Turkey orders secondary schools to stop teaching evolution

June 23, 2017 • 9:15 am

According to both the Guardian and The Independentthe Turkish government, with the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has just stopped the teaching of evolution in secondary schools, saying that students in the ninth grade aren’t able to understand the idea. Although—according to a friend who teaches evolution in a Turkish university—evolution is often left out of the secondary school curriculum (as it often is in the U.S.), now it won’t be offered in any secondary schools.

According to the Guardian, the announcement was made here, and if you understand Turkish, do tell us what this guy is saying (click screenshot to go to video):

Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.

“We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

Durmuş said a chapter on evolution was being removed from ninth grade biology course books, and the subject postponed to the undergraduate period. Another change to the curriculum may reduce the amount of time that students spend studying the legacy of secularism.

. . . The subject of evolution in particular stirred debate earlier this year after Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy prime minister, described the process as a theory that was both archaic and lacking sufficient evidence.

There is no doubt why this is happening: it’s part of the increasing Islamicization of Turkey by the theocratic strongman Erdoğan, who is increasingly demolishing the secular government set up by Kemal Atatürk in favor of Muslim habits and strictures. Besides arresting 50,000 perceived opponents, arrogating more power for himself, imposing more restrictions in alcohol, and reintroducing religious (i.e., Islamic) education in schools,Erdoğan’s now attacking science education.

Since the Qur’an states that humans were created like this:

And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay
Then We place him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging
Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and we made [from] the lump bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.*

. . . and because many Muslims believe the Qur’an should be read literally, teaching evolution can be seen as anti-Islam, and few Muslim-majority countries teach it in secondary schools. (I once had a Turkish cab driver lecture to me about evolution and how the Qur’an says that humans were created, though he didn’t know I was an evolutionary biologist.)

The Guardian also reports that other secular aspects of the curriculum will be diminished, including downplaying the achievements of Atatürk, who would be spinning in his grave were he to see what Erdoğan is doing:

Reports in Turkish media in recent weeks, based on apparent leaks of school board meetings, have also predicted a diminished role in the curriculum for the study of Atatürk, and an increase in the hours devoted to studying religion. Durmuş said that a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists and history classes would move away from a “Euro-centric” approach.

The changes were based on a broad public consultation in which parents and the public played a key role, he said.

I weep for Turkey, a country I love. I was invited to Ankara this winter to speak about evolution, but didn’t go, and now I wish I had. Perhaps they’ll invite me again, and this time I’d be delighted to tell my audiences why evolution is TRUE.


*note that the words “developed him into another creation” could be taken as a kind of theistic evolution, but I haven’t seen Muslims, who usually don’t take the Qur’an as metaphor, interpret it this way.

h/t: Charleen, Ant

45 thoughts on “Turkey orders secondary schools to stop teaching evolution

  1. The ongoing Islamicization of Turkey worries me a lot. As well as all the current and future people who are going to be left without choices in life, especially women, it has the potential to destabilize the region.

    I wish I could be there when he discovers that all his efforts haven’t brought him a single virgin in any afterlife.

      1. +1 you just need to “believe” with threats of hellfire on every page of the Quran plus incessant inveighing against unbelievers. Plus Islam doesnt even leave it at that – theres explicit penalty of death for apostasy in Sahih Buhari and Muslim. Plus theres the family monitoring you and the extended clan or the community monitoring them – with command to “uphold right and forbid wrong” extending to physical punitive action. The actual.The ruler is expected to punish unbelief or heresy and individual muslims are supposed to uphold the faith in society not just themselves (e.g. Guidance of the Traveller Justice section, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong)

  2. True story: I teach at a small state college in the U.S. south. A number of our students, by no fault of their own, come to us with an array of fundamentalist Christian beliefs. About two years ago, I had a student who insisted on presenting as her final project the truth of intelligent design. I even told her that her grade would suffer for lack of credible source material, “Okay,” she said (she was being a grade-sacrificing, martyr). In an effort to help her, I let her borrow my copy of WEIT and encouraged her think critically about the topic. Not only did she ignore my advice (she stuck to her Discovery Institute source material exclusively) but she never returned my copy of WEIT; in fact, I think she destroyed it to save others from ever reading it.

    Breaking the spell sometimes seems an impossible task.

  3. Islamic forces are certainly making things worse in Turkey, but it already had a head start on decay. It is the only country in surveys that is as low or lower than USA in belief in evolution. And the situation is worse given many religious people who say they believe in evolution think it is guided evolution, by God, not surprisingly. Harun Yahya has been one factor, aided by US religious critics of evolution. Taner Edis has done much to reveal the sorry state of evolutionary theory/fact in Turkey. Here are some relevant links.



    Of course, there are even worse countries than Turkey, including ones where even surveying about evolution would be impossible given the antipathy toward the idea.

  4. This is sad and alarming.

    “…students in the ninth grade aren’t able to understand the idea.” What total bullshit.

    1. I understood it well before then, and it made so much clear sense to me that I started saving Chick tracts with the assumption that they’d be collector’s items by the time I grew up.

    2. My thought too. It doesn’t say much for Turkish education if evolution is too hard for ninth-graders.

      Perhaps not introducing it until the ninth grade is the problem. In NZ (and many other countries) we start teaching the basics in early primary school. Erdoğan should teach more evolution, not less!

  5. “a greater emphasis would be placed on the contributions of Muslim and Turkish scientists …”

    Well, while the historical sociopolitical reasons why may be lamentable, the fact is, is that the systematic development of science since the enlightenment was Euro-centric, then Western, and now more global. To de-emphasise the contributions of non-Muslim, non-Turkish scientists is to neglect the most significant advances in physics, chemistry and biology.

    It’s religious and nationalistic Lysenkoism.


    1. I’d suggest a deal: we present to Sultan Erdogan I a nice collection of contributions by Muslim and Turkish scientists (there are some before the Enlightenment, plus some our contemporaries, mostly working in infidel countries); and Erdogan I in gratitude reintroduces to Turkish schools secularism, science and particularly evolution.

      1. She’s extremely wealthy, and that’s the most important qualification to serve in the Trump cabinet.

        Remember those lists about ridiculous things Kim Jong-il said? We can compile a similar one of Trumpisms.

  6. Interestingly enough, according to Iranian Kaveh Mousavi, who blogs under that pseudonym at Patheos, evolution is taught at schools in Iran of all places. I take him to be telling the truth as he is a severe critic of the regime.

    1. That’s strange, since a friend from Iran told me that they don’t teach evolution in schools, though maybe she meant the schools she attended and not generally. Maybe it’s like the U.S in that it’s a regional thing, though she’s from Tehran which is a pretty “liberal” city by Iranian standards. Will ask about this again.

      As far as Turkey is concerned, it really is sad watching a country return to the dark ages by destroying the legacy of Ataturk who was one of the great secular visionary leaders of the early 20th century.

    2. Neil Shubin’s book has a Farsi edition

      According to Nielsen Lab last year: “The high-school curriculum in evolution in Iran appears to be at par with the education in most countries in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia”, but there’s more than one type of school system, so perhaps evolution isn’t taught in all of them. I was surprised to learn that school is single sex – I am betting [no research, no time] that the sexes are taught differently.

      I read that evolution education is banned in Saudi Arabia

        1. ” appears to be at par with the education in most countries in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia”

      1. Single-sex secondary schools were the rule in many European countries, including mine, till the mid-20th century. Culture was quite prudish at that time. I cannot imagine Iran, with its crazy laws about all things sexual, to allow mixing of teen boys and girls.

      2. I had to check with Wikipedia on Saudi Arabia. There is a reference to a paper that compares science ed in Iran and SA:

        They give a quote from a Saudi 10 grade biology text that pretty much gives the answer to how well they are doing –

        About adaptation:

        “There exist structural, functional
        and behavioral characteristics
        in organisms that
        help them to survive in their
        environment. Allah, glory to
        him, created for organisms
        those characteristics and
        structures that enable them
        to live in their different environments.”

    1. I wonder if it was the Baathists under Saddam Hussein who pressed for a secular and scientific education system? If so, that influence might be on the wane.

        1. I posted a reference to a study under comment 7 dealing with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which came from the Wikipedia under science education around the world. There are probably more references there.

  7. Mr Durmus only seems to confirm that his opinion of evolution “archaic and lacking sufficient evidence” (if not forced from him at gun point) really refers to Darwins Origin etc which were incomplete, as Darwin admitted. In fact The Origin was only a brief summation of all his gathered evidence and not a catalogue of facts and certainly cannot refer to the SCIENCE that has evolved since. Still let Turkish science go the same way as Nazi science whilst the rest of the world endeavours to keep it and all its believers within the Turkeys borders where hopefully it can do the most harm to Caliph Erdogan.
    Up to now the apathy of the West confronted by resurgent Islam has been pathetic even hinting Turkey would be welcome in the Union (which is a downright lie) and this has encouraged Turkey’s slide into neo fuedalism.
    So how long will it be before European Muslim children follow the Turkish lead and refuse en bloc to attend any biology or evolution classes and insist the Koran is taught instead?
    In my opinion this will be a bridge too far for European tolerance.

  8. I have had many international Turkish students. Even before the ascension of Erdogan, the level of most of them was too low, indicating a general collapse of secondary education. All students at our university who have objected to me about evolution, and roughly half of the students who shirked Friday classes to pray, were from Turkey. To cap it all, many male Turkish students have treated me and other female teachers arrogantly (this is indeed not unique to Turks but a tendency in pious Muslim young men in general). I am glad that our university administration finally realized that students from Turkey are not worth the trouble, and minimized their admission. So the problem is no longer our problem; but it apparently deepens.

    1. How sad this situation is and how unhappy you must feel to have to report it. I have to force myself to be optimistic and hope that eventually things will change.

    1. As a one time teacher, I can appreciate the skill of the teacher. A very good lesson indeed. I wonder how well this lesson would go over in different settings, such as in a typical Turkish or Saudi high school.

    1. Yes that was appalling. Plus he’s tried intervening in European countries – his embassy staff organising large protest rallies of Turks in favour of his legislative agenda — in Europe! and then threatening the Netherlands and German government when they objected

  9. Don’t go to Turkey, Jerry. You’ll come back in a body bag and none of us will be happy about that.

  10. The current Turkish administration may not believe in Evolution, but they are certainly doing a their part to prove that Devolution exists.

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