Spotlight: Excluding evolution theory from textbooks stirs controversy in Turkey

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-28 06:15:43|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, June 27 (Xinhua) -- A decision by Turkey's education authorities to stop teaching evolution theory, or Darwinism, in schools has stirred controversy in the Muslim country where secular opposition denounces a drift towards religious upbringing.

The debate was launched after Alpaslan Durmus, chair of the influential curriculum board of the Education Ministry, said evolution theory was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.

"We believe that these subjects are beyond their comprehension," said Durmus in a video published on the Education Ministry's website.

Durmus said a chapter on evolution theory was being removed from ninth grade biology course textbooks, 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.

This is in line with a previous decision to reduce subjects in relation with the founder of modern and secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who already made headlines last year.

The main opposition party People's republican party (CHP) denounced the recent decision which reportedly has been approved by the government and will seemingly be applied in next year's curriculum.

CHP, founded by Ataturk himself, accuses the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of pursuing to establish an Islamist society with all its depending institutions.

AKP came to power in 2002 and has imposed some restrictions that have alarmed secular circles.

The final changes are expected to be announced in the upcoming day but amendment can still be made, according to experts.

Strong references to Darwinism have long been existed in Turkey, but conservative Christians and Muslims object to this theory, arguing that life on earth was created by God in a matter of days.

In Turkey, a Muslim but secular country, this contention is fairly new compared to other Middle Eastern nations which are not secular.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus gave a first signal to the controversial move by saying on January that Darwin theory did not necessarily have to be taught in schools.

The controversial revision proposed by education authorities stipulates also that schools must have worship rooms.

The secular opposition worries that President Erdogan, who gained extensive powers after a crucial constitutional referendum in April, and his party, are reshaping Turkish society and clinging to neo-Ottoman ideals, which promotes greater political engagement of the country.

A group of Turkish academics have criticized the government's move, arguing that it will put Turkey in the same category of Saudi Arabia, where it is forbidden to teach evolution theory.

"This is unacceptable. In the modern world, countries are teaching their children to master scientific challenges and we are scrapping evolution from our textbooks," said Mehmet Balik, the head of the educational workers' union, Egitim-Is.

He argued that this new system of teaching will prevent Turkish school children from attaining international standards which they are already far from.

"We will not stand and do nothing while our schools are transformed into madrasas," he said.

Madrasas is a type of educational institution, especially religious one.

But not everybody shares his opinion.

"I want my child to learn everything that God created, I think it's a good idea it should have been implemented long ago," said Fikret, a small shopkeeper from downtown Ankara, in the residential Cankaya district.

His daughter is attending an Imam Hatip, a vocational religious high school in the neighborhood where all the girls have the hijab, the veil traditionally worn by Muslim women.

"Turkey is a Muslim country and it's normal that our children are thought at school accordingly to our religion," added Fikret.

The Quran, like the Bible, teaches that Adam and Eve were the first humans, while according to Darwinism, the theory of biological evolution by natural selection, which is developed by the English naturalist Charles Darwin, humans evolved from primates in hundreds of thousands of years.