Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
Evolution, You Taught Us to Believe

From the editor of the site. Burrowing through the archive I very coincidentally stumbled upon five-year-old material http:// dated 15.02.2001). Why "very coincidentally" I hope is understandable in light of what is now going on in Russia.


Inherit The Wind is what the Stanley Kramer film made 40 years ago about the famous in American history "Monkey Trial" was called. In 1925 John Scopes, a young teacher from Tennessee, was given a $100 fine for teaching the Darwinist theory of evolution. Seemingly nothing more than an amusing incident from the distant past, for separation of church and state was established in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, and according to decisions of the Supreme Court no religious teachings should be permitted in the public schools of the country. But it turns out that now Darwin has to fight for existence in the most developed country in the world. In the schools of some states the theory of evolution can only be mentioned as an unproven hypothesis and teachers have to inform the childen about the possibility of a divine creation of the world and Man. Religious fundamentalism has not disappeared in politically scorrect America. It lies at the foundation of the movement against abortion and euthasia and its supporters are fighting Darwinism and advocating the restoration of prayers in school. It is not impossible that this wind is yet to be inherited.

On 12 February the progressive public of the state of Kansas festively commemorated the birthday of Charles Darwin who was born on this day 192 years ago. The gray-haired birthday boy played by an amateur actor ate a birthday cake and made a short speech in defense of his theory before those assembled.

The author of The Origin of the Species had special reason for concern which forced him to turn over in his grave and finally come to life. A meeting of the Board of Education was scheduled on Wednesday, 14 February, in Topeka, the capital of Kansas, which was to decide on how things were to be with the remarkable British natural scientist in the future. In spite of world recognition the fate of the theory of evolution in Kansas was completely in the hands of the 10 members of the Board.

The issue came abruptly to a head with the state school authorities in August 1999. Members of the Board who believe in the creationist theory of the origin of life described in the Book of Genesis rose up in arms against vulgar materialism and by a two-vote majority (there are a total of 10 Board members) they approved a new program for municipal schools. Seventy-four years after the famous "Monkey Trial" at which teacher John Scopes was convicted for violating the Tennessee law forbidding the corruption of innocent children's souls with the theory of evolution history had turned full circle. During this time the Holy See had made its peace with Darwin, but the Kansas supporters of the Biblical version turned out to be more Catholic than the Pope.

However, they made concessions. The school curriculum did not impose a categorical prohibition on Darwin's doctrine. It remained a question for the discretion of the county school boards and the theory of evolution itself was defined in it as "an attempt by Man to find a logical explanation" for the origin of the Earth and life on it. It was permitted to teach it only as only as one hypothesis. Students were not required to know it in examinations.

Since that time the discussion, in which prominent natural scientists, philosophers, and other authoritative specialists from both sides have participated, has not died down in the state. A celebration of the founder, who incidentally found that his theory did not contradict the Bible, has become part of this campaign. After the recent elections in which Americans not only chose a President and members of Congress but also local officials, the balance of power on the Board changed in favor of the Darwinists. The Christian fundamentalists ended up in an obvious minority and as a result a new edition of the curriculum was approved by a vote of 7 to 3. Board member Steve Abrams, a veterinarian by profession and one of the opponents of Darwin, was confident that the Board had made a mistake. In his words, there exist persuasive scientifically established facts contradicting the theory of evolution and, that being the case, it cannot be considered proven. He is convinced that the dispute will continue.

Kansas is not the only American state where the government doubts Darwin's theory. For example, in Nebraska the school curriculum describing it was approved two years ago; however the Deputy Attorney General of the state intervened in the discussion, declaring that the curriculum violated the students' rights inasmuch as Darwinism is presented in it as a fact and not a version. It is this formulation which is contained in the school textbooks of Alabama. As Professor Emeritus Laurence Lerner of Calfornia State University determined last year, a third of American schools do not teach the theory of evolution. As a recent CNN-USA poll showed, 40% of Americans agree with such a position.

The problem is not as funny as it might seem. During his latest pastoral visit to the US Pope John Paul II declared more than once that this country is faced with a moral choice which it had not known since the time of the Civil War. This is undoubtedly so. As in any secular society, in the US the church is separate from the state. But all the more often a number of Americans are coming to the conclusion that they need to return to the moral principles on which the country was founded. But it was created by religious dissidents, primarily Puritans, whose piety so annoyed liberals that their very name was turned into a synonym for sanctimoniousness. These calls have long been not a voice crying in the wilderness but a unanimous choir, the voice of millions. The movement against abortion and euthanasia, disputes around school prayer, these are all a portent of something like religious wars. A new obscurantism is gaining strength on the wave of the movement for the revival of moral values. The gains of the era of liberalism are under threat. Against such a background the Kansas debate already seems an anachronism, a misunderstanding, or an absurd case.

Vladimir Abarinov

Translated by Gary Goldberg