FaithWorld

Evolution gets added boost in Texas schools

Social and religious conservatives in Texas suffered a setback on Thursday when the State Board of Education narrowly voted to ditch a requirement that high school science teachers cover the “strengths and weaknesses” of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which is more popularly known as the theory of evolution.

A final vote on the entire science curriculum is expected today. You can see reports here and here.

The rule to teach “both sides of the evolution debate” had been in place since the 1980s, but national interest has been rekindled in recent years by attempts to get Biblical creationism taught in U.S. schools in one form of another.

Proponents of intelligent design — which holds that life is so complex that it must have had an ultimate creator — have suffered a number of setbacks.

Some in the pro-evolution crowd — which includes just about all of the mainstream science community in the United States — contend that introducing “flaws” or ”criticism” of the theory of natural selection is a smokescreen for creationists who can claim that just discussing “doubt” does not in itself signal the promotion of a religious agenda.

Can policymakers use Darwin’s insights? New twist on old debate

The latest issue of The Economist has a provocative essay on Darwinism asking if Charles Darwin’s insights can be used profitably by policymakers. You can read it online here.

America … executes around 40 people a year for murder. Yet it still has a high murder rate. Why do people murder each other when they are almost always caught and may, in America at least, be killed themselves as a result?” it asks.

It goes on to ask why men still earn more than women 40 years after the feminist revolution and why racism persists.

A one-stop shop for the latest on Islamic creationism

Readers of this blog know of our interest in Islamic creationism and its leading spokesman, Adnan Oktar (pseudonym: Harun Yahya), interviewed here last June. Over at Science and Religion News, Salman Hameed has been posting comprehensive updates to this story including articles by himself and others. Hameed, an astronomer and assistant professor of science and humanities at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, is working on creationism in today’s Islamic world and how Muslims see science and religion. (Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)

Hameed’s blog is a kind of one-stop shop for anyone interested in this topic. Since he’s posted several items in recent weeks, here’s a quick index:

Harun Yahya dangles big prizes for creationism essays

Turkey’s Muslim creationist Harun Yahya is not satisfied with sending lavish books against evolution and Darwin to western schools. He’s now running an anti-evolution essay contest with a top prize of $64,000. He has just doubled the prize money from $32,000 and boosted the maximum length for essays from 15 to 60 pages.

“The competitors of the competition “Why Is the Theory of Evolution Invalid?” held by Science Research Foundation had some righteous demands, stating that given the too many dilemmas of Darwinism, 15 pages is too short for their essays and that the time is inadequate,” his group has written in a message I just received. “The purpose of this competition is to raise young people’s awareness of Darwinism, which has inflicted immense damage on mankind and to put them on their guard against this terrible fraud in science.”

The procedure is a bit complicated. One hundred participants have to first be accepted on the basis of the essays. They will then have to take a test consisting of 80 questions about evolution. The announcement says the test will be held in December 2009 at a location to be announced.

Richard Dawkins rips into Harun Yahya and Muslim creationism

This blog has given Harun Yahya a platform to defend his Islamic version of creationism, so it’s time to show Richard Dawkins tearing him apart. I noticed this video because it’s about the Atlas of Creation, a book that has fascinated me ever since I first saw it in Turkey two years ago. My blog posts on this have sparked amazed reactions from Westerners hearing about it for the first time, and indignant expressions of support from Muslims who agree with Harun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar).

FaithWorld is interested in following issues of science and atheism, although I have to say I think Dawkins makes a sloppy case for the latter. His book The God Delusion uses parody views of faith like strawmen to knock down. For someone with his intelligence and eloquence, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. His approach to Islamic creationism also shows a few holes. Two Pakistanis in the audience mentioned Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who is a leading critic of Muslim anti-Darwinism, and he didn’t have the slightest idea who they were talking about.

Hat tip to Salman Hameed and his blog Science and Religion News for this.

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

Harun Yahya preaches Islam, slams Darwin and awaits Jesus

Adnan Oktar, 21 May 2008/Osman OrsalIn the two years I’ve been writing about the Turkish Muslim creationist Harun Yahya , we’ve had to use adjectives like “reclusive” or “mysterious” to describe Adnan Oktar (his real name). The head of one of the Muslim world’s biggest publishing outfits rarely talked to the media. But he has begun speaking out more in public recently. We took the opportunity to interview him and here is my feature — Muslim creationist preaches Islam and awaits Christ.

We met at a richly decorated house in a gated community in Çengelköy, a residential area on the Asian side of Istanbul. It wasn’t his home or headquarters but apparently a meeting place for his group. Oktar, who spoke in Turkish through an interpreter, provided no surprises. One of my questions was whether he planned another huge project like the Atlas of Creation that was mass-mailed around Europe, but he said no. He also kept his cards close to his chest about his publishing houses’ finances, another issue since the Atlas giveaway.

Atlas of CreationWhat was interesting, though, was the way he explained the Atlas campaign as part of his Muslim vision of the end times. Several Turks have told me they suspect he considers himself the Mahdi, the Muslim saviour who comes at the end of time to fight with Jesus against evil and establish Islam as the only world religion. He denied this, but it a way vague enough that his supporters might still believe it. Whatever it is, he sees some role for himself in the end times, which he said will come in the next 20 to 25 years.

from Environment Forum:

How did Noah’s Ark float?

Greenpeace volunteers build a modern day version of the legendary Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey May 21, 2007 as part of a project to draw attention to global warming. REUTERS/Fatih Saribas (TURKEY)The story of Noah's Ark in The Bible is widely read as an allegory and discoveries of a stunning range of species of wildlife raise questions, for those who believe in the account as literal truth, about how they all crammed aboard.

The total number of species of animals and plants on the planet, according to biologists, may well range up to the tens of millions. About 1.8 million have been identified so far -- many of them are plants and fish that Noah did not take along to escape the flood, according to the Book of Genesis.

Even the Ark, with its three decks, would have quickly filled if Noah took at least two of all living creatures as God instructed Noah in the Book of Genesis. 

Harun Yahya’s Islamic creationist book pops up in Scotland

Atlas of CreationRemember Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, the lavishly illustrated Islamic creationist book that first turned up in Turkey, then France and other European countries and prompted a disapproving resolution by the Council of Europe? It’s now being mailed to universities in Scotland, the Sunday Herald there reports:

“I find it quite staggering,” said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department’s staff room. “Every academic I know says they’ve got one of those. And it’s peddling an absolute, downright lie…”

According to Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in the US who has written several books on Islam and science, Oktar is “the leader of a small religious sect and an art school drop-out.”

Evangelical Church in Germany knocks creationism, ID in school

EKD logoThe Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has just published a booklet for school teachers urging them not to advocate creationism or intelligent design (ID). That’s “evangelical” as in the German evangelisch (meaning Protestant, mostly Lutheran), and not “evangelical” as it’s more commonly used in the United States. Still, it’s interesting to see that the EKD in Germany, where there are few U.S.-style evangelicals and almost no dispute about the theory of evolution, felt it necessary to issue a 22-page booklet about teaching evolution. It’s called “The Origin of the World, the Theory of Evolution and the Belief in Creation in School” (here in German).

EKD Chairman Bishop Wolfgang Huber (pictured below) writes in the introduction that there is “an intense debate” about these issues but that “it is being conducted in Germany in a different way from, for example, the United States of America. Still, a fundamental clarification is of considerable practical importance.” He doesn’t elaborate.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber, 5 Nov 2003//Vincent KesslerThe daily Die Welt gave a bit more background. “This dispute is increasingly spilling over from the USA to us and has already led to political debates. The Hesse state culture minister (and Protestant synod member) Karin Wolff spoke last year of a “surprising agreement” between evolution and the Bible. With that she sparked a dispute within the Church in which the reasonable faction of the EKD found itself confronted with the growing strength of evangelicals loyal to the Bible. This “orientation aid” should now calm the dispute by setting limits towards both sides.”The “orientation aid,” as the booklet is called, criticises Richard Dawkins and other atheists for thinking science can disprove the existence of God. It compares the books of the “new atheists” to the communist textbooks in East Germany: “The new atheism propagated by Dawkins and others today fits seamlessly into this ideological scheme.”