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Satyapal Singh should be moved out of HRD ministry

It’s bizarre that an education minister should have spoken in this manner. As the statement by scientists says “it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality … it also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith in genuine research by Indian researchers.”

opinion Updated: Jan 27, 2018 21:42 IST
Satyapal Singh,human resource development,Mumbai Police commissioner.
Though he may be a man of science, a Ph.D in chemistry does not qualify Satyapal Singh to dispute Darwin. His position is the equivalent of a geologist proclaiming genetics is sophistry. He simply lacks the necessary scientific credentials.(Hindustan Times)

I’m baffled by Satyapal Singh. He’s not just the junior minister for human resource development (which, in effect, is education) but also a former Mumbai Police commissioner. Such men are usually rational, cautious and carefully ensure what they say is supported by facts. Yet Satyapal Singh has publicly refuted Darwin’s theory of evolution. He said: “Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong … nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man.” He’s added we “need to change school and college curriculum” and wants to hold an international event to prove Darwin wrong.

So outraged are India’s three top science academies (the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Sciences and the Indian Academy of Science) that they have in a joint statement said, “There is no scientific basis for the minister’s statements. Evolution theory, to which Darwin made seminal contributions, is well established. There is no scientific dispute about the basic facts of evolution. This is a scientific theory.”

Although his senior minister has admonished him, Singh has dug his feet in. Claiming he’s “a man of science (and) a Ph.D. in Chemistry” he insists “Darwin’s theory is being challenged the world over. Darwinism is a myth.”

A separate statement on the internet, signed by over 2000 scientists, says: “It’s factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community. On the contrary every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights.”

I have five key points to make about Singh’s pronouncement on Darwin’s theory. First, though he may be a man of science, a Ph.D in chemistry does not qualify him to dispute Darwin. His position is the equivalent of a geologist proclaiming genetics is sophistry. He simply lacks the necessary scientific credentials.

Second, the minister has clearly misunderstood Darwin’s theory. When he says: “Nobody … has said they saw an ape turning into a man” he’s assuming Darwin spoke of instant metamorphosis and not an evolutionary process stretching over millions of years. And when the minister says “our grandparents” tales never mentioned this he’s overlooking the fact it would be miraculous if they had!

Third, the minister seems to have misunderstood the questions that have been raised about Darwin’s theory. These do not refute Darwin but simply claim his theory does not fully explain “all of the complexity of life”. In other words, evolution is not disputed but it doesn’t provide answers to everything.

Fourth, it’s bizarre that an education minister should have spoken in this manner. As the statement by scientists says “it harms the scientific community’s efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality … it also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith in genuine research by Indian researchers.”

Finally, the minister is also in breach of his constitutional duty. Article 51A (h) states it’s “the duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper”. Clearly Satyapal Singh is in breach of this requirement, not just as education minister and an MP but also as a citizen.

So, should he continue in government? At the very least, should he be moved from the education portfolio? I’m confident that in any other major democracy a man who calls Darwinism “a myth” would be laughed out of office. If that doesn’t happen in India what would it say of our democracy, our respect for science and the credibility of those who govern us?

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 27, 2018 17:49 IST