Tensions are rising in Turkey’s schools and universities as academics and scientists confront the growing influence of Islamic creationists.
“Without science, modern civilisation is impossible,” says Haluk Ertan, a geneticist at Istanbul University, “and yet Turkey has become the headquarters of creationism in the Middle East.” Tarkan Yavas, the public face of the Science Research Foundation (BAV), a shadowy group that has led the charge against evolutionary theory in Turkey for 15 years, boasts: “Not just the Middle East, the world.”
Headed by Adnan Oktar, a university dropout turned charismatic preacher, BAV made international headlines in February when it mass-mailed its lavishly illustrated, 6kgAtlas of Creation to scientists and schools throughout western Europe. Hundreds of pages juxtapose photographs of fossils and living species, arguing the similarities disprove claims that species adapt with time. Elsewhere, belief in evolution is blamed for communism, Nazism and – under a large photograph of the World Trade Centre in flames – the 9/11 attacks.
“Hitler and Mao were Darwinists,” Mr Oktar told journalists last month on a luxury boat trip arranged to answer questions about the atlas. “Darwinism is the only philosophy which values conflict.”
A survey last year showed that only 25 per cent of Turks accepted evolution. In a similar survey in 2005, almost 50 per cent of science teachers said they questioned or rejected the theory. “Darwinism is dying in Turkey, thanks to us,” says Mr Yavas.
Turkish Scientists Confront Creationists