Doctor of Physicomathematical Sciences, Professor
Eh. P. Kruglyakov, Academician
V. I. Molodin, Academician
V. N. Parmon, Academician
M. V. Sadovsky, Academician
A. S. Spirin, Academician
V. N. Charushin, Academician
V. K. Shumnyy, Academician

* There is reason to doubt that the fact of the filing of the suit in the courts of St. Petersburg or Moscow actually occurred, which in no way reduces the value of the publication of the scientists' letter. (Website editor)

Translated by Gary Goldberg