The father of the evolution theory, 19th Century British scientist, Charles Darwin sparked an all out political fight in Turkey on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Darwin hit the headlines when, Prof. Omer Cebeci, the vice-chairman of Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Council (TUBITAK) stopped the printing of the March issue of the council’s monthly magazine Bilim ve Teknik (Science and Technology) at the very last moment and ordered the change of the cover story which was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the British scientist. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 2009 as the year marking the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous work “On the Origin of Species.”
While the opponents of the government pointed out to the move as yet another evidence of the onslaught of political Islam, which is not comfortable with Darwin’s theory that homo sapiens evolved from other forms of life, the administration of TUBITAK argued that the change of the cover story was simply due to editor’s failure to get proper authorization for its publication.
TUBITAK was founded in 1963 as self-governing body to promote scientific and technical research. Its magazine has been in publication more than 40 years with a very wide readership. The magazine has been publishing articles on various subjects such as progresses about human health, life in space, travel in time, solar energy and even Darwin’s evolution theory.
“Bilim ve Teknik” came out in March with a cover story on global warming and climate change. According to press reports Dr. Cigdem Atakuman was fired from her job as the director of the magazine because she failed to get authorization from the council for the cover story on Darwin.
TUBITAK which was founded as a self-governing body in 1963 came gradually under the control of governments through consecutive amendments to the legislation governing its functioning. The last move came in 2003 when the Erdogan government passed an amendment authorizing the prime minister to appoint members to the Scientific Council running TUBITAK.
Prof. Omer Cebeci who objected to the Darwin cover story is one of these new appointees. His academic background includes a nine-year stint at the King Abdel Aziz University in Saudi Arabia.
Theologians join the discussion
The story unleashed a heated debate on Darwinism in Turkey in which some theologians also joined. Prof. Yasar Nuri Ozturk who has served as faculty member and dean in the Turkish university system for 26 years, claimed in an article that Darwin “stole” the evolution theory from an Islamic philosopher by the name of Ibn Miskeveh. “The evolution theory does not belong to the West, it was first introduced by Ibn Miskeveh who lived in Iran between 940 and 1030,” wrote Ozturk.
While Suleyman Ates, a former head of Department of Religious Affairs, says that Darwin’s evolution theory should not be rejected. But, he rejects the idea that humankind came from monkeys.
Special Darwin issue is coming
“Bilim ve Teknik” will publish a special issue on Darwin, said Prof. Abdullah Atalar, one of the members of TUBITAK’s Science Council. Atalar rejecting claims in the Turkish media that the administration censored the cover story on Darwin said, “Darwin is a very important scientist and his 200th anniversary is being celebrated. Censoring Darwin by TUBITAK is out of question. Omer Cebeci objected to the hastily prepared Darwin article. We shall put out a special issue on Darwin shortly.”
It seems that the argument whether political motives played a role in changing the cover of the magazine will not end until TUBITAK comes out with its special issue on Darwinism.