The debate over the exclusion of the theory of evolution from the curriculum in Turkey has now reached a new level, thanks to a man heading the board in charge of overseeing and approving all textbooks and educational materials used in Turkish schools.
Speaking at a press conference to announce the details of the new curriculum and to defend it, Board of Education head Alparslan Durmuş contested that contrary to reports, the theory of evolution was actually included in the curriculum - through its reflections in various courses.
“Do you ‘believe’ in the screwdriver? Do you ‘believe’ in the pincer?” Durmuş asked another official during the news conference while trying to explain himself.
“You say ‘I use the pincer.’ Just like this, do I believe in evolution? No, I don’t ‘believe’ in evolution, but I do use it. I use it in biotechnology and to explain certain biological issues. For me [evolution is] like a tool box. Every theory is in fact a tool box,” he said.
To be fair, Durmuş said evolution “is a theory, a valid one,” drawing the ire of many ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters who had launched a campaign on social media demanding his removal “for defending the theory of evolution.”
“Saying that evolution was excluded [from the curriculum] is ignorant,” Durmuş said, noting that antibiotics, the diversity and classification of living organisms, genes, genetic variation and gene technologies, heredity and biological diversity, and stem cell and stem cell technologies are all included in biology textbooks in different chapters.
So it seems that high school students in Turkey will be taught about the applications of the theory of evolution, but not Charles Darwin’s theory itself.
It is worth noting that according to a PEW research project carried out in 2013, only 35 percent of Turks say they agree with the statement that “humans and other things have evolved over time,” while 50 percent said they “have always existed in the present form.” It is highly likely that the number of people on the side of evolution has shrunk in the years since. But as we all know – and as we are reminded by our leaders almost every day - there can be no power above the people’s will.
The new curriculum, it seems, is not much different than the current one, which only teaches students how to answer questions correctly instead of encouraging them to ask “how” and “why.” Teaching students to use the tools without teaching them why those tools are used for that purpose - and how those tools were created - means that Turkey’s education system will continue to create technicians, (who are definitely needed), but leave us with few scientists or engineers.
Although I disagree, I could live with Durmuş’s explanation on the teaching of the theory of evolution if the question ended there. However, he also went on to say that the orders of whatever the religion followed by the majority of the country are what should be taught. It is “only natural” for textbooks to tell students not to marry atheists and not to marry people of religions other than Islam, he said.
“I’m not saying this, Allah is,” Durmuş added. “This one of the conditions of marriage in Islam: Muslims marry Muslims, but they cannot marry someone who denies Allah. This is in Islam: You cannot marry atheists and infidels. It is binding for those who believe, not for non-believers.”
Well, I’m also a non-believer. I don’t actually believe in the pages you are holding and the screens you are looking at. They are just tools I use to spread my poisonous ideas.