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Open letter concerning Noah’s Ark in biology textbooks

A school serves many purposes, but the two primary ones are to teach a sense of critical thinking, and to teach about our current knowledge of the world. This is especially true for the science classes. This is why we view the addition of a section on Noah’s Ark in school biology textbooks, pictured above, as a travesty and an embarrassment to the Cypriot educational system.

There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, the story of Noah’s Ark is nothing more than that: a story. It’s a fable with no basis in reality, and has been conclusively shown to be an impossibility by all relevant branches of science, from biology to palaeontology to geology.

The offending page in the textbook brings it up in the context of the development and evolution of Earth’s biodiversity, citing the Book of Genesis from the Bible, a book written long before modern science, let alone biology as we know it, emerged. It claims that Noah continued Adam’s work by gathering up the organisms of Earth (as a biologist, I must presume this includes bacteria and all sorts of unicellular eukaryotes) to save them from a cataclysmic flood. This ridiculousness is then couched in a positive environmental message encouraging the student to also do their part in preserving Earth’s biodiversity.

It must be stressed that this story of a global flood leaving a blank slate for humanity and life is quite a common one in world religions, with over 40 creation myths from around the world having developed a nearly-identical version of the story (the Abrahamic version was probably plagiarised from the preexisting Babylonian and Sumerian Gilgamesh Epic). This independent recurrence of the theme serves to highlight how much of a tribal concept this is – it’s a universally understood plot mechanism.

It could be argued that its inclusion in the book is not meant to be taken as a literal endorsement, that it’s merely a carrier for the environmental message. But this is nothing more than a pathetic excuse. Why should students be told a blatant lie, when we know the real history of biodiversity? That’s a story that is much more inspiring, and would put the environmental message in the proper context. Most importantly however, it can be backed up by scientific evidence – as befits a science class.

The scientific inaccuracy of this page is the main area of contention, but there are other troublesome aspects. One is the implicit assumption that the reader is familiar with the cast and outline of this story; in other words, it discriminates against any child who is not from a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim household. This is an unacceptable favouring of religions that treat the Bible as a holy book. Considering that these textbooks are official government documents, this represents an undeniable breach of the right to freedom of religion by forcing the myth of one set of religions onto all students, regardless of their personal faith and cultural background.

One might wonder why such an idiotic change in the textbook was approved. The answer lies in the person responsible for setting biology curricula, Demetrios Mappouras, a Christian priest and biologist whose judgement is clearly being impaired by his religious beliefs. The current page is nothing more than Christian propaganda, and would be more fit for a creationist magazine than a school biology textbook.

Our demand is simple: replace the content of this page with a scientifically accurate depiction of the evolution of biodiversity. The current page is highly misleading, contradicting all known science; especially worrisome is the anti-evolutionary undertone. There is a lot of research available from which to provide an appropriate overview; resorting to an irrelevant ancient holy book is a resounding failure on the part of the writers. If allowed to persist, this will not only damage the credibility of Cyprus’s schools and Ministry of Education, but will more importantly have a negative effect on the academic potential of the students.

Marc Srour
Research Associate, Enalia Physis Environmental Research Center (entomology, palaeontology)
On behalf of Cyprus Freethinkers

Further Reading:

A thorough debunking of the plausibility of Noah’s Ark can be found here (Greek).

Sign this petition to help get rid of this page from the textbook (Greek).


Our plight has been gathering a bit of momentum, we’ve been mentioned in: Why Evolution is True and Pharyngula.

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