MOSCOW, March 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Maria, a schoolgirl from St. Petersburg, is demanding that the Russian Education Ministry rewrite biology textbooks to include the view of creationism -- the belief that God created the universe and all living beings as described in the Bible.
Teaching only the theory of evolution, she says, violates freedom of conscience and religious rights, and therefore runs counter to the constitution.
Tired Of A Secular Curriculum
Schraiber is assisted in her lawsuit by her father, Kirill, and by three lawyers representing the Russian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.
Like in Western countries, the curriculum taught in state schools in Russia is strictly secular. A number of young Russians, however, are not opposed to seeing that change.
Aleksandr, a 19-year-old Moscow student, fully backs Schraiber's initiative. "It seems like a very good thing to me," he said. "Inner spiritual development should definitely have its place in education. I think notions such as ethics should also be included [in the school curriculum]. These are very useful things."
Sergei, a 22-year-old working for a construction firm, does not believe in evolution theories. He says schools should teach children more about religion, without however falling into proselytizing. "I think that God exists," Sergei said. "It is 100 percent clear that we do not descend from the ape, according to Darwin's theory. I am in favor of teaching topics in school that would enable people to choose themselves what religion they will adhere to, without leaning towards one religion in particular."
And Anastasiya, a 17-year-old student, agrees that the theory of divine creation should be added to the theory of evolution in the school program. "Yes, so that children can have a choice, so that they have the possibility of deciding what is closer to them, so that they make this choice themselves," she told RFE/RL.
Not all young people agreed, however. Some thought that creationism had no place in schools.
Darwin In Decline?
At Moscow's imposing Darwin Museum, creationist theories are not an option.
Schoolchildren come here to learn about how species evolved and adapted to their natural environment. On weekends and holidays, the museum, which has three floors teeming with stuffed animals and skeletons, receives about 3,000 visitors a day.
Richard Dawkins, an eminent British ethnologist, famously said that one had to be either "ignorant, stupid, or insane" to deny the theory of evolution.
The director of the Darwin Museum, Anna Klukina, is more diplomatic. But she agrees that those rejecting Darwinism do so out of gross ignorance.
It seems like a very good thing to me. Inner spiritual development should definitely have its place in education -- Aleksandr, 19.
"The masses understand neither the theory of evolution nor Darwinism itself. I witness this on a regular basis. The theory of evolution is based on three postulates that cannot be called into question," she says. "The first postulate is the existence of mutability. The second postulate is the existence of the fight for survival. The third is natural selection. But for the masses, Darwinism equates to man descending from apes, and that's all. Darwin, however, never said this, that's the whole tragedy."
Contrary to the common belief that Charles Darwin's theories boil down to the descent of man from the ape, his theory of evolution stipulates that all life forms are related and have descended from a common ancestor.
Darwinism Vs. God
Klukina also firmly rejects the claim that Darwinism precludes the existence of God.
She argues that the late Pope John Paul II publicly recognized evolutionist theories, and that Darwin himself, who studied theology at Cambridge University, was a deeply religious man.
Sociologists, however, say scientific ignorance is not the only factor behind the rejection of evolution theories in Russia.
Some say the spiritual vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its atheist ideology is at the root of this trend.
I think that God exists. It is 100 percent clear that we do not descend from the ape, according to Darwin's theory -- Sergei, 22.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels admired Darwin's theory of evolution, which they thought supported their own theory of social evolution. A simplified and somewhat "Sovietized" version of Darwinism therefore occupied pride of place in the biology curriculum of Soviet schools.
According to Lev Gudkov, a sociologist who heads the department of social and political studies at the Yuri Levada Center, creationism signals a desire to reject anything associated with Soviet times: "It is definitely a post-Soviet, exaggerated, insistence on pre-Soviet traditional views. This is observed mostly among young people and among the elderly. We discern an overall tendency towards imitational traditionalism that emerged as a reaction to the vacuum of ideas and beliefs that followed the disintegration of Soviet ideology."
A poll conducted by the Yuri Levada Center last September showed that only 26 percent of those surveyed supported the theory of evolution, while 49 percent of respondents said they believed man was created by God.
Gudkov, however, warns against taking initiatives such as Maria Schraiber's too seriously.
Since the most fervent advocates of creationism in schools seem to be teenagers and young adults, Gudkov says that efforts to publicly reject the theory of evolution is likely to be partly driven by a desire to challenge the established order.