New Delhi: Prominent scientists across the country have dismissed Union Minister Satyapal Singh's views on evolution as "illogical" and "untenable" and came out strongly in favour of the Darwinian model of the evolution against the "creationist" one he championed.
Claiming Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as "scientifically wrong", Singh, who is Minister of State for Human Resource Development, on Saturday had called for changing Darwin's theory in school and college curriculum as there is no "evidence" that they evolved from apes since "our ancestors haven't mentioned anywhere that they ever saw an ape turning into a human being".
Raghavendra Gadagkar, professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bengaluru, told IANS that he wasn't sure whether refuting the claims on a factual basis will cut any ice with the minister since his statement appears to be politically aimed.
"I do not know how useful it is to refute the Minister's statement, on the basis of facts. It seems to be aimed at politically polarising science and scientists, and that is the real danger we must guard against. On the basis of facts, the statement is untenable at many levels.
"At the most elementary level, all evidence indicate that humans diverged from our closest living relative (the chimpanzee) about 5 million years ago. Therefore our ancestors did not have the privilege of witnessing the event and recording it in their scriptures," the former president of Indian National Science Academy said in an email reply.
Amitabh Joshi, an evolutionary biologist at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, read in the minister's statement a "cavalier disregard" for the established scientific norms, and also termed it "illogical".
"It is very sad that when people who are in power to take decisions affecting syllabus etc. show this level of cavalier disregard for what is the standing consensus in the scientific community ... One should be a little careful before making such statements," Joshi, a fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences, told IANS over the phone.
"If he acts upon his idea to start altering the syllabus.. then it's very unfortunate. What he has actually said is logically inconsistent because if our ancestors who are already human and are capable of writing, so I don't understand why would he (Singh) expect them to witness the changing of apes into humans... doesn't even logically make sense. It is not only unscientific, it's illogical," he said.
Ameek Bhalla, a Ph.D. student in Life Sciences from IISc, seconded the general sentiment among his peers on the lack of logic behind the Minister's statement.
"To say that humans did not evolve from apes because no one saw it happen is just as silly as to say as 'Mr. Satyapal Singh did not descend from his hundredth or his thousandth or his millionth great grandparent because no one saw it happen'.
"These statements are silly because descent and evolution do not happen in real time (human evolution anyway). Instead, we piece together the evidence for their occurrence after the fact, much like a forensic detective pieces together the evidence about a murder after the fact. We have multiple lines of evidence supporting Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, foremost among which is DNA evidence," Bhalla told IANS.
Indian scientists, working in the country or abroad, also wrote a letter titled "In support of evolution" addressing the minister, in which they said they were "pained" by his claim, which was an "insult to genuine research work".
"We, the scientists, science communicators and scientifically oriented members of public, are deeply pained by your claim. It is factually incorrect to state that the evolutionary principle has been rejected by the scientific community. On the contrary, every new discovery adds support to Darwin's insights.
"You have also supposedly claimed that Vedas contain answers to all questions. Such an exaggerated claim cannot be substantiated with the evidence available and is an insult to the genuine research work or history of Indian scientific traditions.
"When a minister working for Human Resource Development in the country makes such claims, it harms the scientific community's efforts to propagate scientific thoughts and rationality through critical education and modern scientific research," it said.