A Muslim Creationism Debate Taking on Darwin in Turkey

Fundamentalist Christians in America are not the only ones leading a crusade against Darwin. Creationism and "intelligent design" are becoming increasingly popular among Turkey's Muslims, too.

By in Istanbul

The man who wants to save the world goes by the name of Harun Yahya and resembles an actor from the age of silent films. He wears a white silk suit, gold cufflinks and has a finely trimmed beard on his chin. "In 20 years," he says in serious tone, "humanity will enter a golden age."

Yahya says that he discovered these joyful tidings in the Bible and the Koran. He maintains that it is a "scientific fact" that Jesus and Mahdi, the Muslim messiah, will return to mankind to solve all global conflicts. Beforehand, however, he says that these two heavenly emissaries will have to tackle another challenge: They must eradicate the heresy of British naturalist Charles Darwin, who postulated that all life arose from a process of natural selection.

As Yahya sees it, Darwinism is the root of all the world's evils. In order to help rid the world of this theory, he has had thousands of copies of The Atlas of Creation printed and shipped around the world. This large-format 800-page tome aims to prove that there never was a natural evolution of species. Instead, it contends that all forms of life on earth have remained unchanged for millions of years. Brightly colored illustrations of fossils have been included so as to document the lack of so-called transitional forms.

Yahya, 52, a onetime student of architecture, is without a doubt his country's most colorful adherent of creationism. He claims that he has already sold 8 million copies of his various books. Last year, thousands of copies of The Atlas of Creation were delivered -- on an unsolicited basis -- to schools around Europe. The identity of the person or institution footing the bill for this initiative remains unclear.

In addition to Yahya, who is currently being prosecuted "for illegal personal gain," there are other vehement opponents of evolution in Turkey. One of these is Kerim Balci, a journalist who works for the pro-government newspaper Zaman. His message: "God isn't the one who's dead; it's Darwinism."

A survey conducted in 2006 showed just how unpopular the theory of evolution remains in the most modern of all Islamic countries. The populations of 34 countries were questioned on their attitude toward the theory of evolution, and the lowest percentage of supporters was found in Turkey. Only a quarter of Turks feel that Darwin’s theory is correct. Just barely ahead of them -- in 33rd place -- were the Americans.

For Ibrahim Betil, a Turkish community activist involved in school programs, these figures stand in stark contrast with the country’s official educational policies. Unlike what's happening in a number of areas in the US, all attempts to introduce creationism into biology classes in Turkey have been blocked. Only the theory of evolution is taught "in every school, in every classroom, even in the remotest provinces."

But that could change soon. As Hüseyin Çelik, Turkey's orthodox minister of education, recently put it, Darwinism is nothing more than a "weapon of materialists and infidels." Çelik is a great admirer of the theory of "intelligent design" -- a modern version of the theory of creationism, which claims to recognize the hand of some sort of designer behind all the world’s natural laws.

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