26th April 2009
Darwin Anniversary Symposium held in Istanbul

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, a two-day symposium and major public meeting has been held in Istanbul, attended by distinguished international speakers and delegates from Turkey and other countries. 

This is the first time that Istanbul, one of the major cities of the world in history, culture and learning, has hosted an international scientific meeting on evolution. A special web-site has been established at www.Darwin200Istanbul.org to provide information about Darwin’s life and evolution in both Turkish and English. 

On the evening of Friday, 24 April, over 400 students and others gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Istanbul to commemorate ‘Darwin the Man’. Historian John Hedley Brooke introduced Darwin, not only as the great natural historian who changed the face of biology, but also as a man who experienced both adventure and tragedy in his life. Darwin was also brought back to life in theatrical form with the first performance in Turkey of Re:Design, a dramatization performed by the Menagerie Theatre Company of the famous correspondence between Charles Darwin and the American biologist Asa Gray.Turkish national television (TRT) filmed a discussion of Darwin’s fascinating theory of evolution for a TV show presented by Mithat Bereket in which an international panel of four biologists and one journalist took ‘hard’ questions from the audience about the fossil record, the evolution of humans, and the relationship between science and religion. Prof. Asli Tolun from Bogaziçi University spoke about the impact of evolution on the genetic diversity of the Turkish people, relevant to both medicine and the tracing of migratory pathways. Prof. Francisco Ayala of the University of California offered a critique of Intelligent Design and explained why he sees evolution as Darwin’s great gift both to science and to religion. Prof. Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University showed how evolution repeatedly leads to similar biological forms and that the evolution of intelligent creatures like ourselves is not unexpected. The evening public event was preceded by a two-day scientific Symposium addressing cutting edge evolutionary biology and the challenges of teaching biological evolution in Turkey today. The Symposium was attended mainly by biology faculty and PhD students from universities all over Turkey.Two speakers, Prof. Erksin Gulec (Ahi Evran University, Turkey) and Prof. David Lordkipanidze (Georgian National Museum), surveyed recent finds in Turkey and Georgia, respectively, relevant to human evolution.

The discoveries from Georgia show that Homo erectus was present in Europe far earlier than previously imagined.Prof. Sukru Hanioglu, Professor of Near East Studies at Princeton University, was unable to be present in person, but made a special film for the Symposium, showing how evolution in the 19th century was conveyed to Ottoman society more as a philosophy than as a biological science. In fact Darwin’s Origin of Species was not translated into Turkish until 1971. Speaker John Hedley Brooke remarked that “Many scientists are commemorated on their anniversaries; there is nothing peculiar about that. However, one has to concede that Darwin’s scientific ideas are seen as particularly controversial, so it’s important that we refine our insights about Darwin and his ideas and that we learn the quality of the science that supports his view.”Speaker Francisco Ayala commented that: “Evolution is the central concept in biology. Agriculture, medicine, and some aspects of industry can only be properly understood in the context of evolution, so Darwin is very relevant to modern life”.Turkish NTV News Channel reports Istanbul Darwin Conference.

To view click here. The Symposium and public event were both organised by The Faraday Institute, Cambridge, and supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. This is one of a series of events this year in which The Faraday Institute is involved in commemorating the Darwin200 Anniversary.

For media enquiries, please contact Katie Turnbull (tel: 44-1223-740929) kjt39@cam.ac.uk or Clare Redfern (tel: 44-1223-741276) cer58@cam.ac.uk

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