MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Orthodox Church called Wednesday for an end to the "monopoly of Darwinism" in Russian schools, saying religious explanations of creation should be taught alongside evolution.
Liberals said they would fight efforts to include religious teaching in schools. Russia's dominant church has experienced a revival in recent years, worrying rights groups who say its power is undermining the country's secular constitution.
"The time has come for the monopoly of Darwinism and the deceptive idea that science in general contradicts religion. These ideas should be left in the past," senior Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion said at a lecture in Moscow.
"Darwin's theory remains a theory. This means it should be taught to children as one of several theories, but children should know of other theories too."
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has proved divisive in the United States, where Protestant groups promote Creationism, the idea that God made the world as described in the Bible, and the "intelligent design" view positing an unnamed creator.
The atheist Soviet state, which collapsed in 1991, used Darwin to disprove religious teachings. The theory, which biologists say gives a verifiable explanation for how life forms develop through natural selection, now dominates in Russian schools as it does in science teaching in most countries.
Hilarion said the theory that one species could evolve into another had never been proved. Children "should know about the religious picture, the creation of the world, which is common to all the monotheistic religions," he said.
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a veteran dissident, told Reuters Russian liberals would fight any attempt to introduce religious teaching into Russian classrooms, particularly in science.
"It's a dangerous idea and we will do all we can to stop it," she said. "We overcame Communism as the state ideology and certain forces want to replace it with Orthodox Christianity."
She said it was unlikely religious teaching would replace Darwin in the national curriculum, but it could find its way into some schools with enough pressure from the Church.
Hilarion heads the Church's external relations department. His lecture to Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow was dedicated to fighting "fanatical secularism" of liberals hostile to religion, and called for dialogue with moderate secularists and cooperation with Catholics against common foes.
Orthodox Christianity is Russia's dominant religion and both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regularly attend Orthodox services.
Russia also boasts several large religious minorities -- including around 20 million Muslims in a population of 141 million -- which have at times expressed concern about what they say is the privileged place of the Orthodox Church.
Medvedev on June 1 signed a law making July 28 a national holiday to mark the Church's founding with the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Kiev in 988. Muslim lawmakers have since asked for a national holiday to mark the arrival of Islam in Russia.
Hilarion said other faiths should not be worried as the baptism holiday was dedicated to all citizens due to the role of Vladimir's baptism in the foundation of the Russian state.
"It is difficult to even imagine Russia -- if there would even be a Russia ... if that choice had not been made," he said.
Writing by Conor Humphries; editing by Peter Graff