Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blogging from Turkey: Protests at a creationism symposium at Marmara University

by Salman Hameed

I have been in Istanbul only for a few days, and it already has been quite eventful. The research interviews with physicans and medical students about evolution have been going well. But yesterday, we were at the epicenter of the evolution-creationism struggle in Turkey. A university youth group organized an anti-evolution conference at Marmara University (see here for a news item on this). So of course, we decided to go and attend the symposium at the Marmara University. We took a boat to cross the Bosporus - and that already makes this the most picturesque travel route to a creationist conference. Take that Tennessee!

On the way to the symposium: Here is a Bosporus seagull wondering if it was suddenly created as is -  or if it was a product of evolution over billions of years. 

We took a cab from the pier to the campus. But when we got close to the campus, our cab driver cautioned us that there is some protest going on at the entrance of the building we wanted to go to. I guessed that it must be for some political stuff. But nope - it was against the creationism symposium. The crowd was boisterous and the security guys were checking university IDs to let people in. We used our college/university business cards to get in. The scene was intense. There were cops, placards decrying the inclusion of religion in the sciences, and faculty and students against the symposium. Their main point was that if you want to talk about religion, you should do that in the mosques - but don't bring religion in the science departments. Things remained calm, but the presence of cops was intimidating for such a protest at a university. Here are some pictures of the protest:

The opening of the symposium itself got delayed for an hour. The main theme of the symposium was about scientific evidence against inter-species evolution. Here is the audience at the symposium: 

Of course, I sympathize with those wanting to keep science and religion separate and in keeping religion out of science classrooms. There is no serious dispute about the acceptance of evolution amongst biologists. But one of the main points of the organizers was to seek out space for critical expressions - and I think this is a criticism that we should consider seriously. On the other hand, the symposium talks were mostly about endorsing creationism (the whole forum was about refuting inter-species evolution (for most, evolution was limited to only within species). This is a tricky and a really difficult issue - especially within Turkey's changing political and cultural landscape. Nevertheless, I think ignoring it or organizing a competing symposium may have been a better strategy. But I do have to wonder how I would feel if the students at my college decided to host an astrology conference on campus. 

Here is a report from the Hurriyet:  Huundreds protest anti-evolution meet in Turkey.


Gary said...

Was it the usual Harun Yahyaesque rubbish or was there some serious discussion? I don't know about ignoring these characters.
nonsense dressed up as science should be challenged. Unfortunately in these sort of programs challenging by asking probing questions is rarely allowed hence the need to protest. If the protesters hold a symposium to counter the rubbish then others should be equally entitled to turn up and protest and even ask questions to prove just how stupid their claims are.

Salman Hameed said...

One of the things that we have been finding is that Harun Yahya is actually a relatively mnarginal figure here. Most people (including many of the creatioinists) don't take him seriously here in Turkey. That said, one of the speakers was a yahya follower. Rest - as you can imagine - follows a similar script: missing links - the old creationist trope - was the biggest deal here. The talks were in Turkish - but my colleague translated the basic gist of the arguments.

The question is how should scientists deal with this? The problem is that in Turkey the issue of evolution is mixed in with political ideologies (secularists and Islamists) and that complicates the issue. The young people at the conference were dynamic and bright. And yet, the only view they knew was that evolution is against Islam and that Muslims cannot accept evolution. A protest outside tranlsates not as an issue of science - but rather secularists muzzling voices of Islamists. In my view (and this view is still evolving - ha!) there needs to be a place for the students to air out their views (even if the views are wrong) and then also have a dialogue about these issues. If there is no room to air the views - then all the focus is on the lack of room - rather than on some argument about the substance.

Gary said...

I agree the views need to be aired but creationist or secular conferences for that matter are not really a suitable venue. It takes serious discussion from both sides of the fence. Creationists typically misrepresent science and secularist science typically misrepresents religion. Until both sides can agree on what each is actually criticising progress can't be made.

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