War makes strange bed fellows, especially in Turkey, where a dispute over creationism vs Darwinism has created an unusual alliance between the country's Islamists and conservative Christians in the US.
Darwin's Theory of Evolution, in layman's terms, proposes that life descended from organisms through "survival of the fittest." Creationism holds that life was created by an all-knowing being, that is, God.
Creationism advocates from the US traveled to Istanbul May 2007 to meet with their counterparts, seeking to galvanize their link in the fight to bring creationism to schools and universities in their respective countries. The meeting was endorsed by Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbas, a member of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
"There are outstanding figures within Islamic theology who have participated in this discussion. There is no reason to be surprised, there is a very rich tradition," David Berlinski, keynote speaker for the meeting and an analyst for the US-based Discovery Institute, an organization that opposes what it terms "neo-Darwinism," told ISN Security Watch.
"This is a hot issue. We are in the midst of a worldwide religious revival. Historians 500 years from now will talk about the religious revival of the late 20th century and early 21st century."
The meeting appeared to be well received by the audience of college and high school students, drawn from the city's elite education institutions.
"Darwinism is, of course, against Muslim belief system as well," Ayse Sayman, a 20-year-old student at Istanbul's Bosphorus University told ISN Security Watch. "That is why it makes sense that it is debated here as well. And counter-arguments should be developed to the theory. That is why I am interested in this."
Planting the seed in fertile minds
The May meeting is part of a growing battle for the hearts and minds of Turkey's youth. In fact, conference organizer Mustafa Akyol told ISN Security Watch, in Turkey the creationism-evolution debate is more extensive than it is anywhere in the world.
Akyol is also a member of the Journalists and Writers Foundation, established by Fethullah Gulen, leader of a wealthy Islamic sect that bears his name, the Gulen Movement. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile after fleeing charges of subverting the state, or more specifically, of attempting to "undermine secularism" in Turkey. After long trial, he was acquitted in 2006 but the case has since been reopened, despite the fact that he is said to actually be in the good graces of the current government.
Gulen has an influential network of TV and newspaper interests in Turkey along with close ties to the government. It is rumored he even has the ear of Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
The Gulen Movement, along with other creationist advocates, has been lobbying with increasing success for school textbooks to put creationism on equal footing with Darwinism.
Their efforts are causing increasing concern among Turkey's academic community. Last year, 600 academics presented a petition to the Education Ministry citing alarm over the growing presence of creationist ideas in biology text books.
"Here it explains how life evolved, this part is quite scientific, but then right after that, it starts with the creationist ideas. This should really not be in a scientific book, because this is a religious view," Molecular biology professor Asla Tolon told ISN Security Watch as she perused a state biology textbook.
Tolon, a professor at Bosphorus University, has been monitoring what she says is the encroachment of creationist ideas in school textbooks, which she says is leading her students to increasingly challenge the basic tenets of biology.