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And then Allah created man

Religious scholar, shameless self-promoter or just plain crazy? Either way, Adnan Oktar has achieved cult status with his views on Islamic creationism.

Instead, the Quran acknowledges the Earth is far older but rejects evolution, he said, meaning species were created in their present form when life first appeared on the planet. “There are 200 million-year-old fossils that falsify Darwinism,” Oktar continued, admitting he had no training in paleontology but arguing that fossils of, say, crocodiles, depicted creatures identical to those living today.

“There’s no intellectual merit,” said Jason Wiles, a biology professor at Syracuse University and associate director of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University in Canada. “He’s just drumming up attention. It’s a publicity stunt.”

Even Oktar admits he can be a shameless self-promoter. Atheist biologist Richard Dawkins discovered the Atlas uses a fishing lure photograph instead of a real insect, for example, in one of its glossy pages.

Oktar admitted the deception. “Dawkins was caught by this,” he said. “I did it on purpose to get attention. Dawkins made advertisements for the book all around the world.”

In Turkey, Oktar has little influence beyond his coterie, Akyol said. In 1986, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric hospital for 10 months.

The confinement was politically motivated, Oktar claimed. But it undermined his legitimacy.

He’s also been in and out of Turkish courts for years, fighting charges that include operating an illegal organization. Currently he’s appealing a conviction that could send him to jail for three years.

But Oktar wielded enough influence last year to convince a judge to ban Dawkins’ website in Turkey because, he argued, Dawkins was defaming his name. Oktar also tried to ban Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion,” in Turkey, but failed.

In other parts of the Muslim world, Oktar has been more successful. Schools in Indonesia, Pakistan and elsewhere often use his materials. “People in other countries in the Muslim world don’t know about these scandals,” Akyol said. “If you are a high school kid in Malaysia, and you are Muslim, and you want to learn about God and science, these books appeal to you.”

Others questioned, however, whether teachers use Oktar’s books because they are yearning for creationist literature, or if they are simply using free materials that have been dumped on their doorsteps, with Harun Yahya’s reputation expanding in the process.

“There are a lot of media relations that go on in the Harun Yahya operation,” said Taner Edis, a Turkish-American physics professor at Truman State University in Missouri, who has written on Islamic creationism. “You really shouldn't think of Harun Yahya as a pseudonym of Adnan Oktar. You should think of it as a brand name. They treat it like a brand. It's like marketing.”