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December 22, 2011

Turkey Blocks Web Pages Touting Darwin's Evolution Theory

by Dorian Jones

The blocking by Turkish state authorities of Web pages advocating the theory of evolution has put the focus on wider concerns by teachers and academics that the ideas of Darwin increasingly are being undermined by the Islamic-rooted government.

Numerous web pages advocating the theory of evolution recently were deemed unsafe for children by Turkey's regulatory board controlling the Internet.

Yaman Akdeniz of Istanbul's Bilgi University is an expert on Internet freedom.

"The authorities are trying to establish one view, one morality that the youngsters of our generation should subscribe to," said Akdeniz.

Undermining evolution

The result was an outcry by the media and academics. Soon after, regulatory authorities re-instated the web pages, with the regulatory authority claiming the ban was a "clerical error." Recent media reports, however, say the evolution sites still remain blocked in schools.

The controversy is not only confined to the Internet. Professor Asli Tolon is a molecular biologist at Istanbul's Bosphorus University. She has been tracking the changes in how evolution is taught in school text books.  

Tolon said the idea of evolution increasingly is undermined by creationists who argue the world was created by God.

"Here, there is this, how life evolved. This part is quite scientific, but then right after that, it starts with the creation, the view of creation, which should really not be in a scientific book, because this is a religious view," said Tolon.

Tolon said the result of such changes are increasingly being felt by her students.

"They sometimes get the idea, that I am trying to teach them my own views. But this is not mine, because evolution is one of the basic theories," said Tolon.

Balancing the teaching


Mustafa Akyol, columnist and writer on religious affairs, said alternative theories to evolution have a place in education.

"There are some scientific facts in nature that point to a design by some intelligent being which is not a part of nature, this being might be God. This cannot be a reason to reject data just simply because it’s compatible with religion. I think a fair and objective scientific education should allow Darwin evolution and also critics of Darwin evolution," said Akyol.

Turkey's teachers are now increasingly being caught in the middle of the deepening dispute.

The country's main teaching trade union frequently complain that science teachers are facing increasing intimidation by the education ministry, local authorities controlled by the governing AK party and even religious parents.

The government has dismissed such claims. But one teacher, who did not want to give her name, said teaching evolution is increasingly difficult.

"In my school, three out of five science teachers now only teach creationism," she said, adding that she faces daily pressure from fellow teachers who are religious, and from some families of children who complain about her teaching evolution.

For teachers advocating evolution in Turkey's schools, they seem destined to be on the frontline of this ongoing struggle for the minds of the nation's young.