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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Indian Creationists have been muted, at least for now

“Creationists’ idea of the world and life are derived from literal interpretation of theology and they believe that life and the universe are creations of god”

mumbai Updated: Jan 29, 2018 12:40 IST
Manoj Nair
Manoj Nair
Hindustan Times
Junior education minister Satyapal Singh has questioned Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory.
Junior education minister Satyapal Singh has questioned Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory.(HT FILE)

The country’s junior education minister Satyapal Singh, a ‘man of science’ in his own estimation, has questioned Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory. The theory, which was propounded in 1859, says that humans originated from primates that evolved and diverged into different species over millions of years.

Singh’s comments were condemned by scientists and academicians but, unfazed by the criticism, he went on to add that there were no eye-witness accounts of apes turning into humans. Even as the country was reacting to his nonsensical theories, he told a TV channel that Darwin’s theory was being challenged across the world.

The groups which share Singh’s scepticism are called Creationists whose idea of the world and life are derived from literal interpretation of theology. They believe that life and the universe are creations of god. Recently, one of them – a Republican congressman — dismissed evolution, the Big Bang theory – which talks about the creation of the universe – and called them lies from hell. Though his representatives clarified that these were his personal beliefs, the views were an embarrassment to his party because like Singh, whose office is responsible for deciding what children learn in schools, the American held an important public office as a member of a federal science committee.

In America, some states, especially those in the more religious south – called the ‘Bible Belt’ — have debated the addition of a warning message in school biology textbooks saying the books discussed the evolution theory. One state – Alabama – requires the books to carry an insert that tells students that evolution is a “controversial theory” and that questions have been raised about the idea. Darwin evokes scepticism in other parts of the religious world. In 2009, when the world was observing the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, a survey of North Africa, Pakistan, Turkey and other Muslim societies claimed that only 15% of people believed in Darwin’s theory. A poll conducted in Britain showed that a majority – though only by a small margin – wanted theology-backed versions on the origins of life to be included in textbooks along with Darwin’s theory.

Indians who question Darwin’s theory do not have the numbers or the influence of the Creationists. Prabha Purohit, former professor of maths at a Mumbai college and a member of the rationalist group Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, said, “But the silence has been on the evolution of man, but instances of groups taking recourse to mythology (to explain contemporary issues) are common. One example is the contention that the chain of islands and rocks in the Palk Strait are manmade and that they are remnants of the Ram Setu,” said Purohit. “I think every religion has a theory on how the universe was created, but most people practice their religion (while understanding contemporary ideas).”

Singh’s comments did not surprise Purohit. She related an incident when Singh was the police commissioner of Mumbai. “Our group had gone to meet him at his office in Fort. He greeted us by asking: Are you the people who do not believe in god? He had these views all the time.”

Research by Dr Nidhal Guessoum of the American University of Sharjah, found that Islamic theological views on Darwin’s theory ranged from total rejection to complete acceptance. In the middle of the spectrum were people who believed that the theory can be applicable to animals, but humans were exceptional, meaning that something divine must be responsible for the existence of man. Raghavendra Gadagkar, professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, said the government response has put an end to the controversy over the minister’s statement. The minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar said the government has no intention to hold a debate on Darwin‘s theory. “I wholeheartedly welcome this statement not only because it is correct but also because it reinforces my confidence that creationism and other pseudo-science will not find the kind of state patronage that they seem to get in the USA and some other countries,” said Gadagkar.

First Published: Jan 28, 2018 23:13 IST

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