This Friday morning a spokesman from the Turkish Ministry of Education declared that from 2019 onward, the country’s schools will no longer be teaching the theory of evolution, according to the Telegraph.
The topic is to be removed from biology textbooks meant for the ninth-grade under the pretext that it is too complicated for younger students to understand. It should only be approached during college if required. According with Alpaslan Durmus, the head of the board responsible for designing the new curriculum, the theory of evolution is but one of the several subjects deemed too controversial to be taught to younger students. This was written down in a draft that should be approved by the government of President Recep Erdogan next week.
The theory of evolution, first elaborated in its current form in the book The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, has been subject to great controversy among Islamic scholars. They believe it contradicts the teachings of the Quran, where it is said that human beings were created by a divine entity, similar to what is written in the Christian Bible, a point of view defined as Creationism and which can also extend to the origin of other species.
As show in a 2011 survey reported by the Newsweek, most Muslim countries are predominantly Creationist, with Saudi Arabia at the head with 75 per cent of the population rejecting evolution, and with Turkey having 60 per cent of its people defending the same.
This change to the school curriculum has sparked criticisms, mostly from Turkish academics, who say that this move will simply push President Erdogan’s agenda for a more conservative and Islamic-oriented society, moving away from the secularism promoted by the founder of the country, Mustafa Kemal Attatürk.
Attatürk led the transformation of the territory, the center of the Ottoman Empire prior to its dissolution after World War One. He meant to create a Middle Eastern country on par with the greatest nations in the world, both economically and socially. From then on, Turkey was seen as a haven for European-style secularism in the region, opposed to the conservative stance of most of the other Muslim countries.
Opponents of Erdogan have been accusing him of diluting Attatürk’s legacy and Turkish democracy ever since he was first elected as a Prime-Minster back in 2003. The new curriculum will also reduce the time devoted to Attatürk to expand on Muslim and Turkish personalities.
Regarding education, Erdogan has declared he intends to school a “pious generation.” In 2016, he also solidified his position after the ill-fated coup d’état, which was followed by thorough purges among the military. This year, the victory in a constitutional referendum granted him even greater powers.
All of this comes in the wake of the generalized crisis in the Middle East. Beyond the creation of Turkey, the end of World War One and the Sykes-Picot Agreement also led to the establishment of the current countries associated with the region. The borders defined by the British and the French did not reflected the ethnic reality on the ground, which means the countries that kept these borders were inherently unstable, for the most part. Come the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring, and many of them were thrown into chaos.
The conflict in Syria. Yemen, and now the crisis in Qatar, reflect a wider conflict that also weights on Erdogan’s decision-making. There is an ongoing battle for influence between Ankara, Riyadh and Teheran for the control of the Middle-East. Turkey itself also has several important internal issues to contend with, being the conflict with the Kurd population and the terror bombings the most pertinent threats. Within this context, the attempt to bridge the gap between the mostly Sunni population of Turkey and the neighboring peoples does make some sense.
Nevertheless, opposition to the theory of evolution is not unique to Turkey and the Arab world. Statements about the supposed lack of proof for evolution made by Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy prime minister, and which were reported by the Guardian, are repeated by the religious elites of other societies in Europe and Asia. Such statements do not reflect the current scientific knowledge, though, with the Turkish academics defending that the decision to forego evolution on secondary schools has more to do with Erdogan’s ambitions and the influence of the religious conservatives, according to the Independent.
[Featured Image by STF/AP Images]