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What is Turkey’s problem with Darwin?

The elimination of the theory of evolution from Turkey's high school textbooks seems to be the latest round in the country's century-old culture war.
Students attend a geometry class at Fatih College in Istanbul February 21, 2014. Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan, shaken by a graft scandal he says is concocted by a former ally, is fighting to secure his political future in the run up to March polls. But more than that, he sees at stake the legacy of an 11-year drive to reshape Turkey, breaking the hold of a secular, urban elite. Picture taken February 21, 2014. To match Insight TURKEY-ERDOGAN/ REUTERS/Osman Orsal (TURKEY - Tags: EDUCATION POLITICS RELIGION)
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Turkey’s National Education Ministry announced a new curriculum for secondary schools on Jan. 16. A draft of the curriculum will be discussed for a month, the ministry said, and criticisms will be taken into account before the final version is approved. Some aspects of the new curriculum, such as decreasing the amount of homework and allowing more time for play and socializing, seem like good ideas, but as usual, what made the headlines were the changes related to the culture war between Turkey's religious conservatives and secularists. Commentators from the latter camp focused primarily on the life and times of Ataturk, Turkey’s secularist founder, being given less attention. Any secularist with a broad outlook should, however, be concerned about something else: the elimination of the theory of evolution from biology textbooks.

This change appears to be a “reform” based on advice given by Egitim Bir-Sen, a conservative, pro-government education union, to the ministry. Thus, “The Beginning of Life and Evolution,” the only chapter on evolution in the pre-college curriculum, will be excised from high school textbooks. The replacement chapter will be titled “Living Beings and the Environment,” and all references to Darwinian or “neo-Darwinian” theory will be removed. In other words, a Turkish high school graduate will learn nothing about one of the most important scientific theories, the one explaining the diversity of life on Earth as the product of common descent through gradual change and natural selection.

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