Turkey’s National Education Ministry announced a new secondary school curriculum this year, in which the chapter “Beginning of Life and Evolution”, based on iconic English biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be deleted from the standard Biology textbooks used in high schools. In other words, from now a Turkish student finishing high school would not have learnt about one of the most important scientific theories – a building block towards a scientific mindset – which explains the diversity of life on earth to have emerged via a common descent through natural selection and gradual adaptation.
The move has been criticised by Turkey’s main opposition party, who has referred to it as an attempt to “condemn the Turkish public to darkness”. However, as per the educational authorities, the “controversial” material (theory of evolution) was “difficult” for an average student to understand, therefore it will only be made available to college or university bound students, aged 18 or 19. The new curriculum goes into effect starting academic year 2017-18, which has been formulated in accordance with “Turkish values”, said Alparslan Durmus, head of the Turkey’s National Education Board, as per the Deutsche Welle report. The deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Numan Kurtulmus, said earlier this year that Darwin’s theory, first published in the 19th century, was ‘old and rotten’ and did not necessarily have to be taught.
The issue of teaching evolution has been a long standing one. In 2009, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) had suspended the editor of its monthly magazine over a cover featuring Darwin. In 2013, TUBITAK had stopped publishing books on evolution. Even 6-7 years ago, Turkish science textbooks seated creationism at par with theory of evolution. Creationism is the Biblical and Qur’anic belief that the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation (God), as opposed of scientific processes like evolution. Thus Charles Darwin’s theory has been rejected by both Christian and Muslim creationists all over the world.
For over a decade now, a culture war has been underway between religiously conservative and secular Turks and the conservatives have been dominating. Many Muslim conservatives in Turkey, who have been in power under the rule of the Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP), find the Theory of Evolution to be inimical to Islam and feel that they need to protect young students from such ‘harmful’, ‘corrosive’, ‘anti-Islamic’ ideas.
In actuality, faith and science are separate, and have different domains. The former need not supplant the latter, as it’s better to be pious and informed, as opposed to pious and uninformed. But placement of faith on the same plane as scientific facts and theories, allowing it to mix with the latter and be discussed in the same vein, is hardly limited to Turkey.
In the United States, thousands of public and private schools in Christian conservative states and pockets were revealed in 2014 to be casting doubt on basic science by prioritising teaching Creationism over evolution. Another example is the conservative Republican Party’s attempts to curtail the abortion rights of all women, irrespective of socio-economic or medical reasons and even in cases of rape and incest, such that the Church’s emphasis on sanctity of human life (aka unborn embryos) is treated at par with, and indeed allowed to override, valid circumstances and considerations of the real, physical world.
The mixing of faith and science in modern world is also not limited to the religions of the book. In India, this has been amply conspicuous lately when the rhetoric of science gets employed to explain the head of Ganesh or Puskpak Vimana in Ramayana or when Yoga and Ayurveda — with a part of their origin and claim in the spiritual domain — are touted as cure-all, complete systems.