Turkish scientists confront creationists' theory

Tensions are rising in Turkey's schools and universities as academics and scientists confront the growing influence of Islamic creationists.

Turkish scientists confront creationists' theory
Without science, modern civilisation is impossible," says Haluk Ertan, a geneticist at Istanbul University, "and yet Turkey has become the headquarters of creationism in the Middle East." Tarkan Yavas, the public face of the Science Research Foundation (BAV), a shadowy group that has led the charge against evolutionary theory in Turkey for 15 years, boasts: "Not just the Middle East, the world."

Headed by Adnan Oktar, a university dropout turned charismatic preacher, BAV made international headlines in February when it mass-mailed its lavishly illustrated, 6kgAtlas of Creation to scientists and schools throughout western Europe. Hundreds of pages juxtapose photographs of fossils and living species, arguing the similarities disprove claims that species adapt with time. Elsewhere, belief in evolution is blamed for communism, Nazism and - under a large photograph of the World Trade Centre in flames - the 9/11 attacks.

"Hitler and Mao were Darwinists," Mr Oktar told journalists last month on a luxury boat trip arranged to answer questions about the atlas. "Darwinism is the only philosophy which values conflict."

A survey last year showed that only 25 per cent of Turks accepted evolution. In a similar survey in 2005, almost 50 per cent of science teachers said they questioned or rejected the theory. "Darwinism is dying in Turkey, thanks to us," says Mr Yavas.

That may be premature. BAV, secretive about the sources of its considerable wealth and widely accused of brainwashing its initiates, has been taken to court repeatedly in the past decade. In May, Turkey's Supreme Court opened the way for a new trial when it argued that criminal charges levelled against the group in 2005 should not have been dropped because of time constraints.

The silent war on creationism began last spring, when 700 academics took the Ministry of Education to court, calling for references to creationism in school science syllabuses since 1985 to be removed. "There are compulsory religious classes in Turkish schools as it is," says Ozgur Genc, a biologist who began organising the legal case after five schoolteachers in southern Turkey were transferred to another school for teaching evolution. The court has yet to make a decision.

Like BAV, which has organised hundreds of conferences on creationism over the past 10 years as well as a recent flurry of American-style "creation museums", opponents of creationism are taking their arguments to the Turkish people.

There have been scientific conferences in towns along the Anatolian peninsula in the past few months. One popular science magazine has devoted its last two issues to answering what it calls BAV's "charlatanry".

Nazli Somel, a former teacher writing a doctorate on Turkish creationism, says: "When the creationist movement surfaced in the early 1990s, many scientists just laughed at it. It's good to see they're taking it seriously now."

Yet, while most public figures avoid associating themselves too closely with Mr Oktar's group, more up-market versions of creationism have powerful supporters in Turkey.

The notion of intelligent design (ID), which suggests some cellular structures are too complex to have evolved naturally, is a case in point. In the United States in December 2005, a judge echoed most experts in calling it "a religious view, not a scientific theory" and blocked attempts to add it to a Pennsylvania school's syllabus.

Huseyin Celik, Turkey's Education minister, publicly supports it. "Evolutionary theory overlaps with atheism, intelligent design with belief," the former university lecturer said on Turkish television last November.

With polls showing that only 1 per cent of Turks are atheists, he added, not allowing ID into science textbooks would be tantamount to censorship.

The Independent

Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Temmuz 2007, 15:06