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Evolution under Scrutiny in Turkey


Unsatisfied and unconvinced by what he was being taught about evolution at Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey, 21-year old student Enes Kayan knew there was another side which was never presented in his courses. So in 2012, Enes, a member of the Marmara Young Vision Student Club, decided to organize a symposium in which he and other Marmara students could hear alternative views on evolution, including intelligent design. The idea that evidence against Darwinism, and even for intelligent design, could be freely presented at a university angered some students and professors, and about 300 of them staged a protest, which Enes said actually worked to his advantage as it brought publicity to the event, which was held on May 16-17, 2012.

The event was such a success that Enes decided to organize a similar event the following year, and invite scientists from outside Marmara University, including some from outside Turkey, and the “First International Conference on Queried Evolution,” was held on May 4, 2013 at Marmara University. I was actually invited as one of the international speakers, but had to decline because the event was in the middle of the last week of classes at the University of Texas El Paso. The meeting was organized by Enes, and run entirely by students from Marmara Young Vision Student Club, who found sponsors to pay the expenses of the visiting scientists, including the Student Council of Turkey, a dependency of the Council of Higher Education of Turkey.

The following year Enes organized a second international conference with the Erzurum Young Vision Student Club, this time it was held at Ataturk University in Erzurum in eastern Turkey, and sponsors included the city government of Erzurum and the university itself. Enes again invited me, this time I decided to accept despite the fact that it was again held in the middle of the last week of my classes, May 7, 2014. And so this year I was able to participate in the event and witness the work he and his fellow students had done in organizing it.

The meeting was held in a large 550-seat auditorium at the Culture and Performance Center building and attended by over 600 students during the day. Since some of the talks were in English while others were in Turkish, simultaneous translation was provided by a student interpreter. I heard (through the interpreter) mentions of “specified complexity,” “the explanatory filter,” “irreducible complexity” and other familiar ID terms during some talks, but other speakers presented a range of different viewpoints, including at least one who defended the traditional Darwinist viewpoint. Most of the speakers discussed the origin of life and biological evolution, but one physicist centered his discussion on the fine-tuning of the constants of physics. Lecturers were invited from Celal Bayar University, Dokuz Eylul University, Yidirim Beyazit University, Ataturk University, Ankara, Edmonton, and London. My talk was entitled “The Common Sense Law of Physics,” here is the video that I created while preparing for the trip, which closely parallels my lecture.

I enjoyed seeing Istanbul on the trip in, Enes and his girlfriend showed me the main tourist attractions, and I was especially impressed by Erzurum, which I found was a winter sports capital of sorts, even boasting a couple of large ski jumps near campus. Ataturk University, founded in 1957, now has over 70,000 students, with an attractive and modern campus. For me, the most amazing thing about this conference, which I hope will be continued next year (with the English translation of the title changed from “Queried Evolution” to “Evolution under Scrutiny” at my suggestion!), is that it seemed to be as well-organized and well-run as any scientific conference I have attended, yet all of the organization and all the work was done by a group of 15-20 students. In fact, other than the invited speakers, I don’t recall seeing anyone who did not seem to be of student age. For a 23-year old student to undertake the task of organizing an international scientific meeting on any topic is quite an accomplishment, but for Enes and his fellow students to successfully organize a conference in which alternative views on evolution are presented is especially impressive.

It has been said that when an old theory is replaced, it is often not because its adherents change their minds, but because a new generation embraces the new theory. I may have seen this principle in action last week in Turkey.

Enes Kayan, organizer of the Congresses
Enes Kayan, organizer of the Congresses