Turkey already ranked even worse than the United States in its nonacceptance of evolution, but now Turkey’s current right-wing government has gone even further and made it official: It will no longer allow the teaching of evolution in schools.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) and famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins both immediately decried the ban as “unconscionable.” Turkey’s teachers’ union also blasted the move.
The Education Ministry of Turkey announced on June 21 that it will no longer allow the teaching of evolution in schools. It is backed by Turkish President Recep Erdogan, busy reversing the country’s secularist foundations established in the 1920s by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk. Ataturk had banned Islam from public life. The new government is pursuing a religious conservative agenda based on Islamist principles, and evolution is clearly one of its targets. A chapter titled “Beginning of Life and Evolution” will be deleted from the standard ninth-grade biology textbooks, and the material will be available only to university students.
“Turkey will be the second country after Saudi Arabia that excludes theory of evolution from its curriculum,” said Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, a teachers’ union representing more than 100,000 members across the country of Turkey, according to a BBC report. “Even in Iran, there are 60 hours of lessons on evolution and 11 hours on Darwin himself,” she added.
“Our teachers will be protesting out on the street and in the classrooms; they will carry on educating the students according to secular and scientific values no matter what the government does,” she said.
CFI, which supports science, reason, and secularism, slammed the ban. “This is a tragedy for the future of Turkey, as a generation of its young people will be robbed of the opportunity to learn about this fundamental and undeniable principle of biology, and misled about their country’s secular foundations,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry in a statement issued June 23. CFI publishes the Skeptical Inquirer in association with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
“As Turkish scientists will agree, evolution is an established fact, as firmly established as plate tectonic movements or the solar orbits of the planets,” said biologist and CSI Fellow Richard Dawkins, whose foundation, as of last year, is a division of CFI. “I’d like to pay the Turkish framers of this ridiculous education policy the compliment of assuming that they are cynical political manipulators. But actually, I fear they are more likely to be just plain stupid.”
Alpaslan Durmus, head of the Education Ministry’s curriculum board, claimed that evolution was “too controversial” a subject for students, and that it is “beyond their comprehension.” The new curriculum, which will also diminish the importance of secularism in the country’s founding and history, is set to take effect in 2019.
“The claim that evolution is ‘too complicated’ is absurd and an insult to Turkey’s students and teachers,” said Blumner. “We know from our work with middle school science teachers that students pretty easily grasp the basic principles of evolution. Moreover, learning about natural selection—the process that undergirds the diversity of all of life on Earth—fascinates and inspires students. How can the government even consider withholding that from students?”
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science sponsors the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES), a program dedicated to training middle school science teachers to more effectively teach evolution and answer its critics.
“We urge the Turkish government to reverse course. Purposely fostering scientific ignorance will handicap generations of children,” said Blumner. “The Turkish people must speak out against this decision, and stand up for their children’s—and their country’s—future.”
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On the flip side of this issue, Britain has banned the teaching of creationism as a scientific theory. The U.K. government issued a document on June 9 stating that creationism “does not accord with the very large body of scientific evidence, nor does it accurately and consistently employ the scientific method, and as such it should not be presented to pupils at the Academy as a scientific theory.” It also noted that creationism is rejected by “most mainstream churches and religious traditions. . . as well as by the scientific community.”
The document defined creationism as “any doctrine or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity, and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution.” Scientists and educators welcomed this pro-science action