Creationism in Turkey

I reported on this survey of people’s attitudes towards evolution, in which the US was second to the worst. We beat Turkey. The point was to emphasize the poor shape of US education, but it unfairly made fun of Turkey … imagine, though, how awful it would be to be in their shoes. This week’s issue of Nature has a letter from several Turkish scientists describing their plight and what they are doing to fight it; I’ve put it below the fold.

Turks fighting back against anti-evolution forces
Mehmet Somel, Rahsan Nazli Ozturkler Somel and Aykut Kence


Your recent Special Report “Anti-evolutionists raise their profile in Europe” (Nature 444, 406–407; 2006) draws attention to the strong anti-evolution climate in Turkey, and concludes pessimistically. However, the teaching of evolution is not a lost cause in Turkey.

It is true that the situation is grave. In a recent survey of acceptance of evolution, Turkey scored the worst among 25 countries, with less than 30% of the population accepting it (J. D. Miller et al. Science 313, 765–766; 2006).

The major reason for this has been the conservative influence on education in Turkey during the past 25 years. In 1985, the then minister of education contacted creationists in the United States, a cooperation that led to the inclusion of creationism in the high-school biology curriculum and textbooks.

Furthermore, anti-evolution views are not restricted to textbooks. In a study conducted by one of us in the capital, Ankara, last year, only 47% of the 147 biology and science teachers surveyed said they accepted evolution. More disturbing is that it was accepted by significantly fewer of the young teachers and by only 26% of the 257 14-year-old students.

On the other hand, Turkish scientists have been striving to reverse this trend. It has been publicly criticized by the Turkish Academy of Sciences ( A group of graduate students known as Evrim Caliskanlari, or ‘hard-workers for evolution’, has started translating the University of California, Berkeley’s Understanding Evolution website into Turkish (see

Most forcefully, a non-governmental association, Universite Konseyleri Dernegi, has filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, demanding that creationism should be removed from textbooks and evolutionary biology should be covered appropriately in the curriculum.

The ministry has responded by asserting that darwinism is scientifically suspect — using publications by the US intelligent-design Discovery Institute for reference. It goes on to claim that developed countries are including creation-like theories in their curricula and to imply that evolution is not compatible with Turkish ‘culture and values’. At this point it is unclear how the case will turn out.

If more Turkish scientists showed their support for the efforts that are being made, and put pressure on their academic bodies to take a pro-evolutionary position, this would certainly influence both the ministry and public opinion. Better late than never.

That makes me despise the Discovery Institute even more (how can that be possible? But I’m sure the next thing I discover will make me despise them yet more—they are an ever-welling font of corruption and contempt). They peddle their crap to Turkey, lying to them and telling them that ID is legitimate science to promote themselves, while at the same time they’re publishing garbage from Mustafa Akyol calling ID a “bridge between civilizations”. One of the revolting things about creationism is that the weaker one’s science knowledge and the more ignorant one is, the easier it is to persuade one to accept their falsehoods, which makes one more ignorant still, etc. —it’s like an extinction vortex for knowledge.

Good luck to Turkish science, and let’s all hope they can overcome the handicap their homegrown kooks and the import of the effluvia from our American kooks has given them.


  1. says

    And don’t forget that Harun Yahya loonie. It’s funny, I used to just think he was a troll, but I recently learned that he’s sold millions of books. And yeah, he operates out of, you guessed it, Turkey. He’s like the Kent Hovind of Turkey, except he’s not in jail yet.

  2. says

    ` Whoa. We only beat Turkey?

    ` That’s not very surprising. For example, America is, I think, the last country in which chimpanzee vivisection is legal.
    ` Come to think of it, it is also one of two countries that has laws specifically forbidding carving chunks out of children’s genitals (also usually vivisection, because they are kicking and screaming). The other one? Somalia!!

    ` Yip de-fucking-day indeed.

  3. says

    I’m posting this again because readers might find it useful: citations to “evolution AND species” vs. “photosynthesis” in Science Citations, by year:
    year evolution photosynthesis
    1975 10 225
    1985 32 329
    1995 1887 1715
    2005 4858 2206
    Could help scientists in Turkey and the US make the case that evolution is increasingly important in mainstream science. Anyone with access to Web of Science can easily check this.

  4. Bacardi says

    Thanks Harun Yahya / Adnan Oktar for screwing up a country and bringing us the shame of being the first of anti-evolution league. :(

  5. says

    Despite the positive tone of the letter in Nature, I don’t have much hope for the Turkish kids at the present or in the near future. They would need some revolutionary changes to get science back on the right track. The government & the fundamentalists behind them have too much power & money.

  6. says

    I live in Turkey, that shithole of a country, and the things I see every day are extremely discouraging.

    The likes of Harun Yahya have been trying to push creationism to give islamic movements a foothold in the traditionally secular government. Their modus operandi is more like a mafia ring, they avoid cash transactions and print their books by exchanging villas and sports cars to printers’. They prepare little trailer exhibitions which they cart off everywhere and anywhere. They have the best friends in all the high places. But they hardly need to try that hard, because evolution has been toroughly ignored by the government’s education policies since the fifties.

    Today, even most of the most modernized, secular Turks will find evolution hard to accept, not because they have been corrupted by the likes of Harun Yahya, but simply because they never got a true idea of evolution in the first place. Furthermore, the most vocal defenders of evolution here are communist extremists, whose understanding of evolution is a horribly outdated mishmash of Lamarck and Lysenko, which proves too easy to knock down.

    Other then them, those who understand evolution clearly are limited to academic cycles and (some of) the well-off minority, who can pay for quality education. I believe our biggest mistake was remaining mild and silent, thus letting the brain rot take over.

  7. says

    I live in Turkey, that shithole of a country, and the things I see every day are extremely discouraging….

    Furthermore, the most vocal defenders of evolution here are communist extremists, whose understanding of evolution is a horribly outdated mishmash of Lamarck and Lysenko, which proves too easy to knock down.

    I feel your pain. Really. I’m feeling my brain hurt as I try to imagine those Communists you’re speaking of as being the primary voice against Creationism over there.

  8. says

    Bronze Dog;
    Yeah, it’s kinda like Alien versus Predator over here. The fervent communists aren’t the primary voice against creationsim, but they sure scream loud.

  9. John Monfries says

    Harun Yahya extends his baleful influence well outside Turkey. Indonesian bookshops have dozens of his science books in Indonesian translation on their shelves. Most look by their titles to be straight science textbooks, but among them you can find such gems as “The Human Disaster that is Darwinism” (my translation of the Indonesian title), with pictures on the cover of such closely associated figures as Darwin, Marx, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, along with a special CD. Last year I saw a notice for a conference in Jakarta on Harun’s books, which he was to attend.

  10. afterthought says

    ID reminds me of my concept of a negative IQ:
    It sucks the intelligence out of a room.

  11. pastor maker says

    I live in a suburb of Malbourne, Australia with a very large muslim population. There are three muslim religious bookstores here. All feature anti-evolution books in their display windows.

  12. Thinker says

    As one who hopes Turkey will eventually join the European Union, I wonder if the anti-evolution sentiment described here is limited to evolution as such, or is it is a marker for more general anti-science/anti-enlightenment feelings.

    If it is widespread, and condoned or even actively supported by the authorities, this could be used as additional arguments by those Europeans who work to keep Turkey out of the union. As long as Turkey can claim to be a secularly governed nation, albeit with a predominantly muslim population, I think most Europeans will accept them. OTOH, if religion is allowed to affect policy (and this would be a clear case of that), a lot of people will want to close the door on them.

    I would be interested in hearing more comments on this from those who know Turkey better than I do.

    Contrary to what many others think, I don’t believe Islam as such blocks progress in scientific understanding, at least not more than any other religion/superstition. It it more a case that society has not embraced or actively denies the value of rational, reality-based enquiry and separation of religion and state. This denial, as we know all too well, can be just as strong with a Christian background as with any other religion.

  13. says

    As well as the wretched Yahya and Akyol, Turkey is blighted by a guy named Fethullah Gulen. He’s some sort of well-respected intellectual and educationalist, and he runs several hundred schools in various countries. He’s also a Creationist:

    It would be difficult to find another theory which, like Darwinism, has been battered and defeated so many times, and yet the corpse of it revived artificially again and again…To our knowledge, no scientific hypothesis except this one was ever sustained on the basis of so many, and so important “missing links.” What the scientists have discovered through observation proves the opposite of the evolutionary theory true: in spite of having many varieties, bacteria have not evolved into anything different and higher though they adapt very quickly… Man is, as we put it, exactly the same as he was created on the first day…

    The alternative to evolution is design which necessarily leads to the concept of a transcendent and unitary power, the Designer Creator, God. Therein lies the reason for the continuing tyranny of the Darwinist theory: the fear that to acknowledge the Creator will bring down the edifice of an autonomous science, an autonomous human reason…

  14. says

    Great. We need to increase our exports to balance our trade deficits, so what do we decide to share with Turkey? The freakin’ Discovery Institute.

  15. octopod says

    Are the socialists there really largely the mainformed Lamark/Lysenkoists you describe? ‘Cause the one Turkish socialist of my acquaintance, though certainly a biased sample considering he’s a PhD candidate in earth sciences at an elite university, never described any such disaster to me although we’ve discussed this issue a number of times…
    …incidentally, he also said Harun Yahya runs some weird kind of rich men’s cult/sex club. Just worth thinking about.

  16. mehmet delismen says

    Nemo Ramjet,

    your comment seems to contain terrible flaws.

    First, your description of “Lysenkoist Turkish communists” is not correct.

    Indeed many pro-evolutionists in Turkey have Lamarkian-Lysenkoist ideas about evolution. I guess this is the case in most countries where biology education is insufficient; the Lamarkian process being simpler to imagine than the Darwinian one. But this tendency is not, as you imply, restricted to the Turkish left. Further, never have I met any Turkish leftist citing Lysenko.

    Allow me to add that I’m an evolutionary biologist in human evolution, currently doing research abroad, as well as a member of the Communist Party of Turkey. In short, I’d trust my data better than yours.

    Second, you use the sentence “that shithole of a country”…

    Here’s some advice: Whatever country you are living in, whatever the conditions, if you’re not content, either leave, or else, don’t complain too much.

    Of course there’s also a third option: Go on and try to change those conditions. This is what socialists, both in the USA and in Turkey, are striving for.

    But in any case, learn to choose your words politely!

    Ford, thanks for the suggestion. Comparison with some other subject is a good idea.

  17. says

    Cyde Weys: That guy has also targed me for spam several times. I am not sure where he got my email address (here or elsewhere; there are several possibilities). Fortunately, ignoring him seems to stop the spam. (Of course, I am probably in grave danger by pointing this out publically, but so be it.)

    afterthought: Or my idea of negative knowledge, induced by reading Dembski or seeing that film What the bleep do we know?