NEW DELHI—A new front has opened in the war on science in India. On Friday, India’s minister for higher education, Satyapal Singh, took aim at the theory of evolution. Calling himself “a responsible man of science,” Singh, a chemist, suggested that Darwin’s theory is “scientifically wrong” and “needs to change” in school and university curricula. In remarks on the sidelines of a conference in Aurangabad, in central India, Singh further noted that “nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man.”
Top scientists have condemned Singh’s remarks. They “seem to be aimed at politically polarizing science and scientists, and that is the real danger we must guard against,” says Raghavendra Gadagkar, immediate past president of the Indian National Science Academy and an ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. Yesterday, India’s three science academies released a statement endorsed by more than 2000 scientists, declaring that “it would be a retrograde step to remove the teaching of the theory of evolution from school and college curricula or to dilute this by offering nonscientific explanations or myths.”
Singh is not the only voice in India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) espousing antiscience views. The government took heat last year over an effort to validate panchagavya, a folk remedy based on cow dung, as a cure-all, and in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that the world’s first plastic surgery was performed in India when the Hindu deity Ganesh was created with a human body and an elephant head. “The BJP is the fountainhead of scientific nonsense,” says opposition politician Jairam Ramesh, a mechanical engineer by training.
Singh is not backing down. Over the weekend, he said his ministry intends to hold a conference in which evolutionary theory and creationism “could be debated openly.” However, a senior Indian official, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, told The Press Trust of India on Tuesday that the government has no plan “for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong.”
*Update, 23 January, 11:23 a.m.: This story has been updated with comment from a senior official, who said the government has no plan “for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong.”