Thousands of scientists in India have signed an online petition protesting against the foot in mouth comments by the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development who recently publicly questioned the scientific validity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and called for changes in educational curricula. He had observed that Darwin’s theory of evolution of humans “is scientifically wrong” adding that “nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, have said they saw an ape turning into a man”. It is an outrageous statement that can’t be ignored because couple of days later, the minister proposed holding an international seminar on the subject suggesting that Darwin’s “Origin of Species” needs to be changed in curriculum of schools and colleges.
The minister’s remarks have come at a time when India is already battling a rising tide of pseudoscience by some politicians. Some time back an astrology workshop that was planned at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore was cancelled after an uproar.
The comments provoked an outrage from the scientific community which has launched an online petition asking the minister to retract his claims. The petition has collected more than 3,000 signatures from eminent scientists. Top scientific institutions issued a joint statement, condemning the minister’s egregious observations. Though the Human Resource and Development Minister Prakash Javadekar has now asked his junior to desist from making comments on such issues and has clarified that there was no plan to organise any national seminar to prove Darwin wrong, the damage has already been done. It is a scientifically established fact that the tremendous work and insights of Charles Darwin, who propounded the theory of evolution, laid the groundwork for the now universally accepted scientific doctrine. It is also true that for centuries, man believed that the earth was flat, until knowledge developed individually through various scholars in different societies, who deduced that it was spherical. There is not much doubt about the shape of the earth now. It is unfortunate that there is a growing tendency among politicians who assume a position of power to make sweeping statements that often strain the credibility of scientific fact among audiences with the hidden motto of showing that they are erudite, polymaths though in reality they might be phantasmagorical. Those in authority should imbibe before opening their mouths on a subject that is alien for them, what noted Philosopher and Author Thomas Carlyle said: “Speech is great, but silence is greater”.