Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More on Turkey: Religion, commerce and the teaching of evolution

I'm back in the States, but Turkey is still on my mind. So first, here is an oped in yesterday's NYT: Turkey Steps Out. As usual, this is a calm and measured piece by Roger Cohen, looking at Turkey's foreign policy as pragmatic and perhaps very successful:
 Zero problems with neighbors lay at the core of Davutoglu’s influential book “Strategic Depth,” published in 2001. Annual trade with Russia has since soared to $40 billion. Syrian-Turkish relations have never been better. Turkey’s commercial sway over northern Iraq is overwhelming. It has signed a free trade agreement with Jordan. And now Turkey says it aims — United Nations sanctions notwithstanding — to triple trade with Iran over the next five years.
All this makes the anemic West edgy: The policy has produced 7 percent growth this year. There’s also something deeper at work: The idea of economic interdependence as a basis for regional peace and stability sounds awfully familiar. Wasn’t that the genius of the European Union idea?
Which prompts another question: Can it only work for Westerners? I don’t think so. And, having shortsightedly kept Turkey out of the European Union, the West is scarcely qualified to complain. As British Prime Minister David Cameron, Turkey’s strongest European supporter, said recently, “It is just wrong to say that Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit in the tent.”
Wrong indeed, and stupid, but that’s where Turkey is, with at least a foot outside the Western tent, and increasingly proud of what it has achieved in a transformed world. Nations have increasing options. They don’t depend as much on the United States. Congress can rail about that and it won’t change a thing. Turkish foreign policy, Davutoglu said, “is based on a realistic, rational analysis of the strategic picture.” Yep.
Read the full article here.

And then here is Hurriyet's article on the call for autonomy for the Turkey's top religious authority:
Turkey’s highest religious authority requires autonomy in order to continue to exist within an officially secular state government, its top official has said.
“The solution is to allow the religious institution to be autonomous. Turkey is ready for that,” Professor Ali Bardakoğlu, the head of the country’s Religious Affairs Directorate, told daily Radikal’s Ahmet İnsel, an atheist, in an interview published in the paper’s Saturday and Sunday editions.
As far as  I understand it, this is a bold move within the Turkish political system. Now there is a discussion of the toleration of other religious sects within Turkey, but then the teaching of evolution shows up in the interview. This again shows that, unlike other places in the Muslim world, the teaching of evolution has become a political/ideological battleground. The response from Bardakoğlu, unfortunately, is a bit wishy-washy. He could have just said that look, evolution is a scientific idea - like thermodynamics or plate-tectonics, and lets not mix science with religion. End of story. Instead, here is his response:
On the subject on evolution, Bardakoğlu said it could be taught in schools, but as a theory rather than scientific fact. Classes should deal with evolutionary theory and Darwinism not as an ideology but as a way that some people think.
Okay - so in the larger scheme of things, this is a relatively more reasonable statement than many of the Republican candidates in the US are making about evolution. Nevertheless, by bringing up the classic creationist trope, "evolution is just a theory", he leaves the political aspects of the debate alive. Look at the following statements:
“Evolutionary theory [and religion] should never be pitted against each other,” he said.
According to Bardakoğlu, a religious person always prefers religious knowledge over scientific knowledge when they are in conflict, but Islam has never blocked the path of science and progress.
“The purpose of religious knowledge is not making sure you produce more electricity or get better [medical] treatment,” he said. “It is to make a wide and metaphysical explanation of what goes on in this limited area of ours.”
Right - so just say that Islam and evolution should never be pitted against each other - and stop there. Yes, leave scientific matters to science - and I hope next time, Bardakoğlu focuses more on his last two sentences above. May be there is hope...

Read the full article here.


Benjamin Geer said...

Is evolution currently taught in Turkish schools, and if so, how is it presented? How influential is Harun Yayha?

Salman Hameed said...

hi Benjamin,

Here is a very boad and general answer:

Yes, to a certain degree it is taught. I think in the 80's some creationist/ID friendly statements were also included in the biology textbooks, but I think now they are not as pronounced - or not there at all. It is difficulty to gauge the influence of Harun Yahya (or Adnan Oktar) in Turkey - as the context is very different. He has a colorful past, is considered as a leader of a cult, his Islam is quite suspect (he considers himself to be the Mahdi - and believes in an "idealist" matrix-like universe), and his writings are considered to be quite amateurish. However, outside of Turkey, and especially in Europe, much of the cultural context is lost, and only his anti-evolution sentiments make it out there. Nevertheless, since Turkey has a broad range of religious beliefs within Islam, it is possible that he has a strong following amongst the religious conservatives. But this needs to be studied more and I have met a few graduate students who are looking at this a bit more carefully. Stay tuned...

Benjamin Geer said...

Thanks! Looking forward to learning more.

emre said...

Evolution is just skipped. They'll tell you how the cell functions, and what various organs in your body are for, but they won't give you the big picture. Just a collection of facts which the student will promptly forget after graduation. They could just stop teaching biology and it would not make much difference in the long haul.