ISTANBUL A lavishly illustrated "Atlas of
Creation" is mysteriously turning up at schools and libraries
in Turkey, proclaiming that Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution is the real root of terrorism.
Arriving unsolicited by post, the large-format tome offers
768 glossy pages of photographs and easy-to-read text to prove
that God created the world with all its species.
At first sight, it looks like it could be the work of
United States creationists, the Christian fundamentalists who
believe the world was created in six days as told in the Bible.
But the author's name, Harun Yahya, reveals the surprise
inside. This is Islamic creationism, a richly funded movement
based in predominantly Muslim Turkey which has an influence
U.S. creationists could only dream of.
Creationism is so widely accepted here that Turkey placed
last in a recent survey of public acceptance of evolution in 34
countries -- just behind the United States.
"Darwinism is dead," said Kerim Balci of the Fethullah
Gulen network, a moderate Islamic movement with many
publications and schools but no link to the creationists who
produced the atlas.
Scientists say pious Muslims in the government, which has
its roots in political Islam, are trying to push Turkish
education away from its traditionally secular approach.
Aykut Kence, biology professor at the Middle East Technical
University in Ankara, said time for discussing evolution had
been cut out of class schedules for the eighth grade this year.
"The students will just learn there is a theory called
evolution defended by Darwin back in the 19th century," he
said. "However, views of Islamic thinkers from the Middle Ages
about evolution and creation have been included."
A DOSE OF RELIGION
Like the Bible, the Koran says God made the world in six
days and fashioned the first man, Adam, from dust. Other
details vary but the idea is roughly the same.
But unlike in the West, evolution theory has not undermined
the traditional creation story for many Muslims.
"Science is hardly an issue in Turkey, therefore evolution
could hardly have been an issue," said Celal Sengor, a geology
professor at Istanbul Technical University.
Darwinism did become an issue during the left-versus-right
political turmoil before a 1980 military coup because Communist
bookshops touted Darwin's works as a complement to Karl Marx.
"It looked like Marx and Darwin were together, two
long-bearded guys spreading ideas that make people lose their
faith," said Istanbul journalist Mustafa Akyol.
After the coup, the conservative government thought a dose
of religion could bolster the fight against the extreme left.
In 1985, a paragraph on creationism as an alternative to
evolution was added to high school science textbooks and a U.S.
book "Scientific Creationism" was translated into Turkish.
In the early 1990s, leading U.S. creationists came to speak
at several anti-evolution conferences in Turkey.
DARWIN AND TERROR
Since then, a home-grown strain of anti-Darwinist books has
developed with a clearly political message.
"Atlas of Creation" offers over 500 pages of splendid
images comparing fossils with present-day animals to argue that
Allah created all life as it is and evolution never took place.
Then comes a book-length essay arguing that Darwinism, by
stressing the "survival of the fittest," has inspired racism,
Nazism, communism and terrorism.
"The root of the terrorism that plagues our planet is not
any of the divine religions, but atheism, and the expression of
atheism in our times (is) Darwinism and materialism," it says.
One Istanbul school unexpectedly received three copies
recently. "It's very well done, with magnificent photos - a
very stylish tool of creationist propaganda," said the
headmaster, who asked not to be named.
The driving force behind these books is a reclusive Islamic
teacher named Adnan Oktar who over the past decade has
published a flood of books under the pseudonym Harun Yahya.
"Harun Yahya has managed to create a media-based and
popular form of creationism," said Taner Edis, a Turkish-born
physicist at Truman State University in Missouri.
Harun Yahya, which is probably a pool of writers, has
turned out over 200 books in Turkish and translated many of
them into 51 other languages.
Oktar, 50, appears on the group's Web site sporting a
clipped beard and dapper suits. His works can be found in
Islamic bookshops around the world and downloaded for free over
Nobody seems to know how all this is funded. The Harun
Yahya organization, based in Istanbul, declined to comment
despite interview requests from Reuters.
Intelligent Design (ID), a more recent argument about
life's origins that is championed by U.S. Christian groups, may
also be making the leap across the Atlantic.
ID says some organisms are too complex to have evolved
without some superior cause, but avoids calling that cause God
because that would ban it from U.S. science textbooks.
Akyol, a Muslim believer who says Darwinism is incompatible
with his faith, has been waging an uphill struggle to
popularize ID here. But most Turks show no interest because
they see no need to avoid naming God.
His lonely campaign got an unexpected boost last month when
Education Minister Huseyin Celik hinted on television that he
might want to see it added to Turkish textbooks.
"If it's wrong to say Darwin's theory should not be in the
books because it is in line with atheist propaganda, we can't
disregard intelligent design because it coincides with beliefs
of monotheistic religions about creation," he told CNN Turk.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler)