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MUSTAFA AKYOL > Islam in, Darwin out?

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A few weeks ago, Sözcü, a Turkish tabloid with a hardcore secularist line, ran a headline story that touched on one of Turkey’s bones of contention: The place of the theory of evolution in public education. According to Sözcü, the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) had discontinued the publishing of books on evolution. The paper also added that this was one of the many signs of Turkey’s drift into “darkness,” a synonym for religious bigotry.

The subtext of Sözcü’s text was clear: Under the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, a more Islamic worldview was pervading official bodies such as TÜBİTAK, while secular icons such as Darwinism were being pushed out.

In fact, it soon turned out that this was a false alarm. TÜBİTAK officials said to the press, including Hürriyet Daily News, that the institution kept on publishing books by major evolutionary scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson.

Yet still, it is an undeniable fact that a tension between Turkey’s religious conservatives and Darwinian evolution exists. I would hence not doubt that had the AKP had the means to design an all-ideal education system, it would give little, if any, credit to Darwinism.

But why? Why do we have such a tension in Turkey and many other countries of the world, including the United States?

The common answer you will hear in the media is that many religious believers are simply dogmatic and they can’t stand to hear “scientific facts” that contrast their literal reading of scriptures. But my answer is a little different: I think there is dogmatism on both sides of the debate, for the ones who want people to subscribe to their non-scientific beliefs are not only religious believers, but also atheistic believers. (Atheism is a faith in the non-existence of God; a “faithless” person is an agnostic.)

Take Richard Dawkins, for example, arguably the most prominent Darwinist of our times. He is a zoologist at the University of Oxford, but his books promote not just biology, but also the atheist philosophy he passionately believes in. Of course, Dawkins claims that his atheism is a logical outcome of his commitment to science. But a closer look at his work reveals that the real motive is his hatred of religion, something which he sees as a “virus” and “worse than child abuse.”

What Dawkins and similar thinkers really do is a clever sleight-of-hand: They first point out that science can only study the material world (which is true), then they claim that the material world is the sum total of reality (which is an assumption). The late Carl Sagan used a perfect example of this trick in the opening lines of his landmark television series titled “Cosmos.” “The cosmos is all there is,” he used to say, “all there ever was, and all there ever will be.” But this was an unscientific claim, for it could not be tested by the two main methods of science: experiment and observation. Sagan was selling a philosophy, but was disguising it as science.

In the face of such atheistic propaganda, it is only normal for religious believers to take an issue with the “science” that they are exposed to, and develop their own counter-propaganda. Those who advise them against “mixing science and religion” are right. But they should make the same point against those who mix science and atheism as well.

January/23/2013

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