By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, February 6: The conflict between Charles Darwin’s theory of “evolution” and the “creationist” theory of the origin of humans propagated by Islam and Christianity has led to the removal of the Darwinian theory of evolution from school textbooks in some countries. Turkiye banned evolutionism in the school curriculum in 2017, Bangladesh is to follow suit this year, and schools in Arkansas State are sharply divided on the issue.
In his work, The Descent of Man published in 1871, British naturalist Charles Darwin said that human beings and apes have a common ancestor. Navmi Krishna, writing in The Hindu says that Darwin’s theory has been substantiated by scientific evidence that emerged in the 20th century. She points out that the “discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) played a pivotal role in helping scientists study the evolution of life through gradual genetic changes over millions of years.”
Further, “supporting evidence for Darwin’s theory includes morphological similarities like vertebral column and pentadactyl limbs, similarity in gene sequencing in apes and humans, and the comparison among the fossils of the era.”
However, unfortunately, the common perception is that Darwin said that man “directly evolved” from apes. This false interpretation and the notion that “man and the ape have a common ancestor” run counter to the Islamic and Christian belief that human beings are the result of the union between Adam and Eve.
When the 2023 textbook for Class VII was released in Bangladesh, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jatiyo Party (JP) described the “Darwinian” theory as “blasphemous” and wanted the government to investigate and punish those responsible for its inclusion. Jatiya Party MP Golam Kibria Tipu said: “As Muslims we are children of Adam. There is no chance of being monkeys. It is an insult to Islam. A blasphemy law should be enacted in this regard.” The BNP’s Standing Committee demanded the withdrawal of the new textbooks, which they said had anti-religious content.
M. Akhtaruzzaman, a Bangladeshi author of several books on Evolution, Cytogenetics and Genetics, writing in www.en.muktomona.com in 2009 had said that teaching evolution theory had been controversial in Bangladesh, and before it came into being, in Pakistan also.
After Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan in 1971, evolution became a subject of study at the university level as the new government was secular. But this did not last long. The military regimes which came after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, Islamized the country. At Chittagong University, Islamic fundamentalist students forced the cancellation of the course on evolution. The movement drew wide support. The conflict was between the “Evolutionary” (Darwinist) theory and the Scriptural or “Creationist” theory. The topic “Evidences of Evolution” was removed from the Intermediate Biology course around 2001.
Currently, under pressure, the Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina, is in the process of correcting the mistakes in the school textbooks issued for 2023. A team from the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) will visit the schools in March to obtain feedback from students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. Education Minister Dr.Dipu Moni had said that the committee will have religious experts too and that strict action would be taken if any evidence of negligence is found.
Turkiye, which has been Islamizing under President Erdogan, stopped teaching Darwin’s theory in high schools in 2017. A chapter entitled “Beginning of Life and Evolution” was deleted from the standard biology textbook used in schools, though it was made available to students at university level.
Turkiye officials explained to Reuters at that time that since school students did not have the knowledge and scientific temperament to understand some controversial issues, evolutionism was left out. The then Deputy Prime Minister, Numan Kurtulmus (who is currently Deputy Chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party) had described Darwin’s theory as “old and rotten” which could be safely left out.
Although there is no move to get rid of Darwin’s theory in Hindu-majority India, there is a strong move by its current Hindu nationalist rulers to bring curricula in line with ancient Hindu traditions. And to a section of Hindu nationalists, the idea that man evolved from apes is abhorrent.
Satyapal Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader and a former Minister of State for Higher Education, said in 2018 that the “Darwinist theory is scientifically wrong and not fit to be in school and university curricula.” But top scientists condemned Singh’s remarks. Mercifully, the issue did not go beyond that.
In the US
The most modern United States had also faced this issue and still does. In Arkansas, one of the more conservative American States, evolutionism vs creationism has been a hotly contested educational issue for a very long. The opposing parties had frequently resorted to legal action, says an account in the Encyclopedia ofArkansas ( https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/teaching-of-evolution-5991/)
According to the encyclopedia, by the late 19th. Century, many people in Arkansas, indeed all over America, were increasingly disturbed by modernization or secularization of thought. Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) was completely rejected by Rev. Benjamin Marcus Bogard, one of Arkansas’s most influential clergymen, for being contradictory to the Scriptures. In 1928 he said that the evolutionary theory “demoted human beings from their exalted status as God’s children to merely another animal, sharing ancestors with, most closely, the apes.”
In 1927, the “Creationists” submitted a bill to the Arkansas legislature to ban the teaching of Evolution in the state’s publicly-funded educational institutions. The bill was rejected, but in 1928, it was passed. In 1937, 1959, and 1965 bills were presented to overturn the 1928 law. But all attempts failed.
However, no one was ever actually charged for breaking the 1928 law and at any rate, private schools could teach the evolutionary theory.
With the USSR challenging the US in science in the 1950s with the launch of the satellite Sputnik, there was a fresh move in the US to install the study of evolution on the grounds that it was scientific. New biology textbooks were written reflecting this view and were adopted in many States. In 1965, Susan Epperson, a high school biology teacher, sued for the right to teach evolution at the Arkansas Supreme Court. She lost but appealed to the US Supreme Court. The latter struck down the 1928 Act in 1968, on the grounds that it violated the constitution’s principle of separating the Church and State.
By the 1980s, Creationists changed their tactic. They propagated “Creation Science” according to which evolution is merely one theory of how life had originated and developed. The creationists insisted that “scientific evidence if correctly understood, would show that it was at least as likely that life on earth in all its present forms was the result of a sudden, and fairly recent, act of creation.”
In the spring of 1981, the Arkansas legislature passed a law mandating “equal treatment” for “Creation Science” in schools if evolution was taught. The Arkansas American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit against this new law. Creation Science, they argued, was simply a fig leaf to cover an attempt by the creationists to insert their own religious beliefs in the State education system. This was upheld by the Federal District Court of Eastern Arkansas in 1982, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas says.
“But despite these court rulings, Creationism, fueled by biblical literalism, has remained a strong force in Arkansas and has continued to influence the teaching of biology. An option used by creationists has been to send their children to religiously oriented private schools,” the Encyclopedia adds.