Correspondence

Nature 445, 147 (11 January 2007) | doi:10.1038/445147c; Published online 10 January 2007

Turks fighting back against anti-evolution forces

Mehmet Somel1, Rahsan Nazli Ozturkler Somel2 & Aykut Kence3

  1. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
  2. Department of Education Science, Helmut Schmidt University, Holstenhofweg 85, 22043 Hamburg, Germany
  3. Department of Biology, Middle East Technical University, 06531 Ankara, Turkey

Sir

Your recent Special Report "Anti-evolutionists raise their profile in Europe" (Nature 444, 406–407; 2006) draws attention to the strong anti-evolution climate in Turkey, and concludes pessimistically. However, the teaching of evolution is not a lost cause in Turkey.

It is true that the situation is grave. In a recent survey of acceptance of evolution, Turkey scored the worst among 25 countries, with less than 30% of the population accepting it (J. D. Miller et al. Science 313, 765–766; 2006).

The major reason for this has been the conservative influence on education in Turkey during the past 25 years. In 1985, the then minister of education contacted creationists in the United States, a cooperation that led to the inclusion of creationism in the high-school biology curriculum and textbooks.

Furthermore, anti-evolution views are not restricted to textbooks. In a study conducted by one of us in the capital, Ankara, last year, only 47% of the 147 biology and science teachers surveyed said they accepted evolution. More disturbing is that it was accepted by significantly fewer of the young teachers and by only 26% of the 257 14-year-old students.

On the other hand, Turkish scientists have been striving to reverse this trend. It has been publicly criticized by the Turkish Academy of Sciences (www.natcenscied.org). A group of graduate students known as Evrim Caliskanlari, or 'hard-workers for evolution', has started translating the University of California, Berkeley's Understanding Evolution website into Turkish (see http://www.universitekonseyleri.org/evrimcaliskanlari).

Most forcefully, a non-governmental association, Universite Konseyleri Dernegi, has filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, demanding that creationism should be removed from textbooks and evolutionary biology should be covered appropriately in the curriculum.

The ministry has responded by asserting that darwinism is scientifically suspect — using publications by the US intelligent-design Discovery Institute for reference. It goes on to claim that developed countries are including creation-like theories in their curricula and to imply that evolution is not compatible with Turkish 'culture and values'. At this point it is unclear how the case will turn out.

If more Turkish scientists showed their support for the efforts that are being made, and put pressure on their academic bodies to take a pro-evolutionary position, this would certainly influence both the ministry and public opinion. Better late than never.

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