RNCSE 19 (6)

Articles available online are listed below.

Geologists Explain Evolution

On December 16, 2000, geologists at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco held a special session entitled "Explaining Evolution". It was a spectacular success, if we can judge from the attendance — standing room only for the whole morning. The atmosphere was charged, with an attentive audience, which included at least one vocal creationist, John R Baumgardner from the Fluid Dynamics Program of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Brent Dalrymple, the author of that well-known text The Age of the Earth, began by discussing "The Creation/Evolution Issue: Why Should Earth and Space Scientists Care?" He pointed out that young-earth creationists (YECs) include the history of the earth in their definition of evolution. They try to accommodate the expansion of the universe and radiometric dating within their 10,000-year time frame by arguing that, since the Fall of Adam, the speed of light has increased by a factor of 200 million and radioactive decay constants have increased by a factor of 750,000. These requirements in turn force Planck's constant to increase by many orders of magnitude. All of this would lead to a universe that does not work. For example, before the Fall, each atom undergoing radioactive decay would have released energy equivalent to that of an exploding tactical nuclear weapon.

During the question period, the first response was from John Baumgardner. He began by saying that as a committed Christian he was insulted by Dalrymple's characterization of creationists. He expressed his disappointment that the AGU had not invited speakers to present creationist arguments. His exchanges with Dalrymple became quite heated. This made me apprehensive that he would later come after me because in my presentation I would use a slide making fun of one of Baumgardner's sillier ideas — that giant whirlpools on the continents allowed dinosaurs and other large animals to survive until late in Noah's flood, thus explaining why their fossils occur high in the geologic column.

Readers may remember that Baumgardner was featured in the article entitled "The Geophysics of God" in US News & World Report in June 1997 (see RNCSE 1997; 17 [3]: 29-32). He was attending the AGU meeting as the co-author of 4 papers concerning dynamic modeling of the Earth's mantle. However, none of his papers gave even a hint of applicability to a creationist paradigm, whether YEC or any other sort. So it is difficult to see how the results he presented could produce the changes in the values of physical parameters necessary to make plate tectonics happen in 6000 years.

Leo Laporte, a paleontologist from the University of California at Santa Cruz, then talked about "Darwinian Descent with Modification". He made 4 points about the paleontological record: (1) fossils are remains of once-living organisms; (2) fossils occur in rock sequences in temporal order; (3) the absolute ages of these sequences can be determined from radiometric dating; (4) the fossil record provides many examples of transformation of anatomical features through time — for example, the transition from amphibians to reptiles, the evolution of mammalian ear ossicles, and so on. He ended by summarizing his credo that it is the methodology of science that matters, rather than its content.

Baumgardner responded by stating that evolution is not supported by paleontology and challenged Laporte to state his epistemology. Laporte repeated his scientific credo. Baumgardner pressed him again. Eugenie Scott interjected that they were at cross-purposes because Baumgardner was not distinguishing between epistemology and metaphysics. Although scientists should share a common epistemology, she said, they can hold widely different metaphysical positions.

John Hafernik, a molecular biologist from San Francisco State University, then spoke on "Testing Evolutionary Hypotheses: Application of New Developments in Computing and Molecular Biology". His talk was about the advantages of using molecular data for evolutionary studies. Genetic data can be obtained from all kinds of organisms. It provides direct measures of amounts and rates of divergence as well as a nearly unlimited number of characters to analyze. His examples included cladograms of chipmunks and carp.

Lee Allison, the Director of the Kansas Geological Survey, followed with a talk on "Stealth Creationism: The Assault on Teaching Evolution in Kansas". He reviewed for us the political background to the Kansas State Board of Education decision to drop evolution from the state science standards. He pointed out the strong ties between the Board of Education and the conservative wing of the Republican Party of Kansas, and the influence on the Board's actions exerted by the Creation Science Association of Mid-America. He outlined the actions being taken by the Kansas Citizens for Science to redress the decision. I felt that this was an excellent background to my talk later in the morning.

John Geissman, from the University of New Mexico and a member of the AGU Committee on Public Affairs, spoke about "Teaching Geosciences: Challenges and Opportunities". This talk was mostly about how he handles the issue of creationist challenges in teaching large freshman college classes on physical geology. I feel that, although it is important to treat this issue judiciously at the college level, the main challenges lie in the K-12 arena.

Robert Hazen, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the author of the popular book Science Matters, gave a talk on "Teaching the Teachers About Evolution and the Nature of Science: Lessons from the NRC's Working Group on Teaching Evolution". As the title suggests, he was a member of the National Research Council committee that produced the 1998 publication Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. His paper was perhaps the most philosophical presentation. He posed the question "Are science and religion completely separate domains of knowledge?" He suggested that the issues are not black and white. Many religious beliefs are informed by empirical fact, and we should use the scientific method to decide empirical issues.

My talk considered a more limited, but more practical question, "Should We Teach Both Evolution and Creationism?: The Case of the Grand Canyon". After reviewing the fairness issue, I posed the question "If we were to give equal time, what textbooks would we use?" I took the geology and paleontology of the Grand Canyon as my test case, quoting liberally from the writings of YECs Gary Parker, Steven Austin, and Larry Vardiman (who cites Baumgardner on whirlpools). I showed how their interpretations were totally at variance with the standard geological interpretations. I suggested that the burden of proof lies with the creationists. Discussing various published pieces of creationist research on the Grand Canyon, I argued that they are wrong, trivial, or irrelevant. Giving equal time to creationism requires us to teach bad science (and, in my opinion, bad religion).

The concluding talk, by NCSE's Eugenie C Scott, was on "Evolution and the American Public: Perceptions Differ Outside the World of Science". She reviewed the 3 reasons why YEC has such a hold in the US (in contrast to more enlightened countries such as my own — the UK). First, the early European settlers were congregational rather than hierarchical. In the early years of this century, fundamentalism and biblical ignorance rose to the fore. Second, unlike in the rest of the world, the US has a decentralized educational system. Third, in the US there is a cultural imperative of fairness, exploited by the YECs. Having had their efforts to require equal time in the classroom thwarted by the courts, they are using different tactics, such as influencing textbook adoptions, banning the teaching of evolution, and proposing "intelligent design theory" as the thin leading wedge to open up academia to anti-evolutionary thinking.

The formal lecture session was followed by a 90-minute strategy workshop on "Promoting Good Science: Countering Creationism in Public Schools", at which Eugenie Scott was the principal speaker. We were given an excellent notebook prepared by the AGU Public Affairs Office full of good advice. All the front-line troops fighting this battle should have this ammunition.

John Baumgardner continued his vocal opposition. He criticized the Public Affairs committee of the AGU for providing a forum for the National Center for Science Education, which he said he regards as an "extremist organization". On the other hand, I would have been most vociferous if the AGU had provided a forum for the Institute for Creation Research to hold a workshop on "Countering Evolution".

Interested readers can examine the abstracts of the papers in this session on the AGU web page at http://www.agu.org. Follow the links through "Meetings, 1999 Fall Meeting, FM99 Programs & Abstracts On-line". To examine the abstracts in the "Explaining Evolution" session, click on keyword EP41A (the code for the evolution session).

About the Author(s): 

Wilfred A Elders
Riverside CA
E-mail: welders@pe.net

Geologists Explain Evolution
Wilfred A Elders
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Minnesota Teacher Sues District Over Evolution

Rodney LeVake was teaching middle school science in Faribault, Minnesota, about 60 miles south of Minneapolis, when he applied for a fall 1997 biology teaching position at the Faribault high school. Because of district policies favoring in-district transfers of teachers with the appropriate credentials, he soon got the job.

According to other teachers at the high school, LeVake "was openly professing his Christianity. He would argue things from a fundamentalist point of view" (Leiblich 1999). His colleagues became uneasy about his approach to evolution, which was decidedly negative. The science chair at the high school, biologist Ken Hubert, talked with LeVake and decided that he needed to meet with the principal and the district science coordinator to discuss how he was teaching the class.

During that meeting, LeVake claimed he was willing to teach evolution, but also wanted to teach the "evidence against evolution". The administrators requested that he prepare a white paper that would describe more precisely what he intended to teach. This document presented the following points (among others):

"[N]either evolution or creation can be considered a science because neither are [sic] observable at the present."
"[P]roponents of either interpretation must accept it as a matter of faith."
"The process of evolution itself is not only impossible from a biochemical, anatomical, and physiological standpoint, but the theory of evolution has no evidence to show that it actually occurred."

LeVake also expressed opinions familiar to readers of creationist literature:

"the amazing lack of transitional forms in the fossil record."
"the mutation changing a leg into a wing could [not] be beneficial for the creature who possessed it."
"The theory of evolution is in clear violation of [the Second Law of Thermodynamics]."
"Natural selection occurs, but it is inadequate to produce 'macroevolution'" [by which LeVake means descent with modification].
"Homology is the study of similar organs/structures on different creatures that have the same function. It has been discovered that they arise from different locations on the DNA sequence."

He also gave a long list of examples of the "incredible complexity" that supposedly cannot be explained by evolution, and which are part and parcel of creationist objections to evolution, including:

"The structure of the microscopic bacterial flagella [sic]."
"The woodpecker's tongue and shock absorber."
"The complete metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly."

LeVake recommended Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial, and Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, "although I have not personally read the last two books listed as of yet...."

LeVake claimed he would teach evolution, but somehow never got around to it during his first year of teaching. The district has a detailed curriculum for biology instruction, involving the showing of several videos as well as class lectures, laboratories, and assigned reading. Administrators decided that for the 1998–1999 school year, LeVake would be re-assigned to teaching a course in which evolution is not a component: freshman general science. In May 1999, LeVake sued the district in Minnesota state court — as he put it to a reporter, to "get his course back".

LeVake's complaint claims that the district discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs (see RNCSE 1999; 19 [3]: 24–6). He alleges that the district restricted his employment because of his "adherence or non-adherence to certain religious or philosophical beliefs". He also argues, as have creationist plaintiffs before him, a free speech right to teach what he wants. He asks the court to direct "that the district's policy, of excluding from biology teaching positions persons whose religious beliefs conflict with acceptance of evolution as an unquestionable fact, to be unconstitutional and illegal under the US and Minnesota Constitution." He requests $50 000 compensation and court costs.

LeVake has some deep-pocketed allies behind him. His lawyer, Francis J Manion, works for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a Religious Right organization that views the First Amendment, to put it mildly, quite differently than does the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLJ is a spin-off of Christian evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. At the Christian Coalition's October 1999 annual meeting, chief legal counsel Jay Sekulow described LeVake's re- assignment as an example of "educational McCarthyism" (Lieblich 1999). The LeVake case was the topic of a CNN Newsline program broadcast in March 2000.

In earlier lawsuits in Illinois (Webster v New Lennox) and California (Peloza v San Juan Capistrano), teachers sued their districts over the issue of creationism. LeVake's attorneys take a somewhat different tack by discussing not "creationism" but the neocreationist "evidence against evolution". They may not have an opportunity to introduce this "creationism lite" into the courts, since the school district is approaching the case from the standpoint of employment law. It is the responsibility of the defense attorney to make the best possible case for his client, and much case law supports both the right of a district to determine curricula and the contractual responsibility of a teacher to teach the district-mandated curriculum. The district's position is that LeVake was re-assigned because he did not follow the district curriculum for high school biology. Of course, LeVake could have been fired, but he was merely re-assigned to a course that did not generate the same sort of conflict for him.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in June, though defendants have requested a summary judgment.


Leiblich J. Teacher wants to debunk evolution in school. The Detroit News (Associated Press wire story), October 15, 1999.
Minnesota Teacher Sues District Over Evolution
Eugenie C. Scott
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"Creation Museum" Moves Forward

On March 5, 2000, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the end of a 3-year battle to oppose the construction of a "creation museum" in Boone County (see RNCSE 1999; 19 [2]: 5). Answers in Genesis (AIG), the evangelical Christian ministry headed by Ken Ham, is poised to start building the 95 000–square-foot museum/headquarters close to Big Bone Lick State Park, a state park rich in geological and paleontological resources near the state´s border with southern Ohio. AIG had failed to obtain permission to build a museum on a site even closer to the famous fossil site, after meeting opposition from county officials and a coalition of concerned scientists and area residents (see RNCSE 1996; 16(4): 1, 8–9).

Local opposition continued when AIG applied for a zoning variance at a new location, but the last roadblock was removed in February 2000, when a Kenton County judge ruled that there had been no conflict of interest on the part of a zoning commissioner who has ties to the organization and voted in favor of granting a zoning variance to build the museum. Opponents of the proposal will not appeal the decision.

Answers in Genesis staff anticipate that construction will begin in 2001 and that the first exhibits will open in 2002. AIG officials told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the museum will be filled with the kinds of exhibits that are in natural history museums, such as dinosaur replicas, fossils, and a DNA exhibit, but they will be presented as a walk-through history of the world from a biblical perspective. (AIG recently acquired a walk-through model of a cell and other exhibits from a bankrupt science center in Baltimore.)

For a report on the AIG reaction to the story, readers can connect to the AIG web site, http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/4233news3-6-2000.asp

[Details of this story are available at the web site of the Cincinnati Enquirer, http://enquirer.com/editions/2000/03/05/loc_opponents_of_genesis.html.]

"Creation Museum" Moves Forward
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Islamic Scientific Creationism

At the time that "Creation Science: A Successful Export?" was published in RNCSE (Matsumura 1998), there was an notable debate among intellectuals, scientists, lay people and fundamentalist Islamists concerning Islamic scientific creationism in Turkey. Since the early 1990s, the Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV) has undertaken a new mission of spreading an Islamic version of scientific creationism in Turkey, the ideology of which was mainly imported from the US. However, it was not until late 1998 that many scientists and academics, as well as Turkish science institutions, such as TUBITAK (the Turkish Scientific and Technical Research Council) and TUBA (the Turkish Academy of Sciences), protested the pseudoscience of BAV and published declarations against Islamic scientific creationists. To understand better the Islamic scientific creationism movement in Turkey, it is expedient to review the history of the Turkish Republic and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey.

The Turkish Republic: A Unique Democratic and Secular Islamic Country

Turkey is one of the few secular and democratic Muslim countries. Ninety-nine percent of the population is said to be Muslim — although the definition of "being Muslim" in Turkey makes it unlikely that all of these Muslims practice orthodox Islam. In most of the other Islamic countries, Sharia, Allah's Law for Muslims, dominates the constitution and the legal system, so that the state and the religion are united. Separation of the state and religion remains alien and unrealistic to such countries. In contrast with the constitutions in many other Islamic states, the Turkish Constitution forbids the religious laws from dominating government and society and requires that the state and religion be separated (Article 2, Turkish Constitution [revised in 1982]).

The Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and a period of revolution and reformation led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who became Turkey's first president. When the new republic was formed, the government took many precautions to prevent Islam from being as influential in governance as it was during Ottoman times. Among these reforms were replacing the Arabic alphabet with the Roman alphabet, which is more suited to expressing the Turkish language; granting equal rights to women; and reforming education, including the elimination of compulsory religion courses and the introduction of evolution theory as an important part of the biology curriculum. Prayers once recited only in Arabic were translated into Turkish, so that everyone could understand them; religious education based in extremist sectarian centers called Tekkes, Tariqas, and Zaviyes was banned; and a new legal system based on a European model was adopted. In 10 years (1923-1933), a new modern Western country, with a new identity and ideology, was quickly created from an oriental empire. There was a clear-cut shift in the whole state precept, including secularism.

When Atatürk died in 1938, there were still many other reforms of governmental and cultural affairs to be finished, for the improvement of the new country. After 1950, the Enlightenment-based ideals and reforms of the revolution started to decline. Right-wing and conservative cliques and political parties were ready to exploit the weaknesses of the inexperienced government. Some of the social changes and civil rights attained by the revolution in 1923 were lost. Some politicians appealed to the uneducated and illiterate majority of Turks, who were still very religious and strongly influenced by local religious authorities (Sheiks and Mullahs), who promised a return to the good old Ottoman days. This turmoil continued until the military coup in 1960. A new constitution based on a Western legal system was approved in 1961, which banned efforts to support the establishment of a non-secular religious state based on Sharia Law.

Despite this setback, fundamentalist self-assertion continued into the 1970s. Various fundamentalist parties founded and headed by Necmettin Erbakan were able to attract as much as 9% of the vote, while other right-wing parties also continued to appeal to religious sentiments in order to attain power. In 1980 a right-wing junta headed by Kenan Evren took power, warning of the threat of communism. This was a milestone for the fundamentalists and extreme religious groups, which started to gain even more power. Soon Evren was succeeded by Turgut Özal, an active member of a religious order.

Fundamentalist groups organized within the government, in the bureaucracy, in the armed forces, and among the public, while the secularist, leftist opposition was suppressed. During the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of writers, scientists, journalists, and ordinary people suffered years of imprisonment for criticizing Evren's regime. During this period, no critique of or comment on the possible consequences of the deeds of the government was allowed, since this would be considered a thought crime — the equivalent of being involved in a conspiracy against the Republic, and being a separatist or even a communist. The fundamentalist vote increased to about 20% through the 1990s before declining to 16% in 1999. The main aim of one of these fundamentalist parties (known as the Welfare [Refah] Party), as stated many times by Erbakan and other party members in public talks, was to establish a theocratic and Sharia-based state (as in Iran or Afghanistan) through civil war and to promote Jihad (religious war).

By the late 1990s, things began to change. On February 28, 1997, the National Security Council responded to the fundamentalists and took steps to protect the constitution and the secular-democratic structure of the state by issuing a strong declaration that the Turkish military would protect the constitution and its secular and democratic system by any means necessary. The government toppled, and in 1998, the supreme court revoked Erbakan's senatorship and disbanded the Welfare Party. A few months later, the fundamentalists re-organized under the name of the Virtue (Fazilet) Party.

The Islamic version of "scientific creationism", as promoted by BAV, sprang up and gained power under these circumstances in the early 1990s, with the support of the Islamic fundamentalists and radical Islamic sects (tariqas).

Islam and Creationism

The Qur'an, like the Bible, accepts the creation of the universe, the earth, and life on earth by Allah (the God of Muslims) in 6 days. According to Islamic sources and the Qur'an, Allah created the soil first, then the mountains, light, and the animals, and then Adam (Qur'an: Hjcr 26-29; Zumar 6; Ta Ha 116-119; Baqarah 31-34, 36-37; A'raf 19; also see Arsel 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1999; Dursun 1992). Adam is created from the soil. However, scholars acknowledge that the Qur'an has been modified and rewritten through the centuries (Lebster 1999; Dursun 1992).

The Qur'an accepts the divine validity of the information presented in the sacred books of Jews and Christians; consequently the creation accounts in the other sacred books are also accepted by the Qur'an. In the Qur'an, the description of Adam and Eve's adventures in Eden is not as detailed as it is in Genesis, but it is obvious that the creation story in the Qur'an was influenced by Genesis. However, the Qur'an provides no basis on which to estimate the age of the earth, in contrast to the scriptural accounts that form the basis of much of Christian "scientific creationism".

Science in Islamic Culture

In Islam, philosophers use the word ilm to refer to science in the broader sense of human knowledge, which can accommodate religious as well as natural studies. In contrast, the Western tradition sees science as a valuable way of describing and predicting the natural world without reference to any religious precepts. Christian fundamentalists promoting "creation science" cloak religious precepts in the trappings of science because of the pre-eminence of scientific method in Western countries. However, such an approach was rare in Islamic countries, where science emerged in a different cultural and religious context-that is, until BAV arose as an Islamic missionary to become the Muslim champion of "scientific creationism" in Turkey and in other Islamic countries.

BAV's activities are integrally connected to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey, where secularism and science have become rooted to some extent and more strongly established than in many other Islamic countries (Sayin 1998a, 1998b; OECD Report 1996). In the style of the Institute for Creation Research, BAV is now trying to supply "scientific" data to the public that, it proposes, proves the religious accounts of the creation, instead of appearing to appeal strictly to dogmas or sacred books.

Even though the Qur'an describes the creation of life on earth as a purposeful action by Allah, some Muslim philosophers have defended evolutionary ideas based on the notion of the Great Chain of Being. This interpretation is similar to that advanced by Christian theistic evolutionists, who claim that evolution is also created by God. One such philosopher was Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who proposed an evolutionary theory in which created life originated from minerals, evolved into plants, and then evolved into animals.

Ibn Khaldun wrote:
It should be known that we — May God guide you and us — notice that this world with all the created things in it has a certain order and a solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless. ...Each one of the elements is prepared. It started out from minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants...The last stage of plants is connected with the first stage of animals. ... The word "connection" with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group (Ibn Khaldun 1967: 194-5).
Ibn Khaldun is also one of the philosophers who suggested that humans evolved from apes:
The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and to reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man after the world of monkeys. This is as far as our physical observation extends (Ibn Khaldun 1967: 195).
Al-Afghani (1839-1897), who initially opposed the theory of evolution, later accepted it, proposing that Muslim thinkers preceded Darwin in advocating the theory of evolution (Bezirgan 1972).

There is considerable room for interpretation within Islam as to the date of the Creation, since there are no explicit statements about it in the Qur'an as there are in the Bible. Other aspects of the Qur'an afford room for interpretation as well. In one place in the Qur'an, a single day is said to correspond to 1000 years, yet in another verse, a day is said to correspond to a period of 50 000 years (Edis 1994). Thus geological time scales do not disturb the Muslim conception of creation (Edis 1999). It is also interesting that those contradictions and many uncertainties in the Qur'an do not disturb Muslims, and the interpretation of the surahs (parts of the Qur'an) can vary depending upon the circumstances or the reader (see Dursun 1992; Arsel 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1999).

Teaching Religion, Creationism, and Evolution in High School in Turkey

During the Ottoman Period (13th-20th centuries CE), Medreses — Ottoman schools for teaching science and religion, roughly equivalent to sectarian religious universities in the West — taught Islam and the Qur'an as a part of the official curriculum; science was seen as a small part of religious education. It was not only compulsory to learn the Qur'an, but also to believe it under penalty of imprisonment, exile, or execution by order of Sharia judges. There was no tolerance for contradictions between science and creation according to the Qur'an. Ottoman religious authorities banned printing presses and kept Ottomans isolated from the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment until late in the 18th century.

When the Turkish Republic was established in 1923, the whole education system was reformed from high school to the universities. Atatürk himself wrote some chapters in the famous Tarih ve Medeni Bilgiler (History and Civilized Knowledge) textbook for high schools, which defended evolution, materialism, and Western science (Afetinan 1968; Perincek 1994). The participants in the reforms of the Turkish Revolution included intellectuals, scientists, politicians, law professors, and so on, who were educated in Europe (especially France and Germany). Between 1928 and 1948, books about quantum theory, relativity, evolution, Western literature, and modern and classical art were translated into Turkish by the government and delivered to people for free or at low cost. Creationism and compulsory religious instruction were nonexistent in the education system of Turkey during this period.

Under the rising influence of the fundamentalist party of Erbakan through the 1970s, the right-wing governments made religion courses, as well as the recitation of prayers in high schools, compulsory once again. Memorizing and reciting Arabic prayers became obligatory in the 1980s. Thousands of Qur'an courses followed, some outside of the high school curriculum, but all meant to institute government-sanctioned religious instruction.

At first, creationism was taught only in religion and ethics classes in high schools (Ayas and Tumer 1994). Later, in the mid-1980s, creation was made compulsory in biology courses (Kence 1985, 1995; Edis 1994). In 1985 Vehbi Dincerler, the Minister of Education in Ozal's government and a member of a religious tariqa, sent a bulletin to high schools that accused educators who taught and defended evolution of being communists. The fear of communism was as effective for intimidating people in Turkey as it was in the McCarthy era in the US and has been used successfully more recently by BAV to combat evolution.

Thus creationism was introduced to high school biology textbooks as an alternative "hypothesis" (Guven and others 1985). This form of creationism was mostly adopted from Henry Morris's Scientific Creationism (Morris 1974), which was translated into Turkish by the Ministry of Education in 1985. Creation was explained in the biology textbooks as follows:
In creationism's opinion, all living entities and species were created by Allah separately. Although they may have undergone some changes since the day they were created, neither did any evolve into other species (Guven and others 1997: 68).
Even though evolution was still in the textbooks, it was taught in a biased, ludicrous, and non-scientific way, so that it could be discredited easily by some of the religious high school biology teachers. One of the ridiculous statements found in the high school books is:
contrary to what evolutionists claim, it has been demonstrated that frog, mouse, and snake bloods are closer to human blood than that of monkeys (Ayas and Tumer 1996: 12).
Another sentence misconstrued Darwinism by stating that
according to Darwin, strong ones would live, and weak ones would be eliminated. However strong organisms such as dinosaurs, and mammoths have become extinct, whereas some weak organisms such as earthworm could survive (Ayas and Tumer 1996: 13).
When the Social Democrats came to power in 1998 under prime minister Bülent Ecevit, the biology textbooks were revised, and chapters related to Darwin and Lamarck were rewritten more objectively (Korkmaz and others 1998). Creationists' arguments were still presented as alternative hypotheses, but to make the books appear more secular, phrases such as "according to Islam" were replaced with "according to sacred books".

The modifications in the biology textbooks infuriated and mobilized those who wanted evolution to be taken out of the curriculum, including fundamentalists and BAV. The result was a series of belligerent actions against Turkish scientists at universities and at institutions such as TUBA and TUBITAK.

With its considerable political support, it seems that BAV could achieve its goal of replacing evolution with a form of creationism. The BAV aims to convince the majority of the politicians in the parliament that evolution is not a fact, but a hoax. In February 1999 a representative from the fundamentalist Virtue Party proposed a Bill of Anti-Evolution to ban teaching of evolution in the schools and to collect and destroy all the books about evolution in the official libraries, on the grounds that evolution is against Islam (Hurriyet, March 9, 1999).

BAV (Science Research Foundation) and its Activities

BAV is a radical fundamentalist foundation established in 1991 by Sheikh Adnan Oktar. It is an integral part of the rise of fundamentalist Islam in Turkey. BAV is not an independent organization and the source(s) of its funding remain very obscure. Its activities and publications utilize millions of dollars each year, so it is difficult to imagine that this amount of funding can be supplied just by donations, as some at BAV claim. The newspaper Hurriyet recently revealed that Adnan Oktar and BAV have strong connections with Necmettin Erbakan, the former leader of various fundamentalist parties. The newspaper Cumhuriyet recently reported that other support for BAV comes from Fettullahcilar — a tariqa established by Fettullah Gulen, who used to preach the evil and wickedness of evolution (Cumhuriyet, June 29, 1999).

BAV has also published several books under the pen name Harun Yahya and has delivered copies to the public free of charge. It is generally believed that Harun Yahya is actually a commission formed by BAV, although recent reports have claimed that Harun Yahya is Necmettin Erbakan or a collaboration between Erbakan and Adnan Oktar (Hurriyet, September 13-15, 1999).

However, considering the vast range of subjects and the sheer number of books — from The Qur'an-Islam, Free Masonry and Anti-Semitism to Evolution and Molecular Biology — it is unlikely that Harun Yahya is a single person. Both BAV and Harun Yahya are still poorly understood. No one claiming to be Harun Yahya has made any public appearances or has granted any interviews.

BAV has a long history of contact with American creationists, including receiving assistance from ICR. Duane Gish and Henry Morris visited Turkey in 1992, just after the establishment of BAV, and participated in a creationist conference in Istanbul. Morris, the former president of ICR, became well acquainted with Turkish fundamentalists and Islamic sects during his numerous trips to Turkey in search of Noah's Ark (Acts & Facts 1998a,1998b). BAV's creationist conferences in April and June 1998 in Istanbul and Ankara, which included many US creationists, developed after Harun Yahya started to publish his anti-evolution books, which were delivered to the public free of charge or given away by the daily fundamentalist newspapers Akit and Zaman as promotions.

BAV also organized local conferences on creationism in almost every major city and town in Turkey (about 120 locations) about creationism, defending Harun Yahya's claims (Harun Yahya 1997) and similar arguments by ICR (see http://www.geocities.com/evrimkurami for details). The main premise of the conferences was that science has disproved evolution and proved the truth of creation (for details of these conferences and more information, see the web pages attributed to Harun Yahya http://www.harunyahya.org and BAV http://www.bilimarastirmavakfi.org ).

Turkish Scientists Respond to BAV

During the early 1990s, when Harun Yahya's small inexpensive books started to circulate among the public, academics did not take BAV and Harun Yahya seriously, despite the long continuing dissonance between university and scientific circles and right-wing governments over democracy, secularism, and the creation/evolution issue. University academics simply ignored the books, and most of the biology and medicine professors considered it beneath their dignity to answer the arguments of Harun Yahya and other creationists. A similar position was taken by the intellectuals before 1980s — disregarding the majority of the public and some peripheral movements was an important factor that probably contributed to the rise of fundamentalism in Turkey (for details, see Narli 1999).

However, at the turn of the millennium, scientists and academics in Turkey realized that they were besieged by fundamentalist Islamists and a public convinced by Harun Yahya that evolution has collapsed. Even so, most of the scientific organizations and university professors remain unmoved to act against the pseudoscience of BAV. However, the authors of this article believe that defending science and evolution is indispensable in a democracy, and we believe that every single statement of Harun Yahya and BAV should be opposed by using scientific knowledge. As a part of our effort to do so, we have written numerous articles to defend evolution and inform the public about what science really says (see Kence 1982, 1985, 1994a, 1944b; Sayin 1998c, 1998d, 1998e).

After BAV's conferences in 1998, we organized an independent commission to answer the arguments of BAV and to warn the public about the pseudoscience of Islamic scientific creationists. The short-term goals of the commission were to:

1) Publish declarations about the scientific facts to the public in response to the activities of BAV;
2) Gather support from scientists in Turkish universities;
3) Write and/or translate books about evolution and inform the public, as well as other scientists, about current scientific information;
4) Contact other centers, foundations, and scientific institutions, especially in the US and Europe, that are also defending science and evolution against scientific creationists;
5) Publish and distribute answers to the arguments of the Islamic creationists and their pseudoscience; and
6) Inform governmental agencies, universities, schools, and the mass media about the danger of Islamic creationists and their pseudoscience.

This commission made 2 declarations to the public about Islamic scientific creationists in October 1998 and January 1999. In addition, more than 2000 university professors and scientists, along with TUBA and TUBITAK, signed and supported the first declaration. A similar commission had already been formed by TUBA, which also issued a separate declaration in the summer of 1998 defending science and evolution (TUBA 1999; for TUBA's declaration, connect to http://www.geocities.com/evrimkuram ).

When BAV realized that scientists and scientific organizations were publicly opposing its campaign, it responded by trying to intimidate the members of our commission and TUBA, accusing them of being communists, Maoists, atheists, and separatists. Each issue of the BAV bulletin was distributed by mail and by fax to 11 793 addresses, including the high courts of the state, the attorney general's office, district attorneys' offices, governorships, army headquarters, police headquarters, and various government offices. Furthermore, BAV included photographs of some of the scientists and described them as Maoists. The addresses and names of 6 members of the commission were published in the militant fundamentalist daily newspaper Akit (December 2, 1999). Akit published the names and photographs of some of the scientists from the commission (Aykut Kence, Isik Bökesoy) who were giving public lectures on evolution, accusing them of spreading propaganda and atheism.

However, BAV's intimidation tactics did not succeed. Academics and researchers in universities and scientific organizations were galvanized into action by BAV's tactics. Some of the authors of the declaration, Professor Aykut Kence, Professor Yaman Ors, Professor Isik Bokesoy, Professor Dincer Gülen, Dr Umit Sayin, and Dr Serhat Ozyar, whose names were particularly targeted in the BAV announcements, filed a complaint in the 3rd Civil Court of Ankara against BAV over its accusations. In May 1999, the court ruled against BAV and ordered it to pay the equivalent of $6000 to the scientists for damages (Cumhuriyet, June 25, 1999; for the English translation of this news, see http://www.geocities.com/evrimkurami/press.html ).

Islamic Scientific Creationism and its Christian Allies

Even though they are using arguments that ICR has developed and passed on to them, Islamic creationists usually adapt ICR's arguments to fit their view of Islam or construct their own arguments to meet their own objectives for defeating evolution. So the Islamic creationism of BAV is not merely a carbon copy of ICR's creationism; it has its own style and format.

Part of the difference between ICR's and BAV's versions of creationism relate to their different scriptural bases. The flexible and interpretable text in the Qur'an allows BAV to avoid the issue of the date of creation. In contrast to some of the ICR's positions, BAV asserts that the Qur'an does not give any date for creation and that the Flood may have been a local, rather than a worldwide, event.

Here are some examples of the basic ideas defended in Harun Yahya's books, which were also featured in the nationwide conferences (Harun Yahya 1997, 1998a, 1998b, 1998c). There are several points of departure from the creation model commonly promoted by the ICR.

1) Earth and life on earth were created by Allah all at once. There is no evolutionary process. No species has ever evolved into another species. Life was probably created on earth during the Cambrian Explosion.
2) The Qur'an is the best of the religious scriptures, so it does not make mistakes as do the other sacred books, such as estimating the earth's age as 10 000 years or asserting the occurrence of a worldwide Flood. The Qur'an is the ultimate scientific truth. Nothing can contradict the Qur'an.
3) Matter is an illusion of the mind. In truth, only mind exists; matter does not! The outside world is the illusion of the mind, and mind transforms and determines the reality. (However, they try to use data obtained from that illusory world to prove that evolutionists are making mistakes!)
4) Evolution is the greatest hoax of all centuries. All the scientific data collected during the last 150 years disprove evolution. All the scientific data prove that, from DNA to organisms, everything has a design and purpose, and that everything was created all at once. Science has proved that Allah exists and created the life on earth.
5) Darwinists' or evolutionists' tendency to defend evolution is ideological, rather than scientific. They probably defend it because of their communist, materialist, Satanist, or racist ideologies. People who defend evolution are mentally ill, because they continue to defend it against all scientific evidence.
6) Humans are created in the image of Allah, so we cannot have evolved from apes, which are subhuman animals. Science has not found a single clue that apes are relatives of Homo sapiens.
7) Modern secular systems are the traps and deceits of Satan. (They are not against science, they say, but they oppose secular modern science and its cooperation with Satan. They propose the way of the Qur'an and Sharia as the ultimate and ideal way. Their understanding and definition of science are very obscure, especially since they deny that matter exists!)
8) Evolution is not a fact, because it is not reported in the Qur'an. (When they do not have information or evidence to explain a phenomenon, they cite some surah of the Qur'an and refer to the Qur'an as a scientific source. When they oppose theistic evolutionists, they claim that Allah could have created evolution, if he had wanted to, but since this is not reported in the Qur'an, it cannot be a fact.)

Tactics and Pseudoscience of Islamic Creationists

BAV's tactics and strategies are also adapted from those used by ICR for decades. Most of the information, slides, figures, and ideas they use in their conferences resemble those long used in ICR presentations. A quick overview illustrates both the ICR heritage and the local adaptations in the BAV approach.

1) BAV uses pseudoreferences. The references they cite in their books and presentations usually support and defend evolution, but they take just one sentence that they think might seem to support their arguments and use it as their scientific reference. They claim that they can find scientific proof of creation in journals such as Discover, Scientific American, Nature, and Science, even though a cursory reading would show that these references support evolution, not creation. Because it is so difficult for Turkish readers to have access to these journals, however, most of Harun Yahya's arguments go unchallenged.
2) BAV never acknowledges the overwhelming weight of scientific research supporting evolution, but generally distort a single news item (for example, from a popular journal like Discover) to "prove" their conclusion. It does not discuss the fact that the rest of the article or other articles in the same issue of that journal defend and support evolution.
3) BAV first concludes that evolution is wrong and then tries to build up a whole system of "proofs". These proofs do not use any traditional logical and scientific methods to reach the scientific conclusions; instead, they cite the Qur'an as the ultimate (and also the scientific) truth. They even cite surahs as scientific references. Creation is an axiom, not a hypothesis to defend!
4) BAV rejects anything that opposes its ideology or that supports evolution. It does not accept any evidence that shows its proposals as unscientific. According to BAV, science is what proves the Qur'an — and BAV's interpretation of it.

These characteristics are consistent in approach and method with the ICR's version of creationism — selective citation, incomplete survey of appropriate literature, prior conviction that evolution must be wrong (and evil) with an emphasis on the scientific truth of scripture, and the conviction that "true" science must be concordant with scripture.

However, there are some significant differences between the approaches of these two groups. For the most part, Harun Yahya is not aiming for a sophisticated scientific presentation. Acting in Turkey, BAV does not face the difficulty of opposing a highly trained and prominent scientific community, as does the ICR in the US where some of the world's most sophisticated scientific knowledge is produced. BAV has not faced much resistance from the universities or scientific organizations until our recent campaign.


Islamic scientific creationism has become a threat not only to science but also to democracy and the secular system in Turkey. Unlike Christian creationism, it is a critical part of the rise of an extreme religious movement and has actively contributed to the decline of democratic reforms and progress in scholarship and research in the Turkish Republic. If groups like the BAV are unopposed by Turkish science organizations, universities, the government, and individual scientists, they will continue their propaganda unchecked. If they succeed in their efforts, they will influence not only the believers but also the rest of the society, since there is a very weak scientific foundation among the vast majority of the Turkish public. We must recognize the power of the BAV's appeal and take a page from the successful opposition to the ICR and its allies in the US. The only hope for Turkish science and society is a vigorous campaign to expose and oppose Islamic creationism in every forum throughout the country.


The authors would like to thank Dr Taner Edis for reading the manuscript and giving his valuable suggestions. A version of this article can also accessed at http://www.geocities.com/evrimkurami .


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About the Author(s): 
Umit Sayin is in the Department of Neurology in the School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; Aykut Kence is in the Department of Biology at the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. Both have long been active in promoting science and opposing creationism in Turkey.
Islamic Scientific Creationism: A New Challenge in Turkey
Ümit Sayin and Aykut Kence
18–20, 25–29
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Cloning Creationism in Turkey

To observers in the industrialized Western world, "scientific creationism" often seems an American phenomenon. In other English-speaking countries, creationism has a much smaller constituency, and though orthodox Israeli Jews or French Muslims occasionally make a stand against Darwin (Numbers 1992; Kepel 1997), creationism has not become the persistent nuisance for public education that it is in the United States. Even within the United States, creationism typical of that promoted by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is clearly a sectarian position, drawing support from the evangelical Protestant community but largely unable to reach beyond its boundaries. Tracing the history of US creationism, we find that it is rooted in a populist Protestant culture that demands that both nature and Scripture be accessible to common-sense interpretation (Gilbert 1997). Although followers of many Abrahamic religious traditions express discomfort with Darwinian evolution, a full-blown attempt at creation "science" appears to be largely an American evangelical Protestant peculiarity.

Since "scientific creationism" has such a narrow, if numerous, constituency, defenders of evolution in science education can often succeed by appealing to pluralist principles — allowing creationism into the classroom would favor a blatantly sectarian viewpoint. Although ICR separates "biblical" from "scientific" creationism and emphasizes the latter, evolutionists usually consider this an artificial distinction; after all, the supposedly scientific aspect of creationism is endorsed by few people who are not biblical literalists.

While this is a reasonably accurate picture of "creation science" in the Western world, the emergence of an Islamic creationism, which is practically a clone of ICR's "scientific" vision, means we have to reassess our picture of creationism. Though Turkish creationists hail from a very different religious culture and history, their wholesale adoption of ICR-style arguments means that we cannot explain creationism by narrowly sectarian factors alone. Creationism mobilizes traditional Abrahamic convictions about the moral significance of the natural world against the threat of social modernity. Hence successful variants of creationism have a potential to spread beyond the environments in which they originally evolved.

A New Wave of Turkish Creationism

Turkey has been the most Western-oriented among Muslim countries, a legacy of modernization efforts going back more than 150 years. Most significantly, the early years of the new Turkish Republic, spanning the 1920s and 1930s, saw aggressive state-sponsored efforts to bring the European Enlightenment to a country with a traditional Islamic culture. While this revolution created some enduring modern institutions and an urban secular elite, a religiously-tinged conservative populism came to dominate politics in the 1950s. However, until the 1980s, explicitly Islamist political movements remained mostly submerged. Evolution was not a flashpoint, flashpoint, partly because it was a religiously unpalatable element in secular public education, and so did not receive major curricular emphasis.

The aftermath of a military coup in 1980 presented new opportunities for Islamist politics and for creationism. Concerned that secular government allowed too much space for left-wing dissent, risking national fragmentation and social unrest, the military junta and subsequent governments promoted a more religious ideology. This naturally affected education policy. While compulsory religion courses and the teaching of a conservative view of history were its most visible results, natural science did not escape untouched. The 1980s saw the state-sponsored translation and distribution of ICR material, explicitly creationist high-school textbooks, and a general anti-evolutionary climate in secondary education (Edis 1994). In 1992, ICR's Duane Gish and John D Morris appeared at a creationist conference held in Istanbul.

Recent years have brought important political changes that affect the creation-evolution conflict in Turkey. Islamists have grown stronger, even tasting power on their own instead of through factions within more moderate conservative parties. Although the Islamist Party lost some support to a more nationalist ultra-right party in the elections of April 1999, there is still a powerful constituency that objects to "polluting young minds" with Darwinian biology. However, the Turkish military has emerged as a counterbalancing force. Freed from the need to promote religious conservatism for anticommunist purposes, in the past few years the military has once again acted in defense of the secularist ideals of the early republic. This has extended to applying pressure to remove an Islamist-led government from power in 1997 and insisting upon educational reforms aimed at undercutting the base of Islamist politics.

In this highly charged environment, 1998 brought a new wave of creationism to Turkey. Unlike previous efforts directly aimed at public education, this wave is much more an exercise in popular propaganda through the media. By producing a series of scientific-appearing meetings and books, creationists organized in the Bilim Arastirma Vakfi (BAV; the Science Research Foundation) caught the public eye — not only through the extensive Islamist media which cheered them on and secularist newspapers which expressed concern, but also through the wider commercial media with a nose for controversy. As John Morris observes, BAV has considerable media clout: "As a group, they have access to more than adequate financial resources, as well as to the media, and are able to blanket the country with creation information. They choose to invite international creationists for their publicity value, but especially welcome Christian creationists in the ICR mold rather than those who hold merely an anti-Darwinian stance" (Morris 1998).

In April and July 1998, BAV held 3 "international conferences" in the major cities of Turkey, with a theme of "The Collapse of the Theory of Evolution: The Fact of Creation" [see sidebar, p xxx]. Joining Duane Gish and John Morris to support Turkish creationist academics were creationist luminaries Michael P Girouard, Edward Boudreaux, Carl Fliermans, and David Menton. These meetings were well-attended and well-publicized, producing successful, organized media events for creationism.

This media-savvy attention to production details is apparent in the creationist books distributed by BAV as well. Most representative is Harun Yahya's text The Evolution Deceit. The book comes in 2 versions — a large, attractive 370-page volume notable for its many full-color illustrations and slick appearance (Yahya 1997) and an abridged 128-page booklet with fewer illustrations, which was widely distributed free of charge to the public (Yahya 1998). Especially in light of the sorry state of popular science publishing in an underdeveloped country like Turkey, these lavish productions are very impressive and demonstrate the considerable finances BAV commands.

The arguments presented both in the conferences and the books are very similar to ICR's; indeed, ICR remains the most important source of material for Turkish creationists. Popular Muslim apologists often present examples of intricacies or harmony in nature and suggest that it is obvious to anyone paying attention that these indicate supernatural design. This is a traditional approach that partly derives from Muslim scriptures: although the Qur'an does not often attempt to support its claims through natural theology, it speaks of God’s manifesting "signs" in nature that we may be convinced. Observing the awesome and orderly aspects of nature — the heavens and the stability of the earth, lightning and rain, useful plants and fruits, and so on — prompts common sense to conclude that all this must be designed for a purpose (13 Ar-Rad 2, 3; 30 Ar-Rum 20-27). However, in a changing society in which people are exposed to the mass media and impressed with the products of modern science, a simple appeal to teleological intuitions is no longer sufficient. For Muslim creationists, ICR's ostensibly nonbiblical arguments supply a scientific veneer while retaining the commonsense thrust vital for an effective media message.

Hence the Yahya book, while drawing on Muslim apologetic styles, ends up reading like a compendium of classic ICR arguments. All the usual suspects appear, including claims concerning the lack of transitional fossils, the impossibility of functioning intermediate forms, the fraud of human evolution, the unreliability of dating methods, and the statistical impossibility of evolution at the molecular level. The book also explains why Western scientists and Turkish fellow-travelers are so enamored of evolution when it is so clearly false. Sounding much like one of its major sources, Henry Morris, the book tells how, beguiled by the secular philosophies of the European Enlightenment, scientists got caught up in a long war against God (Yahya 1997; Morris 1989). The content of Turkish creationism, then, is strikingly unoriginal; with generally trivial modifications, much of ICR's "scientific" material fits BAV's needs very well.

Creationism in the mass media naturally produced a reaction from mainstream Turkish academics. Previously there had been scattered, ineffective resistance to the inroads creationism was making at the high-school level; the latest high-profile wave of creationism appears to have prompted defenders of evolution to attempt a stronger response. Shortly after the BAV conferences, the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA) condemned creationist efforts in a statement to the press, warning that "certain interests are continuing a war against the secular system and free and modern education". Declaring that evolution is a vital, well-confirmed part of modern science, TUBA pointed out that creationism was spread by Christian groups but had "been completely rejected in scientifically advanced countries" (TUBA 1999). A commission, including some TUBA members, was formed to combat creationism publicly. Its work continues (see Sayin and Kence 1999).

Just as Turkish creationists rely on their US counterparts, defenders of evolution plan to make use of the experience of Western evolutionists; for example, by translating proven anti-creationist material. Furthermore, in Turkey as well as in the US, scientists can try to get media attention by presenting themselves as experts: the proper authorities on biology. Unfortunately, this can be expected to have only limited success. The difficulties in explaining a counterintuitive scientific concept that faces populist religious resistance are intensified in Turkey not only because of widespread scientific illiteracy but also because the scientific community is much less powerful.

The creation-evolution conflict in Turkey is also dissimilar to the controversy in the US in other important ways, and emphasizing the broad picture of scientists and educators battling resurgent fundamentalism might obscure this. The Turkish creation-evolution dispute has a much more intense political aspect. When BAV creationists describe evolutionary scientists in conspiratorial, red-baiting terms, they may seem merely to echo the more rhetorically extravagant of the US creationists, but in the context of the present political situation in Turkey, and with militant Islam's history of violent action against critics, such descriptions take on a darker meaning. Protestants emphasize individual choice, which becomes more sharply defined against a background of doubt and backsliding. Orthodox Islam, however, is more similar to premodern Christianity: criticizing the faith not only puts the individual's soul at risk but is also treachery against the community. When a prominent Islamist newspaper (Akit, December 2, 1998) published the names of the signatories of the TUBA statement on its front page, suggesting they trespassed against Islam, this had overtones of an invitation to violence.

Such a climate does not allow for even a pretense of intellectual debate. Just as creationists rely on their Islamist base, evolutionists also see their dispute in current political terms; the TUBA statement charged creationists with aiming to undermine the secular state and produce a generation incapable of critical thought "who accept the dogmatic and incorrect information given to them without question." Political accusations fly back and forth with regularity, particularly on the part of the creationists (Sayin and Kence 1999).

Set in a culture that is caught between modernity and premodern religious and social ideals, creationism and evolution in Turkey are much more explicitly connected to the struggle between secularism and the Turkish version of the religious right. And though defenders of evolution might mobilize Westernized, secular segments of society, it is hard to see how they can appeal to others in a country that is not religiously pluralist in its common culture. Turkish evolutionists will have to invent new ways to combat creationism in very difficult circumstances.

Why Would Muslims Copy ICR?

In Turkey we find a significant creationist presence outside the United States; indeed, one altogether outside the culture of evangelical Protestantism. Although its flourishing is recent, this Islamic creationism is in some ways more powerful than its Christian counterpart — it probably enjoys better prospects for success. It is no surprise that a traditional Abrahamic religion would inspire opposition to Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, it is somewhat strange that some Muslims borrow so extensively from ICR. After all, we tend to think that creationism is a product of a particular religious history and social needs that is manifested in biblical literalism: it is not nature that constrains ICR but a narrowly sectarian religious point of view. But the history of orthodox Islam has little similarity to that of Protestant Christianity; socially it is quite different, and it does not share the same scripture. Protestantism is religiously individualist while orthodox Islam is a communal, premodern faith in which religious doctrines have a different social function. And although Islam also tends to scriptural literalism, and the Qur'an affirms special creation in a general sense (for example, 55 Ar-Rahman 13), it does not contain detailed creation stories as does the Bible. If the driving force behind creationism is a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, it is hard to see why Muslims would copy ICR — except perhaps because they will accept any aid in opposing evolution.

Some similarity among varieties of creationism is only to be expected; after all, there are only so many ways to argue that transitional fossils do not exist or that the complexity of biological molecules precludes a naturalistic account of their origin. Indeed, Islamists occasionally published anti-evolution books before the 1980 coup; these presented a few typical creationist arguments, such as the improbability of protein formation, independently of ICR (for example, Akbulut 1980). But such examples also illustrate that there are many ways of standing against evolution besides copying ICR. Since Islam is but a distant relative of Protestant Christianity, we might have expected a broader version of anti-evolutionary "science" than ICR's would have appealed to Muslim apologists. In fact, it would seem just the thing has recently been developed: "Intelligent Design" (ID) theorists present not only a more sophisticated position, but a view that lays claim to very general theistic intuitions about creation without getting bogged down in too many sectarian details (for example, Moreland 1993; for critiques, see Davis 1998; Pennock 1999). Islamists could presumably adapt this strategy, attaching specifically Islamic details as needed. But although the BAV material quotes ID proponents such as Phillip Johnson with approval, it treats ID as the ICR does — citing it to bash evolution and quickly moving on to arguments that would embarrass Johnson.

BAV does not, of course, crib indiscriminately from ICR. Their most striking divergence is BAV's omission of flood geology, ICR's signature doctrine. This is largely because Islam supports a different theological view of history than Christianity’s. Traditional Christian theology includes a strong sense of salvation history. Not only does the Bible contain something like a story line, which is easily read as a historical narrative, but even long-established Christian sects harbor millenarian strains looking forward to an imminent culmination of history. Orthodox Islam, though retaining the overall framework of time unfolding between Creation and Judgment, does not convey this sense of a cosmic salvation history. Occasionally, God sends messengers to the different nations, punishes a disobedient tribe, or performs miracles through a prophet. But such stories in the Qur'an are told as "a collection of interesting anecdotes about persons who had lived at some period in the past — a collection not in any way chronologically ordered" (Watt 1968). In Muslim culture, history is not important as a straightforward sacred narrative but because Muhammad, the final prophet, spoke the words of God, and from then on everything was radically different. Even non-Arab Muslim peoples tend to see their history before Islam as a time of darkness, as if history only began for them once they received Muhammad's message.

This means that geological time scales do not much upset Muslim conceptions of history. So Muslim creationists generally advocate an old earth or downplay the question because establishing a specific time scale is simply not that important for them. Although ICR gnashes its teeth at modern cosmology, BAV cites old-earther Hugh Ross in its magazine and triumphantly proclaims that the Big Bang proves the existence of God (BAV 1999).

However, BAV creationists are not committed to an old earth. A young earth, after all, would make evolution very implausible, so Harun Yahya once again copies ICR and cheerfully attacks all modern dating methods (Yahya 1997, ch 4). This brings up the interesting question of whether Muslim creationism could evolve in a young-earth direction. After all, a world only a few thousands of years old makes better sense if humans are central to the purpose of creation, and so the Abrahamic traditions all leaned this way before modern science. Critics of creationists like to cite Augustine's admonitions against naive literalism, but often overlook how he also wrote about history's moving through 6 ages corresponding to the days of creation, and how these ages were most naturally understood as lasting thousands of years (Patrides 1972, ch 2, 3). Muslim thinkers of the classical period also adopted the view that the earth was 6–7 thousand years old. So it is possible that some Muslims will toy with young-earth ideas. But it is very unlikely that this will ever become an important issue among conservative Muslims.

Another interesting difference from ICR emerges when BAV explains how a godless conspiracy established evolution. Much of what appears under the pseudonym Harun Yahya comes straight from Henry Morris, but it identifies the main forces behind evolution as Masons and Jews. This fits in with the all-too-common antisemitism among Islamists; indeed, Harun Yahya is also listed as the author of a book entitled The Holocaust Hoax, which borrows much from well-known American holocaust-deniers (Yahya nd). Bashing Masons may seem peculiar, but this is actually a common motif in Islamist tirades, where Freemasonry, as for many Christian conspiratologists in the past, serves as a symbol personifying the Enlightenment culture that helped to erode traditional religiosity. Usually the ancient enemies — the Jews, who refused to accept Muhammad as the final prophet — turn out to be behind Masonry, secularism, communism, and just about every godless evil.

BAV and ICR differ in some other particulars, but these are trivial. And even the differences involving flood geology and antisemitism do not obscure the fact that BAV's creationism is nearly a clone of ICR's. If anything, such differences highlight the need to explain this similarity. Clearly BAV does not blindly copy ICR; rather, it introduces minor adaptations for a Muslim environment. Why are the adaptations so minor?

We can begin to sketch an answer by observing that like the Christian version, Muslim fundamentalism is not a traditionalist movement. Islamists draw support from newly urbanized populations rather than from peasants; they are likely to be led by engineers instead of religious scholars in the traditional mold (Roy 1994). In this, they are similar to American creationists, who also find their constituency among a modernizing population, including many who have become part of the professional classes, who are trying to reproduce their culture in a changing social environment (Eve and Harrold 1991). Muslim as well as Christian creationists widely accept science as a cognitive authority, in part because Muslims perceive that their once superior civilization has been humiliated by the West’s technological advantage. This is fertile ground for pseudosciences claiming that modern knowledge validates the old stories.

In these circumstances, evolution is an obstacle, though not just because it does not fit particular scriptures. ICR's "creation science" appeals to BAV not because it upholds the authority of the Bible, but because it upholds a divine moral order — an order manifested in the evident design of nature. As with most traditional religions, old-time Abrahamic faiths sanctify a social order by inscribing it into the very structure of the universe. Origin myths function as communal constitutions; the divine purpose in creation underwrites moral convictions. Theological conservatives want to retain this morality-infused view of nature as the social disruptions of modern life encroach upon their communities.

This difference between traditional Abrahamic and modern views of morality is starkest in matters like sex roles, where fundamentalists of all stripes uphold very rigid roles discovered in nature as well as scripture (Kintz 1997). Popular Muslim apologetics, in fact, lean even more heavily on nature. Consider how theologian Suleyman Ates justifies 2 Al-Baqarah 228 in the Qur'an, which asserts that men are superior to women:
It is true that as a whole, the male sex has been created superior to the female. Even the sperm which carries the male sign is different from the female. The male-bearing sperm is more active, ... the female less. The egg stays stationary, the sperm seeks her out, and endures a long and dangerous struggle in the process. Generally in nature, all male animals are more complete, more superior compared to their females…. Man, being more enduring at work, and superior in prudence and willpower, has been given the duty of protecting woman (Ates 1991: 37; translation by author).
Such Aristotelian views of biology are quite common, even among theologians like Ates who think that some form of development in time may be acceptable to Islam.

Darwinian evolution severely undermines all such views of nature; for evolutionists, biological facts no longer carry a clear moral significance deriving from specially designed roles for each living thing. Fundamentalists quite correctly perceive that evolution radically threatens their conception of morality, though they often mistakenly go on to claim that evolution sanctions moral attitudes they consider degenerate. More modern-minded religious thinkers, of course, see opportunity here. If biological nature is no longer strongly coupled to morality, it also becomes easier to suspect that our moral convictions derive from a source transcending nature. However, exploring such an apologetic strategy is not an option for conservatives committed to a premodern social ideal. Taking a liberal point of view would in effect endorse a fluid, human-created moral environment, however sugar-coated by mystical intuitions.

Religious conservatives, then, have very good reasons to attack evolution, and this goes for Muslims as well as Christians. When, in another echo of Christian creationists, Harun Yahya digresses to denounce evolution because it describes homosexuality as natural, therefore "seeking to legitimize perversion" (Yahya 1997: 307), this might seem bizarrely out of place in an argument that is ostensibly about biology. From a fundamentalist perspective, however, it makes perfect sense — worries about morality and social decay are intimately connected to the fundamentalist view of biology.

This, then, is the key to why BAV copies ICR. They hail from doctrinally and socially different religions, but they represent constituencies confronting modernity in similar ways. They both answer a need to claim science for the side of old-time social morality, and both correctly see that evolution is a major intellectual obstacle. So BAV can borrow from ICR because ICR has already done the work of constructing a populist pseudoscience that is, in fact, relatively free of narrowly Protestant literalist doctrinal idiosyncrasies. ICR has a product which will work for almost any Abrahamic fundamentalism. Conservative Christians and Muslims may strongly disagree about religious matters — Yahya rails against the Trinity, and Henry Morris hopes the Muslims influenced by the ICR will come to know Jesus (Morris 1998) — but they can agree on their overall conception of social morality and upon "creation science".

Back Home

Watching a familiar "creation science" take root in a different culture can give us a new perspective on creationism back home. To begin with, we can more easily see the real difference between "scientific" and "biblical" creationism. They are not as separate as creationists claim — reading Henry Morris worrying about matters like the water table in the Garden of Eden (Morris 1976), it is easy to see the literalist motivations behind much of "creation science". Nevertheless, much of ICR's work has a broader potential appeal than its narrowly literalist base suggests. Defenders of evolution too often oversimplify creationism (Edis 1998); reducing US creationism to an obsession with Genesis also misses much. Becoming more aware of the wider motivations behind anti-evolutionary views, particularly the moral concerns driving them, might improve critiques of creationism.

More importantly, however, observing Turkish creationism shows the comparative weakness of the US variety. While Western cultures have secularized over the past few centuries (Bruce 1996), the Muslim world has not. There are, of course, scholars who propose more liberal approaches to Islam, hoping that it will become a matter of personal conscience rather than a communal ideology. But many also realize that liberal Islam does not exist as a significant social force and that popular sentiment leans towards political Islamists (for example, Tibi 1998). To most Muslims, especially those fundamentalist leaders who are very aware of the decline of Christianity in the industrialized West, liberal religion presents only a pale remnant of a once glorious God. And so, although unsuccessful in solving real-world political and economic problems, political Islamists remain stronger than modernists, who appear culturally alien. In such an environment, Turkish creationism enjoys some success both at the grassroots and at the governmental level.

US evolutionists can be more optimistic. The rise of ICR's creationism was part of a wider evangelical resurgence, when the "Southern style" of religion spread to the rest of the country. However, it now appears that this has come at the cost of a "Californification" of Southern religion, in which doctrinal rigidity becomes diluted through increasing individualism and shallowness in commitment (Shibley 1996). In fact, even evangelical theologians have begun to express concern over how evangelicals have come to emulate the wider culture, where religion serves as a source of therapy rather than of truth (for example, Wells 1993). This suggests that the wild popularity of evangelical religion does not effectively threaten American religious pluralism. Working against a pluralist culture and a strong legal tradition of church-state separation, US creationists face a severe struggle.

With some vigilance, our homegrown creationism should not become more than the major nuisance it already is. In Turkey, there is a real possibility that we will find out what happens to science when creationists actually succeed.


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About the Author(s): 
Dr Taner Edis
Department of Physics
Truman State University
Kirksville MO 63501
E-mail: edis@grant.phys.subr.edu
Cloning Creationism in Turkey
Taner Edis
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

What Makes Islamic Science Islamic?

I know that I have wandered into difficult terrain. What makes science Islamic, or in other words, what adds a religious dimension to science, is a problematic question because the answer depends on certain definitions that are not universally recognized. But let us try to look at the question from the perspective of Islamic tradition, which has at its very heart the concept of Tawhid, the Unicity of God.

This concept is embodied in the first part of Shahadah, the testimony of faith: "There is no god but God." Everything in Islamic civilization, including the sciences, has sprung forth from this fundamental statement, which is an expression of the transcendence of divine unity. This consciousness of the Oneness of God is placed at the center of the Islamic worldview so as to act as a directing force that draws to itself all levels of manifest reality in the cosmic plane. To proclaim that there is no god but God is to testify that there is an essential unifying principle behind the apparent multiplicity of the universe which, in Islam, is not restricted merely to observable and perceptible reality but goes beyond to the realm of the Unseen.

For over 1400 years, Muslims, as well as some non-Muslims, have drawn inspiration from the Qu'ran, which they consider to be the actual Word of God, revealed to the Prophet Mohammed by the archangel Gabriel. For Muslims, the Qur'an not only establishes what is lawful and what is not, but also defines the scope of human activity — from conception to death, and beyond physical death to resurrection and life after death.

Because developments in the sciences, as in any discipline, largely depend on the particular worldview of their practitioners, the growth of various branches of science in the Islamic civilization can be related to the Islamic worldview, and this relationship can be studied in a variety of ways. Since science is a discipline with a well-defined subject matter, methodology, theories, and accumulated body of knowledge, the scientific process is both a social and an epistemological phenomenon dependent on the worldview of its practitioners.

The Islamic worldview is based on the Revealed Book, the Qur'an, which accepts as solved the basic enigmas of life — birth, death, resurrection and life after death. Its basic goal is to guide human activity within legal limits. It grants humans the basic right to make moral choices between right and wrong and calls upon us to reflect on the consequences of our choices. In addition to a large number of historical examples, the Qur'an presents the whole of the manifest universe to humans as our field of reflection. In sum, the Islamic worldview — centered on the single concept of Tawhid — clearly elucidates the hierarchy of the created beings, establishes their legal limits, and puts humans in the center of the created universe and the human heart at the center of human existence. It is the heart from which flow all actions and thoughts, all discoveries and all sciences.

By accepting this covenant offered to us, humans have entered into a special and unique relationship with God, which distinguishes us from other creatures. At the very foundation of this relationship is the communicated word — intelligible speech — which issues forth from the tongue as an instrument of the spirit's inner state. An attentive reader of the Qur'an discovers, over and over, that the inner dimensions of certain acts of worship — like fasting, prayers, and hajj — prepare the body to receive the divine grace by being watchful, receptive, and in a state of peace with the Divine writ (amr-e Rabbi). In Islam, this purification of the heart through vigorous application to a discipline is considered to be an integral part of the methodology of acquiring knowledge. Thus, it is not unusual to find examples of scientists of great stature (for example, Ibn Sina and Al-Biruni) who prayed fervently to God and sought divine help to solve their scientific and philosophical problems.

From the very beginning, Islam provided Muslims with a rich repository of technical terminology that soon paved the way for the development of a conceptual framework from which various branches of science emerged in due course. This terminology is essentially based on the Qur'anic concepts of life, death, resurrection, prophethood, and our moral response to the whole scheme of a purposeful creation of the universe.

Islamic Concepts of Knowledge and Nature

It is noteworthy that the testimony of faith itself is a statement of knowledge. "When a man dies", the Prophet of Islam is reported to have said, "his work also stops, except for 3 [things]: acts of charity, which are continued, knowledge by which [all] profit, and a righteous child who prays for him." He also said:
Whoso walks in the path seeking knowledge thereby, God will make him walk in the paths of paradise; and verily, the angels spread out their wings out of pleasure for the seeker after knowledge; and verily those who are in the heavens and the earth and fish also in the midst of water, all ask pardon for him; and, verily, the excellence of a learned man over a mere worshipper is as the excellence of full moon over the stars. And, verily, the learned men are the inheritors of the prophets; for verily, the prophets' heritage is not [riches], but the heritage of knowledge; whoso then receives this, he has received ample good fortune.
The Qur'anic verse "my Lord, increase my knowledge" was one of the constant prayers of the Prophet of Islam, who also asked God to show him "things as they really are". This prayer of the Prophet has echoed throughout the history of Islam in many forms, but perhaps its most eloquent expression is by the 16th-century Persian Sufi poet and scholar, 'Abd al-Rahman Jami (d 1492) who prayed to God thus:
O God, deliver us from the preoccupation with worldly vanities, and "show us the nature of things as they really are". Remove from our eyes the veil of ignorance, and show us things as they really are. Show us not non-existence as existent, nor cast the veil of non-existence over the beauty of existence. Make this phenomenal world the mirror to reflect the manifestation of Thy beauty, not a veil to separate and repel us from Thee. Cause these unreal phenomena of the Universe to be for us the source of knowledge and insight, not the causes of ignorance and blindness. Our alienation and severance from Thy beauty all proceed from ourselves. Deliver us from ourselves, and accord to us intimate knowledge of Thee.
Thus from the very moment of birth to the last breath, a Muslim is required to seek knowledge. This extraordinary emphasis on acquisition of knowledge is not surprising for a religion that is based on a book.

The emergence of sciences in Islamic civilization was also viewed in the same religious perspective because Nature as a whole is considered to be a work of God — as one of His Signs — and knowledge concerning nature is sought in order to know God. Likewise, the planetary system is considered in Islam to be a sign of God. Over and over our attention is drawn to the fact that there is an order in the cosmos, and that the sun and the moon move according to a fixed reckoning.

In Islam, the highest source of knowledge is revelation. According to revealed knowledge, the whole of the cosmos is open to our reflection. Nature, in Islam, consists of 2 levels of reality: the material or corporeal (nasut) and psychic or animistic (malakut). The third and the highest state in the manifest world is the spiritual or the angelic level (jabrut), which governs the other two.

The Islamic cosmos, therefore, can be envisaged in this tripartite structure. True science, according to Ibn Sina (980-1037) is science that seeks knowledge of the essence of things in relation to their divine origin. The traditional human microcosm, represented by body, soul, and spirit, corresponds to the tripartite structure (the corporeal, the psychic, and the spiritual worlds) of the cosmos.

In Islamic terminology, body is called jism, soul nafs and spirit 'aql. Of these 3, the last one, 'aql — reason, active intellect — is the one that directly concerns us here, for it is through 'aql that human beings are capable of knowing, and the metaphysical aspects of 'aql have profound implications for the whole tradition of the scientific enterprise in Islam. It is also the concept that has received a great deal of attention from all schools of Islamic thought. Human intellect, according to the Islamic worldview, is merely a tool, which can be used only in the light of the revealed knowledge, the Qur'an. It remains dormant, unutilized, as long as it is not touched by the light of revelation. Reaching to its highest potential, the active intellect can grasp certain levels of manifest reality. It is the active intellect, illumined and brought to its full potential through submission to divine command, which is operative behind the whole scheme of scientific methodology in Islam. In order to know, the knower must be guided from beyond.

The Islamic Roots of Science

This is how science in Islam is rooted in a transcendental realm. This spiritual element is what makes science Islamic. In addition, there is the Islamic ethical framework, which defines the nature of inquiry and imparts a characteristic Islamic element to the study of Nature and life. Science in Islam is merely a means to reach the higher truths. It is not an end in itself. It is one of the branches of knowledge, and the Qur'an clearly explains the purpose of gaining knowledge. When the purpose is absent, knowledge becomes sterile. Its pursuit then becomes a mere futile exercise without benefit: one who is engaged in such a pursuit is just like a donkey carrying a load of books. The spirit of this essential aspect of knowledge was beautifully captured by the celebrated mystic Mansur al-Hallaj in his elegant Qasida Li'l-'ilmi ahlun:
For knowledge, there are vocations; for faith, there is a progression. And for sciences as well as scientists, there are experiments. Knowledge is of two kinds: one sterile, the other that bears fruit. The ocean is two oceans: one that allows passage, the other dangerous. And time is two days: blamed and the praised. And the human race is two races: one endowed and the other deprived. So listen with your heart to what a sage says. And ponder in your understanding, for discernment is a gift.
[This item is an edited version of a longer article that originally ran on the listserver Meta as posting 112 on June 18, 1999. It was the first of several columns by Iqbal on different aspects of science from an Islamic perspective. Meta is an edited and moderated listserver and news service dedicated to promoting the constructive engagement of science and religion. Subscriptions are free. For more information, including subscriptions, archives and submission guidelines, go to .]

About the Author(s): 
Muzaffar Iqbal is Regional Director for the Muslim World, Science-Religion Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley. He is the former Director for Scientific and Technological Cooperation, Pakistan Academy of Sciences, and also former Director of Scientific Information for the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) in the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC). From 1991 to 1996, he was the editor of Islamic Thought and Scientific Creativity, an international quarterly journal of Islamic thought. Iqbal is the author of Science in Islamic Polity in the Twenty-First Century. Many of his published research papers have focused on the history of the philosophy of science, the history of Islamic science, and the relationship between Islam and science.
What Makes Islamic Science Islamic?
Muzaffar Iqbal
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Review: Tower of Babel

Christian creationists have long opposed evolution, first attempting to ban it (as in the Scopes-era anti-evolution laws) and more recently inventing "creation-science", alleged scientific evidence for biblical literalism. In 1987 the Supreme Court in Edwards v Aguillard struck down equal-time-for-creation-science laws because creationism is an inherently religious idea and teaching it as the equivalent of science (evolution) unconstitutionally promotes religion. This led to selective pressure to avoid the religious term "creationism", and within a few years of Edwards, some creationists were calling not for "creation" science, but for "abrupt appearance theory", "evidence against evolution", or — most recently — "intelligent design theory". In Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, philosopher Robert T Pennock neatly exposes the creationist roots of "intelligent-design theory"; from the beginning he refers to "intelligent-design creationism" and shows us how it has descended with modification from its creation science predecessor.

Intelligent-design creationists primarily are conservative Christians greatly concerned over the increasing secularization of US society. They wish to promote Christian theism over philosophical materialism — the view that there are no supernatural forces in the universe, only matter, energy, and their interactions. Because science rules out supernatural explanations, intelligent-design creationists believe that it promotes philosophical materialism and thus devalues faith. They accuse scientists of clinging to their naturalistic explanations because of pre-existing materialist prejudice rather than the power of empirical evidence.

Because evolution deals with theologically sensitive issues, such as humanity's place in the universe, it becomes the special target of intelligent-design creationists. Movement leader Phillip E Johnson, a professor of criminal law at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that by showing the weaknesses in evolution, they will drive a wedge into the ideology of materialism, and theism will emerge triumphant. One of the goals is to replace modern science with a "theistic science" in which supernatural explanations will be allowed. It is therefore a religious movement that is both antiscience — at least as science is practiced today — and anti-evolutionary.

Pennock systematically reveals the philosophical problems inherent in intelligent-design creationism. He shows in several ways that science is not inherently antireligious. Intelligent-design creationists confuse materialist philosophy and the methodological materialism of science, which says that science cannot use supernatural cause to explain the natural world. To explain by natural cause does not make a field antireligious; as Pennock wryly notes, science is no more atheistic than plumbing. "To say nothing of God is not to say that God is nothing." Intelligent-design creationism also errs in assuming that if a natural phenomenon can be explained without reference to God, therefore God had nothing to do with it. This brings us to the "design" in intelligent-design creationism.

These creationists have taken William Paley's 18th-century Argument from Design and established an entire subspecies of anti-evolutionism around it. Paley found proof of God's existence in the intricacies of nature. Complex structures as the vertebrate eye "could not have occurred by chance", so they must have been designed by an omniscient God, much as the existence of watches implies a watchmaker. Charles Darwin's major contribution to science was showing that structural complexity could be explained through natural processes and did not need the guiding hand of God.

The "God of the Gaps" Problem

Most Christian theologians today believe that God can be Creator and be in charge of the universe without having to line up the chromosomes during each cell division or having to adjust planetary orbits directly. In fact, mainstream Christian theology long ago ceased making design explanations of the natural world, partly to avoid the "God of the Gaps" problem: if the direct hand of God explained unknown natural phenomena, once a natural explanation was discovered for it, God was left with one less gap to fill, reducing His majesty.

Although it finds structural perfection in molecular biology and information theory rather than in the vertebrate eye, intelligent-design creationism nonetheless repeats Paley's errors. Pennock details how intelligent-design creationists zero in on currently unsolved problems, such as the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion of invertebrate phyla, and declare them to be "too complex" to be explained by a natural cause, requiring explication by an unnamed "intelligent agent". Theologically, intelligent-design creationism is still stuck with the God of the Gaps, and scientifically, it confuses the unexplained with the unexplainable.

But the Argument from Design and science as materialism are easy to sell to the public, which is more concerned (as Pennock wisely points out) with existential issues of meaninglessness and purpose than with empirical scientific evidence. One of the strengths of Tower of Babel is that it specifically addresses these existential issues. A theist himself, Pennock presents a particularly thoughtful discussion of why neither science nor evolution renders life meaningless. He recognizes that some atheist scientists agree with intelligent-design creationists that evolution and religion are incompatible, and he demonstrates the error of "naturalizing God" into a testable hypothesis: it redefines science in harmful ways and, for theists, devalues God.

Polls show that close to half of Americans prefer Genesis-type special creation of humans over human evolution. In an excellent analogy for such Americans, Pennock invokes the biblical Tower of Babel, where God specially created the many different languages of humankind. Linguists have learned that languages have descended with modification: they have evolved by some (though not all) of the same mechanisms as biological species.

Most religious people can accept language evolution. So if it is acceptable that languages evolved rather than having been specially created, why not species? Although languages are used by intelligent humans, languages change not by design or human planning but according to rules that only recently are becoming understood. Citing Bibles through the ages, Pennock illustrates English language evolution with the first line of the Lord's Prayer — which is virtually unreadable in its Anglo-Saxon form and even in medieval versions. Pennock makes an especially interesting comparison of differences between "designed" languages like Esperanto and "natural" languages: the former are much more regular, orderly, and precise; natural languages grow by accretion and look like it. This is directly relevant to the design argument: neither languages nor living things have the orderliness of specially designed phenomena but look far more like "jerry-built jumbles" such as would be produced by evolution.

He That Troubleth His Own Home

Pennock also uses the Tower of Babel as a metaphor to describe the confusion and squabbling among anti-evolutionists themselves, detailing the nuances of intelligent-design creationists, young earthers, old earthers, progressive creationists, and others. Perhaps being mindful of the proverb "He that troubleth his own home shall inherit the wind", Johnson and other leaders try hard to hide theological differences in and outside their camp, claiming that such "details" as the age of the earth, Noah's Flood, and the like should be set aside until theism triumphs over the evils of materialist science. Intelligent-design creationists try to keep the peace by avoiding any specific empirical claim about what the designer might have done, relying instead on bashing evolution. In this way, the movement shows its inheritance from its creation science ancestor, which specialized in the negative argument of "if evolution is wrong, then creationism is right".

But Pennock cleverly shows that merely disproving evolution fails to win the day, because (among other reasons) there are more than 2 alternatives. The Raëlian movement, for example, proposes a purely secular, naturalistic alternative to both evolution and Christian creationism: life on earth is the result of a long-term experiment by technologically and intellectually superior (but fully material) extraterrestrials. Pennock shows that Raëlians marshal the same arguments to support the extraterrestrial intelligent designer that intelligent-design creationists use to promote their Godly intelligent designer — and both arguments share the same weaknesses, of course. Extraterrestrial intelligent design and Godly intelligent design ultimately fail as science (Pennock discusses why at length); either must be taken on faith.

Intelligent-design creationism versus evolution is not just a philosophical and theological intellectual exercise: it is also a fight over what will be taught in our public schools. At the National Center for Science Education, we see more school districts contemplating adding "intelligent-design theory" to the curriculum or being pressed to adopt the intelligent-design textbook Of Pandas and People. Pennock illustrates that if they do, they will find the familiar laundry list of long-refuted creation science "arguments against evolution" and the sterile creation science approach of attempting to prove creationism by disproving evolution. The Supreme Court held in Edwards that teachers may teach secular and scientific alternatives to evolution, but intelligent-design creationism fails on both accounts. At heart it is religious (Pennock relates how on creationist Web sites and among believers, "intelligent designer" is described as the "politically correct term for God") and to qualify as scientific, it has to argue for the redefinition of science to include "intervention" — miracles, by any other name. One district court already has used "intelligent design" as a synonym for "creation science", so teachers would be advised to use caution when considering advocating it in public schools.

Creation science was rejected by university scientists, but proponents tried by statute to force high school teachers to teach it, arguing that it was only "fair" to teach creation science if evolution were taught. Its descendent, intelligent-design, theory similarly argues "viewpoint discrimination" instead of earning its right to be taught by persuading the scientific community of its veracity.

Continental drift, punctuated equilibria, and quantum theory had to be accepted by the scholarly community before being included in high school curricula, and this is the task for intelligent design. Its proponents are not there yet: Pennock cites a computerized journal search for "intelligent design" that revealed no scientific research using intelligent design as a biological theory. Intelligent design remains a virtually empty bandwagon. To understand why, instructors might consult Pennock's index for long lists of "problems with arguments" of intelligent-design creationism, of Johnson and other leaders, and of terms-of-art like "irreducible complexity", "information", and "explanatory filter".

Certainly there are legal and scientific problems with the teaching of intelligent-design creationism. But perhaps of most concern, it misrepresents science as an inherently antireligious enterprise, and evolution as the first step down this slippery slope. This is no way to improve science literacy in America.

Originally published in Scientific American
August 1999 pp. 92-94; reprinted by permission.
Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism
Eugenie C Scott, NCSE Executive Director
Robert T Pennock
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000. 451 pages.

Review: Did Darwin Get it Right?

About a decade ago, Our Sunday Visitor, a publisher of periodicals and books and other items of interest for Roman Catholics in the US, published an encyclopedia (Stravinskas 1991). It had a quite balanced, brief article on evolution, describing it thus:
Evolution: The process by which existing organisms have developed from earlier forms through transformations of characteristics in successive generations. The most widely accepted theory explaining this process is that originally advanced by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858, and subsequently amplified by the work of other scientists.
It goes on to discuss natural selection, mutations, and recombination. This discussion is followed by a paragraph dismissing any conflicts between any theory of evolution and Catholic doctrine, as long as one accepts the creation by God of each individual human soul. The book under review, although from the same publisher, takes a far different stance on the question of whether Darwin "got it right".

George Sim Johnston is described on the jacket of this book as a 3-time winner of the Journalism Award from the Catholic Press Association. He is also the author of an entry on evolution in a recent revision of Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia (Johnston 1997), and one may expect that his book will appear on many Catholic bookshelves — especially in Catholic secondary schools. That is unfortunate for the influence that it may have on Catholic young adults.

There are some positive things to be said about this book. It does have a more sophisticated approach to the meaning of "creation" than is common in most fundamentalist or creationist literature. He recognizes the difference between creation and design, for example, and puts down the simplistic "watchmaker" argument of Paley (p 152-3). The author asserts no problem with evolution, common descent (p 16), and a 4.5-billion-year-old earth (p 30). He adds: "[E]ven if some day the origin of life were proven to be a mechanistic phenomenon (which is not very likely), I would be unperturbed" (p 125). Johnston also makes a commendable call for a debate in the calm and conciliatory "irenic" tradition of Church discourse: "The Catholic side of the debate over evolution should be calm and charitable" (p 154). Unfortunately, major flaws in the book massively outweigh these virtues.

He quotes a number of well-known Catholics who have considered evolution: among others, Popes Pius XII and John Paul II, St George Jackson Mivart, GK Chesterton, and Jacques Maritain. This may serve as an introduction to Catholic thought on the issue in the first 100 years or so after Darwin. However, Johnston overlooks a literature that provides a better coverage, including later generations of Catholic thinkers — for example, McMullin (1985).

Furthermore, Johnston may accept "evolution", but he finds "Darwinism" sorely lacking: "Darwin's theory is due for retirement within the next generation ... because scientists themselves now have serious reservations. The word 'crisis' is not too strong" (p 11). Darwinism, he says, will "someday be retired. Whether this will happen rapidly (in the form of a Kuhnian paradigm shift) or gradually, one cannot say" (p 154). And the retirement will also call for a "New Theology of Creation" (p 147).

There is no reason to catalog Johnston's "scientific" arguments against "Darwinism" for readers of RNCSE or for those familiar with creationist literature. There is nothing novel. However, this book makes a real muddle out of some very important and intellectually challenging issues in the dialogue between religion and science.

For example, some of the ideas seem entirely contradictory. Johnston reminds us that we must recognize "two different orders of knowledge — theological and scientific — and allow each its due consequence. ...Putting God in the gaps unexplained by science has always been a mistake" (p 17). And yet elsewhere, "[A] Christian physicist or biologist who runs into an intractable problem ... waits patiently for a natural explanation. If such is not forthcoming, he admits a scientific mystery and humbly hands over his data to philosophers and theologians" (p 22-3). Perhaps someone can make this all consistent, but Johnston does not give us much guidance.

One recurring problem with this book is that his presentation has many such major incongruities, if not inconsistencies. Although he does accept portions of evolutionary biology, he does not seem to give any reasons for this acceptance. Indeed, on the contrary, we find the same old arguments of the creationists — the arguments against evolution — on matters of common descent, an "old earth", and natural origin of life.

As an example, consider Paley's "watchmaker" argument from design. Although Johnston rejects that argument in strong terms, he quotes favorably Michael Behe's version of that argument, one which is a "challenge to evolution", even though Behe welcomes the parallel with Paley at length (Behe 1996: 209-16).

Another striking case is that, although Johnston accepts the great age of the earth, he objects to the accepted dating of hominid fossils. "[R]adioactive dating depends on several unverifiable assumptions" (p 89), he tells us. Perhaps some "intense cosmic radiation" (p 89) throws it off. In this case, he simply transforms a "young earth" argument into a "young man" argument.

An incongruity occurs in his discussion of the difference between chimpanzees and "man" [sic] (p 93-6). It seems to me that one of Johnston's major concerns is "in John Paul II's words, an 'ontological leap' between the rest of the animal kingdom and man" (p 18). Johnston is undoubtedly being deliberately facetious when he says that one distinction between chimps and humans is that we can understand "what the Super Bowl is, or the difference between Democrats and Republicans" (p 94). Of course, he does go on to mention other distinctions such as free will, conscience, language, and art. But once his facetious comment has called to mind that there are plenty of men and women, Americans and non-Americans, who do not understand the Super Bowl or who cannot tell the difference(s) between Democrats and Republicans, could we then also argue that there are humans who don't have free will, conscience, language, or art? And conversely, characteristics once thought to be exclusively human have a history of failure, so drawing such specific lines of demarcation between humans and other animals may create a sort of "'man' of the gaps" scenario — we look for gaps between humans and other animals that natural science has not yet filled and then move the ontological barrier into those positions.

Despite Johnston's irenic exhortation, and despite his realization that he needs to defend himself by saying "[t]his book is no diatribe against science" (p 12), there is one final incongruity. A great deal of the book is an excoriation of Darwinists as being downright malicious. He tells us both that the "tenacity of Darwin's theory ... can only be explained by its crude materialism" (p 15) and that "the tenacity of Darwin's theory ... can be explained by the fact that it is an effective club with which to beat religion" (p 106). Darwinism, according to Johnston, is a replacement for "political Marxism" among the "cultural elite" (p 10): "Darwin's apologists have few inhibitions about displaying a flippant agnosticism" (p 14). So all you Darwinists are simultaneously crude materialists, religion-clubbers, political-Marxist also-rans, and displayers of flippant agnosticism (I wonder if a Marxist can be an agnostic). Take that! But of course, take it only in the spirit of calm and charitable debate.

Johnston lets off relatively mildly those scientists who are afraid of making their anti-Darwinism known (p 11-2), and scientists who let down their guard when writing for a technical audience (p 45-6). Johnston's disdain also extends to various non-Catholic Christians, although not with the same bile. He thinks that Anglican theology is a "straw man" (p 59) — though it is unclear how something that is seriously advocated by millions can be a straw man. He also has disdain for fundamentalists and evangelicals (p 122). This is definitely not a book for "testifying" to non-Catholics.

Johnston spends some time in Darwin-bashing, telling us about how he was always either a weak Protestant or a stealth atheist, and how overall he was not much of a scientist. And Johnston does not think much of Darwin's family or teachers, either (p 19-23). Relatively mild ad hominem is stretched to the limits when Johnston describes how both the Marxists and the robber barons were Darwinists (p 100 and following). Then, beyond the realm of civilized discourse, he reminds us how Hitler rationalized his regime on the basis of natural selection, and then, surpassing the limits of outrageousness, he concludes: "It is a short step from Darwin to gas ovens and abortion mills" (p 103).

That is the kind of language that one would expect of those comic-book "Christian" publications, and I cannot understand the lapse of the publishers in allowing this obscenity. I do not know whether this comic-book treatment of scientists will succeed more in turning impressionable readers away from "Darwinism" or away from Catholicism. There is a place for calm and charitable — and enlightening and novel — discussion of the relationship between science and faith, but this book is not where to find it.


Behe M. Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: The Free Press, 1996.

Johnston GS. Evolution. In: Shaw R, editor. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine. Huntington (IN): Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 1997. p 219-24. McMullin E, editor. University of Notre Dame Studies in the Philosophy of Religion. Notre Dame (IN): University of Notre Dame Press, 1985. Nr 4, Evolution and Creation.

Stravinskas PMJ, editor. Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia, Huntington (IN): Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. 1991.

About the Author(s): 
Thomas Scharle
2721 East Edison Road
South Bend IN 46615-3505
email: scharle.1@nd.edu
Did Darwin Get it Right? Catholics and the Theory of Evolution
Thomas Scharle
George Sim Johnston
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Huntington (IN): Our Sunday Visitor, 1998. 175 p.