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The God Delusion in Turkey

| 12/3/2007 12:00:00 AM | Sylvia TIRYAKI

Sylvia TIRYAKI

 “An atheist in this sense [of philosophical naturalist] is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don't yet understand. As ever when we unweave a rainbow, it will not become less wonderful.” This is a definition of an atheist borrowed from a book written by the world's most influential biologist and the most famous atheist Richard Dawkins. Its name is “The God Delusion”. I bought it about a year ago. In his book, Dawkins who also holds a Chair at the Oxford University elegantly describes and defends his atheist views calling religious beliefs “the God Hypothesis”. He argues there is almost certainly no God whatsoever and “asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.” (Text quoted from the book's cover.) Naturally, the professor of science seeks support for his arguments against the existence of a supernatural intelligence in the science and in the expressions of men of science. Indeed, the book is not only a methodical account of dry arguments; on the contrary, it is a very readable text full of great scientists' and thinkers' quotations, such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkins or Ralph Waldo Emerson.   So, professor Dawkins defines himself as an atheist, describes what he means by that and argues his position. A logical and even predictable conclusion for an evolutionist who already thirty-three years ago became famous for his theory of ‘reciprocal altruism' explained in his bestseller “The Selfish Gene” that was translated into almost thirty languages.  “The God Delusion” is following the same path. It is being translated to other languages swiftly so that people who are interested in his views can approach them. Although it was published only last year, already 1.5 million copies have been sold all around the world, 6,000 of them in Turkey. Reader's Digest named Richard Dawkins author of the year and Galaxy British Book Awards (“the Oscar” of the book trade) awarded him with the same title. The best-selling book has been translated to the Turkish language thanks to the translator Erol Karaaslan and his publishing house, Kuzey.

Freedom of expression put to test

 But alas, less then six months after the famed book became available also in Turkish, the issue made headlines broadcasted even on CNN International: A Turkish prosecutor launched an investigation into whether this best-selling book can incite a religious hatred in Turkey. The prosecutor acts on behalf of one reader's complain that some passages of the book were assaulting “sacred values”.   Well, it is needless to refer to the freedom of expression or to the relativity of “right” and “false”. It is also quite unnecessary to emphasize that if this nonsensical official probe into the book results in a trial – that might end up with one-year sentence – the publisher would without any doubt seek (and find) justice before the Strasbourg court. And personally, I don't believe any prosecutor in a democratic country like Turkey could go “so far” as to start the prosecution on suggested grounds – independently on whether he believes there is God or agrees with professor Dawkins. Moreover, an investigation of this kind on behalf of a claim from a citizen can be opened – but also closed as fast as possible – in any other country.   

However, the fact that such a probe was launched in Turkey and that it was launched right now are two unfortunate factors. The present climate vis-à-vis freedom of expression has been the subject of criticism both internally and externally: Cases under article 301, some with dire consequences, of implied censorship and on the top of the “secularists vs. Islamists” debate.    Simply, an investigation into whether an atheist book can be published in a secular country is ridiculous and doesn't suit Turkey at all. On the contrary, what we should do at this stage is invite Mr. Dawkins to Turkey to discuss his views here publicly; as should be the case in any other pluralist democracy.  

* Sylvia Tiryaki can be reached at s.tiryaki@iku.edu.tr 

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