With creationism now coming in Christian and Muslim
versions, scientists, teachers and theologians in France are debating ways to
counteract what they see as growing religious attacks on science.
An undated image
showing a prehistoric crocodile, a human and a dinosaur. With creationism
now coming in Christian and Muslim versions, scientists, teachers and
theologians in France are debating ways to counteract what they see as
growing religious attacks on science. [Reuters]
Bible-based criticism of evolution, once limited to
Protestant fundamentalists in the United States, has become an issue in France
now that Pope Benedict and some leading Catholic theologians have criticized the
neo-Darwinist view of creation.
An Islamist publisher in Turkey mass-mailed a lavishly illustrated Muslim
creationist book to schools across France recently, prompting the Education
Ministry to proscribe the volume and question the way the story of life is
The Bible and the Koran say God directly created the world and everything in
it. In Christianity, fundamentalists believe this literally but the largest
denomination, Catholicism, and most mainline Protestant churches read it more
This literalism led Christian fundamentalists to reject the theory of
evolution elaborated in the 19th century by Charles Darwin, the foundation stone
of modern biology. Muslim scholars also dispute evolution but have not made this
a major issue.
"There is a growing distrust of science in public opinion, especially among
the young, and that worries us," said Philippe Deterre, a research biologist and
Catholic priest who organized a colloquium on creationism for scientists at the
"There are many issues that go beyond strictly scientific or strictly
theological explanations," he said at the colloquium in this university town
southwest of Paris. Deterre's Blaise Pascal Network promotes understanding
between science and religion.
Barred from teaching creationism in US public schools, some conservative
Christians now advocate the "intelligent design" argument that some forms of
life are too complex to have simply evolved. Scientists call this creationism in
These American concerns caught notice in Europe after Vienna Cardinal
Christoph Schoenborn, a confidant of Pope Benedict, attacked neo-Darwinist
theories in 2005 in what seemed to be a move to ally the Catholic Church with
Growing Issues In France
These theoretical debates became a pressing issue in France last month when
schools unexpectedly received free copies of an "Atlas of Creation" by Turkish
Islamist Harun Yahya that blames Darwinism for everything from terrorism to
Herve Le Guyader, a University of Paris biology professor who advised the
Education Ministry on the Atlas, said high school biology teachers needed more
training now to respond to the increasingly open challenges to the theory of
"It's often taught in a simplistic way," he said. "We have to give them the
philosophical arguments they need to respond."
Paleontologist Marc Godinot said creationists and their critics drew
overblown conclusions from a theory that explains how life developed but not how
it was created. The ultimate origin of life is not a question science can
answer, he said.
Creationists reject evolution because some scientists say the role of chance
in it proves that life has no final meaning.
"We have to decode this, but that's a job for philosophers and theologians,"
Godinot said . "Creation is actually a big mystery."
Jacques Arnould, a Catholic priest who works at France's National Center for
Space Research, said Christians in Europe should not look down with bemusement
at creationists abroad.
"They are believers, as we are," the Dominican theologian told the meeting of
about 100, mostly Catholic scientists with a few Muslims as well. "There are
Christian, Muslim and Jewish approaches that we have to respect."
Arnould said the question of life's purpose arose naturally in biology class
but science could not answer it. Instead of offering simple creationism, he
said, theologians should develop views that respect modern science and faith in
a divine purpose.
He said Catholic thinkers should update "natural theology," the teachings of
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) that married philosophy and science in a view
that dominated European thought until the 18th-century Enlightenment divorced
the two fields.
"Natural theology was based on the knowledge of the
time," said Arnould. "That knowledge keeps changing, so natural theology has to