Evolution And Islam: An Update

Some interesting items in the Science-Religion Debate, Islamic Edition.

First, a recent paper by Salman Hameed, whom I’ve discussed before. Hameed has a PhD in astronomy and is Associate Professor of Integrated Science & Humanities at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.

In a recent issue of Public Understanding of Science (registration required), his paper, Making Sense of Islamic Creationism in Europe, argues against any necessary conflict between Islam and evolution, but that larger social issues have made antagonism to the science convenient in some Muslim countries and among Muslim immigrant communities in Europe.

But the larger picture is not nearly as black and white, Hameed writes. Indeed, it is not surprising, to find courses on evolutionary biotechnology and biomedicine in universities throughout the Muslim world.

Even when it comes to the origins of human beings, science foundations of 14 Muslim majority countries, including Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt, signed a statement by Inter-Academy Panel (IAP), a global network of science academies, in support of the teaching of evolution, including human evolution.5 Pakistan also hosts a government-supported Museum of Natural History in Islamabad that includes an exhibit on evolution, including that of humans.6 Saudi Arabia, in fact, is one of the notable exceptions on evolution, where biology textbooks actively promote creationist ideas (Burton, 2011).

Further, in order to understand the rise of Islamic creationism in Europe, he adds, it’s necessary to look beyond the narrative of clashing epistemologies of Islam and evolution that is often hyped by the media.

Instead, we may get a better insight by looking through the lens of immigration history of Muslims in Western Europe, as well as the subsequent differences of social class and education background of Muslim communities in Europe. Furthermore, in most European newspapers, only a rejection of evolution by Muslims makes for a news item as that feeds into the existing narrative of “problems” of Muslim integration into a secular West. At the same time, and perhaps in tandem, the rejection of evolution has indeed become a marker of social identity for many Muslims in Europe.

Adding support to Hameed’s view is a paper by Dr. Fern Elsdon-Baker of Newman University in the U.K.

Elsdon-Baker, who has a PhD in the history and philosophy of evolutionary theory, is currently in the process of establishing a large scale research project, Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum, to explore the question of public attitudes to evolution.

Her paper also appears in PUS, in the latest issue: Creating creationists: The influence of ‘issues framing’ on our understanding of public perceptions of clash narratives between evolutionary science and belief.

Elsdon-Baker argues that recent surveys (not including the one I discussed last month by Amy Unsworth) not only fail to reflect the real views of Muslims on the topic of evolution, but that given the way the questions are framed in the polls she discusses, they’re likely responsible for helping inspire more creationists.

For example, she writes, in one BBC poll, there was too much binary framing, and by its definition acceptance of evolutionary science amounted to acceptance of atheism or agnosticism. There was no response available for people who accept the scientific consensus and happen to be religious. Not surprisingly, then, a significant percentage of Muslims surveyed in the BBC poll chose … to reject evolution.

Polls need to be far more nuanced in how they frame the questions, Elsdon-Baker writes.

Controversially, we need to recognize that not all ‘creationism’ is actually ‘creationism’ in what we might consider the mainstream understanding of the word as oppositional to acceptance of evolutionary theory. Surprisingly, in my experience, not all of those who would classify themselves as ‘creationists’ are actually anti-evolutionists. One way around this is to unpick the epistemic categories that we have structured under the classification that is ‘creationism’. Far from arguing that spiritual explanations should be included in scientific discourse or communication, I am arguing that we need to recognize the nuanced, varied and, in some cases, sophisticated accommodationist models employed across differing cultural contexts in a way that does not exclude people of any faith from being evolutionists.

This is not to say that there aren’t opportunists among Muslims that are happy to exploit the simplistic dichotomy between evolution and faith.

Which brings us to our third item, well worth reading: a review in ReligioScope of Anne Ross Solberg’s expose of Turkish anti-evolutionist Harun Yahya, whose enterprise, quite frankly, should have the folks running creationist outfits in the U.S. drooling with envy.

By John Farrell, published in Forbes, February 20th 2015.

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