Serbs in Dispute Over Darwin Vs. Divine

Charles Darwin's evolution theory is out of Serb schools. The Bible is in.

The education minister's decision this week to drop the evolution theory from elementary school classes in favor of creationism has triggered outrage among scientists, opposition parties and liberal groups.

Education Minister Ljiljana Colic told primary school teachers in a memo earlier this week to ignore an existing chapter in eighth-grade biology textbooks that says life on Earth evolved through natural selection.

She said Darwin's theory is "dogmatic," adding that it will remain in schoolbooks — "but will not be taught" — pending a general revision of the curriculum expected later this year.

The vast majority of world scientists believe the evolution theory, which states that all living life forms evolved from earlier, more primitive life forms, is the basis for teaching biology. Some religious beliefs do not accept that view, insisting God created humans.

Critics say the decision to drop Darwin's theory from classes reflects a rise of conservative ideology in the Balkan republic, epitomized by the conservative government that took power in January. It also indicates an increase in the influence of the Serbian Orthodox Church in education and everyday life here.

"This is terrible, I simply cannot believe that this has happened," said biology professor Nikola Tucic of the University of Belgrade. "We are turning into a theocratic state in the 21st century.

"Without Darwin, teaching biology makes no sense," Tucic said, echoing arguments heard in similar, recurring debates in many countries, including parts of the United States.

The opposition Civic Alliance and Social Democratic Union has demanded Colic's resignation, as did nearly 40 nongovernment organizations, ranging from human rights activists, libertarians and legal experts who questioned legality of the minister's move.

"Mrs. Colic should keep her obviously personal and religious beliefs to herself," the statement from the Civic Alliance said.

"That was an appalling decision," said the party's leader, Gaso Knezevic, who had served as the education minister in the previous, pro-Western government. "She relies on her incompetence and a completely church view to proclaim Darwin's theory a dogma."

Alarmed by the outrage, the government held an urgent meeting late Wednesday and issued a statement seeking to soften Colic's stance.

Until the issue is fully resolved at Serbia's National Council for Education — a supreme panel deciding on major guidelines for schools — the "evolution lessons remain in the textbooks and are available to pupils. Teachers are not forbidden to use it," the statement said.

"This is a scandal," said a joint statement from dozens of human rights groups including Women in Black, the Humanitarian Law Fund and the Helsinki Committee.

"Serbia must not become similar to Islamic countries in which religious leaders have a final say," the groups protested, while noting that such debates occur regularly in "a number of schools in the United States that are under the influence of extreme Protestant sects."

Trying to defuse some of the criticism, a dignitary of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church also warned against purging Darwin from schools.

"Darwin never posed the question if God might have created men and the world," said Bishop Ignjatije. "Darwin only spoke about ways that humans and the rest of the nature are connected. The connection must not be ignored by anybody, not even by us, theologists."

Newspapers have lambasted Colic for her decision, printing photos of her next to evolving apes.

Primary school teachers also protested, some confused and demanding clarification what to do, others openly going against the minister.