Sunday, November 08, 2009

Washington Post on Creationism in Turkey

It appears that this is the season for newspapers articles on creationism in the Muslim world. Here is a recent one in Washington Post, and it focuses primarily on Turkey.
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.

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.
Speaking in his home and television studio overlooking the Bosporus, Oktar asserted responsibility for "defeating" Darwinism in Turkey and said that Americans had helped him do it

Oh - what strange bedfellows. Read the full Washington Post article here. But how big is the creationism issue in Turkey? We had some mixed views on this at our conference on Darwin & Evolution in the Muslim World - some believed that this is the symptom of increasing religiosity of Turkey, while others considered it a relatively marginal issue within the Turkish cultural context. I think that the issue of evolution is perhaps playing a proxy in the political battle between the secular and Islamic-leaning parties in Turkey and its quite possible that it may get untangled - especially if mindless rejection of evolution only brings international ridicule without much political payoff at home. But this remains to be seen. And Razib on Gene Expression, perhaps correctly, does not view Turkey as becoming more religious - rather that the more religious population is becoming more assertive over the secular elite:

Without more longitudinal data it is hard to say, but I think this is wrong to view this a renaissance of Creationism driven purely by the government or outsiders. Turkey isn't becoming more religious, the majority of Turks who have always held to Islam as it is practiced in most of the Muslim world are becoming more assertive at the expense of the secular elite. Kemal Ataturk was an autocrat who leveraged his incredible victories against European powers in the wake of Word War I, which preserved the Turkish state from being cannibalized, into enough personal authority to wage a one man culture-war in which he was mostly victorious. But he's been dead for 70 years.

Read Razib's post here.


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Jenny White also covered this. I am -- as you know -- unhappy about the stress Oktar gets in the Western press coverage. Anyway, I had this to say on it there (links to more info are included in that comment).

For folks who can read Turkish, following online papers/publications of political Islamists and their pals and talking to people who actually teach in or go to Turkish universities might give a better picture. The stuff you see in English tends to come from English-speaking faculty members teaching in better/more established schools who don't necessarily have all the info.

Salman Hameed said...


I completely agree with you on Oktar. I think its because, for many, it makes the narrative about Islamic creationism simpler (though this particular WaPo article is more nuanced than, for example, the one in Slate recently). We also had some diverse perspectives on this issue at our conference - with Aykut Kence (biologist), Taner Edis (physicist) and Berna Turam (sociologist). Berna, I think, is working on the impact of Gulen schools in central Asia.

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...


I think somebody should try to get funding to scan what's being put out about science and scientists by both the secular and non-secular parts of the Turkish press. I am horrified at what appears in Turkish Zaman (Gulen's pravda) goes unnoticed given that by their own claim they are the highest circulation daily here. That said, and as I implied when we were talking about the NYT piece, I am not convinced the more secular outlets have a better understanding of science -- they just have learned to say the right kinds of things.
This doesn't really matter in the US as far as raising scientists go, since good institutions and instruction is available to a large extent to those who seek it. The effort there seems more about protecting some of that from the political arm of organized religion. Here, the problem is different because those institutions are inadequate and the anti-science folks are getting to the kids [with the right kind of scientific aptitude] unopposed.

Merely comparing statistics about whether or not the general public 'gets' evolution miss the point I alluded to above. besides, the general public tends to use and believe 'folk physics' 'folk statistics' 'folk decision theory' and we don't seem to be bothered by any of that.

Salman Hameed said...


I suspect you are right about widespread misunderstanding of science, especially when it comes to evolution. But apart from looking at the question of scientific literacy, I think it would be interesting to see how/if evolution gets employed in newspaper articles by both sides of the political spectrum.

Sifar's Safar said...

I m not sure abt turkey. In India Darwanism is a part of curriculum and many muslims inculding I have read it too. But never thot it was so controversial until I landed in USA. I am not sure wht is correct: (As I muslim indeed i believe man was created by Allah SWT). The equipment could have been or have been not "evolution". But why things happened the way they did is still a part of bigger unanswered questions. No one can tell u r a muslim or not or religious or not. Its between you and Lord. Isnt "Secularism" about whatever u beleive is upto U. You think creationism answers ur quest for of questions. So be it. If it is other way, so be it. Why hue and cry about it. when all the scientists crib about the closed attitude of the religious people on such issues, dont thy realize even thy are bent on sum issues. If you not tolerant to thers believe hoe can u expect others to b?

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