New Delhi: Instead of learning from his mistakes, or even acknowledging that he was mistaken, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Satyapal Singh has repeated his misguided statement that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong.
“Our culture says we are the children of rishis. I don’t want to offend people who believe that we are children of monkeys but according to our culture we are children of rishis,” Singh, a former Mumbai police chief, said in the Lok Sabha during a discussion on the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
He did not go unchallenged in the House. “Unfortunately, my ancestors are not rishis. My ancestors are homo sapiens, as science says, and my parents are Shudras. They were not even born of any god, or part of any god. They were born outside and I am here and many people from my state are here because of the social justice movement and the human rights which we fought for till today and we will continue doing that,” DMK MP Kanimozhi said.
Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy added that Singh was violating the constitution, which “says that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.
In January last year, Singh had said that Darwin’s theory of evolution is “scientifically wrong”. “It [the theory of evolution] needs to change in school and college curriculum. Since the man is seen on Earth he has always been a man,” he had said.
Ram Madhav, BJP’s national secretary, had backed Singh’s comment.
The minister had been widely criticised for his remarks then. More than 3,600 members of the Indian scientific community had written a letter saying Singh was leading to a diminishment of “the image of the country at the global level”. A month later, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune even asked students to explain why Singh was wrong as part of an exam.
Vasudevan Mukunth, The Wire‘s science editor, had written about Singh’s comment and Madhav’s support for it:
Singh’s remarks are dangerous because he is a minister with the power to change what’s printed in school and college textbooks. This way it is more pernicious than claiming cow urine can cure cancer or whatever else.
Why? Because Singh’s remarks are against students – not scientists, many of whom know how to recognise bullshit with a single whiff. Students must learn how to do that for themselves. This means that, irrespective of the contents of classroom lessons, students should learn about how to eliminate bias when trying to learn things about the natural universe, about how to evaluate evidence for its reliability, and know when to dissent and – most of all – how to do so constructively. Without this foundation, you get people like Ram Madhav taking any sentence that begins “According to scientists…” at face value.
The people whose job it is to verify whether Darwin’s theories of evolution are right think it is right. It doesn’t matter what a physicist or an astronomer thinks about that. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter what a minister thinks either – but Satyapal Singh has his censorious pen poised over our school textbooks. The most effective way to oppose this would be to redouble our outreach efforts. For schools, colleges, universities, museums, laboratories, conferences and the panoply of scientific institutions India has created to think about effective ways to reach younger people and communicate good science effectively. For newspapers, magazines, journals and websites to focus more on science journalism. For everyone to introspect on the methods of science and why they are what they are.