Islamic creationism: London debate on Islam and evolution cancelled because of Muslim student opposition

In my studies of on how people try (and fail) to accommodate science and religion, I’ve tried to investigate faiths other than Christianity (the main religion concerned with such reconciliation) and Judaism.  But with Islam it’s a dismal failure, for there aren’t many decent books dealing with the topic (for one, see Tanir Edis’s An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY).  But even Edis’s book is mostly about Turkey, and doesn’t go into the depths (if that’s the word) attained by Christian theologians like John Polkinghorne or Alvin Plantinga.

Most Islamic “accomodationism” simply reports that everything we know about science is already in the Qur’an, so there’s no contradiction.  One example, and it’s typical, comes from a book by H. T. M. B. Nurbaki, Verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Facts of Science. (2007, Kitabbhvan, New Delhi, India).

If you want to see how far this ludicrous scientific exegesis of the Qur’an goes, here’s an example, in which Nurbaki shows that the secrets of OXYGEN were revealed to Muhamed. On p. 133, Nurbaki explicates this Qur’anic verse:

“The fire you kindle arises from green trees”

as a divine revelation of the oxygen molecule, arguing “It was impossible 14 centuries ago for unbelievers to  understand the stupendous biological secret this verse contains, for the inside story of combustion was not known.” There are books full of this nonsense, and it almost makes you laugh.

But in none of these books have I seen a reconciliation between Islam and evolution, for that’s simply out. The Qur’an tells us we created by Allah in a manner similar to the description of Genesis. But that’s not interpreted metaphorically; nearly all devout Muslims reject evolution.

Thus it’s no surprise that, as Friday’s Telegraph reports, a Muslim think tank, the Deen Institute, has had to cancel a planned conference on Islam and evolution because of Muslim student opposition.  (notice of the upcoming conference here; no words about its having been cancelled or rescheduled). The Deen Institute, which operates in both the UK and the US, seems to be a sort of BioLogos for Islam: an organization dedicated to comporting the Muslim faith with the facts of science. And, according to the Telegraph, it’s succeeding about as well:

The Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum which promotes critical thinking, had hoped to hold a conference entitled “Have Muslims misunderstood evolution?” early next year. Among the speakers invited to attend included Muslim scientists, imams who have promoted the compatibility of Islam and evolution as well as those who preach a form of Islamic creationism.

The initial plan was to hold the event next month at Imperial College London, one of the country’s foremost universities for scientific exploration and debate, in cooperation with the local Islamic student society. But the Deen Institute said it was forced to pull out when it became clear that opposition to the event from supporters of creationism began mounting. It is now being held without input from any Muslim student society at Logan Hall, a conference centre owned by the University of London.

“We eventually had to give up of getting any support from student societies because it was seen as simply too controversial,” Adam Deen, co-founder of the institute, told The Independent. Deen, who describes himself as a “conservative Muslim” who encourages critical thinking, said he was surprised to receive such opposition at a place of scientific study, particularly as he had made sure to invite all sides of the debate including those who preach creationism.

“It’s symptomatic of a bigger problem in the Muslim world where people representing practical Muslims have to be seen to be more literalist,” he said. “It’s almost like there’s an intellectual mafia movement who won’t allow any freedom of thought.”

And that’s a surprise?  While several students expressed support for the conference, they couldn’t overcome the baying ignoramuses.  But knowing Islamic “accommodationism,” I wasn’t surprised:

The row is informative because it illustrates some of the controversies currently occupying the Muslim world about the compatibility of science and whether critical thinking is being closed down by more literalist schools of thought.

Muslims believe the Qur’an is the indisputable word of God and therefore any scientific discovery which risks proving something within their holy book as incorrect is highly controversial, particularly among the more literalist schools of thought. For example, most Muslim scholars have long accepted scientifically proven cosmology but even up until his death in 1999, Sheikh Ibn Baaz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, continued to insist that the Sun revolved around the Earth based on his interpretation of Islamic texts.

Naturally, the debate will prominently feature Islamic creationists, including minions of the infamous Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar):

Much of this newfound enthusiasm for attacking evolution has been pushed by Harun Yahya, a prominent Turkish theologian whose writings have been seized upon by literalists and those who exhibit a theological suspicion of science. Dr Oktar Babuna, a representative from the Harun Yahya movement, is scheduled to speak at the conference alongside Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, an influential imam who accepts evolution at a micro level but refuses to countenance the idea that man evolved from anything other than Adam himself.

Two Muslim scientists, American biologists Ehab Abouheif and Fatimah Jackson, will also speak alongside Usama Hasan, a British imam who preaches the commonly held scientific view that man is descended from ape-like forebears.

You may remember Hasan as I’ve posted on him before; a while back he was scheduled to give a talk on Islam and evolution in London, but then bailed because of death threats from his coreligionists. I have no problem with his withdrawal; I might cancel a talk too if I got credible threats. But Hasan subsequently retracted some of his views on evolution; not surprisingly, his “apology” was rejected by fellow Muslims. It will be interesting to see what he says in his rescheduled talk.

A word on the mission of the Deen Institute, which again reminds me of BioLogos; its “vision” is shown below: 

As Muslims living in modern society, we must engage with a diverse range of ideas and belief systems. The Deen Institute has been established to provide students with the necessary tools of understanding and dialogue.

Our aim is to navigate this challenging situation in light of the Islamic tradition; through our commitment to knowledge and learning. Taught in a comfortable and welcoming environment, our structured courses cover a range of subjects and levels.

The Deen Institute welcomes all who are curious and eager to learn, regardless of faith or background.

With this in mind, the Institute’s primary objectives as represented by each pillar are as follows:

pillar1

To help the wider public understand the Islamic tradition in light of contemporary ideas and beliefs.

pillar2

To raise awareness about the sound use of critical thinking and intellectual thought throughout Islamic heritage, and to share this wisdom with modern day thinkers and intellectuals.

pillar3

To supply the UK with a platform where common issues and questions can be openly examined from various viewpoints, with mutual respect and civility.

pillar4

To release research publications focused on the Islamic perspective on common issues pertaining to topics such as ethics, philosophy, history and science.

pillar5

To promote critical thinking and rational thought within philosophical cogency in the educational sector and to revive intellectuality within the Muslim community.

These are doomed, of course, so long as Muslims take the Qur’an as the ultimate truth and authority on everything. As far as I know, Muslims are far more literalistic about their scriptures than Christians, even American Christians, so “promoting rational thought” within Islam could never mean questioning the Qur’an.

To show this, just have a look at the logo for the evolution meeting below. The “progression of humans” shown at the top, their take on a classic evolution graphic, would make me chuckle—except I don’t think it’s a joke.

Picture 2

Finally, a graphic from a paper in Science (reference below: pdf available free, I think), showing how abysmal the statistics are for acceptance of evolution in Islamic countries:

acceptance-of-islam-muslim-countries

h/t: Malgorzata

____________________

Hameed, S. 2009. Bracing for Islamic creationism. Science 322:1637-1638.

43 Comments

  1. Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    And that’s why the idea of state funded Islamic schools that teach science and the theory of evolution is so utterly ludicrous. It amazes me that our politicians can get away with, a surely feigned, ignorance of the implications of faith schools.

  2. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    It hasn’t been cancelled. It was to be held at Imperial College London, in cooperation with the local Islamic student society. But the Deen Institute said it was forced to pull out due to opposition by Muslim creationists. It is now being held without input from any Muslim student society at Logan Hall, a conference centre owned by the University of London.

    Your first link in this post doesn’t go to the Telegraph story.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      See this alternative news story from The Independent that I emailed you on Friday

    • Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      But that’s what JC’s post says! i.e. the original had to be cancelled and and a limited debate rescheduled elsewhere.

  3. marycanada FCD
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    sub

    • gbjames
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      sub

  4. gravelinspector
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Finally, a graphic from a paper in Science (reference below: pdf available free, I think),

    It’s asking me for a log-in, which I definitely don’t have.

    • Cremnomaniac
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      A search for the article title yields several sources. Here is one such source

      Bracing for Islamic creationism

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

        I must admit that I hadn’t even searched my local storage. I recognise the article as soon as I saw it. It was definitely a timely warning for the general readership of Science. Thaks for posting the link for others.For the last couple of years of my membership of CompuServe, my mailbox there was severely impacted by spams delivered by people writing in (a Turkic script) and mentioning the name of “Harun Yahya” in the subject line or body. With a mailbox size of about 2MB, and dozens of these spams a day arriving, very often legitimate mails would get bounced, and I’d need to make 3 or 4 cycles through my offline reader to get through to collecting real mail. Which rather defeats the object of using an offline reader.I never had that sort of hassle from the Xtian(-ish) Creationists who I spent years challenging in the fora of CIS (before the lunatics of AOL completely debased the service). I fully understand that Islamic Creationists are dangerous, convinced and are a waking behemoth. With even worse spelling than the Fundie-Xtian inspirations, though often recycling the same messages and “refutations”, complete with their own repertoire of spelling mistakes. There’s a text-criticism specimen of “Evolution in Action” there, for anyone who cares to try to work out how to do it (I read TFM for “Paup” IIRC and ran for the hills).

  5. Vaal
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    That visual depiction of man evolving to an upright position only to be pulled downward, in prostrate surrender to an ancient myth, is one of the saddest drawings I’ve seen. Really says it all.

    And yet, some huge portion of humanity sees
    this as a good thing. Which is only sadder still…

    Vaal

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. I’m just shaking my head at that. That Time-Life March of Progress graphic has to be one of the most imitated, parodied images of all time and yet, they can’t even see the loathsome self-parody they’ve created.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        If I’d got my bookshelf in order, I’d grab a Steven Jay Gould book off it and refer you to the graphic’s long history. ISTR it was part of his book-length thematic discussion of “the Great Chain of Being” collection of essays.
        Time-Life? I remember them, before they got involved with AOL ( forget which company was “top”) and degenerated into being the screaming hordes of zombies dragging down the remaining bastions of civilization. Do you still have their zombies walking the streets in your country?

  6. revjimbob
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    “You may remember Usan”
    Don’t you mean ‘Hasan’?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Indeed; a typo. Thanks!

  7. Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It is sad humanity had to evolve to stand straight just to go bending again! How sad.

  8. Joseph Heled
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    “The fire you kindle arises from green trees”

    Obviously a reference to the kindle fire.

    -Joseph

    • Greg
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      LOL! We need to make a database of plausible interpretations of Biblical and Quranic verses that have been put forth as scientific predictions.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

        We need to make another database of plausible interpretations of Biblical and Quranic verses

        FTFY.
        Some years ago, one of my fellow CIS campaigners in the Creationist-containment trenches produced a science-based re-work of the “Creation story” under the title of “Genesis 2.0″. Sadly, he didn’t get rich off it – that had to wait (sorry, Les!) until he printed a database of 2000 micro-brew beer recipes. But I still harbour thoughts that the time is coming for “Genesis 2.1″ to be compiled.

    • Stan Pak
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      And “green trees” obviously refers to paper books which are produced from tree pulp. Q-ran is right!

  9. Filipe
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Apparently in physics, a devout Muslim student, before any conservation law, or exclusion principle, should write something like «Allah not willing.» At least one of my students tried to convince me of that.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      Don’t they also have to write their name or matriculation ID?

  10. Faustus
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    In the UK Adam Deen is a reasonably well known apologist (relative to other islamic apologists anyway…). From what I’ve seen of his work he uses the same arguments as Billy Craig, but with Qur’an instead of Bible, Allah instead of God, and so fourth. If I remember he correctly he also trots out all the same old ID arguments against evolution.

    • gravelinspector
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      In the UK Adam Deen is a reasonably well known apologist (relative to other islamic apologists anyway…).

      I’m trying to think where the most complete (i.e. in working order) bear-baiting pit is.

  11. Occam
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The graph depicting the various acceptance/rejection levels in islamic countries contains one structural outlier: Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic.
    Kazakhstan’s educational system shows a clear break between those generations educated under a state ideology completely averse to all forms of religious teaching, and the younger generations exposed to increasingly militant, increasingly pervasive islamism.

    It would be instructive to see how the results of the survey changed over time.

    • Christian
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      And you also have a sizable Russian minority that hasn’t any Islamic background.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        But the Russian minority do have a non-trivial Eastern Orthodox influence. (Speaking from the sample of one who I married.)

    • Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      And you have results that are pretty much like that of the US!

  12. Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a brainfart for you: in 2000 Grand Mufti Sheik Ibn Baaz issued a fatwa titled, “The Transmitted and Sensory Proofs of the Rotation of the Sun and Stillness of the Earth” which declared the earth was flat and disk-like and that the sun revolved around it. Clearly anticipating some blowback, Baaz pre-empted his critics and cautioned his followers to not believe seemingly contradictory satellite imagery as it was, he proclaimed, the mischievous work of Western intelligences agency’s trying to hoodwink the Islamic world.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      If I recall correctly, the Earth as Center of the Universe was described as such in the Bible, and only since Galileo has it been conveniently omitted.

      Grand Mufti Baaz was sightless (I took away “blind”…too many interpretations!)
      “The Siege of Mecca” is an interesting book, insofar as Baaz and other higher ups let practical matters preempt Koranic strictures.

  13. MadScientist
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Wow … the USA is on par with Kazakhstan. I wonder if the Russian influence had boosted the acceptance of evolution.

    • Cremnomaniac
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      On par, in what sense? From the article which seems accurate regrading the US,

      only 28% of Kazakhs
      thought that evolution is false, a fraction much lower than that of the U.S. adult population(~40%).

      If I recall, prior studies put us on par with Turkey.
      Wikipedia

  14. Posted December 16, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    The question “Have Muslims misunderstood evolution?” is a typical internet question, of which the answer is inevitably “no.”

    Islamist fundamentalists fully understand what evolution means, especially with respect to the credibility of their own source material. Which is why the only logical response from them is “LA LA LA LA! NOT LISTENING!”

    • RF
      Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      It’s a rather ridiculous phrasing. Can the entirety of Muslims be spoken of as a unit?

      • gravelinspector
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

        Yes. They comprise the set of organisms that are
        genetically part of the human race,
        believe that there is no god but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet,
        observe the sacrament of prayer daily and fasting annually (on a lunar calendar,
        those who can afford it, observe the sacrament of pilgrimage,
        err, that’s about it?
        I think that adequately defines the set of “Muslims”.

        • RF
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          But is “misunderstand evolution” a predicate that can be meaningfully applied?

          • gravelinspector
            Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            But is “misunderstand evolution” a predicate that can be meaningfully applied?

            Next time you hear someone asking “but how did Archaeopteryx know that it needed to develop feathers?” you’ll be hearing the sound of someone who misunderstands evolution.
            I watched an “electrician” carefully switch on the power to a 415V / 100A cable before trying to attach it to the transformer at the other (our) end. And I thought “does this guy understand electricity?”
            The sparky then handed the tools to his assistant to actually hand-tighten the contacts, and I thought “OK, Mr. Sparky does understand electricity.”
            With 20-20 hindsight, I realise that doing this, kneeling on sand in the “Empty Quarter” of the Arabian Peninsula … maybe it was actually me who didn’t understand electricity. But I still wouldn’t try this myself.

  15. Posted December 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Homo economicus' Weblog and commented:
    If the debate date and venue changes is a debate cancelled or re accommodated? Misses the point – students were hostile to critical thinking of faith with science. That matters.

  16. Diane G.
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    sub

  17. Cremnomaniac
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ll try to keep this succinct. reading the article on “acceptance…”

    As scientists,we should resent, without compromise,the best available science. Evolutionary ideas about human origins may face serious obstacles, but a peaceful religious accom-
    modation is also possible.However, efforts
    that link evolution with atheism will cut
    short the dialogue…

    I think that accommodating them is the last thing we should do. And why, because they are so intensely reactive to anything that challenges their belief they threaten assassination? Let’em eat reality.

    The author of the linked article, Salman Hameed, states on his website –

    One goal of this website is to display the theory of evolution as it is, and also to show that there is no necessary conflict between the theory and Islam.

    No necessary conflict? Sure, except that Islam’s explanation relies on Allah. Despite his PhD in Astronomy I’m not impressed with Hameed’s reasoning skills. I am, however, impressed by the mental gymnastics necessary to make this kind of statement.

  18. Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Evolution and the origins of life from a Muslim perspective: http://areycorneja.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/evolution-and-the-origins-of-life-from-a-muslim-perspective/

  19. RF
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Quite often, one side in a debate will present such a convincing argument that the opposing point of view will be shown to be intellectually bankrupt. Sometimes, the very fact that the a debate takes place shows one side to correct. But it’s not every day that the absence of a debate proves one side.

  20. Posted December 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    What a shame that the once scholarly traditions of the muslim faith appear to have become undone.


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