Sunday, October 27, 2013

Islam, science and Evolution

One of the many reasons why I find my friend's conversion to Islam so disturbing (apart from his refusal to condemn FGM, or to accept that homosexuality is a perfectly natural part of life or that the Qur'an doesn't, in fact, contain a host of scientific name but a few) is his belief that Man was created in his present form by God and human evolution is wicked falsehood spread by ignorant scientists. That such beliefs are commonly held by uneducated Muslims is depressing enough, but that an educated, highly intelligent man, who considered studying medicine for a while, and who was fascinated by science before his conversion, should now hold such beliefs makes me despair. For he is not alone.
A 2007 study  found that only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree that Darwin's theory is probably or most certainly true. 

Now, from the outset I should make it clear that this is not, of course, a problem unique to Islam. Fundamentalist Christians are infamous in their belief in Creationism or its bastard offspring, Intelligent Design. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form. 
But what is clear is that it is adherence to a religion that so poisons people's minds that they choose to ignore the overwhelming evidence for human evolution. For as Jerry A. Coyne wrote in the introduction to his famous treatise, Why Evolution is True
You can find religions without creationism, but you never find creationism without religion
For to deny that evolution is a true account of how Man arrived at his present form is to believe that just about every scientist in the world today is either stupid, or that they are involved in a coordinated conspiracy to both invent the indisputable evidence FOR evolution and to systematically cover up the evidence AGAINST it.

And whilst it is overwhelmingly the case that it is the under-educated who dismiss Darwin's theory in the West (twice as high a percentage of Americans with a high school education or less believe in creationism as do post-grads) and the better educated can and do carry on with their lives regardless, in Muslim majority countries it is the academics who have to tread carefully when discussing the origins of man lest they invoke the ire of the religious authorities.
Such an atmosphere is hardly conducive to free inquiry, intellectual rigour or scientific progress. But it is not just in those countries which are nominally Muslim where belief in evolution is becoming dangerous.
Usama Hasan, Imam at the Masjid-al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton and senior lecturer in business-formation systems at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society had to resign from his mosque recently following death threats because he dared to teach about evolution (and women's rights). I'll say that again: he received death threats because he taught Britain.

Anyone who maintains that Islam is a force for progress in the world might want to spend some time reflecting on the above and consider the following.
Taner Edis, the author of “An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam,” grew up in a Muslim household but is under no illusions about Islam's contribution to modern science:
Right now, if all Muslim scientists working in basic science vanished from the face of the earth, the rest of the scientific community would barely notice. There’s very little contribution coming from Muslim lands.
Objective data backs up Edis' view. In a study by the World Bank and Unesco of 20 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference it was found that these countries spent 0.34 percent of their gross domestic product on scientific research from 1996 to 2003, which was just one-seventh of the global average. Perhaps these countries are fearful that if they spent any more they might discover something that contradicted the "science" in the Qur'an. It certainly stops them producing much science. In 2005 another OIC study found that these countries produced 14, 500 scientific papers - that's 2,000 fewer than Harvard University managed on its own.
Of course Muslim countries have very specific problems to contend with - not all a product of Islam - but it is Islam that produces the biggest hurdle: the wedding of religion and state. Scientists who offend clerics have no state support to fall back on because in all likelihood, the state answers to the clerics as well. Science in Muslim countries must be seen to confirm the statements in the Qur'an or it is not welcome. This has led to a skewing of scientific research and the dismally tragic failure of Islamic states to contribute to Man's progress in the last hundred years.

Thus when people ask why I don't leave Muslims alone to believe what they want - my answer is that I'd be more then happy to, if they extended the same courtesy to those who don't share their beliefs. It's bad enough that poor Muslims are taught to deny scientific fact. That such outrageous ignorance is now being spread in this country and elsewhere in Europe is beyond the pale.


  1. 1.) You need to quote the Quran to prove that Islam is incompatible with Evolution, not reference poll numbers. The views of a reader alone (Muslims), are not an indictment of the book being read (Quran).

    2.) You attempt to do...something, by labeling Taner Edis as an ex-Muslim who now criticizes Islam from a scientific standpoint. However, Taner Edis admits in the article you linked, that he was never really Muslim, and his family wasn't even religious.

    Taner Edis isn't a credible source.. He is a self-described atheist activist, who in the above article you source, makes many wild yet un-supported statements. Rational people don't consider claims based on interest; and a self-described atheist activist bashing his "former-religion", with no presentable evidence, is a claim based on interest.

    Taner Edis's main claim, which you partially harp on, is that there are few Muslims in RESEARCH science, as opposed to the plethora of Muslims in commercial and applied sciences.

    This isn't an indictment on Muslims or Islam. Most Muslims live in poor socioeconomic conditions, where the goal is to improve their surroundings, both through structural projects and economic growth. There is little point, applicability, or interest, in "research" science, when there is a country to build.

    3.) You conclude by stating that "it is Islam that produces the biggest hurdle" to scientific achievement. Leaving aside your questionable definition of scientific achievement I described above, I must ask how you arrive at this conclusion.

    There are a few reasons why general scientific thought isn't popular in Muslim countries. A HUGE one, that you didn't even mention, is socioeconomic conditions. Poor people have more pressing issues then the pursuit of a research paper published in a scientific journal.

    Another one is the oppressive societies in which Muslims live, where many freedoms are denied, science just being one of the many. Many of these restrictions are allegedly Islamic, but have no basis in actual Islamic Law (Quran). This is no different then 17th century England, or 20th century Russia, using the "principles" of Catholicism/Communism, as an excuse to grab and maintain power.

    Is it possible that fear of "exposing" Islam, is helping quell scientific thought? Sure. But you give no evidence that this factor is anymore powerful then socioeconomic and geopolitical pressures.

    1. 1. Islam is not limited to the Quran. The Islamic view of creation (which is accepted by most Muslims) is incompatible with evolution.

      2. You focus on socioeconomics while ignoring the fact that the Organization of Islamic Conference includes several of the wealthiest countries on the planet.

    2. 1.) Yes, Islam IS limited to the Quran, where's your evidence that says otherwise?

      Also, that link was cute, but where does it show that the Quran is incompatible with evolution?

      2.) There are 56 OIC member states, the vast majority of which are not wealthy. Many of those, including some of the wealthy states, are ruled over by oppressive authoritarian regimes, who have a vested interest in dumbing down the population, some religious, some non-religious. I acknowledged both of these factors, the author didn't.

    3. Your statement that Islam is limited to the Quran would get you labeled and apostate in many countries. 99% of Muslims disagree with you as does every traditional source of Islamic scholarship. Yes, there are Koran only Muslims but this is a modern (reformist) movement and they are a small minority. If you don't know that then you know nothing about Islam.

    4. "So begins the story of Adam, the first man, the first human being. God created Adam from a handful of soil containing portions from all its varieties on Earth."

      If you cannot see how that is incompatible with evolution, then it is hopeless trying to discuss anything with you.

  2. But, but, Islamic science is way ahead in so many ways! How could Muhammad have known we are made from a clot of blood? How could he know that the sun goes for a nice rest at night (and a well deserved one, I might add)?!

    On a more serious note, things are improving. There is big relative growth in science investment in recent years in some Muslim countries, and as they become more wealthy.

    I read recently of the Saudis investing a lot more in scientific research and higher education. The leaders of these countries must be realising that things have to change. Maybe they can send their Yemeni friend Zindani to school.

    The vast majority of research has little or no relevance to Islamic dogma or the Quran, so I find it not so plausible that fear of clerics would be a major deterent except in a minority of fields like evolution. I would have to see comments from scientists in those countries before I'd believe that. I think the problem over recent centuries is more likely a lack of interest in science compared to elsewhere among the leadership and populace, perhaps partly due the lack of an enlightenment period that the west enjoyed, leaving religion to provide a vulnerable story to "explain" things, but also more education should help inspire interest.

    Harun Yahya, Naik et al. certainly aren't helping to inspire genuine interest with their mind-numbing apologetics though. They portray no value in scienctific knowledge beyond boosting iman, and leave a downside risk to this heightened faith from learning independantly. So they are worse than useless in this regard, even without their bogus challenge to evolution.

  3. I previously saw Richard Dawkins speaking on the Atlas of Creation. I have yet to see the religious side of an argument be won. But as usual, even if you'd like to believe the religious person, you'd end up lying to yourself.
    Great blog and great post.

  4. I think a more fascinating post would be about Ajmal Masroor -m arguably, British Islam's best spokesperson and highly active member of the muslim community. He ha recently been the recipient of death threats from radical Islamists who say that he is corrupting the image of Islam. They have threatened to kill him and he fears now for his life. This just goes to show that there are muslims, stupid muslim and there are downright crazy muslims - important distinction to make.