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Contemporary Attitudes toward Evolution in the Muslim World

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Presentation on theme: "Contemporary Attitudes toward Evolution in the Muslim World"— Presentation transcript:

1 Contemporary Attitudes toward Evolution in the Muslim World
Nidhal Guessoum American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

2 Outline Evolution and Creationism in the Muslim World Today (brief review) Evolution in the History of Islamic Culture Views of Muslim Elite Today Major Reasons for Rejection of Evolution: Literalism and Human Exemptionalism Recommendations and Conclusions

3 Abstract In this talk, I will first review the above surveys, providing data and multiple first-hand experience. I will then show that Evolution is far from necessarily clashing with Islamic beliefs, unless one adopts a literalistic reading of the sacred texts; in particular I will emphasize the fact that many Muslim scholars, from the Golden Age of Islam to today, adopted an evolutionary worldview. I will also attempt to address the deeper reasons for misunderstanding Evolution and, more generally, Science (theories, facts, interpretations, etc.). In particular, I will focus on the serious lack of understanding of the nature and philosophy of science (its methodology, its principles, and its mechanisms for discovering, checking, and ascertaining the uncovered truths). Lastly, I will present a set of recommendations for ways of improving this educational situation and remedying to the above problems.

4 Evolution vs. Creationism in the World
Public Acceptance of Evolution Jon D. Miller1, Eugenie C. Scott2, Shinji Okamoto3 Science 11 August 2006: Vol no. 5788, pp 1Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI , USA. 2National Center for Science Education, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. 3Kobe University, Rokkaido, Hyogo, Japan.

5 Survey of views on Evolution among Muslims
Salman Hameed, SCIENCE, Vol. 322, 12 Dec. 2008

6 Recent International Survey of High-School Students
Large Project (McGill-Harvard collaboration through the Education, Evolution, Creation Center): Exploring Muslim scientists’, teachers’, and student understanding of evolution 5500 Muslim high school students in Canada, Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey; > 150 interviews of scientists, teachers and community members; Teacher focus group discussions…

7 The Harun Yahya Phenomenon Gulf News article – February 17, 2007
“According to Abdul Qader Eisa, Senior Supervisor of Biology at the Curriculum Development Centre in the Ministry of Education, the evolution theory… will be removed for the next academic year.”

8 Results from Pakistan and Indonesia (2,500 and 1,300 students, resp.)
Majority of students understood Evolution and realized that it is based on evidence (fossils, etc.). Split on whether humans today are different (have evolved) compared to long ago; 80% of Pakistani students believe humans were created separately and in their present forms. Teachers, though not seeing contradiction between Islam and Science, have flawed understanding of Evolution, reject human evolution; often include Qur’anic references to creation; 15 out of 18 Pakistani teachers rejected human evolution. Textbooks often present 2 viewpoints, separately: the Islamic concept of creation, the scientific concept of how life/humans appeared; some teachers in Indonesia used material produced by Harun Yahya.

9 Results from Lebanon and Egypt (865 and 194 students, resp.)
Lebanese curriculum has not contained anything about Evolution since 1997, but 60% of the students go to private schools, where foreign curricula most often include Evolution  exposure to the theory. In Egypt, a sizable section of the curriculum (1 unit) on Evolution is taught in public schools. Same conceptual (theory, fact, law, etc.) and scientific misunderstandings (human descending from monkeys, etc.) found regarding Evolution despite large differences in religiosity and affiliation. Teachers’ views similar to students’; teachers present the material while not believing it; 30+ teachers in Egypt all rejected Evolution!

10 Survey of Tunisian students’ views (2001)
Evolution taught in a 2-week chapter. 78 students from Grade 13 surveyed. Student Responses: Acceptance: 31 % Rejection: 23 % Indifference: 11 % Assimilation: 6 % (“modern way of describing creation”) Ambivalence: 5 % (torn between 2 worldviews) Utilitarian: 5 % (“need to know this for the exam”) Conditional Acceptance: 4 % (Yes for organisms, No for humans) Nuanced: 2 % (Important view on life, but incomplete) Other: 13 %

11 Survey of views on Evolution at my university
Muslim Students Professors Non-Muslim Evolution is just an unproven theory; I don’t believe in it 62 % 10 % Evolution is correct, except for humans 28 % 22 % 16 % Evolution is strongly confirmed by evidence 11 % 14 % 74 % Evolution is against religion; it should not be taught 32 % 12 % 0 % Evolution should be taught but as ‘just a theory’ 58 % 70 % 36 % Evolution should be taught as a strong theory 17 % 19 % 64 %

12 Evolution in the Islamic Cultural History
Mahfouz Ali Azzam’s book Adel A. Ziadat (1986): “Arab thinkers of the Middle Ages, who took the idea of evolution from the ancient Greeks, gave great consideration to the ideas of organic evolution and transformationism in the plant and animal kingdom… it is sufficient to mention that Arab writings in some ways approached those of Charles Darwin… Arab philosophers, al-Farabi, al-Kitbi, al-Qazwini, Ibn Miskewayh, and Ibn Khaldun, among others, deliberated long and hard on related subjects, and their writings remained in the background of nineteenth-century debates.”

13 Evolution in the Islamic History (cont’d)
He adds: “A number of influential Arab thinkers of modern times […] denied the fact that the theory of evolution was a discovery of Darwin and Wallace. Others indicated that what Darwin explained was a part of Arab elaborations on the whole notion of transmutation.” Al-Jahiz ( ): in his “Book of Animals” (Kitab al-Hayawan) gave descriptions of avians who, through their morphologies, showed clear signs of evolution and adaptation during their migrations. Al-Farabi and others subscribed to the Great Chain of Being.

14 Evolution in the Islamic History (cont’d)
Ibn Khaldun (14th c.): in his “Prolegomena” (Al-Muqaddima) wrote: “Look at the world of creation, how it started from minerals, then plants, then animals, in a beautiful way of gradation and connection… the end of the horizon for each is ready in a strange way to become the first in the line of what comes after it; the animal kingdom is vast and diverse, such that it reached in gradual formation the human being, who distinguishes himself by mind and vision; to it the animal kingdom has risen from apes, which possess conscience and feeling but not vision and thought, and that is the start of the human world; this is what we observe.”

15 Evolution in the Islamic History (cont’d)
Ikhwan as-Safa, in their encyclopedic “Epistles” wrote: “One cannot find any observational evidence for the all-at-once creation scenario, whereas one can find much evidence with just one observation to make the case that beings were created gradually”; “If you look carefully, you will find that the fundamental reasons and principles behind the existence of creatures is the instinct of survival and abhorrence of disappearance…” “If a plant reaches this [high] level of development, only one step separates it from the animal range, and that is to take off from the ground and move in search for food… if the plant then moves and takes off and no longer becomes tied to its place waiting for its food, new organs form in it to allow it to perform its new tasks, it then has become an animal”.

16 Modern-Era Islamic Views
Jamal-Eddine Al-Afghani (1880’s), first rejected the Darwinian theory (on the basis of its “materialism”) then showed acceptance of its evolutionary paradigm, claiming “Arab scientists had said that before”; Hossein Al-Jisr (prominent religious scholar) in 1914 wrote a book (received the Ottoman Sultan’s prize) accepting the evolutionary scenario and even “methodological materialism”; saw no opposition between Evolution and the Qur’an; cited verses to show concordance between the two and even insisted that the Qur’an pointed to the creation of life from inanimate matter. Others who largely accepted Darwin’s theory in toto: Mustafa Al-Mansuri, Ismail Mazhar (first Arabic translator of Origin of Species), Hassan Hussein, Ghulam Ahmad Pervez and Abdul Wadood; others accepted it with reservations, incl. Mohammad Iqbal & I. Mashriqi…

17 Views of Muslim Elite Today
Large rejection on various grounds (see later): Seyyed Hossein Nasr and his followers (Osman Bakar, Muzaffar Iqbal); Harun Yahya and creationists Wide Human Exemptionism: Mubarak Al-Mili, Abdes-Sabour Chahine, Nuh H. M. Keller Some attempts at conciliation: Tareq Oubrou Some solid acceptance: Mohamed Shahrour

18 Major Reasons for the Rejection of Evolution
Atheistic/Materialistic Connotation attached to Evolution Literalism + Populism Human Exemptionism Alfred Wallace, Charles Lyell, and Asa Gray supported Evolution but placed the explanation of human nature ultimately outside the realm of natural law. 4. Finding support in Christian Creationist literature 5. Lack of knowledge/exposure of/to Evolution

19 Major Reasons for the Rejection of Evolution
Literalism the Qur’an is the verbatim word of God; “there can only be one truth”; Why would God make his intentions unclear? Non-literalism is but a sneaky way to bring in personal biases… Appearance of Zahiriyya (Ibn Hazm, 12th c.)  Appearance of ‘Neo-Zahiriyya’ today…

20 Reasons for Rejection of Evolution (cont’d)
Human Exemptionism God created Adam “out of clay”; Humans have a soul/spirit, which is of divine origin; Humans have a (high) reason  principles and values, Humans have a (refined) culture; Humans, through their will, can prevent nature from applying its laws to them…

21 Recommendations and Conclusions
It will take a long, sustained effort, and a compassionate approach; Need to emphasize the distinction between the (empirical) facts of Evolution and the theory(ies)! “More biology” does not improve the situation much (Rajadhyaksha 1998): deep-seated convictions of teachers negate the positive effects sought in the teaching; textbooks often are inadequately written w.r.t. the students’ preconceptions (e.g. Lamarckism)… “More science” does not work: surveys (Pigliucci 2007 and others) have shown science majors tending to accept the paranormal much more than humanities majors (esp. philosophy)…

22 Conclusions & Recommendations (cont’d)
Need a better approach to explaining science, with a strong emphasis on the history and philosophy of science (which educational experiments have supported, e.g. Jensen & Finley 1995). Continuous training of teachers, emphasizing the history and philosophy (nature) of science. Teach in an inter-disciplinary way. Teach controversial issues. Fellow academics: come down from the ivory tower! Write in newspapers, give public lectures, visit high schools, take part in educational committees and efforts (like updating and improving textbooks, science-writing competitions, etc.)…

23 Conclusions & Recommendations (cont’d)
Pushing back against religion will be counter-productive: in a paper published in 2009 in Evolution Education Outreach, we read (in the abstract!): “the Muslim perspective makes learning about the biological basis of evolution difficult because of the harmony that exists between religion and science [in that perspective]”. A footnote adds: “Within a concordist context, there is harmony between religion and science. The knowledge is conceived in a conceptual and logical continuity between the scientific level and the theological one that expresses an ignorance of science methodologies…”

24 Conclusions & Recommendations (cont’d)
Important to reach out to religious scholars and preachers; organize dialogues, science lectures and training; show the strength and richness of Evolution and emphasize the fact that it does not necessarily negate spirituality or religious views. Thank You. A little extra: Poem by the famous 13th century Sufi master Jalal ad-Din Rumi

25 Poem by the famous 13th century Sufi master Jalal ad-Din Rumi:
“Man first appeared at the level of inanimate matter, Then it moved to the level of plants, And lived years and years a plant among the plants, Not remembering a thing from its earlier inanimate life. And when it moved from plant to animal, It did not remember anything from its plant life, Except the longing it felt for plants, Especially when spring comes and beautiful flowers bloom, Like the longing of children to their mothers, They don’t know the reason for the longing to their breasts. Then the Creator pulled Man, as you know, from its animal state, To his human state, And so Man moved from one natural state, To another natural state, Until he became wise, knowledgeable, and strong as he is now, But he does not remember anything from his earlier states, And he will change again from his current state.”

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