Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Scientist on the Turkish censorship of Darwin

Here is an opinion piece by Debora MacKenzie in this week's New Scientist: The Battle for Turkey's Soul. She has dissected the Bilik ve Tiknik affair:

First, the basics. In early February the editorial staff of Bilim ve Teknik decided to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth with a 15-page cover story on evolution. The issue went to the printer on Saturday 28 February. The following Monday, editor Çiğdem Atakuman received a phone call from TÜBITAK vice-president Ömer Cebeci. The presses were stopped. The issue finally came out a week late with the Darwin article gone and the cover featuring a story on global warming. So what happened?

It depends on who you ask. Cebeci maintains that he did not order Atakuman to remove the piece. He insists there was no censorship, only that the dropped article had been "prepared hastily without regard to institutional procedures". TÜBITAK says the magazine will carry a Darwin special later this year.

Atakuman sees it differently. She issued a public statement saying that the pages were planned as normal and that Cebeci had ordered her to cancel the piece as it was deemed inappropriate for the "sensitive environment" of Turkey.

Whether the cancellation was an administrative glitch, censorship, or just an attempt to sidestep controversy, the row is highly revealing. Evolution is a lightning-rod issue in Turkey. Every leading newspaper reported the story. The Turkish Academy of Sciences called for an investigation and for Cebeci to resign (neither seems likely, although another senior TÜBITAK official resigned in protest).

But she also takes some of this as a positive sign for a country adjusting to a scientific world view. I think she is correct for the case of Turkey - but scientists still should be careful in not using evolution in the battles over secularism.

Seen in context, the incident could be a good sign, as the inevitable growing pains of a country adapting to a scientific world view. The key question is which way the process goes now. What happens in Turkey is important because its battles could be the first of many.
And sure enough, things may be heating up:

Pressure on scientists is increasing and Bilgin fears more incidents like the one at Bilim ve Teknik. He is not alone. "I believe the situation is getting worse for science and science education than many people in Turkey are aware of," says Aykut Kence, another biologist at METU and a veteran campaigner for evolution.

Turkish scientists are fighting back. They are pursuing a lawsuit to have creationism removed from textbooks. A group of activist students called Hard Workers of Evolution has translated the University of California's Understanding Evolution website. In February, Turkish scientists launched the Darwin 2009 Assembly and will hold conferences on evolution across Turkey this year.

If nothing else, the Bilim ve Teknik incident has focused minds. "Censoring Darwin caused outrage among students and academics," says Kence. "It may actually make our job easier," adds Bilgin. Even Cebeci agrees: "The positive side was that it revealed the sensitivity of our scientific community to the autonomy of science." Let's hope they will be able to continue using that autonomy to stand up for what matters.

Well...the last bit definitely leaves one a bit more hopeful. Read the full article here. (see an earlier post here)

21 comments:

Zehra said...

Hi!
I was wondering if you would happen to know of any scientific journals in which I can find various articles by/regarding proponents and opponents of islamic creationism?
I've definitely found a lot on the internet. Unfortunately, I am limited as to the number of online sources I can use in my paper.
Figured you'd be a good person to ask. My email address is zfarzal@smu.edu
Thanks!

ungtss said...

I figure the perfect metaphor for creationism in Turkiye lies in the policy on veils in University. Not only are veils not required -- they are not permitted. An open society allows people to exercise their religion. Forbidding the veil on campuses is just the sort of high-handed, arrogant militant secularism that manufactures fundamentalists. "You're free to exercise your religion, as long as it's mine."

The same applies to creationism, I think. Scientists need to let go of the notion that suppressing creationism and promoting evolutionism is their evangelistic duty -- that "the people must believe the truth I speak, and those who differ are cultists!" It's contrary to the principles of a free society. And it creates terrorists.

ungtss said...

If you are a woman who believes it is your religious duty to cover yourself, the law prevents you from attending college. That is religious discrimination.

If you are a scientist who believes life was designed, the establishment prevents you from researching your hypotheses. That is also religious discrimination.

If secularists were really confident in their beliefs, they would not resort to the ancient tactics of discrimination against their enemies. They would welcome the religious to the game, and begin a conversation. When they act to alienate and marginalize, they not only fail to achieve their objective, but they drive their opponents into a frenzy, and also lose their credibility with outsiders (because everybody knows the right side never has any need to discriminate, because Reason is on their side).

Oldest story in the world.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Hi, we called you 'naive' when this article was mentioned in Jenny White's blog.

I think blaming Oktar as the main influence in Turkish creationism might be a mistake. Oktar might be easy make fun of, but Fethullah Gulen's publications and people are far more influential than Oktar and they also seem to be pushing an anti-science (or, rather, an anti-scientist) agenda. We (some Turks) talked about this, and provided samples of their propaganda here.

Salman Hameed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Salman Hameed said...

Bulent:
Hi, we called you 'naive' when this article was mentioned in Jenny White's blog.Let me first quote the comment from the blog response:

“There is tremendous respect for scientists in the Muslim world, and I think biologists and other scientists should write in newspapers and magazines for Muslim audiences - write why we accept evolution, what is the evidence for evolution. I think this will be a great service”

That’s his solution? If he’s talking about scientists in Turkey, this Salman fellow is terribly naive.
Naive, for which part? For suggesting that scientists and educators should write for Muslim audiences regarding evolution? To define the narrative regarding evolution?

Then, yes. I stand guilty. I did not say that this is the only thing to do (for example, we are in the planning stages of a documentary on evolution - directed for a Muslim audience). However, instead of only reacting to salvos by Muslim creationists, we need to take the initiative to present evolution as good science - and as a scientific fact.

So which part do you guys object to?

And the more surreal part of the comment:

If he wants to be of help, he can help convey the message that Yahya (Oktar) and his ilk have no intellectual standing in the developed world.Ummm...Really? Have you read any thing that I have written about Yahya?? Please check the category on Islamic Creationism in the upper right. Am I already helping?

Now for your own comments about Yahya:

I think blaming Oktar as the main influence in Turkish creationism might be a mistake.I completely agree. There is no need to pay any attention to him. He feeds off publicity. Unfortunately, newspapers in the west keep giving him serious coverage. Again I have commented on this aspect several times in my posts.

Regarding Gulen:
Yes, he presents a more subtle anti-science threat. In fact, his schools now have a much bigger reach - including Pakistan. But when we deal with it, we need to make sure that we do not conflate evolution with secularism. The battle of separation of mosque and state in Turkey is vastly different than in other places. Pakistan, in fact, is a good counter-example. Many who accept evolution - accept it in a highly religious context. It is presented in the textbooks in the same way. Of course, Turkey's battle is different - and there the inclusion of religion in textbooks is problematic for other reasons. This is the reason others (such as Matthew Nisbet) and I have argued that evolution communication should be framed according to individual countries. Still, I stand by my insistence that scientists should communicate evolutionary ideas for the general public - by writing in newspapers and magazines.

Salman Hameed said...

Zahra,

Send some articles your way...

-salman

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Salman,

Well, we were going by the New Scientist article and not your blog. I thought it'd be funny to lead in like that. Sorry about that.

[On Gulen] Yes, he presents a more subtle anti-science threat. In fact, his schools now have a much bigger reach - including Pakistan.His schools seem to be better than average in teaching people math etc. so there's a plus side to all that. I don't know how committed they are to their rhetoric about scientists suppressing the truth. They don't do much of it in their English language newspapers, for example, but they go at it full blast in their Turkish editions. I think when Emre (in JW's blog) was pointing out the naivite of the 'Muslims respect scentists' idea, he had that propaganda in mind. If people believe scientists are out to con them about the truth they've been suppessing, newspaper articles won't work.

Unlike Oktar, though, this group is a political actor who has much at stake and cares about their PR. If it became a liability for them in the West, they might tone it down a little (or a lot, who knows). This, BTW, is what's likely to repeatedly happen to the present gov't in Turkey also. What probably worked great for them (both comittment and personnel-wise) when they were reaching for power is now giving rise to embarrassments as in the Bilim ve Teknik scandal.

But when we deal with it, we need to make sure that we do not conflate evolution with secularism.This is tough to do, at least here, because this is all taking place within the context of a polarization in the society where 'secularism' is at least mentioned by name. It is likely that anyone who'd publicly engage the creationists will also have a 'secular' position about other things and activities in those areas also. (One prominent scientist who debates such things on TV has come out against headscarves on campuses for example. You see the problem.)

There is a religious argument to be made, I think, especially against outright lies and nonsequiturs and such but I don't see anyone here (who counts) really making it.

Pakistan, in fact, is a good counter-example. Many who accept evolution - accept it in a highly religious context. It is presented in the textbooks in the same way.There must be many ways you can make that work. Islam can be very flexible that way. Is there a place where we can look that up what the kids there are being taught? (In English?)

Salman Hameed said...

His schools seem to be better than average in teaching people math etc. so there's a plus side to all that. I don't know how committed they are to their rhetoric about scientists suppressing the truth. They don't do much of it in their English language newspapers, for example, but they go at it full blast in their Turkish editions.Aah..now we are talking about interesting problems. This is indeed a very difficult situation when dominant access to science (and yes, we are usually referring to practical sciences) is coming through Gulen schools. I'm guessing that their focus on Turkish editions would be to aim at a more conservative audience. The question is: What is your goal? If the problem is bad science (i.e. creationism being taught), then emphasis should be on that alone. I am guessing that most Gulen school students will be religiously conservative - but not all creationists. But if they relate evolution to secularism and/or atheism then they will reject evolution not on the basis of their knowledge of science - but because of political/cultural reasons. Now, this does not mean that all students will be ok with evolution if these things are de-linked. No - but we have a better chance at it.

Regarding the comment about Muslims respecting scientists - this has a more nuanced history and is related to the narrative of Islam & Science harmony that was created in response to western dominance and colonialism in the late 19th century. The harmony model breaks down in many instances - but the perception of harmony exists. The same perception leads to respect for scientists. In addition, in Islam there is a problem of determining "authority" - who gets to interpret what is right. These debates have an older pedigree among the Mutazila of the medeival times as well as Caliphs, Sultans and Imams. The advent of modern science and a professional class of Scientists (the term itself was coined only in the 19th century) makes the question of authority interesting for the interpretations of all things pertaining to science. Because of the respect afforded to science (usually read technology), scientist enjoy a healthy respect as well. Hence my comment regarding that. From what I have read about Turkey and from your comment, scientists there get identified with secularism - resulting in a reaction not just against secularism but also against science. In this respect, Turkey is more of an exception rather than the rule - and it is this conflation that I am worried about. For counter example, while not without problems, look at the prestige of Iran's stem cells program. Slightly different, but look at the first Malaysian astronaut and how he is presenting science to Malaysian kids (there is a post from last month). Pakistan and Egypt are also in the same direction.

It is likely that anyone who'd publicly engage the creationists will also have a 'secular' position about other things and activities in those areas also. (One prominent scientist who debates such things on TV has come out against headscarves on campuses for example. You see the problem.) Well...this needs to be tackled in a different way. Look at the US. The most effective defenders of evolution are not Dawkins or PZ Myers. But its Ken Miller or Francis Collins. The same was true for the people who testified at the Dover trial. This is a pragmatic approach. In my opinion, Turkey would need a Muslim scientist who transcends headscarf debates to defend evolution. For an example from the Rab world, check out the webcast of Ehab Abouheif at the recent Mcgill conference.

As for Pakistani textbooks and evolution, I briefly mention it here. However, you can also check out the webcast of Anila Asghar & Jason Wiles also at the McGill conference - they talk about it in detail. You can also see a brief mention of it in this paper(pdf).

Anonymous said...

Isn't unfair that you are trying to separate evolution from secularism.In the same blog, you are talking about the Darwinian influences on every branches of philosophy, science. But irony, you are NOT taking responsibility of Darwinian basis of secularism. If there is no link, why all secularists become evolutionists? Why Darwinism is the basis of Chinese or any communists constitution? Good thing is that, internet is a bliss. Previously people were not that much aware due to communication gap. Thats why all those influential people tried to impose their ideology on mass people. Darwinism is one of them.

Salman Hameed said...

Anonymous:
"Isn't unfair that you are trying to separate evolution from secularism.In the same blog, you are talking about the Darwinian influences on every branches of philosophy, science. But irony, you are NOT taking responsibility of Darwinian basis of secularism. If there is no link, why all secularists become evolutionists?"

Excellent excellent point! You are absolutely correct that this blog looks at (among other things) Darwin's influence on other fields. In fact, what is so interesting is the diverse way people incorporate evolution. You gave the example of Communist China using evolution to promote their ideology. Does that mean that evolution necessitate secularism?

I don't think so. We can look at the Catholic Church (and the Anglican Church). It accepts evolution via natural selection (see Pope John Paul's fides et ratio). As far as I know, the Catholic Church is still not secular. Then there are religious evolutionary biologists - Francisco Ayala, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Aheb Abouheif, etc. who have no problem in having religion alongside evolution.

What I find interesting are these negotiations. How do people make reconcile these concepts? What kind of challenges (if any) it offers? etc. I have been working with a Hampshire College group to look at how Muslim medical doctors reconcile evolution with religion. This tells us more about how people view the interaction between their faith and modern science.

So as you can see, there have been varied responses to evolution - and it is important to recognize the complex ways people make sense of it with respect to religion. All said, it should also be clear that evolution is a fact of science. Thus, on my blog, I take a strong stance on the science of evolution, but try to present these complex human responses. On the pragmatic side, I argue that the science of evolution should not be hijacked for the promotion of political ideologies - as a rejection of an ideology for political reasons may result in a rejection of an established scientific idea for political reasons as well. Let science stand for itself.

Side note: The historical role of evolution in promoting secularism is debated in the academia. If you are interested in an excellent discussion on the topic, check out "Science, Secularization, and Privatization" in Ronald Number's "Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew".

ungtss said...

I don't think so. We can look at the Catholic Church (and the Anglican Church). It accepts evolution via natural selection (see Pope John Paul's fides et ratio). As far as I know, the Catholic Church is still not secular.The Catholic church's vision of evolution is not darwinian -- it posits that God deliberately guided evolution at its every step in some unfalsifiable, mystic way. Darwinian evolution is natural law and selection without interference by the divine. Very important distinction.

In other words, Darwinism is atheistic by definition.

Theistic evolution, on the other hand, is an effort to reconcile theism with darwinism, by denying the most important premises of both. Darwinism holds that evolution proceeds by chance and selection, rather than divine intent. Theistic evolution denies that. Traditional theism holds that the book of Genesis (at least from Genesis 3 on) is a history, not an allegory. Theistic evolution denies that.

Salman Hameed said...

ungtss:
"The Catholic church's vision of evolution is not darwinian -- it posits that God deliberately guided evolution at its every step in some unfalsifiable, mystic way. Darwinian evolution is natural law and selection without interference by the divine. Very important distinction."

Actually the Catholic Church and biologists like Ken Miller argue that God used natural selection to produce the diversity of life - i.e. the God is the law-giver - and here natural selection is the law. It rules certain forms of theism (i.e. special creation) - but I don't see why it necessitates atheism.

By the way, we can make the same argument for the formation of the solar system. Some perturbation - perhaps from a nearby supernova - led to the initial collapse of the nebula - with some pockets turning into stars. Some of the material around one star coalesced into planetary bodies and one of planets ended up suitable for life. Does this view necessitate atheism? For some it is. But for many others, God set out the laws and the universe evolves accordingly. Why exclude natural selection from such a universe of laws? Obviously, biologists like Ken Miller, disagree with your implication of evolution via natural selection. Whether one personally accepts or rejects such an explanation is ultimately a matter of belief (which can be arrived from different ways) - but I don't think an atheistic conclusion necessarily follow from natural selection.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Salman, thank you very much, it was very helpful and interesting.

I'll make a minor point about this 'merely by chance' line of argument. Theistic notions of 'chance' differ. Islam has the concept of 'tawafook' (tevafuk in Turkish) as opposed to 'tasaduf' (tesadüf in Turkish). The result of a coin toss is seen as a 'tawafook' and thus tied to God's will just as a 'random' mutation would be. Many pious people here in Turkey are very careful about not saying 'tesadüf' about things as mundane as coin tosses. In this view, nothing is a chance event and divine intent is behind everything.

I think this is both a consistent and a benign view. As a scientist, if you accept this view, you still perform the same analysis about coin tosses and mutations as if they were 'tasadufi.'

ungtss said...

Actually the Catholic Church and biologists like Ken Miller argue that God used natural selection to produce the diversity of life - i.e. the God is the law-giver - and here natural selection is the law. It rules certain forms of theism (i.e. special creation) - but I don't see why it necessitates atheism. In that scenario, God is killed by Occam's razor. If God cannot be seen to act meaningfully and dynamically in our universe, then there is no justification for belief in his existence. He becomes equivalent to a "flying spaghetti monster." Atheists like Dawkins understand this. So do I. If God doesn't do anything the universe, then there's no reason to believe in him.

But even more seriously, theistic evolution is theologically indefensible. The God of theism commands us to help the poor and weak. Evolution weeds them out. Why would God create a universe that operates according to one set of rules, and then direct us to operate by a completely contrary set of rules? It's sick. No God I'm interested in would "design" the universe in such an immoral way.

Dawkins and his crew know that too. And they're right.

By the way, we can make the same argument for the formation of the solar system. Some perturbation - perhaps from a nearby supernova - led to the initial collapse of the nebula - with some pockets turning into stars. Some of the material around one star coalesced into planetary bodies and one of planets ended up suitable for life. Does this view necessitate atheism?As before, God is killed by Occam's razor in this scenario. If he doesn't do anything in the universe, there's no justification for believing he exists.

Salman Hameed said...

Bulent:
"Theistic notions of 'chance' differ. Islam has the concept of 'tawafook' (tevafuk in Turkish) as opposed to 'tasaduf' (tesadüf in Turkish). The result of a coin toss is seen as a 'tawafook' and thus tied to God's will just as a 'random' mutation would be. Many pious people here in Turkey are very careful about not saying 'tesadüf' about things as mundane as coin tosses. In this view, nothing is a chance event and divine intent is behind everything."

Thanks Bulent. This is helpful to keep in mind.

Ungtss:
You are addressing two different issues.
a) You are treading up a much beaten path - that evolution (i.e. nature) weeds out weak and the poor - so why should we help the poor. There is no point in wasting time on this - as many others have responded to it (example, the "is" and "ought" difference - which doesn't have to come from religion; even the premise is wrong - as the survival also happens with cooperation - see ants and bees, etc etc). That's a whole different discussion - some other time.

b) I find your other claim more interesting:
"As before, God is killed by Occam's razor in this scenario. If he doesn't do anything in the universe, there's no justification for believing he exists."

So do you believe in any physical laws? It seems that from your definition, God has to be actively working behind every single event in the universe - including the fall of a stone on Earth - otherwise Occam's razor, from your definition, will kill its (God's) necessity. And if God is actively behind every single event - then many of the regularities we see in the universe are surprising - as they give the illusion of laws. (this is not a new problem - this was discussed a lot in the 17th-18th century in dealing with the nature of miracles - and the "regular course of nature". A version of it - burning of cotton by fire - is also discussed extensively by Ibn-Rushd in response to Al-Ghazali in the 12th century. See "The Incoherence of Incoherence" by Ibn-Rushd).

So if you are ok with assigning gravity (a physical law) to a falling stone on Earth, the extension to the formation of stars is not that far (same principle applies). Otherwise, your thinking will not need to any science (uncovering the laws of nature) - which may be fine if you are content with it.

ungtss said...

a) You are treading up a much beaten path - that evolution (i.e. nature) weeds out weak and the poor - so why should we help the poor. There is no point in wasting time on this - as many others have responded to it (example, the "is" and "ought" difference - which doesn't have to come from religion; even the premise is wrong - as the survival also happens with cooperation - see ants and bees, etc etc). That's a whole different discussion - some other time.That's not the path was I was treading. I'm not saying evolution weeds out the poor so why should we help them. I'm asking why a God who demands mercy of us create a merciless universe? It's hypocritical. I find such a hypothetical being to be morally repugnant and theologically indefensible. The scriptures do not paint a picture of such a God. They paint a picture of a God that created a just universe which forces external to him then corrupted, and which he seeks to redeem. That is a theologically defensible position. But it is incompatible with theistic evolution.

So do you believe in any physical laws? It seems that from your definition, God has to be actively working behind every single event in the universe - including the fall of a stone on Earth - otherwise Occam's razor, from your definition, will kill its (God's) necessity.My first question is what you mean by "necessary." Do you mean "escaping occam's razor," or "a necessary being" in the philosophical sense? I'll go with occam's razor, since that's the context we're speaking in.

God does not need to be behind every event in the universe to be necessary -- all he has to do is act dynamically in the universe. Even once. Create life. Send an enormous flood. Send pillars of fire. Judge the living and the dead. Actions in history by an agent. He need not be behind every event. He may be behind only some. But if he's behind one, then there is a rational basis for believing in his existence.

That's where (in my opinion) orthodox theology fails. By presuming that God must be the author of all things, they remove themselves from the question of actual causation. WHY do we believe God is the author of the stone falling? Theology alone? Then it's meaningless. I only believe an agent does something if I have direct evidence tying them to an action. Is there evidence that God made my friend Heather die of Leukemia? No. There's just leukemia, and a death. Occam's razor removes any theistic act from that equation, in my thinking.

But in the case of organic life and the solar system, I think we have extraordinary evidence of directed, intelligent activity.

And if God is actively behind every single event - then many of the regularities we see in the universe are surprisingAgain, because I don't believe he must be behind every event, I do not find the regularities surprising. God may be author of the natural laws. He may also be subject to some or all of them. I don't know. But I intend to find out.

Thanks for discussing this with me -- I always enjoy reading your take on things.

Anonymous said...

It is very hard for me to see evolution is the fact, based on blind accidental events. I am a biologist, working on hormonal aspects of reproduction. A delicate balance has to be maintained in order to give rise either male or female. Both male and female hormones has to be present at the same time and in a certain level. A slight perturbation would make animal sterile , no more generation. No evolution.

Evolution is such a thing u can explain anything, you can make right to wrong or wrong to right. You can either add up or delete genes whenever necessary to fulfill your evolutionary purposes.I also did to publish my papers in good journals. Thats why scientists cant go beyond this.

Why am I anonymous? Becos, I fear that I may loose my career. My prof is an evolutionist. Two students are doing phd on that directions. When I tried to argue scientifically he got angry, blushed and cant answer properly.

Evolution is a belief system like a religious belief. You got tiny evidence but extrapolate sky high.There are millions of evidence go against evolutions. In contrast, if u get an evidence in worm, you extrapolate with everything. Why that, why have to link all the time?? Answer is that it is a belief system, which has been dictated in the name of science.

If i have to choose any belief system, I would choose Islam, which is far far more rational and scientific. Everything is open, its your choice to decide. You people claimed to believe in freedom of expression. It only applies when it comes to religion but you curb that freedom when it comes to evolution. Isn't double standard?? I feel sad for you that your are campaigning for something, which cant be resolved. Evolution and religion behave like water and oil. Never mixed up.

JAMSHED MOIDU said...

@Anonymous....

then why are you hesitating to accept Islam after realizing the truth?

Marion Delgado said...

What Turkish equivalents of the NCSE exist?

And would they benefit from outside support and help, or not?

Anonymous said...

cheap wedding gowns,
discount bridal gowns,
China wedding dresses,
discount designer wedding dresses,
China wedding online store,
plus size wedding dresses,
cheap informal wedding dresses,
junior bridesmaid dresses,
cheap bridesmaid dresses,
maternity bridesmaid dresses,
discount flower girl gowns,
cheap prom dresses,
party dresses,
evening dresses,
mother of the bride dresses,
special occasion dresses,
cheap quinceanera dresses,
hot red wedding dresses