The chair of Turkey’s Board of Education, Alpaslan Durmus, above, announced this week that evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools.
Durmuse said in a video published on the Education Ministry’s website that evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.
We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension.
Durmus said a chapter on evolution was being removed from ninth grade biology course books, and the subject postponed to the undergraduate period.
Another change to the curriculum may reduce the amount of time that students spend studying the legacy of secularism.
Critics of the government believe public life is being increasingly stripped of the secular traditions instilled by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
The secular opposition has long argued that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pursuing a covert Islamist agenda contrary to the republic’s founding values. Education is a particularly contentious avenue, because of its potential in shaping future generations. Small-scale protests by parents in local schools have opposed the way religion is taught.
There is 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.
The final changes to the curriculum are likely to be announced next week. The draft changes had been put forth for public consultation at the beginning of the year.
The subject of evolution in particular stirred debate earlier this year after Numan Kurtulmus, the Deputy Prime Minister, described the process as a theory that was both archaic and lacking sufficient evidence.
Reports in Turkish media in recent weeks, based on apparent leaks of school board meetings, have also predicted a diminished role in the curriculum for the study of Atatürk, and an increase in the hours devoted to studying religion.
Durmus said that a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists and history classes would move away from a “Euro-centric” approach.
The BBC reports that the plan to scrap evolution lessons had sparked a furious debate on an online forum
One participant said:
This is bigotry, this is all about being a fanatic. How are they going to teach biology now? How are they going to talk about science?
Evolutionary theory is one of the most powerful and fundamental theories in modern science. To describe it as ‘controversial’ is unbelievable.
Yet another claimed the theory was not well taught anyhow:
Once the teacher asked us who believed in evolutionary theory. I raised my hand. The teacher said: ‘Are you a monkey then?’
But on Facebook another commenter said:
I want to thank the government for preventing our youth to be poisoned by this rotten and absurd theory. There is nothing more natural than excluding it from the national curriculum.
Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, a teachers’ union representing over 100,000 members across the country, said:
Turkey will be the second country after Saudi Arabia that excludes theory of evolution from its curriculum. Even in Iran, there are 60 hours of lessons on evolution and 11 hours on Darwin himself.
In covering this story, Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta pointed out that Turkey was shown in a 2006 chart to be at the very bottom of a list countries that accept evolution. Shockingly, America is second last.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake, BarrieJohn and Pasties