PARIS — Europe's main human-rights body will vote on a proposal next week to defend the teaching of evolution and to keep creationist and "intelligent design" out of science class in state schools in its 47 member countries.
The unusual move shows that a U.S. trend for religiously based attacks on the theory of evolution is also worrying European politicians, who now see such arguments put forward in their countries by Christian and Islamic groups.
A report for the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly says the campaign against evolution has its roots "in forms of religious extremism" and is a dangerous attack on scientific knowledge.
"Today, creationists of all faiths are trying to get their ideas accepted in Europe," it said. "If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights."
The Council, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, oversees human-rights standards in member states and enforces decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.
Creationism teaches that God created the world and all beings in it, as depicted in the Bible. Polls in the United States indicate that about half of all Americans agree with this, while most Europeans support the theory of evolution.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism in science class in public schools violates the separation of church and state.
Supporters of "intelligent design," which holds that some life forms are too complex to have evolved, say it is a scientific theory that should be taught in school. A U.S. court has rejected this, however, and the Council report dismisses it as "neo-creationism."
'a fundamental scientific theory'
The proposed resolution to be voted on Tuesday says member states should "firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution by natural selection."
"The teaching of all phenomena concerning evolution as a fundamental scientific theory is therefore crucial to the future of our societies and our democracies," it says. The resolution would not be binding, but the debate and vote should be a barometer of pro-evolution thinking in Europe.
The report, drawn up by French Socialist Guy Lengagne for the Assembly's Committee on Culture, Science and Education, says creationist ideas could be discussed in non-scientific contexts, such as classes on culture or religious studies.
"All leading representatives of the main monotheistic religions have adopted a much more moderate attitude," it added, noting that Pope Benedict stated in a recent book that the Roman Catholic Church does not share the creationists' Biblical literalism.
The report highlighted a recent Muslim creationist campaign by Turkish writer Harun Yahya, whose lavish 750-page Atlas of Creation it said has been distributed free to schools in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Spain.
It quoted University of Paris biologist Hervé Le Guyader as calling this "much more dangerous than the previous creationist initiatives, which were often of Anglo-Saxon origin."
The report also cites small groups of creationists — mostly Christians — working in France, Switzerland and Britain and notes that some officials have questioned the teaching of evolution in Poland, Italy, Serbia and the Netherlands.
The Royal Society — Britain's academy of sciences — and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams have spoken out against teaching creationism in schools there.