Creationism rears its head in India

January 21, 2018 • 9:00 am

UPDATE: Reader Snowy Owl has pointed out that pushback against Singh’s anti-evolution comments have also appeared on Indian websites and newspapers (h/t: Snowy Owl). Here are two articles defending evolution:

The Hindu: “What Darwin actually said about man and apes.” (I left a comment.)

Flipboard: “If the minister’s pen, with RSS support, blots the page of textbooks, the Indian child will be at even greater risk of learning nothing in school than she already is.”

And all three major Indian science academies have denounced Singh’s statement (h/t: Vidya). Their statement:

“The Honourable  Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Shri Satyapal Singh has been quoted as saying that “Nobody, including our ancestors, in writing or orally, have said they saw an ape turning into a man. Darwin’s theory (of evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curricula.”

“The three Academies of Science wish to state that there is no scientific basis for the Minister’s statements. Evolutionary theory, to which Darwin made seminal contributions, is well established. There is no scientific dispute about the basic facts of evolution. This is a scientific theory, and one that has made many predictions that have been repeatedly confirmed by experiments and observation. An important insight from evolutionary theory is that all life forms on this planet, including humans and the other apes have evolved from one or a few common ancestral progenitors.

“It would be a retrograde step to remove the teaching of the theory of evolution from school and college curricula or to dilute this by offering non-scientific explanations or myths.

“The theory of evolution by natural selection as propounded by Charles Darwin and developed and extended subsequently has had a major influence on modern biology and medicine, and indeed all of modern science. It is widely supported across the world. See for example.”


One statistic I adduced when I lectured on evolution in India was this: Indians are about as religious as Americans, but the acceptance of evolution among Indians is substantially higher. (The statistics for India show some variance, but are consistently higher than for the U.S.) When I asked Indians why, most responded that Hindu scripture already has evolutionary concepts incorporated in it, and although those religious tenets aren’t really scientific (e.g., reincarnation), Hindus don’t, as a group, adhere to creation stories that explicitly contradict evolution.

Whether that’s the reason or not, we do see an absence in India of the kind of organized creationism that afflicts the U.S. But there’s still religious fundamentalism, and, in fact, under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with its adherence to Hindu nationalism (“Hindutva”) and the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is slowly becoming more theocratic—like Turkey. Modi is a canny right-winger who has no credible opposition in India’s Congress Party, and, I found, has garnered surprising support among not just Indians in general, but scientists. (I hasten to add that most of the scientists I met were no fans of the BJP.) One humanities scholar I met told me that the main academic opposition to the BJP comes from humanities scholars rather than scientists, who either ignore Modi or, as several told me, see him as the only prime minister who can get widespread popular support.

Last year, Erdogan’s Turkish government banned the teaching of evolution in secondary schools (see also here and here), on the dubious grounds that it’s “too complicated for students at that level.” The real reason, of course, is that Erdogan’s government is tinged with Islamic theocracy, and evolution explicitly contradicts the creation myth of the Qur’an.

What about India? Though the country is more evolution-friendly than Turkey or the U.S., the BJP has increasingly tried to manipulate science to religious ends. One striking example is India’s creation of institutes designed to prove (not to test, but to prove), that the five products of the sacred cow: dung, milk, urine, yogurt and ghee (clarified butter) are wonder substances that can cure diseases, including cancer.  This ayurvedic cure, with all these things mixed into one nostrum, is called panchagavya, and the Modi government is diverting money that could go to real science into institutes and research that, operating on confirmation bias, will prove the sacredness of the cow.

The Science Chronicle reports other disturbing incursions of faith into Indian Science (my emphasis):

On January 8, 2018, speaking during a programme at the Rajasthan University in Jaipur, the Rajasthan Education Minister Vasudev Devnani said Brahmagupta-II discovered the law of gravity a thousand years before Issac Newton.

“We all have studied that Newton gave the law of gravitation, but delving deeper, we can find that Brahmagupta-II came up with the theory of gravitation 1,000 years before (Newton). Why don’t we include this fact in the curriculum?” Devnani asked.

It was widely reported in the media and there was much furore in the social media. But the scientific community was conspicuous by its silence; there wasn’t even the slightest murmur of protest despite such rubbish being articulated by an education minister of a large State.

The scientific community’s silence shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that Karna and Ganesha were a testimony of ancient Indians’ mastery of reproductive genetics and cosmetic surgery thousands of years ago and well before the West could discover or use them. Not a single scientist challenged him.

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb,” Modi said.

Modi then went on to say: “We worship Lord Ganesha. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.”

Oy gewalt!

Evidence of advanced Indian plastic surgery?

When Indian theocrats claim the scriptures contain all that’s true in modern science, or the Prime Minister argues that an elephant-headed god is proof of early plastic surgery, Indian scientists had better start worrying. Can creationism be far behind? After all, the idea of organic evolution itself, as Darwin proposed, isn’t really in Hindu scripture.

Well, now several venues, including, reports that an education minister is denigrating evolution, and on the same ridiculous grounds used by American creationists. Here’s an NDTV news video, and an excerpt from their online report appears below that:

Yep, the education minister is touting the old creationist saw that “nobody saw evolution happen”:

Claiming that the theory of evolution put forth by naturalist Charles Robert Darwin was “scientifically wrong”, junior education minister Satyapal Singh says it should be changed in school and college text books. The minister of state for human resource development did not offer any scientific counter to the 19th century English naturalist’s theory but  said, “our ancestors haven’t mentioned anywhere that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being”.

“Darwin’s theory (of evolution of humans) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum. Ever since humans came to Earth, they have always been humans,” he told to reporters.

According to Darwin, who is regarded as the father of evolution, all organisms had a common ancestry way back time and kept on changing or evolving — a process that takes many, many years — to adapt to the change in environment.

Mr Singh, a former police commissioner of Mumbai, was in Aurangabad to attend the ‘All India Vaidik Sammelan’.

“Nobody, including our ancestors, have said or written that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being. No book we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had any such mention,” said the ex-IPS officer who took voluntary retirement to contest the 2014 general elections.

This is an education minister? Had he checked about the evidence for evolution (perhaps one book he should read is WEIT), he’d know what a stupid thing he said. And I predict that, given that the BJP is in power, this isn’t the last incursion of creationism into Indian politics.

This isn’t the first time Singh has put his metatarsals in his mouth. Flipboard reports this:

Singh recently made another claim that is part of the same trend: that a Mumbaikar named Shivkar Bapuji Talpade successfully flew an airplane eight years before the Wright brothers did by building a “mercury vortex engine” first described in the Vaimanika Shastra. “A Hindu person did it first”? Check. “It worked”? Check. “Knowledge came from ancient text”? Check.

Of course Indian scientists are appalled by what Singh said about evolution, and are now taking action. This is reported in the Science Chronicle article “At last, there’s a welcome push back by the Indian scientific community“, which reports a letter to Singh signed by several hundred Indian scientists. It’s a strong response, and ends like this:

When a minister working for Human Resource Development in the country makes such claims, it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality through critical education and modern scientific research. It also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith of the international historical research community in the genuine research by the Indian researchers.

Therefore, we urge you to retract the reported speech at the All India Vedic Sammelan with immediate effect and issue a clarification about the Ministry’s policy towards teaching the theory of evolution.

The letter is now a petition, which you can find here, and I’ve inquired whether non-Indian scientists can sign it, too. I was told “certainly.” I’ve signed it. So if you’re involved in doing science in any capacity, including learning it as a student, I’d urge you to sign the petition too (the place for signing is at the bottom of the page). It can’t hurt to let the government know that Singh is making them look ridiculous in the eyes of the world.
Next target: those stupid cow institutes!


42 thoughts on “Creationism rears its head in India

    1. Quite true. These events in India make me fear that those of us who hope for seeing someday an overwhelmingly secular world are living a delusion. Despite certain parts of the world that are becoming substantially secular, religion is far from finished. I speculate (I don’t have evidence for this) that perhaps the fast paced way the world is changing due to technological advances actually could promote religion because many if not most people experience anxiety and uncertainty as their ways of life are changing before their eyes. Psychologically, religion provides them with solace and security with its supposedly timeless truths. In the political world, demagogues provide the same affect. Perhaps evolution has not wired humans to deal with such rapid change.

      1. Good observation. It reminds me how every new invention, (microwaves, dishwashers, cell phones, tablets) immediately earns a rumored reputation for causing cancer. The rumor usually hangs around for 10 years or so, especially among cohorts of a generation that grew up without whatever-it-was, until at last it is debunked. Indeed we seem to be hardwired against change of any sort, even beneficial change, though that would seem to contradict the laws of evolution. It’s curious. 🙂 But I do hope that my child’s child can live in a world where secularism and reason are at least as prevalent as myth and superstition.

        1. It is not just in recent decades that there has been a correlation (if not cause and effect) between industrialization (technological change) and religious revival. The first half of the 19th century in the United States is a prime example. During this period a religious enthusiasm known as the Second Great Awakening swept the nation. As Ohio History Central notes:

          “The Second Great Awakening was a U.S. religious revival that began in the late eighteenth century and lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century. While it occurred in all parts of the United States, it was especially strong in the Northeast and the Midwest.”

          “By the late 1700s, many people in the U.S. no longer regularly attended church services. This occurred for several reasons. Some believed that God did not play an important role in everyday life. God was also supposedly unconcerned with a person’s church attendance; rather, God would judge the person on how he or she had lived his or her life on Earth. Other people had become too consumed with earning a living to have time to worship God. As a result of declining religious convictions, many religious faiths sponsored religious revivals. These revivals emphasized human beings’ dependence upon God.”

          Wikipedia further notes how this attitude changed in the 19th century:
          “The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant religious revival during the early 19th century in the United States. The movement began around 1790, gained momentum by 1800 and, after 1820, membership rose rapidly among Baptist and Methodist congregations whose preachers led the movement. It was past its peak by the late 1850s. The Second Great Awakening reflected Romanticism characterized by enthusiasm, emotion, and an appeal to the super-natural. It rejected the skeptical rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment.”

          “The revivals enrolled millions of new members in existing evangelical denominations and led to the formation of new denominations. Many converts believed that the Awakening heralded a new millennial age. The Second Great Awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society before the anticipated Second Coming of Jesus Christ


          During this period, industrialization with its myriad changes that it brought to society began in the United States. In particular, the coming of the railroads uprooted the pastoral view many Americans held of their society. Many years ago in graduate school I read a book on this topic called “Machine in the Garden” by Leo Marx.

          Wikipedia describes this book thusly:


          Marx identifies a major theme in literature of the nineteenth century—the dialectical tension between the pastoral ideal in America and the rapid and sweeping transformations wrought by machine technology. This tension is expressed “everywhere” in literature by the recurring image of the machine in the garden—that is, the sudden and shocking intrusion of technology into a pastoral scene. “Within the lifetime of a single generation,” Marx writes, “a rustic and in large part wild landscape was transformed into the site of the world’s most productive industrial machine. It would be difficult to imagine more profound contradictions of value or meaning than those made manifest by this circumstance. Its influence upon our literature is suggested by the recurrent image of the machine’s sudden entrance onto the landscape”


          Of course, since the first half of the 19th century technological advance has proceeded apace. Religion has not died away although its attraction has ebbed and flowed. The specter of automation and robots taking away millions of good paying jobs may lie in the near future, if not already here. Religion may be what people turn to for relief against a world that has destroyed their economic security.

          In summary, the hypothesis I am suggesting is that rapid social and technological change can be a boon for religion.

          1. Unfortunately, I woke up with the radio on, turned to my local Public Radio station — Krista Tippet was interviewing Kevin Kelley of Wired Mag., and I was treated to this by KK: who said this, which certainly seems to be in accord with your hypothesis: “We have a moral obligation to increase the amount of technology in the world, the amount of possibilities. And that’s sort of what technology is doing over time. That’s its role, is to increase the variety, the diversity, the options, and the possibilities that we have so that anybody who is born would be able to surprise God. And so I think that’s what it is — it’s a way of generating surprises. And that’s the spiritual dimension of technology. It makes that much more likely.”

          2. Kelley is the boxer. Kevin Kelly has a book out called “The Inevitable” in which he lists 12 forces that will shape the next 30 years. His last 3 are as follows:

            [10] Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
            [11] Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
            [12] Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix

            I only read THE WIKI so I don’t know if he’s looking forward to such a World or merely predicting it.

          3. Thanks for the correction. Whichever way he spells his name, I wouldn’t want to be in that world.

          4. Incidentally, I’d add that I bought a copy of Robbins’ _History of Economic Thought_ on a lark once and found it a valuable companion to the philosophy (and hence indirectly, as a resource, history) of technology I do sometimes.

    1. Indeed. And were it not for our federal courts, religion no doubt would be encroaching on science in US schools. Vive le First Amendment!

      1. The answer to that little road block has already been overcome. Charter Schools, private schools and religious schools. All paid for in one form or the other by our taxes. The public school with no religious incursion is on the endangered list.

        1. Yes, and I hope for the day when SCOTUS overrules its 2002 5-4 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, and holds that the use of any governmental money to support religious schools violates the First Amendment’s Establishment clause. Of course, if Trump were to get the opportunity to nominate a replacement for Justice Ginsburg, those hopes would be dashed for the foreseeable future.

  1. Signed as a citizen of the United States. This is news to me but I am not that surprised. I also didn’t realize just how seriously they take the sacredness of the cow.

  2. In 2008, India launches itself into the space age with Chandrayaan-1 and 2018 it launches itself back into the stone age with it’s own creation “science”. Disappointed but not surprised. Hinduism may be more interesting than Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, but it’s no less stupid. I’ll go sign, for whatever it’s worth.

  3. Signed as a teacher/school social worker in Germany.

    Some Hindu fanatics deny the moon landings too, because, the Gods that live there would have shooed them off.

  4. Not a comment on the article, per se, but on articles in general. Sometime in the very recent past, I lost the ability to jump to the “Comments” page of an article. My RSS reader (Vienna) used to show a link to the comments at the end of each article. Now it’s gone and I’m missing the back-and-forth. I contacted Vienna and they reported back that they have no support for the “wfw:commentRss” tag that should create that link (I think). In any case, has there been a change recently on the WordPress end? Is this too technical a question for this feed?

    1. I see you posted on their forum & reading what you wrote I see my carefully composed advice would have been useless. 🙂

      Assuming you haven’t done something with a blocker that’s effecting Vienna…

      My only suggestion [which might be stupid advice since I know nothing about Mac nor WordPress] is you put other sites that have enabled comments into your RSS & see if the problem is only at WEIT. Make sure your test sites are NOT self-hosted


    2. Incidentally Dave. As of today WEIT is slow to completely load for me in my usual browser, but absolutely fine in a newly installed browser. No changes in the old browser, but perhaps a corrupted cookie – so I’m going to experiment with deleting the WordPress cookie & log back in.

      Perhaps your WEIT isn’t fully loading in your Vienna RSS

    1. Both an ex-police commissioner & a “Dr.” – he is a PhD in Public Administration. His Wiki is buggered about with, there is says he’s got a PhD in Naxalism HERE

  5. Unfortunately I cannot sign that. It makes unwarranted – and to me unknown – religious claims on “Vedic traditions through the Mimamsa discipline”. (A lesser problem is those claims is its vehicle into a smidgen of accommodationism, I could stomach that for a good purpose.)

  6. The above Indian science academy rebuttal finished with a link to the official position from our own National Academy of Sciences. There, one finds a nice, digestable summary of how evolution is both a fact and a theory, but I remember considerable discontent about other things in their site from several years ago. Sure enough, clicking on the link in there to another link on compatibility of science and religion, one finds another page full of gooey pablum that glosses over the conflict. It includes the statement “Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith.”

  7. This education minister is an idiot. The first five Avatars of Vishnu are fish, turtle, boar, hallf lion-half human and human. The Anjaneya or Hanuman is an ape God revered by millions. The time scale of Hindus both cyclical and long, for example the Universe has a period of 8.5 billion years, known as Kalpa. The Kaliyuga started on Feb 18, 3012 as determined by Aryabhatta on the basis of conjunction of all five planets known then.AT very high levels of Hindu metaphysics there is no creation. The universe emerges from Sunya (nothing). No creator. Emergence, Growth and Dissolution are three phases of the Universe. Some believe Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are associated with these three phases. Hindus are seekers. They are not believers. There is no God in Hinduism like in other religions. Long time slavery under Muslims (800 years) and Christians(200 years) created a Stockholm syndrome. They incorporated GOD into their thinking copying the ruling classes.But people worship many gods in many forms.This is not God- it is Brahmam manifesting in every object in the universe. Brahmam is not God. Upanishads say we can not define Brahmama and we don’t know what is Brahmam. Atheists are given choice to express their opinions. Kapil wrote Sankhya Yoga, a philosophy, one of the six darshans, dispensing with God.

  8. Signed with my titles, will share on social media.

    I remember hearing about Hindu creationism, according to which humans were specially created in the Ganges valley; where else? Does anyone have details?

  9. In context, there is good reason to believe that Modi’s statement on plastic surgery was just a joke. That plastic surgery (more precisely, rhinoplasty) was known in ancient India is not a fringe opinion, it is instead the established majority opinion in the relevant fields, the disputes being more on the issue of when and by whom was it was transmitted out of India. See, e.g., There would be no reason for anyone to adduce mythology to support a well established historical fact.

    Similarly, there is nothing wrong with the statement that Brahmagupta knew of gravitation either. It is also not that remarkable: some ancient Greeks also commented upon the idea that the Earth attracts all things. Here is a commentary from Alburuni (who visited India a few centuries after Brahmagupta) on these ideas:

    What Issac Newton discovered was not gravity, but the inverse square law. This was a *major* advance over anything that had been known before, but it is wrong to believe that he was the first to discover gravity. It is similar to the erroneous belief that Europeans at the time of Columbus had doubts about the shape of the Earth: in reality the spherical shape had been well known to the Greeks, the Indians and the Arabs for several centuries by that time.

    It is interesting that such misinformed comments from politicians also serve to bring out the more subtle misinformation about the history of science that seems to be widely prevalent in the media.

    1. In your link, Alburuni says”..all heavy things fall to the earth by nature, for it is the nature of the earth to attract and keep things, as it is the nature of water to flow..”
      With its false implication that earth exerts a gravitational force and water does not, this is very far from Newton’s law of universal gravity.

      1. For the record, there is no such implication in that quotation.

        The great thing about Newton’s “universal gravity” is the not the “universal” part. It is the precise mathematical form that this “universal gravity” takes, i.e., the inverse square law. Just the word “universal” would not be a major advance over what was know; but his inverse square law allowed him to explain essentially all observational astronomy up to that point.

        1. The “universal” was an advance, however, since it was commonly held that air and fire have “levity” and earth and water have “gravity”. (This is not exactly Aristotle – I don’t know where it originated.) Galileo and Descartes criticized it, needless to say, before Newton. Newton was able to show why they were right.

    2. Spin, Spin, Spin! What a strange post!

      I’ll deal with only one of your ‘spins’ for now [gotta go shop] You write: “Similarly, there is nothing wrong with the statement that Brahmagupta knew of gravitation either.” Well that’s nice 🙂 – I’m sure Brahmagupta’s mum “knew of gravitation” too!

      You are diverting from what Devnani claimed:

      “We all have studied that Newton gave the law of gravitation, but delving deeper, we can find that Brahmagupta-II came up with the theory of gravitation 1,000 years before (Newton). Why don’t we include this fact in the curriculum?”

      That is a much stronger claim than “Brahmagupta knew of gravitation”

      Brahmaguptu-II is a rightly celebrated mathematical astronomer, but he had nothing notable to say about gravity & doesn’t deserve accolades for that! The very common observation that objects are attracted to Earth does not equate to ‘discovering’ gravity for I can claim in fun that “his Mum knew it too”.

      On the other hand what Newton discovered was universal gravitation – that any two objects in the Universe exert gravitational attraction on each other, with the force having a universal form. The universality of Newton’s gravitation, in heaven & on Earth, is his central, startling achievement.

      The notable Indian Aryabhata who preceded Brahmegupta by approx 100 years is worth a look

      1. It is usually a good idea to assume good faith.
        I hold no brief for what Mr Devnani did or did not say.

        I do however maintain that Newton’s main contribution, which is often sidelined in popular accounts, is the *inverse square law*. This explained in one shot a whole lot of observations several astronomers of several civilizations over several millennia, culminating in those of Brahe, had recorded. Newton was not the first to think of gravity. But he was the first to recognize the inverse square law and its implications, and that is what makes him an all-time great (among several other later contributions). Popular media accounts, on the other hand, usually end up emphasizing an story about an apple. It is this trivialization of history of science that I am against.

        If you are genuinely interested (the uncalled for snark in your post leads me to fear otherwise, but apologies if that fear is misplaced) in the history of science, I would suggest you really take a serious look at Brahmagupta. By all accounts he was a much more accomplished mathematician than even Aryabhata, and did pioneering work in several areas. Here I will just refer to what is considered a crowning achievement of medieval number theory: the Chakravala method that he developed to solve what is today called the Pell’s equation.

      2. Also, just to correct an error that appears both in Mr Devnani’s quoted comments and in your post: there is no mathematician in Indian history who is referred to as “Brahmagupta-II”: there was only one of them, c. 600CE 🙂

        Perhaps both you and Mr Devnani have another great, Bhaskara II in mind.

  10. It’s sad to see Indians going backwards due the influence of religion. I am amazed how accurate you have been in reporting the stories. Thank you for doing this. I am an Indian now living in Melbourne and I am an ardent reader of your blogs.

  11. [sigh]

    India, a country with a great scientific and philosophical tradition, like the US, and yet like the US in so many wrong ways too !

    (Not that my country Canada is completely immune to idiocy of this kind, but we are also less eminent.)

  12. Why is it that those refuting evolution always demand a ‘proof’ (from a crocoduck to a monkey transforming into a human) of evolution that would actually disprove
    evolution by NS?

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