Michael Safi in Delhi
Tue 23 Jan 2018 02.59 EST
India’s minister for higher education has been condemned by scientists for demanding that the theory of evolution be removed from school curricula because no one “ever saw an ape turning into a human being”.
Satyapal Singh stood by his comments on Monday, saying his ministry was ready to host an international conference at which “scientists can come out and say where they stand on the issue”.
“I have a list of around 10 to 15 great scientists of the world who have said there is no evidence to prove that the theory of evolution is correct,” Singh told a crowd at a university in Assam state, adding that Albert Einstein had agreed the theory was “unscientific”.
Singh, who has a postgraduate degree in chemistry from Delhi University, said he was speaking as a “man of science”.
“Darwin’s theory is scientifically wrong,” he said at the weekend. “It needs to change in the school and college curriculum.
“Since man is seen on Earth, he has always been a man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they ever saw an ape turning into a human being.”
More than 2,000 Indian scientists have signed a petition in response calling Singh’s remarks simplistic, misleading and lacking in any scientific basis.
“It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community,” the statement said. “On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin’s insights. There is plentiful and undeniable scientific evidence to the fact that humans and the other great apes and monkeys had a common ancestor.”
Singh’s plans for a conference on evolution were slapped down on Tuesday by his superior in the cabinet, Prakash Javadekar, the human resource development minister. “I have asked him to refrain from making such comments,” Javadekar said, according to the Press Trust of India.
“We are not going to fund any event or don’t have any plan for a national seminar to prove Darwin wrong. It is the domain of scientists and we should let them free to continue their efforts for progress of the country.”
Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 160 years ago, arguing that all species, including humans, evolved over time through a process of natural selection. He argued that humans and apes share a common ancestor who lived more than 7m years ago, an idea frequently misunderstood to suggest modern apes turned into humans.
Ancient Indian scholars are credited with advances in astronomy and mathematics including the invention of the concept of zero, but religious nationalist figures have been accused in recent years of pushing “ideological science”.
That includes claims by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, that myths from the origin texts of Hinduism include evidence of plastic surgery and genetic science.
YS Rajan, a prominent scientist, said in response to Singh’s comments that Hindu texts such as the Rigveda included lines that explicitly embraced knowledge from across the world.
“Nothing in … Bharatiya samskaar [Indian philosophy] would demand rejection of such theory or for that matter any scientific findings,” he wrote on Facebook.