The Surprising History of Turkey’s Creationism

A devilish Jewish conspiracy? A beloved Christian import? Recent news from Turkey builds on the surprising evolution of creationism in that country.

Here’s what we know: Alpaslan Durmus, the Turkish education minister, denounced evolution as “beyond their [students’] comprehension.” It will be removed from K-12 textbooks. Durmus explained that the government thought evolution was too “controversial;” that students “don’t have the necessary scientific background and information-based context needed to comprehend.”

Turkish education minister cuts evolution

Evolution’s out

That’s not the surprising part. After all, even when Turkish official textbooks did discuss evolution, they were hardly fair, balanced, or free of religious bigotry. According to The Financial Times, earlier Turkish textbooks warned students that Darwin “had two problems:  first he was a Jew; second, he hated his prominent forehead, big nose and misshapen teeth.” The books mocked Darwin’s lack of formal education, noting strangely that he preferred to spend his time with monkeys in the zoo.

For a while, then, Turkey’s public schools have catered to popular bigotry about evolutionary ideas. Turkey is hardly alone. Evolution is deeply unpopular in many Muslim-majority countries. According to Salman Hameed of Hampshire College, fewer than a fifth of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Pakistanis say they think evolution is true. Only eight percent of Egyptians do. Turkey is no exception. Just as in the United States, evolutionary theory is widely denounced, even if it is not widely understood. Anxious leaders curry favor with conservative religious populations by throwing Darwin under the bus.

It is not news, then, that Turkey’s government is trying to win support among religious voters by eliminating evolution from textbooks. We might be surprised, however, by the history of cross-creationist connections that have long linked Turkey’s Islamic creationists to San Diego’s Christian ones.


A worldwide flood of creationism

As historian Ronald Numbers described in The Creationists, in the mid-1980s the minister of education in Turkey wrote to the San-Diego based Institute for Creation Research. Turkey’s schools, the minister wrote, needed to “eliminate the secular-based, evolution-only teaching dominant in their schools and replace it with a curriculum teaching the two models, evolution and creation, fairly” (pg. 421).

The relationship between powerful Turkish creationists and American creationists thrived. In 1992, a Turkish creationism conference invited ICR stalwarts Duane Gish and John Morris as keynote speakers.  Professor Numbers also describes the founding in 1990 of the Turkish Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV).  In Numbers’ words, “For years BAV maintained a cozy relationship with Christian young-earth creationists, feting them at conferences, translating their books, and carrying their message to the Islamic world” (pg. 425).

However, Numbers concluded, “the partnership between the equally uncompromising Christian and Muslim fundamentalists remained understandably unstable” (425). Numbers cited the rhetoric of American creationist leader Henry Morris: “Mohammed is dead and Jesus is alive!” As Numbers noted acerbically, such talk was “hardly calculated to win Muslim friends” (425).

It’s not shocking, then, that Turkish and American creationists keep one another at arm’s length, in spite of American outreach to Turkey and lavish and expensive efforts by Turkish creationists to woo American scientists.

Here’s the last question: Will Turkey’s recent move finally convince pundits to stop saying that the United States is the only country in which creationism thrives? Will creationism finally be seen as the world-wide conservative impulse that it really is?


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  1. This goes back to a 2012 Intelligent Design conference in Turkey where the inclusion of evolution in Turkish higher education was debated.

    Since about 2004 the Discovery Institute has been actively engaged in an international, Muslim-Christian exchange of anti-Darwinist ideas, so it’s no surprise they’ve had unintended consequences erupt now. Turkish libertarian journalist Mustafa Akyol was a DI fellow for a time, and he also promoted Adnan Oktar’s Muslim creationism until they had a falling out. Akyol testified in the 2005 Kansas supreme court case on inclusion of Intelligent Design in Kansas public schools. Biola professor and DI fellow Paul Nelson has been involved in American-Turkish anti-Darwinist dialogue as well. As you know, Biola and the Discovery Institute have the same funding sources driving these projects. Oktar has started to get international notoriety as his influence spreads and his books show up in the west in French and English translations.

    Take not of Oktar’s popular TV show where Barbie-like women with advanced degrees called the “kittens” present Oktar’s idea of an ideal modern Muslim woman — Public Radio International has a 2013 story about them online with photos from Oktar’s show. It’s no accident Creationism is sexualized in this way in exaggerated, hyper-traditional gender roles. As in Asia-Pacific, Russia, and Europe Creationism has become a standard part of the repertoire of the neo-reactionary strategies for anti- or alt-modernisms.

    Most of the world believes the moon landings were faked, and much of the Islamic world sees a CIA/Zionist/Israeli conspiracy behind everything disagreeable to them. Holocaust denial is spreading in the Islamic world as well. When the western ideological and cultural mainstream is discredited and falls deep into a legitimacy crisis, this is what you get.

    • You’ve mentioned Michael Lienesch’s book In the Beginning (UNC Press, 2007) several times in the past. It notes the Discovery Institute’s “wedge strategy” document in 2006 explicitly defined an international agenda with focus on Israel, the UK, and other influential countries beyond the US. Along with Numbers’s books, Lienesch references papers on the spread of creationism in Turkey going back to the 1990s.

      The deeper history of international anti-evolutionism and young earthism is tied to the history of colonialism. The Dutch reformed churches in the Netherlands. South Africa, as well as the US and in many former colonies around the world, or places where they’ve had missionary successes have resisted “evolutionism.” They also take antifeminist and antigay teachings stances which are now argued for as their “traditional” beliefs threatened now by a new colonizer in the form of “secular liberalism” among which “Darwinism” is a gateway drug.

      Two good sources:

      The Origins of Creationism in the Netherlands: The Evolution Debate among Twentieth-Century Dutch Neo-Calvinists by Abraham C. Flipse
      Church History 81:1 (March 2012), 104–147.

      Click to access S000964071100179Xa.pdf

      The reception of geology in the Dutch Reformed tradition: the case of Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) by D. A. Young in Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 310, 289-300, 18 March 2009

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