Turkey suppresses evolution books

January 20, 2013 • 8:47 am

UPDATE: In the comments below, reader mecwordpress calls attention to an article in the Hurriyet Daily News in which TÜBITAK denies having censored evolution books:

The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has strongly denied reports that it has stopped printing books on evolution, saying the claims were “black propaganda” against their institution.

“If we aim to censor Evolution Theory we would discontinue publishing any books containing evolutionist approaches, but on the contrary we are publishing the books that are not being published by other publishing houses,” an official from TÜBİTAK told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday in a phone interview.

However, the official refuted the claims. “There are two books already in our 2012 catalogue regarding evolution, Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ is one of them … Dawkins’ ‘The Selfish Gene’ is not being published because of a publication rights issue, but this is being manipulated,” the official said.

He claimed that “some circles” had kicked off a “black propaganda” campaign against TÜBİTAK to “shadow its success,” following the successful mission of Turkey’s first Earth observation satellite, Göktürk-2.

Göktürk-2 was launched Dec. 18 in China, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan followed the launch at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) campus, which witnessed huge numbers of students protesting the prime minister’s visit.

Erdoğan had called on the academics who supported the students to resign, but the police’s heavy-handed intervention in the protests also stirred a debate among Turkish universities, with some backing the police and Erdoğan and some opposing.

Middle East Technical University, a secular and liberal school, was where I gave my talk.  Let us hope that this “black propaganda” was really wrong, and that evolution survives (albeit tenuously) in Turkey. Stay tuned.


From LiveLeak and the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, we learn that the Turkish government has suspended both the publication and sale of any book that promotes the theory of evolution. LiveLeak:

The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has put a stop to the publication and sale of all books in its archives that support the theory of evolution, daily Radikal has reported.

The evolutionist books, previously available through TÜBİTAK’s Popular Science Publications’ List, will no longer be provided by the council.

The books have long been listed as “out of stock” on TÜBİTAK’s website, but their further publication are now slated to be stopped permanently.

Books by Richard Dawkins, Alan Moorehead, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Levontin and James Watson are all included in the list of books that will no longer be available to the Turkish readers.

WEIT hasn’t yet been translated into Turkish (I’m trying!), but of course any English editions would be banned as well.  TÜBITAK is probably gunshy because of the fulminating creationism of Turkey:

In early 2009, a huge uproar occurred when the cover story of a publication by TÜBİTAK was pulled reportedly because it focused on Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The incident led to intense criticism and resulted in finger-pointing by various officials of that publication and its parent institute.

Most of us know that there’s a strong antievolution movement centered in Turkey, headed by the odious Adnan Oktar, who goes by the pseudonym Harun Yahya. Many of us academics received free copies of Yahya’s hilarious but expensive Atlas of Creation (see below), which was printed at tremendous expense and distributed to thousands of American scientists.  Oktar is opposed by the numerous serious Turkish academics who teach evolution and are facing intimidation or even banning.

When I lectured on the evidence for evolution in Ankara several years ago, I drew the largest crowd I’d ever had (more than 1200 people), and got tumultuous applause. That was not because of me, but because I was presenting something that intelligent Turks accept but that is largely unacceptable in their country.  I had death threats before my lecture, and that was the only time in my life I ever feared that I’d get shot.  But we can’t let the creationist thugs cow us.

At any rate, perhaps a Turkish reader can fill us in on the controversy as it unfolds. Turkey is one of the few Islamic-majority countries with an official policy of secularism, put in place by the admirable Kemal Atatürk (and enforced, unfortunately, by military power). Headscarves are forbidden in public universities, and evolution was (until now) taught freely. This banning of evolution books is a bad sign for the future of Turkey, and I wonder if the EU—which Turkey has been trying to join since 1987—can do something about it.

A side note: The main theme of Yahya’s Atlas of Creation was that evolution could not have occurred because living creatures are supposedly nearly identical to fossil ones (that’s why there are so many glossy pictures in the book).  One fisherman discovered, however, that several of the “living insects” appearing in the book were actually fishing flies that he tied.  Graham Owen published Yahya’s deceptive pictures (used without permission) on his web page; here are two from the Atlas showing fishing lures. Notice the hooks!


And a mayfly (Owen’s flies are fantastic; apparently those creationists overlooked the hooks!):


Owen demanded that those photos be removed, and they were in subsequent editions of this execrable book.

What’s sadder are a few comments appearing beneath the Hurriyet article:

Picture 1

34 thoughts on “Turkey suppresses evolution books

      1. New Zealanders fought against Turkey in 1915, after the in/famous landing at “Gallipoli” (Galibolou) in 1915. The reason for this lies in the, um, Byzantine network of treaties that turned the assassination of an obscure Archduke into a World War.

        There was so little animosity between the two countries, and Atatürk spoke so graciously about the New Zealanders: –

        Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.

        – that there is a handsome memorial to Atatürk on the south coast of Wellington.

  1. Those comments are scary, but not as scary as having your life threatened for giving a talk about evolution. An Islamist can feel so threatened by a book or a lecture that he feels it is right to threaten or kill. Allah is a great motivator.

    1. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book “Infidel,” especially the first and last chapters on the murder of her co-worker, film-maker Theo Van Gogh, are eye-opening.

  2. Why were scientists sent copies of Atlas of cReation? Are the copies from those creationists, surely they can’t be that arrogant?

    1. Not only many scientists (and all Turkish schools) got a free copy of this “Atlas of Creation”: a lot of schools and some public libraries all over Europe also got their free copy. That means that there is a lot of money going towards Harun Yahya and his organization. Where does that money comes from? Some suggest Saudi Arabia as financing this vast anti science enterprise.

  3. Dear Mr. Osman:

    You say “If you believe in evolution, you’re an atheist, nothing else” as if that’s a bad thing.

    In any case, I don’t *believe* in evolution; I know why evolution is true.

    Best Wishes,

    Mark Joseph

  4. Another nail in Turkey’s ambition to join the EU.
    Ironically, the one chapter (of 35) of the acquis communautaire (the body of EU law that applies to all members) that has been agreed and closed is that concerning Science & Research.

    1. It isn’t clear that Turkey still considers joining EU to be one of their goals. They were annoyed with the conditions placed on them and the ability of other countries with smaller or weaker economies to join while they were told no. Hungary is a member of the EU, yet it is arguably no more democratic than Turkey. So many Turks have given up on that goal, they think they are better off focusing on building trade and relationships outside of Europe. The bigger problem is that Turkey is a member of NATO. NATO decisions require unanimity. Turkey’s continued membership in NATO is undermining NATO from within.

      1. One major problem as far as EU membership is concerned is that there are two fundamentally different Turkeys: an Istanbul-centered largely modern, educated, West-leaning and relatively wealthy one; and an eastern component which is largely rural, poorer, more religious and eastward-looking. Istanbul is virtually indistinguishable from many South European capitals, and by itself that part of Turkey would have become a member of the EU a long time ago. The Eastern part is, well, rather indistinguishable from Irak or Syria, and does not belong in Europe in any way. Not surprisingly islamist support at the polls depends in large measure on the East of the country. Turks I know in Istanbul are the first ones to be very critical of the “backward” East (and I have heard many even less flattering terms).

  5. If anyone wonders why the people of the European Union are dead set against Turkey joining the EC, they should read this.

    And lets not forget the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks for which it is still a crime to discuss in Turkey.

  6. How is this different from the RCC’s idea of banning some text they aren’t happy with. I think Islam is trying to cover as much ground as early christians did in stifling research and basic freedoms

  7. The story is that the Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) has officially ceased publishing books in their archives. This presumably means they were the official publisher in Turkey. Does this mean other publishers cannot publish these types of books in Turkey? Does TÜBİTAK have a monopoly on science books in Turkey (or a monopoly on books available to schools)?

  8. As Erp implies, this (bad news) is being presented as if books on evolution are being banned in Turkey altogether. But there’s no evidence for that.

    The bad news appears to be that this government agency is no longer publishing or selling them, presumably another sign of the increasing Islamisation of this nominally secular country.

    Where is the evidence that “…we learn that the Turkish government has suspended both the publication and sale of any book that promotes the theory of evolution”?

  9. Oh come on. I can’t be the ONLY person to see this subject in their inbox and wonder how the heck a turkey is suppressing evolution books. I blame it on two hours of sleep.

    I had to read Jerry’s side- note on this three times to see if I was misunderstanding something. FISHING flies? REALLY???? Hooks and everything? I ….don’t..but the hooks. Someone spent a lot of time editing those images…*boggle boggle*

    That middle comment was…yeah..it’s too early for this.

    1. The middle comment appears to be a reference to Weiner’s book “The Beak of the Finch”. But what it is trying to say is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the commenter had read a creationist’s review of the book.

    1. Thank you, and I hope the story is untrue. I’ve posted a correction at the top of the piece, above the fold.

  10. > Yahya’s hilarious but expensive Atlas of Creation (see below), which was printed at tremendous expense and distributed to thousands of American scientists.

    Not just American. Check out the most excellent “The Periodic Table of Videos” series (periodicvideos.com or YouTube) out of the University of Nottingham (UK, duh!) where I believe you can see this waste of wood pulp on a shelf behind one of the talking heads.

    Of course, right now I can’t find which element(s) it appears in…

  11. “the EU—which Turkey has been trying to join since 1987”
    Explicit Atheist is correct. EU is not so popular anymore among the Turkish population.

  12. people presume to know so much, both atheists and the religious.
    “if you believe in evolution then you are an atheist…”
    how presumptive lol
    personally i’m faithful (not religious) and also fond of material science.
    the two are not exclusive of each other; and yet both are susceptible to false results and false conclusions if not treated with respect.

  13. On first spotting the headline “Turkey surpresses evolution books,” my initial reaction was: For chrissakes, now poultry are getting into this school text-book suppression nonsense, too?

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