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In Europe, lawmakers chide creationism

See theory tied to rise of social conservatism

PARIS - The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned efforts to teach creationism in schools yesterday in a vote that underlined concern about the rise of a new socially conservative agenda in several countries.

Members of the assembly, which monitors human rights, approved 48 to 25 a report that attacked advocates of creationism for seeking "to impose religious dogma" and to promote "a radical return to the past" at the expense of children's education.

The vote in Strasbourg highlighted the growth of Christian creationism, promoted by socially conservative parties in Eastern Europe, and of a Muslim variant pioneered in Turkey but spreading to Western countries.

It also underlined the growing polarization in Europe over moral and religious issues such as abortion, single-sex marriage and genetic engineering.

The report said that creationism, which denies or qualifies the theory of evolution, was "an almost exclusively American phenomenon" but that such ideas were "tending to find their way into Europe" and affect several of the 47 Council of Europe countries.

It added that denying pupils knowledge of theories like evolution was "totally against children's educational interests" and that creationists supported "a radical return to the past which could prove particularly harmful in the long term for all our societies."

Compiled by a Liberal Democrat member of the Luxembourg Parliament, Anne Brasseur, the report focused on the rise of Christian creationism, bolstered by right-wing and populist parties in Eastern Europe.

Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis have been joined by those who accept that evolution has taken place but as "the result of a transcendent will, an 'intelligent design,' " the report said.

It also highlighted a Muslim version of creationism, pointing to the work of a Turkish cleric, Harun Yahya, called "The Atlas of Creation," distributed to schools in France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland.

The vote is nonbinding but means that the assembly will ask the 47 member states to consider their views. In some cases, new conventions can be agreed to by the national governments.

However, that course of action is not possible in this instance because the assembly approved a resolution rather than a formal recommendation.

Although the Council of Europe is a human rights watchdog and a guardian against discrimination, it is increasingly divided on moral issues because its members include mainly Muslim Turkey as well as Eastern European countries, among them Russia, where social conservatism is strong.

In June, members of the assembly postponed voting on an earlier draft of the report on creationism because of opposition to the document, which was drawn up by a senior French member of the assembly's culture and education committee, Guy Lengagne.

Similar divisions emerged earlier this week when Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church described homosexuality as an illness and likened it to kleptomania. He was applauded by some members, though others walked out. Thirty-seven members of the assembly including the former British deputy prime minister, John Prescott, signed a declaration urging the patriarch "to avoid the use of language inciting intolerance and to respect, rather than seek to deny, the fundamental rights of sexual minorities."

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