The news this week that the Islam-oriented Turkish government has decided to remove the teaching of evolution from the national curriculum is a sad reminder of the continuing poor state of the Muslim world and the multiple problems many Muslims are having trying to cope with modernity. Who can forget how the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz, argued that Copernicus was wrong and that the Sun did indeed revolve around the Earth? Bin Baz was blind of course, both literally as well as metaphorically.
The Turkish government has justified the removal of the teaching of evolution for 14-15 year olds and the decision to delay any teaching until the undergraduate years by saying that children are “too young to understand ‘controversial subjects'”. The decision is especially lamentable as it is clear that – as the scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky said back in 1973 “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Ever since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection in which he persuasively laid out the case for the theory of evolution there have been attempts by religious authorities to oppose it by prohibiting it to be taught. Unfortunately for them, Darwin’s theory has withstood all attacks on it and has become more compelling with every passing decade. The evidence accumulated in its support is overwhelming and actually quite thrilling. I regularly advise anyone who argues with me on this issue to go and buy a good book on evolution by a reputable scientist (such as Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth R. Miller) and then compare it with anything produced in opposition to evolution by anyone and – provided that they read with an open mind – they will immediately see that the difference is like between day and night.
Turkey is, of course, home to the Harun Yahya movement led by Adnan Oktar. His glossy books and videos – which are available for free download at his website – have for two decades now been pumping out anti-evolution propaganda. Some years back, I described how as a naïve young Muslim I too was taken in by his claims that the theory of evolution was a clever ploy by atheistic scientists to undermine belief in God. I had the opportunity to debate with Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar and also on another occasion with a Christian creationist and it was eye opening for me to see how easily their arguments could be unravelled. However, the opposition to evolution is very widespread indeed in the Muslim world and is by no means confined to Turkey.
The scientist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins visited the Madani Girls School in Leicester as part of a documentary he was making some years back and it resulted in a very interesting encounter with a Muslim science teacher who was unable to satisfactorily respond to one of the commonest objections to evolution when it was raised by a pupil.
Dawkins advised the school’s Principal to reconcile the Qur’an with evolution instead of making it a case of one is right and the other wrong.
It was good advice. For Madani Girls School and also for Turkey.