God and Evolution: Easier For Muslims Than Christians?
If you think Christian scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller have a hard time defending their acceptance of evolution from creationists and atheists–you might be tempted to assume it’s probably as difficult for Muslim scientists.
Which is not to say that hostility to evolution isn’t widespread in Muslim countries, even where the education levels are rising quickly. American style creationism is making inroads, even in countries like Turkey where the government and education systems are more liberal about science.
So, it was fascinating to hear from evolutionary biologists like Ehab Abouheif, who runs his own lab at McGill, that doing science and practicing the family’s ancestral faith does not prompt any contradiction.
Abouheif and his team made a splash earlier this year with the discovery that many species of ants retain dormant genes that can be reactivated to generate an entire caste of ‘super-soldiers.’ [His team’s paper was published in the January 6 2012 issue of Science.]
When he came to Boston University last month at the request of Project Nur and the American Islamic Congress, Abouheif not only shared his personal thoughts on religion as a scientist and a practicing Muslim, but he also shared his concerns about the consequences for Islamic countries that fail to embrace the scientific tradition.
“There’s a lot at stake here,” he said, “because it’s well beyond evolution. If it’s not about the evidence, if you reject science, if you reject evolution as a science and you’re not willing to listen to evidence, then that means that for all of science, when it comes into contact with sociological, political conflicts, then you won’t believe it either.”
He cited the keynote presentation delivered that evening by Salman Hameed, an astronomer and science blogger who teaches at Hampshire College (see video below).
“It goes on to a broader scale,” he said, “because, as Salman has also mentioned in his presentation the Saudi Government, when it came time to give the H1N1 vaccine…they weren’t innovating, they were not the ones who produced it. They had to call other countries in the West to innovate it.
“My calling, why I’m speaking today, what got me out of my seat, my lab chair … is my want of the Muslim world to become innovators and to share in being leaders. In technology and innovation, and share in production. And not just be consumers.”
His colleagues on the panel included Hameed, Omar Sultan Haque, a psychologist and author who teaches at Harvard, and Rana Dajani, a molecular biologist at Jordan’s Hashemite University and a visiting Fulbright Scholar this semester at Yale where she is doing research on stem cells.
While they differed on how certain passages of the Qur’an should be interpreted in light of science, they all agreed that there was no fundamental incompatibility between Islam and science.
Below I have posted highlights of the discussion from video I shot during the evening.
What’s interesting from my perspective is –whatever the immediate difficulties facing Muslim countries as they grapple with democracy and technology– in the broader intellectual scheme, I think science does not pose as many challenges to doctrine in Islam as it seems to pose to traditional Christianity.
Or is it soon to tell?
By John Farrell.