According to yesterday’s Independent, Dr. Usama Hasan, an imam who also happens to be a physicist at Middlesex University and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, was forced to cancel a lecture on “Islam and the theory of evolution” because of death threats. The lecture was to be held at Masjid al-Tawhid, a mosque in east London. Sadly, he not only canceled the talk, but apologized for his heresy:
But according to his sister, police advised him not to attend after becoming concerned for his safety. Instead his father, Suhaib, head of the mosque’s committee of trustees, posted a notice on his behalf expressing regret over his comments. “I seek Allah’s forgiveness for my mistakes and apologise for any offence caused,” the statement read.
One hopes that he construed his “mistake” as giving a lecture where he might have been killed, not as talking favorably about evolution. Hasan had given a pro-evolution lecture at the mosque in January, but was interrupted by leaflet-bearing fanatics who shouted him down (was there “forced laughter”?) and threatened his life.
Unfortunately, Hasan’s apology—which I’d normally dismiss as intellectual cowardice, but can perhaps be understood if he feared for his life—was not enough. The mosque’s committee of trustees fired him as imam and vice-chairman of the mosque (which the Independent describes as running one of Britain’s largest sharia courts), and issued a statement characterizing Hasan’s views as a “source of antagonism in the Muslim community”.
This kind of thing is only going to increase as Britain and other countries of western Europe become more Islamicized. The inimical effect of Islam on science is particularly worrisome in Britian’s odious institution of government-supported faith-based schools. Watch part of these two videos by Richard Dawkins (the entire four-part series is here) on that topic. The visit to an Islamic school, starting at 8:00, shows how religious instruction is used to undermine what the students learn in science classes. The upshot: none of the students wind up accepting evolution.
The discussion of Islam and evolution continues for the first minute and a half of the next video:
Granted, Islam is not the only faith that attacks science, and there are Islamic scholars who do accept evolution. But, as Salman Hameed notes in a piece in Science on Islamic creationism, evolution appears to strike particularly hard at certain parts of Islamic dogma, especially the notion that humans are special. Hameed gives a graph of acceptance of evolution in six Muslim countries (data gathered between 1996 and 2003). It’s very low, much lower than in nearly all Western countries, with less than 25% of people accepting evolution except in Kazakhstan:
Now this may have nothing to do with Islam, but I doubt it. Of all the translations that I wanted for Why Evolution is True, the most important to me was Arabic. Although evolution is formally taught in parts of the Muslim world, as far as I know there is no book in Arabic laying out all the evidence for evolution. But I faced a lot of problems getting such a translation done, largely because no Arabic publisher wanted to touch it, even in countries like Kuwait. (After some difficulties and the help of an Egyptian colleague, it may soon be translated in Egypt, although political troubles there may scotch that.)
So how do we fight the threats that Islam, like some other faiths, poses toward accepting science?
Alternative A: Convince the faithful that Islam is perfectly compatible with science.
Alternative B: Work to lessen the grip of Islam (and other faiths) on people’s minds.
Islamic scholars are already busy with the first alternative, but with little effect. Alternative B, of course, is much harder, and will take much more time. But think of the ancillary benefits: no more death threats to Dr. Hasan, no more sharia law, no more Muslim women being second-class citizens, no more jihad, no more stonings, no more acid thrown into the faces of Muslim schoolgirls, no more internecine killing between Sunni and Shiite Muslims—none of the pernicious and destructive behavior particularly associated with that faith.
I swear, sometimes I think that fellow atheists who want to foster the acceptance of evolution by making nice with religion are completely blinkered. Their goal is to get people to accept any kind of evolution—including that driven or guided by gods—even if it conflicts with the notion of non-theistic and materialistic evolution held by scientists. God made natural selection? That’s fine. God guided the process so that the evolution of god-worshiping humans was inevitable? That’s okay too. God inserted—as Catholic dogma asserts—a soul in the hominin lineage somewhere between Australopithecus and Homo? We’ll just keep quiet on that one.
And although those accommodationists are atheists, presumably aware of the the many destructive aspects of religion, you won’t hear them talking about that. Nor will you hear them admit the obvious fact that the main impediment to accepting evolution in this world is not scientific ignorance, but religion. Every anti-evolutionist I know, with the possible exception of David Berlinski, is motivated at bottom by faith. Instead, faitheists yammer on about how important it is that Americans accept evolution, because otherwise, you know, we’ll fall way behind India and China. (So what?, I ask. A rising tide lifts all boats.) They claim without proof that that evolution-acceptance will come only when atheists shut up about the incompatibility between science and religion, and when we get line with those accommodationists who osculate the rump of faith. They assert that religion will always be with us and it’s useless to fight it—despite the fact that faith has largely disappeared in Europe.
They worry far more about an Alabama schoolchild accepting evolution than about an Afghan girl defaced with acid for daring to attend school at all. For an atheist, that is a clear case of misplaced priorities, and it sickens me.
Hameed, S. 2008. Bracing for Islamic creationism. Science 322:1637-1638.
Miller, J. D., E. C. Scott, et al. (2006). Public acceptance of evolution. Science 313: 765-766.