Dictator of Turkey Eliminates Teaching of Evolution
Multiple media outlets have reported the conservative Islamist government of Turkey has removed the theory of evolution by natural selection from the official high school curriculum. This move to dismantle real education comes as dictator Recep Erdoğan is firing or imprisoning thousands of intellectuals, teachers, professors, and civil servants.
First things first: Recep Erdoğan is no longer a “president” of Turkey, he is a dictator.
Like other dictators, he was originally elected but has consolidated power by altering his country’s constitution. Like other dictators, he has taken steps to consolidate his grip on information and eradicate dissent. Like other dictators, he has cast himself as the courageous defender of the local faith.
What Do We Stand For?
During the cold war, Americans used to distinguish themselves from the authoritarian statists of the communist bloc. Americans had an open media, while the poor saps living in totalitarian countries had only propaganda. American children learned the facts in school, it was thought, not the latest political messaging. Finally, many educated Americans of that era believed our scientific prowess was unmatched because our open education system, peer review, and freedom of speech set us apart from the authoritarians and their tightly controlled subjects.
This was the explanation for why America invented the light bulb, was first to develop the atomic bomb, and developed a vaccine for polio. This was why the United States planted its flag on the moon.
The Americans of the near past were certainly not particularly progressive, scientifically minded, or tolerant by today’s standards. However, they could usually at least recite the value set of intellectual freedom. Also, there was an understanding that from intellectual freedom came political freedom. Kids were taught this in school, along with natural selection.
A Truthy New World
These classic enlightenment ideals seem to have fallen by the wayside in the current, post-factual era. Our generation has witnessed “truthiness” being added to the dictionary and we’ve quietly overseen the decline of traditional journalistic integrity. People now get their information from unreliable news outfits on the internet, TV channels, and websites that repackage the news with a partisan skew, and the intellectual herd on ideologically-filtered social media apps.
In this intellectual climate, how long can it be until the United States also eliminates teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection?
How long until the theocrats in our government start to eliminate the science they find offensive – oh wait, that already happened when the U.S. government started scrubbing government websites of climate change information. Similarly, dictator Erdoğan has already banned Wikipedia from his country.
Theocracy And Autocracy
The current generation of Americans may have forgotten what our grandparents learned during the 20th century: It is impossible for a society to have political freedom unless it also has intellectual freedom.
When our teachers are denied the liberty to teach, it will not be long until our journalists are denied the liberty to report. When politically inconvenient facts can be scrubbed from school textbooks, they will soon be banned from other books and from the internet. If the truth can be crushed because it offends religious people, those same religious people will soon crush those who speak the truth.
Theocracy and autocracy are the new enemies of intellectual and political freedom. Theocrats seek ruthless leaders willing to force everyone else to agree with their mindset. Autocrats seek to align themselves with religion, so that their brutality will be seen as a force for good. In Recep Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin we see the future of the counter-enlightenment.
If the post-factual era has confused us about what we stand for, then perhaps we can dig into our intellectual heritage and resolutely state the following:
- Science should be pursued and the results taught without political interference.
- Reason should be applied to evidence in order to make political decisions.
- When political power is concentrated in one person, intellectual, political, and civil freedoms are limited.
- A democratic republic is preferable to a theocracy/autocracy.
Turkey’s ban on the theory of evolution is a wake-up call. After all, this has long been on the wish list of the religious right in the United State. The thing to do now is to exercise and celebrate our intellectual freedom, and to call out this decision for what it is – an attack on education for political gain.