Claiming that evolution is “debatable, controversial, and too complicated for students,” Turkey’s board of education has decided to stop teaching Darwinian natural selection in its schools. The move has infuriated the country’s secular opposition, but it could embolden other countries to do the same.
The Guardian reports that Turkey’s senior education official, Alpaslan Durmuş, says the chapter on evolution will be removed from grade nine biology textbooks, and the subject will be avoided until students reach the university level. “We believe that these subjects are beyond [the] comprehension [of students],” he explained in a video posted to the education ministry’s website.
The move is disappointing, but not entirely surprising. Pro-creationist voices in Turkey have been agitating for years, and parents have started to protest the way religion is being taught in schools. Earlier this year, the country’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, described evolution as being “archaic” and “lacking sufficient evidence.”
In addition to removing evolution from the curriculum, students will spend less time studying the country’s secular legacy, and shorter shrift will be paid to the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who instilled secular traditions and norms in the country. More emphasis will be placed on the teaching of religion, and the contributions of various Turkish and Muslim scientists. As a whole, schools will be moving away from a “Eurocentric” approach. The final version of the curriculum is expected next week at the conclusion of Ramadan.
Needless to say, this isn’t going over very well with the country’s secular opposition, who have been accusing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of steering the nation towards an Islamic agenda that runs contrary to the country’s founding principles. The opposition is particularly incensed by these latest changes to the curriculum, as they will influence the next generation of thinkers. The education reforms come a mere two months after Erdoğan won a narrow victory in a referendum that now grants him sweeping executive powers.
Writing in the The Guardian, reporters Kareem Shaheen and Gözde Hatunoğlu claim there’s “little acceptance of evolution as a concept among mainstream Muslim clerics in the Middle East, who believe it contradicts the story of creation in scripture, in which God breathed life into the first man, Adam, after shaping him from clay. Still, evolution is briefly taught in many high school biology courses in the region.”
It’s difficult to know if Turkey’s decision to do away with evolution in the classroom will inspire other countries to do same, or if this is a development specific to Turkey and its changing sociopolitical landscape. The latter may very well be the case.
Aside from a few areas of the United States and several Islamic fundamentalist countries, practically every nation on this planet teaches evolution—or is at least trying to. Darwinian natural selection is even taught in some of the most pious countries, such as Poland, Ireland, and Iran. Some jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Brazil, explicitly forbid the teaching of creationism. Back in 2007, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution warning of the dangers of creationism in education, urging member states to “firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general the presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion.”
On the dark side of the debate, Saudi Arabia’s grade 12 textbooks only mention evolution by name, claiming the idea denies Allah’s creation of humanity. In Pakistan, evolution is only taught at the university level. Hopefully Turkey and other evolution-skeptical nations—the United States included—will eventually come around to teaching a concept that has proven its worth, and only gotten stronger, since it was proposed 150 years ago. Evolution isn’t “just” a theory anymore—it’s an incontrovertible part of our reality.