Many of the speakers highlighted what they claim are numerous
deficiencies in the theory of evolution, supposed deficiencies that they
say leave the door open to religious beliefs when teaching science.
"The molecules and everything cannot randomly come together. ... This
theory disturbs me so much!" said geneticist Ibrahim Pirim of Izmir's
Katip Celebi University, one of the keynote speakers at the conference.
"These are not random things; a creator had to put all these things in
One Darwin defender characterized conference participants as stuck in
the Dark Ages. "You cannot teach genetics, you cannot teach biology
without evolution because there are no other laws," said Kerem Cankocak,
an assistance professor of physics at Istanbul Technical University.
"It's the same problem if we teach that the world is not turning, but
the sun is turning around the earth."
A university student club organized the symposium, but, tellingly,
Marmara University rector Hamza Kandur and Turkey's administrative
authority for higher education, YOK, supported the event.
Critics believe that Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party
(AKP), which has Islamist roots, was the real organizational force
behind the meeting. Earlier this year, in defense of provisions for
classes on the Islamic prophet Mohammed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan declared that "all children will be brought up as good Muslims."
Defenders of evolution have long complained that, during its
decade-long rule, the (AKP) government has increasingly downplayed
evolution theories in textbooks at the expense of creationist
explanations. Officially, teachers are supposed to teach both concepts,
but they are given great latitude in their classrooms.
The national Education and Science Workers' Union (Egitim Sen )
claims that some of its 125,000 teacher-members now face pressure from
religious parents, school administrators and Turkey's Ministry of
Education not to teach evolution. The union is warning that instruction
of evolution theories is now under threat.
"The reason for having this symposium in a university is an attempt
on their part to create a perception that being against evolution is
supported and acknowledged by universities and the scientific world,"
charged Suat Bozkurt, director of Egitim Sen's Istanbul branch.
The ministry downplayed such claims, saying that Turkish public schools explore all ideas.
Cankocak, the physics professor, disputed official assertions,
countering that many incoming university students are unfamiliar with
evolutionary concepts. "My students did not learn evolution in high
schools, so, therefore, in my university 90 out of 100 [students] don't
believe or don't know evolution," he complained. "But it's worse in
Cankocak, who is also a researcher at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, argued that government support for
creationism began after the 1980 military coup d'état, when Turkey's
ruling generals vigorously encouraged Islamic beliefs as a counterweight
to left-wing political ideas that enjoyed a wide following in Turkey at
the time. Along with purging many teachers for liberal or leftist
political sympathies, the policy introduced creationism into school
textbooks and compulsory religious education.