Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Down Mexico way

In the November 4 issue of Science, the distinguished Mexican biologist Antonio Lazcano discusses the teaching of evolution in his country -- and Latin America generally. He admits to being bemused when American colleagues ask about the problems he faces as an evolutionist in a predominantly Catholic country. He points out that pressure to include creationism in public teaching is almost exclusively confined to the United States. "Only twice during my 30 years of teaching about evolutionary biology and research into the origin of life have I encountered religious-based opposition to my work," he writes. "In both cases, it came from evangelical zealots from the United States preaching in Mexico."

Lazcano's article is illustrated by a photo of an elementary school named Evolucion, in the Mexican city of Pachuca, where children celebrate Darwin's birthday with displays and murals on his life and theory. Can you imagine the outcry from the Christian right if such a thing happened in the States? Evolution is a cornerstone of Mexican science education at all levels.

Writes Lazcano: "It is hard for Mexicans to understand the hold that religion has in the United States, and many of us are baffled by the lax attitude of policy-makers in the United States to the religious right, who manage to influence and sometimes undermine the public education system." He might as well be speaking for scientists in Europe and other developed nations of the world. Lazcano worries about the growing influence of American evangelical missionaries on secular public institutions of Mexico.

It is baffling enough that U. S. evangelicals feel a need to save Mexican Catholics from Catholicism. It is even more worrisome that their agenda includes undermining the Enlightenment foundations of foreign secular democracies.