Saturday, February 03, 2007

The rise of a global taliban

In the January 11 issue of Nature, three Turkish scientists address the teaching of creationism in Turkish schools. A recent poll showed Turks ranked lowest among 25 developed nations in the acceptance of evolution, a matter of "grave" concern to the three scientists.

It seems that in 1985 a conservative minister of education took the initiative to include creationism in the high-school curriculum and textbooks. Where do you think he went to obtain educational materials? If you guessed the US you are correct. The Turkish Ministry of Education continues to rely on US sources, including intelligent-design materials produced by the Discovery Institute of Seattle.

So we have the ironic situation that as we rue the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, US Christian fundamentalists are participating in undermining the Enlightenment values that have so far kept a secular Turkey from the fundamentalist fold.

Make no mistake, the scientific way of knowing is cut from the same cloth as those Enlightenment values we claim to hold dear in America: democracy, nonsectarian public education, separation of church and state, and religious freedom. It is no accident that countries that excel in science are also those that are most free.

Should we worry that Islamic education is increasingly falling into the hands of religious fundamentalists who disdain modernity and science? You bet. If a "clash of civilizations" is in the offing, it is not so much between Islam and the "Christian" West as between those who look to empiricism for truth about the world and those who look to supposed revelation. It is not encouraging that religiously-motivated Americans are aiding and abetting "the enemy."

Meanwhile, a lawsuit on behalf of a non-governmental educational institution is in the Turkish courts demanding that creationism be removed from the public high school curriculum. In defense, the Ministry of Education contends that evolution is not compatible with Turkish "culture and values." It remains to be seen how the case will play out.