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Spread of the Theory of Evolution in the Empire during the Reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II

Spread of the Theory of Evolution in the Empire during the Reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II

The Darwinist indoctrination that came to a standstill during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz reached its height during the rule of Abdul Hamid II. Darwinist/materialist papers, books and journals spread across the Empire’s lands, and mostly in Istanbul, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria. Even more worryingly, Darwinism was incorporated into the school curriculum in many places. Darwinist/materialist officers that were removed from their duties by Abdülaziz were not only reinstated, they were promoted to key positions in the Ministry of Education, the State Publishing House and even to grand viziership.

Abdul Hamid II himself ordered that 20,000 copies of the Hamidian Treatise by Lebanese writer Husayn al-Jisr be printed and distributed in Istanbul. The book was full of materialist and Darwinist claims and was intended to sow the seeds of atheistic philosophy in Ottoman society. Interestingly enough, the book was named the Hamidian Treatise, as a tribute to Abdul Hamid II. When the book became popular, al-Jisr was invited by Abdul Hamid II to Istanbul and was received in the Malta Mansion and was given the Fourth Class Order of Osmanieh, in addition to various other gifts. Abdul Hamid II praised him on numerous occasions. He was invited three times by Abdul Hamid II to Istanbul and stayed as the Sultan’s guest.

Abdul Hamid II instructed the translation and publication of the Hamidian Treatise in Turkish and asked al-Jisr to compile a book on religious principles for schools.(SOURCE)

Abdul Hamid II indeed showed support for al-Jisr but the truth was al-Jisr and his book were among the main reasons that led to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Under the personal orders of Abdul Hamid II, the book was widely disseminated across the Empire. In the book, which he dedicated to Abdul Hamid II, al-Jisr claimed –despite the complete absence of scientific evidence to back his point- that mutations could help organisms evolve and that there were many transitional forms. According to al-Jisr, Darwin’s theory did not contradict the religion of Islam.

The truth is mutations are deformations that are harmful 99% of the time and neutral the remaining 1% time. As a matter of fact, recent scientific studies showed that even the 1% accepted to be neutral become harmful over time. For this reason, they are now called silent mutations. In other words, science has proven that mutations are 100% harmful. Furthermore, the claim that ‘there is a sufficient amount of transitional forms’ is one of the biggest deceptions of the theory of evolution. More than 700 million fossils have been unearthed so far and not even one of them belongs to a transitional form. Not even one single transitional form fossil has been found so far showing that living things evolved from another, and it is impossible that any will be found in the future. Each and every one of the hundreds of millions of fossils unearthed so far belongs to complete, perfect, flawless creatures that hadn’t gone through any changes. Even Darwin himself admitted in his book that unless transitional form fossils are found, his theory would collapse:

…why, if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion, instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined…? But, as by this theory innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth…? Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory.(Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1859, p. 172. )

Al-Jisr went as far as claiming that this theory, which denied the existence of God, did not contradict the Qur’an. His Hamidian Treatise was full of unscientific and non-Qur’anic explanations like the mistaken claim that Darwin’s theory did not contradict with belief in God and that theory of evolution could be interpreted in line with religion and that some verses could be construed that way. He provided an example of those writers and scholars of the time, who sought to spread this lie among religious people. Indeed, his book was translated into many languages, particularly Turkish and Urdu, and quickly became popular among many scholars in modern Syria and Turkey. Some of the scholars in Al-Azhar University, in particular, paid close attention to the book. Al-Jisr was himself a graduate of that university.

Hasan Tahsini, also known as Hoxha Tahsin, was the first rector of the Darülfünûn –the original Istanbul University-, founded by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Hasan Tahsini was among the first Darwinists in the Ottoman Empire and was appointed to the post of rector of the University by Abdul Hamid II. Grand Vizier Reşid Pasha had personally sent him to Europe to study, from where he returned as a materialist. In his article ‘Tarih-i Tekvin’ (History of Creation), he was talking about the so-called ‘new levels of change that the universe would achieve in the future as a result of the rule of evolution that dominated the entire universe and existence’.(SOURCE)

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Hasan Tahsini famously tried to explain the origin of the universe and the creation of man as well as other life forms through the theory of evolution in his book Varoluşun Tarihi veya Yaratılış (History of Being or Creation). He also worked vehemently to spread the Darwinist theory. His staunch devotion to the materialist theory earned him the nickname ‘Monsieur Tahsini’. He brought Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an evolutionist Al-Azhar graduate, to Istanbul and allowed him to carry out evolutionist propaganda at Istanbul University. Afghani was another fervent supporter of al-Jisr’s book. Hasan Tahsini raised many students before he was dismissed from his duty on the grounds of ‘impairing the faith of the young people he taught’. However, many of his students now were materialists, were already working across the Empire’s lands and teaching other young people Darwinism, which made the theory spread like wildfire.

Books and articles of Ahmed Midhat Efendi, another evolutionist, were also widely used as reference texts in the university. Dağarcık (Repertoire) magazine published by Ahmed Midhat Efendi in 1871 heavily propagandized the erroneous idea of evolution while its tens of thousands of copies were widely circulated throughout the Empire. He claimed that ‘humans had inherently violent qualities as humans were also sort of animals’ as he defended the violence of social Darwinism as follows:

Revenge is a sort of justice, is a violent justice. Evil is done rarely for pleasure, but rather it is pursued for greed, reputation and interests. Then how do we know that the evil behavior, a part of our nature, will harm us? If teazel hurts, it’s because it’s created that way.(Ahmed Midhat, “İnsan-Dünyada İnsanın Zuhuru” [Emergence of Man in the World], Dağarcık, Issue 4, 1288, pp. 109-116)

Similarly, the ‘Ottoman Society of Science’ founded by Münif Pasha, who was the Minister of Education during the reign of Abdul Hamid II, aimed at spreading materialism and evolution through scientific journals. Their first journal, Mecmua-i Fünûn (Journal of Sciences) was filled with evolutionist propaganda. Sultan Abdülaziz had previously dismissed Münif Pasha due to propagandizing evolution but when Abdul Hamid II ascended to the throne, Münif Pasha was again made the Minister of Education.

Darwinist and materialist inculcation worked, with results becoming quickly visible as the Ottoman intelligentsia began gathering around the so-called New Literature Movement and its publication Servet-i Fünûn (Wealth of Knowledge), which acted as the hub of materialism and positivism. Abdülhak Hamid Tarhan and Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem, the leading poets and authors of the movement, entertained following twisted views that would no doubt impair the moral values of the society:

Islamic civilization had reached the end of its lifetime. A new civilization rose in the West, with new thoughts, sociology and techniques. This civilization will, sooner or later, destroy the Ottoman Empire.

Sami Frashëri (authored under the name of Şemseddin Sami Efendi), and Ahmed Cevdet, the editors-in-chief of dailies Sabah (Morning) and Ikdam (Effort) respectively, were also leading evolutionists during the reign of Abdul Hamid II. Sami Frashëri’s book Njeriu (Human Being) that he wrote in 1878, Ethem Necdet’s Tekâmül Kanunları (Laws of Development) and Celal Nuri’s Tarih-i Tedenniyat-ı Osmaniye: Mukadderat-ı Tarihiye (History of Ottoman Empire’s Decline: Dialectics of History) are only few of the Darwinist books published during Abdul Hamid II’s reign. Together with Tercüman-i Hakikat (Interpreter of Truth) and its lead writer Ahmed Midhat Efendi, the three major newspapers of the time were under evolutionist influence. Furthermore, Ceride-i Havadis (Journal of News), another popular newspaper of the time, and its lead writer Beşir Fuad also had evolutionary views. These people are usually considered the first people to spread atheism in the Ottoman Empire. Ceride-i Havadis (Journal of News) was published by the British journalist William Nosworthy Churchill as the first semi-official newspaper of the Ottoman Empire. Although from the outside it appeared as a journal of science and literature and thus gathered the writers of the time under its roof, its true purpose was shaping public opinion in favor of the political and economic interests of the British. This point becomes even more interesting considering the fact that David Urquhart, who had served as the secretary of the British embassy at Istanbul between 1835 and 1837, reported to the Royal Family that he found the Ottoman Empire, which had rich natural sources and a wide market, beneficial for British interests.

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With Ceride-i Havadis, William Nosworthy Churchill tried subtly to make the Ottoman public accept what was in favor of the British interests. Indeed, a couple of years later, the Ottoman Empire began to meet the raw material needs of British industry, and the sales of British products increased at the expense of Ottoman industry. Turkish Cypriot scientist Niyazi Berkes speaks of how the situation baffled the British and how they mocked the Ottoman statesmen for being so gullible.(SOURCE) (The statesmen of the time are above such remarks)

Moreover, many other publications during the era of Abdul Hamid II such as İçtihad (The Opinion), Piyano Mecmuası (Piano Journal), Envar-ı Zeka (Light of Intelligence), Yirminci Asırda Zeka Mecmuası (Intelligence Journal in Twentieth Century), Güneş (Sun), Havran, Mecmua-ı Ulüm (Journal of Knowledge), Saadet (Happiness), Afak (The Horizon) and Felsefe (Philosophy), contributed to promulgation of the evolution lie in the Empire. Consequently, the Ottoman society suffered a swift moral decline.

The education system of Abdul Hamid II’s reign raised many materialists that worked to disseminate the lie of evolution. Some of them, and some from the years that followed, and their anti-Islamic views can be listed as follows:

Ahmed Midhat Efendi: One of the first defenders of the theory of evolution in the Ottoman Empire. Despite being previously removed from his duties by Sultan Abdülaziz, he was invited back to Istanbul when Abdul Hamid II ascended to the throne. Abdul Hamid II ordered him to found the newspaper Tercüman-ı Hakikat (Interpreter of Truths), which became the semi-official publication of the Palace. The newspaper was published until 1921, with famous Darwinist writers of the time like Ahmed Cevdet and Ahmed Rasim as its regular columnists. Abdul Hamid II also appointed Ahmed Midhat as the director of the State Publishing House.

Some of the titles of Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s pieces were, “Adem ve Orangutan” (Adam and Orangutan), “Hayvanatın Hissi” (Feelings of Animals), “İnsan Tenha Yaşasa Ne Olur” (What Would Happen if Humans Lived Alone). The last-mentioned piece claimed that humans had a completely animalistic past and that they supposedly evolved in time to reach their current state in addition to other outlandish notions, such as if a human baby lived among animals, he would have behaved like an animal.

Another piece by Ahmed Midhat, “Dünyada İnsanın Zuhuru” (The Appearance of Man on Earth) which was taught in schools, started with the following sentence: ‘Since humans are sort of animals, of course we are curious how they might have come into being in this world’. The article was full of Darwinist tales.

Another article by Ahmed Midhat entitled “İntikam” (Revenge) – once again taught in schools – wrongly claimed that violence was a part of human nature; in other words, he was promoting social Darwinism:

Revenge is a sort of justice, is a violent justice. … Then how do we know that the evil behavior, a part of our nature, will harm us?

Mehmed Esad Saffet Pasha: Ahmed Midhat was a close friend of Saffet Pasha, a Minister of Education during the rule of Abdul Hamid II. Upon orders from the Sultan, Saffet Pasha appointed Hasan Tahsini as the rector of Istanbul University, who was another evolutionist. He was one of the people who completely changed the Ottoman educational system and supposedly brought European standards to education (to put it more accurately, he incorporated Darwinism into the education system). He was one of the founders of Galatasaray High School, one of the centers of Darwinist education at the time. Sedat Simavi, the founder of the Hürriyet newspaper, is Saffet Pasha’s grandson. Saffet Pasha was also one of the plotters of the coup against Sultan Abdülaziz in 1876.

Ahmed Rıza: Supported the ‘world citizen’ view of positivism. Due to his anglophile character and emulation of English style in the way he dressed, he was also known as the English Ahmed Rıza.

Salih Zeki: Defended the materialist views of Auguste Comte in Robert College, Darüşşafaka and Darülfünûn, where he lectured.

Rıza Tevfik: Considered Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin as his teachers and promoted Darwinism in his articles.

Hüseyin Cahit Yalçın: Became a materialist while studying at the School of Political Sciences. He considered the theory of evolution as a requirement of materialism and rejected Creation.

Ahmet Şuayb: Worked as a lecturer at the School of Law and Istanbul University, and supported the views of Comte.

Abdullah Cevdet: After being introduced to evolutionist ideas at the Medical School, Abdullah Cevdet proselytized his materialist, evolutionist and atheist views for the following 28 years through his magazine İçtihad (The Opinion). His destructive ideas created a deep wound in Ottoman society. He was a social Darwinist that went as far as suggesting that European men should be brought for breeding so that Turkish race could be improved.119 According to Abdullah Cevdet, the superiority of the races could be determined by the size of their skulls. He was a member of the Society of the Friends of England, which was founded by anglophiles during the occupation of Istanbul. He published Fünûn ve Felsefe (Science and Philosophy) that sought to reconcile the ideas of Islamic scholars with those of materialist philosophers and biologists.

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A staunch propagandist of Darwinism and atheism through his numerous articles and books, Abdullah Cevdet was appointed to the Vienna Embassy by Abdul Hamid II. Many people wrongly believe that Abdullah Cevdet was a dissident against the Sultan. The truth was different however, because Abdullah Cevdet was one of the informers working for Abdul Hamid II. Abdul Hamid II provided him with the necessary funding so that he could settle in Vienna. Strangely enough, he was also one of the people behind the 1908 coup that saw the deposition of Abdul Hamid II.

Physician Hayrullah Efendi: “İnsanın Satıhı Arzda Sureti İntişarı” (The Spread of Man on the Face of Earth) by Hayrullah Efendi was one of the most popular evolutionist pieces that circulated at schools during the reign of Abdul Hamid II. He claimed that in addition to the account of human history that started with the Prophet Adam (pbuh), the origins of humans had to be explained from an evolutionary perspective.

Ziya Gökalp: A protégé of Abdullah Cevdet, Gökalp spread materialist views in Turkish society and played a big role in the moral decline that affected a large part of the community.

Süleyman Hüsnü Pasha: Commander of the military college and one of the coup plotters that organized the deposing of Sultan Abdülaziz.

Süleyman Pashazade Sami: The son of the coup plotter Süleyman Hüsnü Pasha, he served as the Minister of Education and as the rector of the Istanbul University. He prepared guidelines for primary schools, and worked on children’s education with a project named ‘Education and Training of Children’.

Beşir Fuad: Had a materialist worldview. As the mentor of Abdullah Cevdet, Baha Tevfik, Ahmet Nebil and Celal Nuri, he was responsible for their materialist views. He introduced social Darwinism to the Ottoman Empire, which was one of the basic ideologies of Young Turks during the Abdul Hamid II rule. Beşir Fuad was heavily influenced by evolutionist/materialist thinkers such as Claude Bernard and Ludwig Büchner. He committed suicide at the age of 35 and wrote down how he felt as he slipped away. He said that he did this to leave a scientific understanding as to what one feels at time of death. This suicide created shock waves in the Ottoman society, which up to that point was quite unfamiliar with the concept of suicide, and triggered a suicide trend in Istanbul.

Baha Tevfik: Became an evolutionist at the School of Political Sciences during the reign of Abdul Hamid II. He argued for unconditional Westernization. In an article he wrote for the journal Felsefe (Philosophy), he claimed that a philosopher had to be a scientist and definitely a materialist. To him metaphysics was ‘empty and negative‘ and contradicted science. In his book Hassasiyet Bahsi ve Yeni Ahlak (Issue of Sensitivities and New Morality), he rejected religious moral values. His so-called solution for the future of the humanity was communism and anarchy. He believed that the future could be revived with scientific anarchy.

Hüseyin Hilmi: It is reported that he got his communist ideals from Baha Tevfik. In the journal İştirak (The Participation) that he published in 1910, he wrote several pieces on Marxism.

Subhi Edhem: A teacher of history of nature, he was also an author at Servet-i Fünun (Wealth of Knowledge). Taught Lamarckism and Darwinism during his lectures.

Ethem Nejat: Became an evolutionist together with Baha Tevfik. He was also writing for İçtihad (The Opinion) magazine of Abdullah Cevdet. He was the founding general secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey.

Memduh Süleyman: Translated Eduard von Hartmann’s book Wahrheit und Irrtum im Darwinismus, and co-authored Nietzsche’nin Hayatı ve Felsefesi (Nietzsche’s Life and Philosophy) with Baha Tevfik. He was one of the ideologues of Ottoman Socialist Party.

Celal Nuri İleri: Believed that matter didn’t have a beginning or an end. After reading Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s Discours sur l’histoire universelle (Discourse on Universal History), he became an evolutionist and argued in his book Tarih-i İstikbal (History of Future) (1915) that Islam should be reformed by means of materialism and evolution. According to Celal Nuri, matter was everywhere, every moment and could not have possibly gone bad. He believed that power was an inherent part of matter, that the two were interlinked and could not be separated. He made a feeble attempt to reconcile Islam and the theory of evolution. The truth is, he rejected belief in God right in the beginning of his book, making his intentions clear that, as an evolutionist, he was only trying to spread an atheistic ideology in the Empire.

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