ISTANBUL, Turkey — 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 U.S. 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 big 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.
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-vs.-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 the terrorist?
Since then, a home-grown strain of anti-Darwinist books has developed with a clearly political message.
“Atlas of Creation” offers more than 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 more than 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 the Internet.
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 making the leap
Intelligent design, 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.
The concept's proponents say some organisms are too complex to have evolved without some superior cause, but avoid calling that cause God, for fear that such a reference would ban the concept from U.S. science textbooks. Last year, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that even the intelligent-design formulation represented a strain of religious thought that should not be advocated in public schools.
Akyol, a Muslim believer who says Darwinism is incompatible with his faith, has been waging an uphill struggle to popularize intelligent design 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.
This article includes additional reporting by Daren Butler for Reuters.
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.