An Outbreak of Creationism in Europe?

An Outbreak of Creationism in Europe? September 26, 2016

Statue of Darwin from the Natural History Museum in London. Source: WikiMedia Commons

The most recent issue of Scientific American has an article entitled “Creationism Invades Europe” that seems to imply a fairly recent outbreak of Young Earth creationism in various European nations—significant due to creationism often being understood as a particularly American phenomenon.

The authors of the piece put creationism’s European ascendancy in the larger context of the past couple of decades, that

For years, although creationists were growing in number in European countries and gradually developing an influence in schools and local communities, they mostly kept under the radar and were not a major concern. Not until, at least, about a decade ago, when the Council of Europe issued a warning against the growth of creationism and the potential threat to the educational system it posed. At that point, creationism became a matter of public and political debate.

In particular, they highlight on event from a few years ago as a pivotal moment for creationists in Europe: the “double” Darwin celebration of 2009, marking both the 150th year since the publication of On the Origin of Species as well as Darwin’s 200th birthday. The authors suggest that this “helped the European creationists in unexpected ways”:

They got far more media exposure than ever before. Everywhere, journalists framed the anniversary in the context of a science–religion conflict. This gave creationists easy access even to mainstream media.

Much of the article focuses on the way creationists have used new media to promulgate their views in this way, and the wider socio-political ramifications of this. Honestly though, the article is short on any sort of data here, or even really particular examples of major European creationist movements or events. If anyone has more solid data on this, please send it my way.

To be sure, I certainly don’t think that the basic idea is wrong–that creationists have used new media to reach broader audiences. But I can easily see people reading the title of the article and/or quickly skimming it and thinking that there’s some huge new crisis. (I hope the question mark at the end of my own title might at least do a little to suggest that things aren’t quite so cut and dried.)

In the end, as the authors of the Scientific American article note, one alternate takeaway here may be that the threat in Europe here isn’t so much directly from creationists, but that there’s in fact a more subtle crisis of epistemology and education:

Even if people claim to accept evolution, they tend to interpret evolutionary processes in intuitive but scientifically incorrect ways. Evolution as a topic is often treated marginally or even neglected in schools across Europe. Ironically, being forced to consider antievolutionists operating in Europe, we now know that we need to do more to make people understand what we know about the fundamental processes of life on Earth.

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