Muslim creationism is back in the news, this time in Egypt
Muslim creationism is back in the news. There’s been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 — “Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey” — and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam’s most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What’s new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon.
(Photo: Portrait of Charles Darwin, 12 Feb 2009/Gordon Jack)
There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I’ll have to just link to them in the … New York Times … Washington Post … Boston Globe … Slate … Guardian … National … Beliefnet … … Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, “what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries.”
(Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)
Over the weekend, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt hosted a conference on “Darwin’s Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society” with the British Council. The simple fact of holding a conference on Darwin in the heart of the Middle East, where his theory of evolution is widely rejected, is already noteworthy. According to the Guardian‘s Riazat Butt, Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, told the conference that only three Muslim or Muslim-majority countries out of a possible 22 taught evolution. Another participant, astronomer Salman Hameed, who is professor of integrated science & humanities from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, wrote on his informative science-and-religion blog Irtiqa: “It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don’t know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction.”
In an update on Sunday, Hameed wrote: “There have been some anti-evolutionary comments made in the sessions that dealt with religion and evolution – but overall, the reception seems to have been quite positive – both in Egyptian newspapers and among the local participants.”
(Photo: Salman Hameed/Irtiqa)
As a example of what they’re up against, another participant was Zaghloul El-Naggar, a leading proponent of the theory that the Koran foresaw scientific theories and discoveries, including the Big Bang and a possible cure for AIDS. He was quoted prominently in a recent Al-Jazeera report on the discovery of the 4.4 million year old skeleton known as Ardipithicus or “Ardi.” The report claimed that the find disproved Darwinian evolution — the opposite of what scientists said about the spectacular discovery of the most complete early hominid specimen we have. The report only appeared in Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language television channel, which is very popular in the Middle East, and not in its English-language broadcast. “The presence of El-Naggar totally polarized the debate and evoked an equally polarizing reaction from the audience,” wrote Hameed, who promised further posts from the conference ending today.
Last month, Hameed’s Hampshire College hosted a conference on Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World. Webcasts of presentations there can be found on the conference website.
What do you think? Is the spread of creationism among Muslims a matter for concern? Is it the same as the battle between creationism and science in Christianity?
Here’s the video of the Al-Jazeera report, with subtitles in English added by critics of its presentation: