by Aleksandra Stevanović, SOW Researcher At the beginning of May 2017, a vehement discussion on the theory of evolution flooded academic circles and media in Serbia. The petition with approximately 160 signs of almost exclusively high intellectuals seeking revision of the theory of evolution study in schools was signed and sent to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, Serbian Academy of Science and Arts, Committee of Education, Science and Technological Development and to the Senates of the University of Belgrade, University of Kragujevac, and University of Niš. However, a plethora of prominent Serbian scientists have strongly opposed any further discussion on this topic stating that it would be as absurd as discussing whether the Earth is flat. The petition was initiated by Dr. Radmilo Rončević, a retired specialist in plastic and reconstructive surgery, who submitted the explanation for the reasons of revision of the theory of evolution as well. According to the reports, the initiative was supported and signed by 52 academicians, science advisers and university professors, 61 PhDs, 5 magistrates, 50 medical specialists, 24 engineers, 19 high school teachers, 14 philosophers, sociologists and philologists, 25 lawyers and economists, 5 pharmacists and chemists, 8 artists, 5 journalists and 5 priests.
The Chairman of the Committee of Education, Science and Technological Development Muamer Zukorlić considers that through education, students should have the opportunity to learn all the theories about the origin of man, whether Darwinist or Creationist one, or any other. He announced that the petition would be considered before the Committee in some future period stating that the outcome is uncertain. Theory of evolution has always been the apple of discord between evolutionary biologies and creationists. Signatories of the petitions advocate that evolution has had no answers on the origin on man, therefore, it cannot be studied as the only theory regarding the issue. Moreover, it also entails certain belief. However, Biljana Stojković, the professor of evolutionary biology at the Faculty of Biology, University of Belgrade claims that the petition is not scientifically based and it is yet another attack of the creationists. Thereby, she adds that scientist are expected to discuss scientific matters with people who know nothing about science and do not want to understand, perceiving it as a big problem. Željko Tomanović, the dean of the Faculty of Biology, University of Belgrade, remarked that the petition is nothing new but another attempt of creationists to prevail even though their ideas are not scientifically justified. Thereby, he expressed his convinction that state institutions would not regard the petition seriously. Psychologist and Member of Parliament Žarko Korać claims that the initiative for the revision of the theory of evolution study in education and renunciation of scientific achievements would return Serbia a few centuries back. Korać asserts that the Assembly is not the place for scientific discussions, but they should be held at scientific institutions. He accentuated that there is no modern biology without the theory of evolution as its base. Furthermore, he reminded on the similar initiative in 2004 by Minister Ljiljana Čolić who demanded the abolition of the theory in the eighth-grade biology textbooks and added that it was perhaps the only Serbian news that went around the whole globe. In addition, he pointed that Religious Education is a school subject teaching the creationist theory of origin therefore, students have the opportunity to freely learn about it. The 2017 polemics regarding the teaching of evolution is not a new one; rather, it has a predecessor. Previous attempt to revise the education in terms of Darwinist theory occurred thirteen years before, in 2004. Former Minister of Education and Sports Ljiljana Čolić refused to sign the the allowance for the mandatory teaching curriculum for Biology which involved the theory of evolution. The aim was to leave the option to the teachers to present Darwinist theory or not to he students so as to leave space for the creationist theory likewise. However, it provoked a scandal and strong reactions by the leading scientific institutions. The decision by the minister was regarded as the Church’s interference in secular and educational spheres and the final outcome was immediate resignation of Minister Čolić. The former minister has also signed the new petition explaining that her stance has not changed. Although she has not been an initiator of the latest petition, she expresses her support to it. What is intriguing about such petitions seeking to mollify Darwinist theory, they never originate from Serbian Orthodox Church, but academic circles. On this occasion, Serbian Orthodox Church has not referred to this initiative in any way although the reaction of the scientific community is quite intense. In the daily news, the standpoints of scientists from diverse fields may be only found. The polemics is still dynamic, without any certain outcome. On May 23rd 2017, at 7 p.m. in Students Cultural Center in Belgrade, Center for the Promotion of Science will organize a panel discussion on the theory of evolution. A group of leading evolutionary biologists will consider the importance of the theory of evolution and explain the importance of Darwin. Photo: Charles Darwin, Natural History Museum, London (photo:Al. Stevanović)