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Russian Creationism Sounds Frighteningly Familiar

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Religious fundamentalists have begun promoting creationism in Russia -- and they are doing so using many of the same strategies and buzzwords adopted by fellow extremists in the United States.

According to a news story released by Reuters, Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church recently called for Russian schools to begin teaching "religious explanations of creation ... alongside evolution." The Archbishop wants to end what he called "the monopoly of Darwinism."

Archbishop Hilarion went even further, noting that "Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."

He made it clear that this attack on evolution was part of a broader mission claiming that he "was dedicated to fighting 'fanatical secularism' of liberals hostile to religion."

All of this is painfully similar to the rhetoric being promoted by the religious right in the United States. Archbishop Hilarion's "fanatical secularism" sounds just like the Discovery Institute's call for the "overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" and its related cry for a new type of science: "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Creationists have long argued that evolution is "only a theory," purposefully ignoring the meaning of theory within the scientific community. Simply put, within science there isn't anything better than theory. An idea is elevated to the status of theory only after many multiple studies have provided data consistent with predictions and when the idea has been shown to make useful predictions about the future while comprehensively explaining the past. Evolution does this as well as, if not better than, every other scientific theory across all fields of science.

And the Archbishop's implication that evolution and religion are in direct conflict also mirrors the endless messages spewed forth by creationist organizations in the United States. Take, for example, a couple of the ridiculous comments made by Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, the folks who brought us the $27-million creationist museum-cum-theme-park where we can view humans and dinosaurs cavorting together in amazingly realistic dioramas.

In a podcast with the intriguing title "Darwinism -- It Can Lead to Satanism," Ham asserts, "I've always said that evolution is an anti-God religion and that the more people believe it and act consistent with it, the more anti-God they'll become."

Similarly, in an article explaining the need for his theme park, Ham argued, "When visiting many secular museums around the world, I've watched thousands of children gaze with wonder at evolutionary displays which were, sadly, indoctrinating them in humanistic, anti-God thinking."

Although the narrative that evolution is anti-God is popular within creationist circles in the States and, apparently, around the world, there's simply nothing to support it -- and there's plenty to argue against it.

In Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) addresses this issue head on.

Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

Additionally, the Clergy Letter Project was founded to dispel the myth that evolution is anti-God. More than 13,000 clergy members in the United States have signed the Christian Clergy Letter, the Letter from American Rabbis, or the Unitarian Universalist Clergy Letter. Each of these Letters makes it clear that evolution is fully consistent with the religious belief of the thousands of clergy members who have added their endorsements, and each makes it clear that evolutionary theory, and only evolutionary theory, should be taught in public school science classrooms and laboratories.

The creationists believe that if you repeat a message often enough and loudly enough, people will begin to accept it as accurate, regardless of the truth of the matter. Archbishop Hilarion has either adopted their strategy of vocal dissemination of disinformation, or he has been fooled into accepting this anti-intellectual nonsense. Either way, the world is a poorer place because of his actions, and many more people will be suckered into accepting the false premise that they must choose between religion and science.

Help combat the spread of this disease by joining forces with those clergy members and scientists who understand that science does not attempt to disprove the existence of a deity; indeed, as the NAS has made clear, science does not possess the tools to undertake such an endeavor.

And share with me the outrageous belief that if we repeat the truth often enough it will make a difference in public understanding and in public policy.