A recent article in Nature Ecology & Evolution, “Public literacy in evolution,” discusses a newly launched project to push evolution on the European public. Called EvoKE, or “EVOlutionary Knowledge for Everyone,” the project’s main concern is to find ways to increase “European citizens’ acceptance and understanding of evolution.” In multiple places, the article quotes EvoKE leaders who are worried about the level of “acceptance” of evolution. The language is telling:
- On why EvoKE was needed: “[I]n Europe, we lacked a formal conversation about the public acceptance and understanding of evolution.”
- On the goals of EvoKE: “To stimulate a discussion on the state of European citizens’ acceptance and understanding of evolution.”
- On the content of EvoKE events: “The question of whether evolution is accepted and understood by European citizens indeed formed the focus of several discussions at EvoKE 2017.”
- On key action items for EvoKE: “[R]esearchers need to be proactive and at the forefront of science communication efforts, especially given movements to undermine the acceptance of evolution.”
In case you missed it, EvoKE spends a lot of time fretting about whether the European public “accepts” evolution. They seem particularly distressed about those “movements” that do not encourage people to “accept” evolution.
In response, the project aims to get political. The last paragraph states:
In 2007, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted the resolution: “The dangers of creationism in education.” This resolution urged state members to notably defend and promote scientific knowledge, and to promote evolution knowledge as a fundamental scientific theory in school curricula. However, we are not aware of an EU policy agenda regarding the teaching of evolution. Support for EvoKE and the projects that came out of the meeting would certainly be a way for the European Council to be more proactive on those issues.
We reported on the above-mentioned 2007 resolution, adopted by the Council of Europe, at the time. Memorably, it stated that teaching intelligent design may entail a “threat to human rights.” Specifically, that resolution declared:
- “[T]he Parliamentary Assembly is worried about the possible ill-effects of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights which are a key concern of the Council of Europe.”
- “Creationism has many contradictory aspects. The ‘intelligent design’ idea, which is the latest, more refined version of creationism, does not deny a certain degree of evolution but claims that this is the work of a superior intelligence. Though more subtle in its presentation, the doctrine of intelligent design is no less dangerous.”
- “The neocreationist movement, which mainly consists of the advocates of ‘intelligent design,’ defends the hypothesis of the intervention of a so-called superior intelligence. Describing it as scientific, the supporters of intelligent design demand that their ideas be taught in biology classes alongside the theory of evolution.”
- “[T]he intelligent design ideas are anti-science: any activity involving blatant scientific fraud, intellectual deception, or communication that blurs the nature, objectives, and limits of science may be called anti-science. The intelligent design movement would seem to be anti-science for several reasons. Firstly, the nature of the science is distorted. Secondly, the objectives of the science are distorted. The writings of the leaders of this movement show that their motivations and objectives are not scientific but religious.”
- “With creationism today, we are witnessing a growth of modes of thought which, the better to impose religious dogma, are attacking the very core of the knowledge that we have built up little by little concerning nature, evolution, our origins and our place in the universe. There can be no doubt that this is a serious attack on human rights.”
- “Our modern world is based on a long history, of which the development of science and technology forms an important part. However, the scientific approach is still not well understood and this is liable to encourage the development of all manner of fundamentalism and extremism, synonymous with attacks of utmost virulence on human rights. The rejection of all science is definitely one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights.”
To summarize, the resolution claims that intelligent design is a form of creationism that is “dangerous,” “anti-science,” promotes “deception,” is religiously motivated. It says that teaching these ideas amounts to “a serious attack on human rights,” of “utmost virulence on human rights” and “one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights.” The resolution goes on for 105 paragraphs this way. Read the whole thing.
And remember, this rabidly intolerant screed isn’t a random blog rant from some intolerant undergraduate atheist student club. It was adopted as a resolution by the Council of Europe, a quasi-governmental body and would-be protector of “human rights.” According to the article in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the EvoKE project wants to lobby the European Union — a true governmental body with real lawmaking powers — to draw inspiration from this resolution and start making policy.
What kind of policy could come from such a declaration, standing directly against freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of scientific inquiry? The resolution’s claims that intelligent design could pose a “threat to human rights” sounds like a thinly veiled wish to criminalize or legally inhibit ID advocacy. Is this how EvoKE aims to encourage Europe to “accept evolution” — by declaring that alternative views pose a “threat to human rights”? Would they threaten dissenters with legal retaliation for being “anti-science”?
Oppressive regimes have tried gambits like that in the past. One hopes that EvoKE would aim to persuade the public with reason and evidence, not through the force of the law. But on any objective showing, reason and evidence are on the side of intelligent design, not evolution. Maybe that’s why, it seems, some are tempted by harsher remedies.