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Evolution sparks controversy in Turkish schools

The reprimanding of a teacher for advocating evolution has prompted a political row in Turkey, as teachers and academics worry that the Islamic-rooted government is trying to undermine science education.

children in a school, including one with a headscarf

Turkish children don't get all their questions answered

A primary school teacher in Ankara has received an official warning for teaching evolution to an 11-year-old child, after the student's parents complained that the teacher had undermined their child's religious belief by favoring Darwinism over creationism.

According to Hurriyet Daily News, Suleyman Bicer, a teacher with 14 years of experience, was reprimanded for talking about evolution in response to a question posed by one of his students.

The head of Turkey's main teachers' union, Egitim-Sen, responded by saying that teachers were facing increasing pressure not to teach modern theories of evolution.

"The real motive behind the warning is the conflict between those who are trying to build education on a religious basis and those looking to scientific origins," Zubeyde Kilic told the daily.

the earth from outerspace

Creationists believe the universe was made by a supernatural being

Growing tensions

The education minister has so far refused to comment on the controversy. But the row has put the spotlight on growing concerns that the teaching of evolution is being increasingly undermined by the Islamic-rooted ruling AK party.

Asla Tolon, a molecular biology professor at Istanbul's Bosphorus University, says in the last few years creationism has put on the same level as evolution.

"Creationism ... should really not be in a scientific book, because this is a religious view," Tolson told Deutsche Welle.

Tolon says her students are becoming confused.

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

Fact or fiction

But critics of evolution have powerful support from much of the pro-government and religious media. Newspaper columnist Mustafa Akyol is one of those who claim that Darwinism is just one of many theories.

the evolution of man

Critics say evolution and creation should get equal class time

"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," Akyol told Deutsche Welle, adding that a fair and objective scientific education should allow evolution and its critics equal classroom time.

This latest row is fueling a much wider debate on whether the Islamic-rooted AK party is undermining the country's 88-year-old secular state. That debate is set to deepen with a general election due this June, when teachers advocating Darwin's theory of evolution will find themselves on the frontline of a deepening division in Turkey.

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul / smh
Editor: Michael Lawton

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