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Intelligent Design Debate Arrives in Germany

Sabina Casagrande
December 21, 2005

While a US court this week ruled that evolution must be taught as a fact in Pennsylvania schools, a small group in Germany is trying to advocate alternatives. It believes that an "intelligent designer" created life.

Did we develop from apes or not?Image: dpa - Bildarchiv

Did God create mankind or are we derived from apes? This question has caused a stir ever since Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution in "The Origin of Species" in 1859. For scientists, the answer is simple: our planet is the result of billions of years of evolution.

"Evolution is a documented fact," said Ulrich Kutschera, a professor at the University of Kassel and one of Germany's leading evolutionary biologists. But a small group of skeptics is claiming that evolution is not the scientific explanation for our planet's existence.

Intelligent design (ID) is a movement that has become considerably popular in the United States in the past several years and is now gaining ground in Germany, too. ID supporters believe that an "intelligent force" played a role in the development of the universe, as opposed to it being the result of random natural selection as argued by Darwin.

The ID theory states that nature could not have developed in such a complex manner without the work of a designer -- who is unnamed -- or higher being. It differs from creationism in that it does not advocate taking the Bible literally.

"Neo-creationist propaganda"

The leading ID proponent in Germany is Wort und Wissen (or Word and Knowledge). The society, based in the small town Baiersbronn in the Black Forest, organizes lectures and publishes evolution-critical books and pamphlets for adults and children.

Die Gutenberg Bibel
ID theorists see a connection to creationist beliefsImage: AP

The Munich microbiologist Siegfried Scherer, who heads Wort und Wissen, said that it was "not entirely unthinkable" from a biologist's perspective that all humans derived from Adam and Eve.

"You could consider that there were tiny populations in the distant past, which spread out to become humanity," Scherer told German public television ZDF.

Scherer and fellow Wort und Wissen secretary Reinhard Junker are the authors of the controversial work, "Evolution - a critical textbook". Using pseudo-scientific terminology, they outline a model in which organisms developed from basic types created by an intelligent being.

Scientists, though, strongly criticize the theory. "If perfectly created species existed, then the perfect human wouldn't get slipped discs, or die of cancer and dinosaurs wouldn't have become extinct," said biologist Kutschera. He added that the book was "a successful piece of German neo-creationist propaganda", which conveyed a biased view of evolution.

ID supporters want alternatives taught

Although Wort und Wissen has existed since the early 1980s, public and media interest in its work has only developed recently. Kutschera said it is because people have only now "woken up" to the problem.

"The Internet is infested with this creationist rubbish," Kutschera said. Books such as Scherer and Junker's are donated to school libraries across the country.

According to Wort und Wissen, though, the book is solely "additional informational material for teachers and students, who want to deal with scientific arguments critical of evolution or alternative interpretations of biological data". Wort und Wissen said that it did not seek to introduce creationist theories into biology lessons and that these should remain in religious education.

"However, the society wants scientific criticism of evolutionary teachings to be adequately explored," it said in a statement. This also belonged in biology class, it said.

German schools will stick to evolution

Wort und Wissen said it would not take legal steps to force ID or creationist theory in schools, as is the case in the United States. Last month, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public school science standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution. On Tuesday, though, a US court in Pennsylvania ruled it was unconstitutional to teach schoolchildren the intelligent design theory of life as an alternative to evolution.

Charles Darwin Symbolbild
Darwin's work still causes controversy todayImage: AP Graphics

German education officials said they didn't expect the debate to become a major issue.

"This development will not reach Germany," said Sylvia Schill, spokeswoman for the Kultusministerkonferenz, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the German Länder.

"Evolution is taught in biology class in all German schools," Schill said. References to creationism, on the other hand, are made in religious instruction at school.

"There are no endeavors to change this, nor will there be in the foreseeable future," she said.

Better education about evolution necessary

But, ID theories, it seems, are likely to find a willing audience in Germany. A recent survey by the research group Weltanschauung in Germany fowid showed that 38 percent of the population disputed evolution. Of this, 13 percent believed God created life as written in the Bible. A further 25 percent were convinced that life was created by a higher being, and then followed a process guided by this being.

In comparison, a Gallup poll released last month in the United States showed that 53 percent of American adults agreed with the statement that God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it. Thirty-one percent stood by the ID stance, while only 12 percent said humans evolved from other forms of life and "God has no part".

According to Kutschera, education is the best tool to counteract movements such as ID.

"More emphasis is necessary on biology in German schools in order to counteract the lack of knowledge about evolution," he said. "A literal interpretation of biblical creationist myths no longer suit our times. Geology and life sciences have made enormous progress, and this cannot simply be ignored."

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