In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism
Sunday, November 8, 2009
ISTANBUL -- Sema Ergezen teaches biology to Turkish students interested in teaching science themselves, and she has long struggled with her students' ignorance of, and sometimes hostility to, the notion of evolution.
But she was taken aback when several of her Marmara University students recently accused her of being an atheist, or worse, for teaching anything but the doctrine that God created the Earth and everything on it.
"They said I was a liar if I called myself a Muslim because I also accepted evolution," she said.
What especially disturbed -- and amused -- the veteran professor was that the arguments for creationism presented by some of the students came directly from the country where she was educated in the biological sciences years before -- the United States. Translated and adapted for a Muslim society, the purported proofs that Darwinism and evolution were wrong came directly from American proponents of Christian creationism and its less overtly religious offshoot, intelligent design.
Ergezen's experience has become increasingly common. While creationism and intelligent design appear to be in some retreat in the United States, they have blossomed within Muslim Turkey. With direct and indirect help from American foes of evolution, similarly-minded Turks have aggressively made the case that Charles Darwin's theory is scientifically wrong and is the underlying source of most of the world's conflicts because it excludes God from human affairs.
"Darwin is the worst Fascist there has ever been, and the worst racist history has ever witnessed," writes Harun Yahya, the most assertive and best-known critic of evolution in Turkey, and long a favorite of more conservative American creationists.
The evolution-creationism battle is playing out against a backdrop of a much larger conflict between the forces of secularism -- as represented by the Turkish military and many of the country's more educated citizens -- and forces, including the popular ruling party, that want to make religion more important in national affairs. The Islamic anti-evolution campaign is taking place in Turkey, and not Egypt or Saudi Arabia, because it is the Muslim nation where evolution has been taken most seriously. Like the Bible, the Koran says that God created the Earth and everything on it, and in many Muslim nations that ends the discussion.
But Turkey, which is officially secular, appears to be joining its Muslim neighbors on evolution. A recent survey, quoted in a 2008 article in the American journal Science, found that fewer than 25 percent of Turks accepted evolution as an explanation of how modern life came to be -- by far the lowest percentage of any developed nation. In a year in which conferences worldwide are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and his contribution to science, the battle against Darwinian thinking in Turkey has become something of a rout, even among aspiring science teachers.
To many Turkish scientists and educators, this is a worrisome development. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was an advocate of science, education and, some say, even evolution. Turkish science has been especially strong in the Muslim world. If Turks close their minds to evolutionary thinking, advocates say, it won't be long before religion and politics shut off other scientific pursuits.
To John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, however, the news could hardly be more encouraging.
"Why I'm so interested in seeing creationism succeed in Turkey is that evolution is an evil concept that has done such damage to society," said Morris, a Christian who has led several searches for Noah's Ark in eastern Turkey. Members of his group have addressed Turkish conferences numerous times.
The Discovery Institute of Seattle, which researches and promotes intelligent design as an alternative to creationism and evolution, also sent speakers to Turkey after being invited by the Istanbul municipal government in 2007. President Bruce Chapman said the institute helped bring Turkish evolution critic Mustafa Akyol to a 2005 Kansas school board hearing on teaching critiques of evolution.