2 Nisan 2009
During Turkey’s "post-modern coup" of 1997, one of the powerful generals, Çevik Bir, said something remarkable. "What we are doing," he pompously argued, "is to do some fine-tuning to democracy." One of his colleagues, Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, is also reported to have explained the need for this military intervention in politics. "The problem," he said, "is that the people in this country are ignorant." The case for the same "fine-tuning" in the face of a dumb society was championed again, more recently, because of the ascendance of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Some pundits have been telling us that the AKP was "fooling the unwashed masses" by either "exploiting religion" or bribing them with welfare campaigns. Democracy was "luxurious" for Turkey, according to this line of thinking, because society was simply not mature enough to make sensible choices.
I think that argument was refuted, for the umpteenth time, in the local elections of last Sunday. The decline in the votes of the incumbent AKP, a remarkable 7 percent, indicated that the electorate is neither foolish nor blind.
The reasons for that decline are hotly debated in the Turkish media these days. Some pundits argue that the secularists’ fear that the country is being Islamized manifested itself in the polls. (While I find that fear often paranoid, I believe the fear itself is a fact that deserves attention.) Others think that the economic crisis, and the unimpressive way the government has handled it, played a big role. The prime minister’s unnecessary war of words with the media, and his chronic problem with anger management, is also shown as a factor. Others point out that the AKP’s rhetoric on the Kurdish question has retreated from its previously more liberal line, and hence the Kurdish electorate moved away from the party.
I believe there is truth in all of these, and they underline what I just have said: People are not dumb, and they judge the government according to pretty rational criteria. Whenever we need a "fine-tuning" in politics, in other words, the only thing we need to do is run to the ballot box. Nothing can humble a prime minister more than a decrease in his votes. That was what I observed in Prime Minister Erdoğan on Sunday night, when he promised to "take a lesson" from the election results.
Having said that, let me also note that the AKP’s decline is not a downfall at all. Some exaggerated comments, and perhaps wishful thinking, are presenting that case in the media these days. People are speaking about "the beginning of the end" and even defining the elections as a "Stalingrad" for Erdoğan’s party. That is of course a possibility, and the AKP might indeed go down that road if it does not take lessons and shape up. But the party’s current support is still strong and should be considered as success. Thirty-nine percent of the votes is a remarkable mandate in Turkish politics. Many of the previous governments came to power with much smaller margins. Moreover, whether you like the AKP or not, you have to see that it is still the only party that promises a solid future for Turkey. If the AKP declines too much, three years from now, we will probably find ourselves in yet another era of coalitions, which have always been bad.
Imagine a coalition with the AKP, and, say, the MHP, the Nationalist Movement Party. Many of the EU reforms, which are not going terribly swift anyway, would be stalled because of MHP’s ideological "red lines" on "Turkishness." That’s why most foreign observers think that the best option for Turkey is still the AKP, but its tendencies to become arrogant and domineering must be checked. And that check is exactly what the voters brought to the table last Sunday.
The case in Şanlıurfa, especially, is very revealing. The city used to have a very successful and popular mayor, Ahmet Eşref Fakıbaba, who had ran on the AKP ticket in 2004. But a little while before the recent elections, other AKP grandees in the city disputed with Fakıbaba. They soon convinced Erdoğan that they didn’t need him, and anybody that the AKP will show as its candidate would win. "Even if we show an jacket (without a person inside!) as a candidate," one of them famously said, "we will win."
Yet look what happened: The abandoned Fakıbaba decided to run as an independent candidate. And he won the elections with an amazing 44 percent of the votes. It was a perfect response of the Şanlıurfa people to the arrogant tone of the AKP, which took them for granted.
That is the biggest lesson of Sunday’s elections: Nobody should take the people for granted, and nobody should assume that they are fools. The real fools are those who insist on making these mistakes.
28 Mart 2009
In the heydays of Turkey’s first "post-modern coup," the "Feb. 28 process" of 1997, the then chief-of-staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı uttered a revealing sentence. "If necessary," he proudly said, "this process will go on for a thousand years." That idea of a militarist dictatorship that would last for a millennium reminded me, at times, of the Nazi’s Third Reich, which was, again, supposed to last for a thousand years. To be sure, the Turkish reich would have been much softer than the German one. Its ethnocentric nationalism would never go as insane as the Nazi’s biological racism. Its extrajudicial murders and killing fields would be nothing when compared to the latter’s gas chambers. And the limited war it could possibly have launched against Iraqi Kurdistan would be utterly minuscule when compared to World War II.
Yet still there was a notable similarity in the regime that the Turkish militarists envisioned and the one the German Nazis realized: totalitarianism. Students of political science know that totalitarianism is a unique phenomenon, and it is different from the more common alternative to democracy, i.e., authoritarianism. Authoritarian regimes simply suppress the society by using crude power. But the totalitarian ones go beyond this; they not just suppress, but also transform and "re-educate." An authoritarian regime would do just fine with draconian laws and powerful guns. But a totalitarian regime also needs means of mass propaganda and social engineering in order to create the New Man.
I personally experienced a glimpse of this "re-education" during my days in the Turkish army. In the summer of 2000, I spent four weeks in a land forces barracks in Samsun, as a part of the compulsory military service. I was just expecting to dodge a few bullets, and wash countless numbers of dishes, which I both did. But there was also an unexpected and quite revealing experience. At the end of the second week, the general who overlooked the whole military base in the city, Osman Doğu Silahçıoğlu, gave a "conference" to us, the soldiers in uniform. To a packed hall of at least a thousand privates, he made a four-hour-long Power Point presentation.
The content of the speech was simply amazing: Gen. Silahçıoğlu started by telling how such a big conspiracy was the Ottoman Empire against "Turkishness." The Ottoman Sultans, according to him, were ethnically impure cosmopolitans who looked down upon the authentic Turks of Central Anatolia. Then he moved on to argue that the real root of the problem was Islam. After presenting some apparent contradictions in the Koran, he argued that it was "a product of Muhammad, an Arab" who allegedly wanted to "Arabize" other nations in order to deprive them from their "national soul." After other negative comments about "Muhammad’s religion," there came the positive stuff: The motivated general started to praise Shamanism, the ancient faith of the pre-Islamic Turks, as a very open-minded, "modern" and rational creed. At the very end, he even made us take an oath, which included clearly Shamanistic themes and compelled us to sacrifice ourselves to "Turkishness."
I must admit that it was one the most eye-opening experiences I ever had in this country. Anyway, the Islam-bashing and Shamanism-praising Gen. Silahçıoğlu soon retired and started to write for daily Cumhuriyet, the bastion of secular nationalism. In a column dated Feb. 3, 2008, he had an interesting suggestion:
"The supporters of the Atatürk Republic should take all the necessary measures in order to stay in power until a new generation is raised." Raising a new generation? With the extravagant ideas that Gen. Silahçıoğlu generously shared with people under his command? Now, this made even more sense to me, when I read a particular sentence by one of the several coup-craving generals in the second Ergenekon indictment. "We need to come and stay [in power] for 10 to 15 years," that general apparently said, "and put things in order."
Of course, this dream did not turn into reality. Due to various factors, such as democrat generals who resisted this plan, the lack of support from outside world, and the level of development the society has achieved, the coup plans failed. That’s why some (and probably not all) of the coup-plotters are facing justice now in the Ergenekon trial.
Against wrong ideas
Yet if things had worked fine for them, the "10 to 15 year long" regime that they would establish to "put things in order" and perhaps to "raise a new generation" would be nothing shorter than totalitarian. Its aspiration for "a thousand years," like that of the Nazis, would be limited to rhetoric, but the way it would try to shape the mind of the society would be similarly ambitious. Political opposition would be wiped, civil society would be crushed, and those who mislead the public with the "wrong ideas" would be silenced. I, personally speaking, probably would not be around to write what I have been writing.
This is really what we seem to have survived from. Thank God.
26 Mart 2009
Have you been following the recent "excavations" in southeastern Turkey? They are horrifying. Things started about 10 days ago, when the police unearthed a curious a piece of skull, burned clothing, a glove and various pieces of bone near BOTAŞ, the state-owned Turkish Pipeline Company. The research continued and soon 20 suspected human bones were discovered close to a village near Cizre. Moreover, a shocking confession came from Abdülkadir Aygan, a former Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, member who later joined security forces and finally settled in Sweden as a "victim of war."
"During the ’90s," Aygan said to the press, "many people were burnt in acid wells and then were buried underground." The bones that were just found are now thought to be the remnants of those real victims of war.
’Counter-terrorism’ via terror
For those who know the ugly truth behind Turkey’s "counter-terrorism" campaign, this is not a big surprise. The climax of that campaign was during the ’90s, when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a truly terrorist group, raised its ongoing insurgency to the level of civil war. In response, Turkish security forces not only carried out massive raids in the country’s mountainous Southeast and even in northern Iraq, but they also decided to deal with the "support base" of the PKK. And horrible human rights abuses came from the latter decision.
What really happened was that the security forces started to kill anybody who was suspected to be a PKK supporter. "A list of Kurdish businessmen who financed the PKK was prepared," says Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer, writer and human rights activist. "Then these people were shot one by one, in the middle a street, or near a highway." Yet most of these poor victims had no option other than financing the PKK: The organization had threatened to kill them and their families had they not supported the Kurdish "national cause." They were simply trapped between two warring parties.
In late ’90s, the Turkish Parliament established a commission to investigate these "unsolved murders." A staggering figure of 17,500 came out as the death toll. These victims included Kurdish businessmen, intellectuals, journalists, activists or simply peasants who made the mistake of giving food and shelter to PKK guerillas when they came to their villages and asked for it. (Had they said no, they then probably would have been killed by the guerillas.) The organization, which is believed to responsible for these extra-judicial killings, is the notorious and murky JİTEM, or the Gendarme Intelligence Organization. The funny thing about JİTEM is that the Turkish military categorically denies that it ever existed. But everybody in the Southeast talks about JİTEM and how its officers killed this or that person.
"They would often shoot someone in the head," notes Cengiz, "and then call his family or relatives to say, ’Your corpse is on that street, go and take it.’" But apparently they used various techniques for execution, Cengiz adds, and the acid wells and the killing fields might be one such atypical method. Killing 17,500 people one by one demands a lot of hard and, sometimes, "creative" work. This was all known in the ’90s, and Parliament’s Unsolved Murders Commission learned that the head of JİTEM was a certain general named Veli Küçük. So, Küçük was invited to testify to Parliament, yet he never bothered to even give an answer. And that was it! Nothing happened. The generals are (or at least they used to be) the highest power brokers in this country, and they have been simply untouchable. But, as you know, thing started to change in the 2000s, and the power of the civil authorities began to grow. That’s why Küçük is now in prison as a crucial suspect in the Ergenekon trial.
Why Ergenekon is crucial
In fact, we have been able to disclose the killing fields thanks to this trial, too. One of the secret witnesses in the Ergenekon investigation told the prosecutors about the story and the location of these wicked places, and that’s how the excavations started. After the discoveries, a colonel, named in the press now only as "C.T.," and who used to be the head of the gendarme forces in Cizre between 1993 and 1996, was arrested. In his confessions, PKK informant Abdülkadir Aygan describes this colonel and his team as follows:
"They really terrorized the people in that area. They threw some people into acid wells simply for being suspected to support to PKK or even having a brother in the mountains. É They also threatened people in order to take their money. Once they dressed up as PKK militants, stopped a bus on the road between Cizre and İdil, and took all the women’s golden bracelets and necklaces."
It sounds pretty awful, right? Well, this is just a glimpse of the way business used to be done in the old Turkey, in which men in uniform were not accountable to anybody. But things are changing, and those who created the killings field or conspired ,m military coups are facing justice for the first time. That’s why the Ergenekon trial is crucial, and that’s why there are so many people around who are doing everything they can to make it fail.
21 Mart 2009
I just listened to the remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama in celebration of Nevruz, the Middle Eastern holiday of spring. And I really liked what I heard.
Nevruz is celebrated by quite a few people in this part of the world, but it is first and foremost a Persian tradition.
The Iranians, whose civilization is truly deep-rooted and well-established, started to celebrate this festival of the "New Day" at least 2,000 years ago and they have defined its meaning and content.
A troubled feastIn Turkey, Nevruz used to be a mainly a Kurdish tradition. No wonder in the 80's, as a Turk growing up in Ankara, the citadel of Turkishness, I had heard nothing about it. Yet toward the 90's Nevruz started to make the headlines, because its celebrations, at which Kurdish youngsters jumped over burning tires, turned into a manifestation of Kurdish identity.
In the face of that, Ankara chose do what it knows best: banning. Finally, in the mid-90's, a "reform" came about and it was declared that the previously outlawed holiday was actually "a well-established Turkic tradition" which we should all honor. Then I saw bureaucrats and ministers jumping on fires in order to celebrate this "national" holiday.
19 Mart 2009
If you want to get a sense of what has been going on in the Turkish political scene lately, you should take a look at the case of Mustafa Balbay. Balbay is the Ankara correspondent of daily Cumhuriyet, the beacon of Kemalist (i.e., secularist and nationalist) ideology. He was arrested 10 days ago, as a part of the Ergenekon trial. (Ergenekon, if that sounds like Chinese to you, is a covert network that allegedly organized bombings and shootings in order to provoke a military coup.) Yet when Balbay was arrested for being a member of Ergenekon, quite a few journalists considered this to be an assault on press freedom. A "signing day" was organized in the offices of Cumhuriyet, at which Balbay’s books were bought and signed by fellow writers who expressed sympathy for their detained colleague. "I don’t want a country," said Mehmet Barlas, a pundit who writes for daily Sabah, "where people are jailed because of what they think."
Media with a mission
All this solidarity for free press was inspiring and moving, especially to those unversed foreigners who had little clue about Ergenekon, but it was a little bit off the target because Balbay was not arrested for something he wrote. No, he was arrested for his alleged role in the covert coup plans of Ergenekon.
And, lo and behold! É Amazing stuff came out from his world. Apparently, he had a detailed diary in his computer, which he thought he deleted, but which was recovered by the police experts. (Lesson: Never trust the trash bin of your PC; digital files are very hard to fully shred.) And this diary included jaw-dropping accounts of a military coup plan in which Mr. Balbay apparently took an active part. The document was "leaked" to the press, as it is often done in popular cases in Turkey and was first published by the Tempo24 magazine. In a matter of hours, the whole Turkish media was all over it. So, what is there in this hot diary? Well, there is the story of a coup plan that some hotheaded generals and their civilian allies such as Balbay started to develop as early as 2003. These generals were very unhappy with the election victory of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which they saw as a both "religionist" and "unpatriotic" force. A two-star general, Erdal Şener, is reported to have regretted that they hadn’t "finished this business" in the previous "soft coup" period of Feb. 28, 1997, and has argued: "We need to come and stay [in power] for 10 to 15 years, and put things in order. É It was much easier in 1997; there was no EU or Copenhagen [criteria]. É Now it is more difficult."
You see the idea? A military regime that will go on for 10 to 15 years and put all of society "in order." God knows how many people would be imprisoned, tortured and killed, and how many lives would be traumatized during this period of ideological restoration.
In the rest of the diary, we see how Mr. Balbay took an active part in convincing the radical generals that they need to find a way to neutralize their more moderate superiors, especially the then chief of general staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök. (Özkök was an exceptional soldier who said, "The only thing Turkey needs more is democracy." He was despised and even depicted as a traitor by radical Kemalists.)
In one interesting episode, retired gendarme commander Gen. Şener Eruygur is reported to give instructions to Balbay and tell him why "patriotic" journalists like him are all too important in the battle against the elected government. "It is crucial that the media does its job," he says, "but you are just a few people." The "job" the general mentions is to convince the public about the evil intentions of the government and thus create public support for the suspension of democracy.
The story behind
But the media, except those "few good people," failed to do the "job" that the irritated generals gave them. "We told Milliyet to put a photo of a covered woman everyday to its front page; the next day they put Hülya Avşar’s back!" a general whines. "With a media like this, how can you make a coup?" (For the uninitiated, let me note that Mrs. Hülya Avşar is a famous Turkish film star whose eye-catching "back" would be reminiscent of, say, that of Mrs. Jennifer Lopez. And the logic behind the covered women photo on the front page is to give the impression that Turkey is rapidly becoming like Iran, and hence we urgently need to be saved by our gallant generals.)
Balbay’s alleged diary is full of so many other details, which makes it highly credible. It also perfectly fits into the details given in another exposed diary Ğ that of retired admiral Özden Örnek, which also documented the proceedings of failed coup plans in 2003 and 2004.
So, this is the story behind the curious case of Mustafa Balbay. If he were arrested simply for his ideas, I would happily join the people who defend him. But things look much more complicated. I just strongly hope that the judges of the Ergenekon trial will be able to unravel them truthfully.
14 Mart 2009
After my latest piece in these pages, titled "Inherit The Turkish Wind," I received quite a few emails from readers who seemed to passionately disagree with what I said. What I said, in summary, was that evolution can be interpreted in both theistic and atheistic ways, and that Turkey’s official science institution, TÜBİTAK, and its publications, should be open to both. "Are you seriously proposing," a reader was asking me in the face of that suggestion, "that Creationism be presented in the pages of a magazine devoted to science?" I think that reader, along with many other "mainstream" commentators on science, get creationism wrong. So, let me tell you how I understand it, and how I think it should be responded.
Intelligent Design and etc
Creationism, in a nutshell, is to try to insert some religious idea into science. This has especially been the case with the issue of biological origins. When evolutionary biologists say, "scientific data indicates that life on Earth evolved gradually over a period of four billions years," the creationist would say something like this: "This can’t be true, because my Scripture gives me a different account." Of course that account comes from not plain Scripture, but the way it is understood by that particular believer. But anyhow, the mistake is simple: If you try to counter scientific facts with religious texts, you are a creationist, and that is a bad idea.
Why a bad idea? Because science, as a universal human endeavor, has to be neutral. If every creed had its own creationism, then we would have Christian science, Muslim science, Hindu science and many other versions according to the world’s numerous creeds. Science, then, would not be the search for objective facts, but the manipulation of them according to subjective beliefs. It would not be science at all.
So, I am no fan of creationism. But I also know that creationism is not the only bias which threatens the neutrality of science. As I explained in my previous column, presenting philosophical naturalism (or, say, atheism) in the cloak of science is another attack on the latter’s objectivity. When the atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins defines himself as "A Devil’s Chaplain," in other words, he is no less biased than a creationist who would see himself as a God’s warrior.
Moreover, not every God-friendly idea that comes out of science is creationism. A scientist, or a commentator on science, can well look at evidence and can say:
"This points to the existence of a Creator." One famous name who recently made that inference is British philosopher Anthony Flew, who used to be one of the world’s most prominent atheists. In 2004, he changed his mind, because he felt convinced, "A deity or a 'super-intelligence' [is] the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature." He even wrote a book titled "There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind."
So, is Flew a creationist now? No, not at all. Because he does not take a religious idea and insert into science. What he rather does is to reason on the findings of science and come to a conclusion which sounds like a religious idea.
What about Intelligent Design (ID) then, which is a new and controversial theory that claims to find evidence for design in the complex structures of nature? It is another form of creationism? I know many people think that way, but I beg to differ. You might find ID convincing or unconvincing, but you have to see that it is an inference from scientific evidence, not religious texts.
The real controversial point about ID is that it challenges the way modern science works: methodological naturalism, i.e., the effort to find only natural causes for natural phenomena. In that sense, it is a very unorthodox theory. And I don’t think that it will triumph over the orthodox naturalist paradigm in a foreseeable future. That’s why I don’t think textbooks or science magazines like the one TÜBİTAK publishes, "Bilim ve Teknik," should be expected to open their pages to ID theorists.
But there is another issue, which is crucial: Methodological naturalism (i.e., finding natural causes for natural phenomena) does not equal philosophical naturalism (i.e., the belief that nature is all there is). In other words, explaining the mechanisms of the universe does not refute the idea that it must have been designed in the very beginning to function that way. In fact, discoveries about the "fine-tuning" of the universe has led some scientists to think that the cosmos was indeed designed in the very beginning to nurture intelligent life.
That is the same reason why biological evolution does not have to be seen in the way that people like Richard Dawkins present: a purposeless, accidental process devoid of meaning. Other scientists, such as Cambridge palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris, rather think that evolution has followed a pre-destined pattern.
The latter view is neither creationism nor a violation of methodological naturalism. Depicting it that way, which is very often done, would be not just naive but also unfair. And we have the right to expect from TÜBİTAK, which has translated the books of Dawkin into Turkish, to show this side of the debate, too, to the Turkish public.
12 Mart 2009
Turkey has just been drawn to yet another controversy with the officially supported science magazine, "Bilim ve Teknik," refraining from publishing a 16-page cover story that highlighted Darwin’s ideas. As also reported in these pages yesterday, the story prepared by the magazine’s chief editor, Dr. Çiğdem Atakuman, was removed at the last minute by Professor Ömer Cebeci, the vice president of TÜBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council), which sponsors the publication. I don’t know anything about the motives of these particular academics, but I have heard that there is a tension in TÜBİTAK between the old generation secularists and the newly appointed religious conservatives. And this Darwin case might well be an example of that conflict.
But why is there such a conflict? The typical secularist narrative will tell us that religious conservatives are simply too bigoted to face any scientific theory that clashes with their dogmas. As iconized by the infamous Scopes Trial, and later popularized by the famous movie, "Inherit the Wind," this account presents us an image of Bible (or Koran) thumping fanatics who try to impose their beliefs on facts.
To be sure, that image is not imaginary, because the world has no shortage of such religious fanatics. But this is only one side of the problem. On the other side, there are secular fanatics who also impose their beliefs on facts. And the more they present their anti-religious philosophies as "science," the more religious people become reactionary to science as such.
The trick that the secular fanatics use here is a simple one: extrapolating philosophical naturalism from methodological naturalism.
If that sounds too theoretical, let me explain. Methodological naturalism is the way modern science works. Since the scientific method is limited observation and experiment, scientists can only examine the natural world. There is no way for them to ask the question, "is there something beyond nature," and then go to a field or a lab to find an answer. The supernatural is a non-issue for the scientific method.
The fact that science cannot dwell on the supernatural also means that it can neither confirm nor deny its existence. In order to deny its existence, you need to accept the other idea I noted, i.e., philosophical naturalism which claims, "Nature is all there is." This is, just like the belief in the supernatural, a belief.
What secular fanatics typically do is to sell their philosophical naturalism in the cloak of science. Carl Sagan, for example, used to open his famous TV show, "Cosmos," by a customary motto: "The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be." Since there is no observation or experiment to support this claim, it is a philosophical presupposition, not a scientific fact. But Sagan was promoting it as if it were a scientific fact.
Now, in the face of that, it is not too surprising to see some religious believers taking a stance against not only philosophical naturalism, but also the inherent methodological naturalism of science that is used to bolster that view.
This is especially true for the Darwinian theory of evolution, which, from the very beginning, has been misused to advance philosophical naturalism and attack traditional religious belief. Darwin himself did not have such a bias, but some of his supporters did. The zeal of the latter day Darwinian atheists such as Richard Dawkins was shared by others as early as late 19th century.
In Turkey, too, Darwinism entered the scene as a tool for atheistic propaganda. It was first imported to the late Ottoman Empire by ultra-secularist Young Turks such as Abdullah Cevdet, who believed that religion should be trashed out for "progress." The Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer or Ernst Haeckel, too, influenced many Young Turks, who, after the Republic, morphed into Kemalists. After the 60’s on, Marxist left took over the evolution debate, and used Darwin to bolster dialectical materialism. In the 70’s you would often see Darwin’s Origin of Species presented along with Marx’s Das Kapital, and a third book with a title such as "The Fallacy of God," or the "The (Ugly) Truth About Islam."
Propaganda and resistance
That’s why Islamic circles in Turkey have typically been resistant to the theory of evolution. Better informed theologians sometimes recall that evolution is not incompatible with the Koran, and in fact some medieval Islamic thinkers had developed evolutionary ideas. But in the face of the propaganda carried out by anti-religious Darwinians, such voices are hardly heard.
In order to have an objective discussion on the origin of life, we have to move beyond these two opposing yet mutually enhancing fanaticisms. Scientific articles in "Bilim ve Teknik" should never be censored, to be sure, but the same magazine should open its pages not just to atheistic but also theistic interpreters of evolution. The latter is something I have hardly seen in TÜBİTAK publications to date.
7 Mart 2009
As you might have already known, the year 2009 is also the "Darwin Year." It is the bicentennial of the birthday of the great British naturalist, and sesquicentennial of publication of his famous book "The Origin of Species." Hence we hear a lot these days about evolution, its history and, most important of all, its meaning. That meaning is what makes the theory of evolution interesting to most of us. Unlike other theories of science, such as the one on plate tectonics, Darwin’s idea deals with essential questions such as where we humans came from. That’s why various ideologies, ranging from Marxism to racism, have tried to make use of Darwin’s theory in order to vindicate their philosophical claims. But none of these philosophical claims have been as ambitious and persistent as the one advanced by the atheists. They claim to know that there is no God, and that Darwin’s theory makes that presupposition highly credible.
The fitness of environment
In other words, atheists -- at least the most evangelical of them, such as Richard Dawkins -- interpret Darwinian evolution in an atheistic framework. This often leads religious believers to take a defensive, or sometime offensive, stance against evolution. Atheists respond by referring to the classic science-versus-blind-faith clich. And the vicious cycle goes on.
Yet it is possible to get out of that cycle. For that Darwinism does not vindicate atheism. What it refutes is not theism (faith in God), but only a literalist interpretation of Scriptures.
Let me explain. From the atheist’s perspective, what Darwinism does is to explain life on Earth as the products of two basic dynamics: natural laws and random happenings. (French atheist Jasques Monod had called them "chance and necessity.") Once they explain the emergence and variety of life by these two factors, they believe, they will take God out of the picture.
But let’s wait a minute, and take a closer look at natural laws. These are the constant rules that govern the physical universe: Water freezes and boils at certain temperatures, certain chemicals react with each other, and apples fall down from trees. We all know that. But there are two good questions that we should ask: Why these laws exist in the first place? And, moreover, what would happen if they were different?
The first question led philosophers throughout history to infer a "Law Giver." That is, of course, a speculation. That’s why the second question might make more sense, because it can help us understand whether there was a purpose behind these laws, or they just popped up out of nothing, accidentally, giving us an accidental universe.
The first modern scientist to address this question, as far as I know, was Lawrence Joseph Henderson, whose 1913 book, "The Fitness of the Environment," examined "the biological significance of the properties of matter." Looking at the amazingly "well-fit" properties of water, and other elements of the environment, he concluded that they were surprisingly "bio-centric." In other words, if evolution were a four-billion-year-long show, its stage was perfectly prepared.
The idea took a new dimension when astrophysicist Brandon Carter proposed the idea of "Anthropic Principle," in 1973, at a symposium honoring Copernicus's 500th birthday. Copernicus had shown that we humans were not at the center of the universe, but Carter’s findings were suggesting that we are actually at the center of its purpose. Because all the constants of the physical laws of the universe were "just right" in order to allow the emergence of life. If the nuclear forces were just a little different, for example, there would not even be atoms in the universe, let alone planets, trees and people. Same "fine-tuning" was found in gravity, magnetism and chemical laws, too.
As the evidence for the Anthropic Principle piled, many physicist started to the doubt and even reject the materialist conception of cosmology. "It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the universe," said Paul Davis, a British astrophysicist. "The impression of design is overwhelming."
Now, in such a "designed" universe, biological evolution does not imply anything other than the unfolding of a cosmic plan for the making of life and its amazing diversity. Philosophically it doesn’t really matter much whether a specific group of reptiles evolved into birds, or some hominids slowly turned into Homo sapiens. What matters is whether there was a purpose behind all this. And the "new physics," to use Davies’ term, strongly suggests that there is indeed such a purpose.
Therefore, unless your idea of "creation" is an extremely literalist one which makes you expect a divine hand coming down from the sky to instantly form a new species, you should be fine with such a predestined evolution as a believer.
That’s why the Darwin Year is not the year of atheism. Atheists might like to think so, but theirs is wishful thinking, not a realist one.