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Indian government official with chemistry degree claims Darwin theory ‘scientifically wrong’

Satyapal Singh rebuked but retains education post

by K.V. Venkatasubramanian, special to C&EN
January 30, 2018

Credit: Hindustan Times/Newscom
Satyapal Singh was elected to India's parliament in 2014 after a three-decade police career.
Photo of Satyapal Singh.
Credit: Hindustan Times/Newscom
Satyapal Singh was elected to India's parliament in 2014 after a three-decade police career.

An education minister in India who claims to hold a doctorate in chemistry has asserted that Charles Darwin’s theory of human evolution is “scientifically wrong” and should be eliminated from school and college textbooks. Although his remarks generated much criticism from India’s scientific community, he retains his government post.

The minister, Satyapal Singh, said on Jan. 20 that “Since man is seen on Earth, he has always been a man. Nobody, including our ancestors, in written or oral, said they saw an ape turning into a man.” He also claimed to have a Ph.D. in chemistry from Delhi University.

Official records show that Singh holds an M.Phil. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in public administration from Nagpur University. He spent three decades in police work and rose to police commissioner of Mumbai before he retired. He was elected to India’s parliament in 2014 and appointed in 2017 to serve as minister of state for higher education within the government’s Ministry of Human Resource Development.

“There is no scientific basis for the minister’s statements,” the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, and the National Academy of Sciences, India say in a joint statement. “Evolutionary theory, to which Darwin made seminal contributions, is well established.”

A public letter signed by more than 3,000 scientists and others says, “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 also diminishes the image of the country at the global level and reduces faith of the international historical research community in the genuine research by the Indian researchers.”

The public letter asked Singh to retract his statement. Singh instead said on Jan. 22 that his ministry would host an international conference at which “scientists can come out and say where they stand on the issue.”

Singh’s superior, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, rebuked him at a press conference on Jan. 24. Javadekar advised Singh to refrain from making “such comments” and added, “We should not dilute science.” Javadekar said there were no plans to hold a conference to disprove Darwin. Science & Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan refused to comment.

India’s Breakthrough Science Society, which led the India March for Science in 2017, is now organizing a “Darwin’s Week” event that will start on Feb. 12, Darwin’s birthday. “During this week, seminars will be organized in all major cities commemorating Darwin’s work, and there will be popular talks on the subject in schools, colleges and localities,” says Soumitro Banerjee, general secretary of the society.

Correction: This story was updated on Jan. 30 to correct the dates on which Singh spoke. He made his comments in January, not December.



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