December 13, 2008

Creationism And Islam

A professor at Amherst College predicts that the next big fight in the evolution-creationism debate will take place in Islamic circles. Salman Hameed claims that less than half of Muslims are comfortable with the idea of evolution, as compared to their Christian counterparts in the Americas and Europe, so the rejection of evolution will find fertile ground in that part of the world. He also claims that this is because Muslims confuse evolution with atheism. But apparently, the Koran is very vague in its creation myths about how old the world is or when exactly Allah created it; so the idea of "young earth" creationism that is so popular among evangelical Christians here in the states (and to a lesser extent in the UK) has found no purchase in the Islamic world.

Prof. Hameed claims in an editorial in the Guardian that the Muslim world contains a deep wellspring of respect for science, which leads to the odd-seeming state of affairs that evolution is presently taught, without controversy, in most madrassahs as science. Well, it seems odd compared to what we've become used to arguing about here in the United States, anyway -- it seems to me that Islam and creationism would be a very natural fit and in nations where there is functionally no separation of mosque and state, the idea that Allah created man rather than natural forces would seem to be a very easy fit. And indeed, Prof. Hameed warns that an author working under the pen name Harun Yahya is working to advance the cause of creationism at the expense of evolution in Islam's most-secular nation, Turkey, and is finding a global audience in the process.

Frankly, I think Hameed is a voice in the wilderness here. I hold out little hope for the idea that acceptance of the idea of evolution will find a comfortable fit within modern Islam. To the extent that Muslim nations secularize, Hameed has hope. But even Turkey, with an explicitly secular constitution and a large portion of its populace still committed to the idea that their democratic government ought not to be married to the forces of religion, is looking at the rise of an undercurrent of what we call "radical" Islam, of more explicitly religious figures assuming positions of governmental power. And the fringe movements, the guys who think Allah likes it when they pick up guns and bombs and make jihad on the infidel, the chances that they're going to read Richard Dawkins and say "Yeah, that guy has kind of a point" are zero.

Antiscience should be fought wherever it rears its ugly head. Hameed is fighting the good fight. But I have to make the depressing prediction that it will be generations until his message finds real purchase.

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