turkey’s evolution woes

Turkey may be moving forward politically and economically, but it's heading backwards on science education.

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Turkey is facing a bit of an identity crisis. On the one hand, it’s the geographical start of the Middle East and its predominant religion is Islam. But on the other, the country is very much Westernized. It’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, insisted on building a secular nation in which women had rights and progress was measured by how closely the country started to resemble progressive European ideals. His reforms are still very much in effect today since Turkey participates in numerous councils and unions with Western nations.

Over the past several years there’s been a movement to take Turkey’s participation further still and allow it to join the European Union. Turks are often considered Europeans in the bordering nations of the Middle East and their secular, democratic society already compliments the way a European nation works. But according to Christian church leaders, the country’s Islamic faith is just not European. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger even said that allowing Turkey to join the EU would be contrary to history. After his controversial choice of quotes about Islam as Pope and a subsequent trip to Istanbul, Ratzinger reversed his previous statements.

But it seems that Turkey’s religious influences are once again raising some grumbles from the current EU members. This time, the muted concerns aren’t so much religious as scientific. In a study regarding attitudes towards evolution across 34 nations, Turkey came in dead last in its acknowledgment of science. Just 25% of Turks acknowledge evolutionary biology and recently, an editor-in-chief of a premier Turkish science and technology magazine was fired for her idea of putting a tribute to Darwin and the theory of evolution on the front cover. Her boss insisted that a cover story on the theory could be “seen as a provocation” and in an election year, it was just plain irresponsible to publish it.

It seems that the boss in question, mer Cebeci, supports creationism and has been filling the magazine’s editorial board with sympathetic minds. It’s also very likely that he was exposed to the Atlas of Creation, a picture book written by Turkey’s creationist Adnan Oktar who uses the byline Harun Yahya. The history of the Atlas is just downright bizarre. After publishing it, Oktar received quite a bit of negative press from Richard Dawkins’ website and convinced the Turkish government to ban access to it so the evil English biologist wouldn’t offend his sensibilities. In his victorious excitement, he offered trillions of dollars (you read that right, trillions) to anyone who could prove to him that transitional fossils exist. Since he believes that evolution is a huge Freemason/Zionist/Illuminati conspiracy, and his training is that of an art student, not that of a scientist, the odds are stacked against you when you present your evidence.

What’s more, is that the online edition of the Atlas of Creation seems to be evolving as science bloggers and scientists find more and more errors in it. Oktar is stealthily fixing his book as it falls under greater and greater scrutiny. Rather than having to acknowledge that he used wrong fossils, insect lures instead of actual insects and had a faulty premise, he just corrects the next mistake pointed out by someone fluent in biology. And despite that, he’s a household name in Turkey and boasts fame and substantial revenues from the sales of what amounts to a picture book with absolutely inane and irrelevant content which in no way proves anything other than a complete lack of scientific education on the part of the author. Some Europeans are beginning to get worried about a potential culture clash between Turkey and the Union nations.

The population of the EU’s member countries generally support the theory by over 70% as seen in the same study which placed acknowledgment of evolution at 25% in Turkey. When you have such a vast gap in worldviews, there’s bound to be a lot of friction. Secular Turks are well aware of that and the decision to fire Cigdem Atakuman for thinking of putting Darwin on the cover of a science magazine when the rest of the Western world celebrates his 200th birthday, grates on them immensely. Certainly, religious censorship of scientific ideas is something that Ataturk’s disciples wouldn’t approve of.

# science // creationists / eu / evolution / science education / tukey

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