Islamic symposium on evolution and creationism

A short while back I called attention to an upcoming symposium , run by the Deen Institute, on Islamic attitudes toward evolution and creationism, which had to be cancelled because of Muslim student opposition to the very topic of evolution.

Well, according to a report in the “Science’ section of the Guardian by correspondent Yasmin Khan, that symposium has now taken place. As expected, it was deeply polarized, with advocates of evolution balanced by wackos from Harun Yahya, the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, a nasty piece of creationist work from Turkey.  Unfortunately, the reporter seems out of her depth, as we’ll see.

On the pro-evolution side there were some brave individuals who spoke out for the truth, even if they tried hard to accommodate it with Islam:

. . . Professor Ehab Abouheif, an evolutionary biologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. “Muslims must revolutionise their perspective on evolution if they are to move forward in the 21st century,” said Abouheif, who considers himself to be both a scientist and a sincere believer. He is a veteran of debates like this. “Biological evolution is a fact. The evidence is overwhelming and indisputable,” he said.

Fatima Jackson, a biological anthropologist at the University of Maryland, offered a compelling alternative narrative. Nothing in biology would make sense outside the evolution paradigm, which she defined as a “basic organising tool”. She reconciled her faith with science by holding to the belief that the singularity of life is a manifestation of the unity of God. In her view, exploring natural phenomena helps to bring us closer to God. “Evolution doesn’t replace faith, it complements it.”

You may remember Usama Hasan, an imam who spoke out in favor of evolution at a mosque, received death threats, and then recanted a bit. This time, though, he was pro-evolution, though saying (as Muslim accommodationists are wont to do) that it was all anticipated in the Qur’an:

Dr Usama Hasan, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Quilliam Foundation and a part-time imam, said Yahya’s creationist arguments were easily discredited (though he later confessed to previously teaching Yahya’s fallacy, before deeper research into the subject). His current stance has provoked outrage and even death threats.

Hasan courageously presented evolution as a theory initially recorded by Muslim thinkers. For instance, he said, William Draper refers to the “Mohammedan theory of the evolution of man from lower forms, or his gradual development to his present condition in the long lapse of time.”

On the anti-evolution side:

Beamed into Logan Hall via satellite was Dr Oktar Babuna, a spokesperson for Harun Yahya – founder of the controversial Turkish creationist movement that has often been accused of obscuring clear scientific thinking.

Babuna’s impenetrable polemic was relentless. “Evolution is not a scientific theory,” he said, “as it has yet to be verified by scientific evidence. In fact, evolution has already been falsified.”

He maintains that no evolutionary mechanism has been found. His logic is that if successive minor changes had accumulated into a big change during speciation, transitional forms would outnumber the original and transformed species in the fossil record. But, according to palaeontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, the record showed otherwise.

Much to the amusement of the audience, Babuna repeatedly offered a £5m cash prize to anyone who can find a transitional fossil.

Of course the transitional fossil business is a mug’s game. I could show him the skeletons of the proto-whale Basilosaurus, a feathered theropod dinosaur, or a mammal-like reptile with two jaw joints, and he’d find a reason why it wasn’t “transitional.” Those prizes (and I’d dearly love five million pounds) should be adjudicated by a committee of educated laypeople with no religious commitment.

Someone who waffled:

But [Hasan's claims that the Qur'an anticipated Darwin] were vehemently refuted by Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, Islamic instructor for the Al-Maghrib Institute, who said the descriptions were meant in a different context and that these scholars were not experts in either theology or biology.

Hassan argued that his views on evolution were firmly within the limits of Islamic thought and that difference of opinion was permissible. Qadhi disagreed: “It is sacrilegious to have two different Islamic opinions on this issue.” [See more waffling from Qadhi below.]

Given what seems to have been a preponderance of pro-evolutionists (albeit accommodationist ones) among the speakers, the audience, and the reporter, seemed to be resistant to the Darwinian message:

Much to the amusement of the audience, Babuna repeatedly offered a £5m cash prize to anyone who can find a transitional fossil.

Abouheif’s swift rebuttal [that evolution isn't always perfectly gradual] fell on deaf ears.

. . . Qadhi pointed out that Muslims were not historically anti-science in the way Christianity had been. But he went on: “We need to put science in its proper place”. In his view, “science is the study of understanding Allah’s creation”.

Hassan responded by suggesting that religious scholars who do not understand the sciences should not interfere. “It is not the job of theologians to dictate what scientists can and cannot do. Isn’t your attitude holding back the Muslim ummah?”

Qadhi’s reply provoked rapturous applause from the audience. “The Qur’an compels us to believe in the super rational; that which is beyond our comprehension.”

Oy gewalt—the “super rational” is, by definition, beyond our comprehension! That reminds me of John Haught’s oxymoronic quote from Deeper than Darwin:

“It is essential to religious experience, after all, that ultimate reality be beyond our grasp. If we could grasp it, it would not be ultimate.”

I’m heartened that some Muslims have stood up for evolution; after all, you can get death threats for that, as did Hasan.  I’m a bit disappointed, though, that some do what theistic Christian evolutionists do: draw the line at humans:

[Qadhi]: It was fine for Muslims to believe there were dinosaurs, speciation among hominids and even a common ancestor for all animals on Earth – except for one exception – mankind. “We are an honoured species distinctive from animals in terms of meta-cognition, language, morals, creativity and religion.”

He addressed the ultimate sticking point for the majority of Muslims: “God created Adam to fit into the grand scheme of things. Adam and Eve did not have parents – they did not evolve. Any other position is scripturally indefensible.”

What about scientifically defensible? We already know that modern humanity did not descend from just two individuals who mated with each other: population genetics tells us that. But Qadhi’s position is similar to that of the Catholic Church, which is that purely naturalistic evolution is okay for every creature save Homo sapiens, during whose evolution God miraculously inserted a soul. Excepting humans from naturalistic evolution pretty much destroys the whole enterprise, for, after all, it preserves the religious superstition that we’re special objects of God’s creation, and therefore cannot be understood by neo-Darwinian processes.  It keeps people believing in the unsupported idea, promoted by people like NIH director Francis Collins, that human morality and altruism must have been a gift of God, not a product of evolution and human reason.

The worst part is that reporter Yasmin Khan punts when giving her own opinion:

The debate stimulated intense discussion and I found myself agreeing with different strands from different speakers, but to varying degrees. I am convinced that the scientific rationality of Abouheif and Jackson outweighs the droll scepticism of Babuna. But I was torn between the theological cerebral flexibility of Hasan and the unwavering categorical rhetoric of Qadhi. [Oy, what a paragraph!]

As the event closed I was left restless and sensed that others felt similarly conflicted. I tried to envisage how to establish a consensus of Muslim opinion on this topic. Where was the call to action? Who would bring the necessary scholars and scientists together to form a legitimate committee?

The debate has lifted the lid on this Pandora’s Box, but the next steps are uncertain. Without more structured engagement with Muslims, the concept of human evolution will continue to be both an intellectual and spiritual minefield.

Given nearly unanimous Muslim opinion on the impossibility of human evolution (something I’ve learned from studying how Muslims reconcile science and faith), and opposition to evolution itself in many quarters, there is no way to establish a Muslim consensus on evolution (which should be that everything evolved according to natural processes) without getting rid of Islam.

basilosaurus-entire

I can haz £5,000,000 plz?

h/t: Michael

118 Comments

  1. Dominic
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with that last paragraph.

  2. Stackpole
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    “Oy gewalt”

    I can find “oy vey” in Wikipedia but not “Oy gewalt” (or “gevalt”)

    Does o-g carry a different connotation?

    Signed, One of your goy fans.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Being Yiddish there are various spellings in English
      For example oi, oy, oj, gvald, gewalt & gevalt are the ones I’ve found today via Google

      According to the Wiktionary entry for “Oy Gevalt”:-

      From Yiddish אױ גװאַלד (oy gvald).
      Interjection “Oh, God!”, uh-oh!, “woe is me!”, “Enough already”

      This The Jewish Daily FORWARD article is very interesting. It goes into the meaning of “gevalt” & how it relates to the expression “oy gevalt” ~ like all things Jewish it ain’t straightforward ! :)

  3. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Reading about that symposium reminds me of the debates that happened around the late 19th century on evolution. I don’t think creationist arguments have advanced at all since then either.
    If they do come to accept science they can always exploit the randomness of their holy texts to say that they predicted it first. Christians have been doing that for centuries.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Here is an article on the “history of creationism” in the November issue of GSA TODAY, the Geological Society of America’s monthly newsletter. This new accomodationism is one of several reasons that I’m no longer a GSA member. http://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/22/11/pdf/i1052-5173-22-11-4.pdf

      And here’s a letter from a creationist commenting on the above article, published in the January 2013 issue of GSA TODAY:
      http://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/letters/ltr1301.htm

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        The GSA article clearly says in its conclusion:
        “Geologists assess theories by how well they fit data, and creationists evaluate facts by how well they fit their theories. This simple distinction frames an unbridgeable intellectual rift.”

        What’s the problem?

        • Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          If a professional scientific society feels compelled to address the creationists, they should simply state a position affirming science and rejecting superstition, then move on.

          “Given the ongoing conflict over what to teach in science classrooms, perhaps teaching the historical evolution of creationism offers a fresh way for students to learn about the history of geology, and thereby our knowledge of the world and how it works.”

          For many freshman geology students, this is the first science course they’ve ever had and the only one they’ll ever take. For potential science majors, it’s laying the foundation for upper-level courses. There’s NO TIME to pander to religion, even under the guise of teaching “history”.

          “How many creationists today know that modern creationism arose from abandoning faith that the study of nature would reveal God’s grand design for the world?”

          All of them. It’s a deliberate, conscious rejection of science, nature study, and nature itself, by many fundies and some mainline protestant churches. And, as discussed in Jerry’s post, it seems to be happening in Islam as well.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            There’s NO TIME to pander to religion, even under the guise of teaching “history”.

            This is an issue of what constitutes effective pedagogy. There is empirical evidence supporting the suggested approach, which can hardly be described as “pandering”.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              What evidence? Accommodationism is famous for having zero evidence.

              Meanwhile most biologists (as a nearby example I know more of) argue (on blogs) that the history of biology covers examples of creationism which are rapidly dispensed with, and from the science perspective.

              What Montgomery is suggesting, with ample religious text references, is the teaching of religion in science class.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                We’re not talking about accommodationism, but pedagogical strategies to improve student engagement. I don’t see why this should be controversial.

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        That was a great essay, the added letter gave was quite a laugh too. It’s quite revealing that Mr.Gillman sees science like law, that’s the creationist method, conlusion then find evidence to fit or distort your opponents case. It’s thoughts like his that keep religion and science separate and opposing.

        The most I know the history of creationism is in Brian Switek’s book ‘Written in Stone’ (which I strongly recommend. It’s always fun reading the history of creationism against the history of evolution, we progress so much, their only progression is digging up essays from the 17th century.

  4. Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    The Muslim consensus on evolution is that it is false. The difference is only if it is false in part (false only for humans) or in whole.

    I enjoyed the Ingersoll page, but one of the things he didn’t anticipate was the resurgence of Islam and the Koran: “…the Bible will take its place with the Shastras, Puranas, Vedas, Eddas, Sagas and Korans”. Not yet, unfortunately.

  5. @eightyc
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    lol.

    This is actually where we need an Interfaith dialogue!!!

    The merging of the Marvel and DC Universes!

    Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort and his Universe can be merged with that of Harun Yahya in one Mega Universe called Chrislam.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      I would love to see a debate between someone like Ray Comfort and Harun Yahya. They would both have the same points to make, the same philosophical games to play.

      • @eightyc
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        lol.

        Yes that should be a discussion/debate for the Ages!

        How did God do the creating? By fiat or by twiddling with atoms?

        They virtually can speculate on all sorts of things reflected by the Marvel and DC Universes.

        For example, if God so intended for humans to fly, would He have given us wings?0 would he have finely tuned gravity to allow us to easily float once we use our leg muscles to jump? or would he have given us “super-rational” mental abilities that just by thinking, it will let us levitate? These are the BIG questions that should be tackled by such an interfaith dialogue.

        lolz.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        They should probably be locked in a room together. I don’t think I’d like to watch, though.

  6. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Of course the transitional fossil business is a mug’s game. I could show him the skeletons of the proto-whale Basilosaurus, a feathered theropod dinosaur, or a mammal-like reptile with two jaw joints, and he’d fine a reason why it wasn’t “transitional.”

    Of course he would. Every fossil characterised is assigned a genus and species. Therefore, by definition, they are not transitional between species. Ta da.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Using their mindset, a “transitional” fossil would have to be in-between distantly related species, and not a species itself. The crocoduck comes to mind.
      \
      It would be like someone insisting that he won’t believe that adults were once babies until he sees the head of a 2-year-old on the body of a 20-year-old. You know — it’s when you manage to catch the transition taking place, half-way.

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      And why a fossil? After all, the platypus is a living example of a transitional form (even at the genome level).

      Another challenge of this kind was offered by K. Hovind. Such challenges are deceiving because the arbitrators will never define precisely what is a “transitional fossil”. So they could move the goalposts as they wish.

      These challenges are broadly inspired by James Randi’s 1 M$ paranormal challenge, but contrarily to Randi’s one, they do not give an honest chance to the applicant.

      Desnes Diev

    • darrelle
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      The real kicker is that all fossils are transitional. All species are transitional. That falls out directly from what the phenomenon of evolution is. It is as certainly a fact as anything can be.

      These people are hiding behind terms and concepts that they do not even understand. And they have very strong incentives to not even think about the possibility that their understanding of said terms and concepts might be wrong.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      What Desnes Diev and darelle said!

      I’ve long found the creationist demand “Where are the transitional fossils!” quite amusing. Fossils? Why do you need fossils? We’ve got the platypus and echidna. Mammals that lay eggs. How transitional do you want it!??

      And as darelle said, all fossils are transitional anyway (except, of course, the ones that represent the last leaf on an extinct branch). But again, it’s not just the fossils. Every single individual alive and every one that has ever lived is only a transition between its parents and its offspring. And that’s as “transitional” as any individual form can ever be.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Those were real fishing lures, created by god. Who knew he liked trout fishing?

      • The Stolen Dormouse
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        Probably either Richard Brautigan or Norman Maclean. Both wrote of fishing as almost mystical experiences.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

          My favorite chapter in Trout Fishing is the Cleveland Wrecking Yard, where the stream is stacked up in regular lengths and irregular pieces.

  7. Bob Scott Placier
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    The last sentence leads me to ask, is there a “way to establish a [Christian] consensus on evolution . . . without getting rid of [Christianity]“? Or Judaism, for that matter.

    • johncozijn
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      A Muslim (or Christian) “consensus” on evolution is an illusory goal. Believers are clearly split, and there is no reason to expect this division will go away. Our goal to get as many Muslims as possible to accept the scientific account of life’s diversity (and science in general).

      • Bob Scott Placier
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        John, we’re clearly on the same page here. Mine was a rhetorical question, hopefully it’s obvious my answer to it is no. I’d only add that your goal for maximal Muslim acceptance of evolution (and science in general) is one we must have for the Christians and Jews as well.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      I have the same question!

  8. marycanada FCD
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    This political strife amongst the moslems will widen the door to apostasy.

    • Pray Hard
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      It doesn’t matter what Muslims are doing to or with each other, we, the infidel, are the enemy of all of them. The Umma holds them together. More apostasy? Maybe, maybe not.

      • marycanada FCD
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        Irrespective of their belief that we are the enemy, moslems living in Western countries will only get so far with their protests against scientific endeavours, especially within Western universities. They’ll be patronised by some politicians who are interested in securing future votes as well as Liberal academic elites within the Social Sciences who make a living pandering to such issues. Any moslem that chooses to study within the sciences will have to adjust certain aspects of their faith and accept the fundamentals of scientific theories. This is not a choice but a necessity. Many have probably come to this conclusion already. Progress comes in small steps.

        We’ve already witnessed the changes the catholic church had to make in order to ‘keep up with the times’ e.g., accepting Evolution. Other denominations are also following suit with changing attitudes towards homosexuality and marriage.

        Thriving in the Western world is strongly associated with level of education. Moslems that immigrate to Western societies for a better life will have to learn to adjust.

        Best …. Mary

  9. Sastra
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    A strong sense of community and a high value placed on harmony has a serious downside in a culture. They can’t handle dissent.

    They don’t want to hear disagreement coming from the outside (those people are not like us) or the inside (you’re becoming unlike us.) Cohesion, order, conformity, unity, peace, purity, and tradition all combine with the irrationality and dogmatic certainty of religion into a dangerous cocktail of intractable anti-science attitudes.

    Many Muslims appear to be drunk on this. The others are only tipsy.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      The new president of the British Humanist Association, physicist Jim Al-Khalili, is the son of a Protestant Christian mother and a Shia Muslim father, born an raised in Bagdad until Saddam Hussein came to power.

      The Iraqi Shia Muslim community must surely have been fairly liberal to tolerate such a marriage, no?

      Interesting, too, that Al-Khalili “ended up without a religious bone in [his] body.”

      /@

  10. Pluto Animus
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    tl;dr:
    Muslims are intellectual cowards.
    Again.
    As usual.

  11. JeremyR
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Some facts everyone will agree on:
    1.Evolution is true, on the basis of the available evidence.
    2. Hundreds of millions of people are Muslims (and Christians). All the evidence indicates that will remain the case at least during the lifetimes of anyone reading this.

    Given that, which is better:
    A) No Muslims accepting evolution
    B) Some Muslims accepting evolution?
    (We can probably forget “all Muslims accepting evolution”.)

    If (B) is better than (A), how should those of us who think evolution is true help bring it about?
    Option 1: Deride everyone who wants to find a way to retain their faith while also accepting evolution (including human evolution) because they can’t see that the two are (in this view) incompatible, and it makes some atheists feel more secure in their “all religion is evil” belief?
    Option 2: Welcome and encourage them as that will make the world a bit of a better place?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      False choice, JeremyR.

      How about:
      Option 3: Speak clearly about how religion contributes to bad thinking about the universe with the understanding that some Muslims, some Christians, and some Other-Faith-Types will gradually think more clearly.

      Option 4: Respect the intelligence of Religious people giving them credit for being able to live in a world where the rest of us say what we think. And say what we think.

      Option 5: Refuse to allow “don’t offend” be a trump card protecting religion from criticism.

      These are not mutually exclusive options. And there are far more than just two.

      • JeremyR
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        You know as we’ll as I do that wasn’t the point. The point was to highlight that Option 2 exists and might be a good thing to do.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Yes. And my point is that the framing you chose to present implied that the big problem is one of not being nice enough. Presumably you are referring to many of the people who frequent this site. Some of us are convinced that “make nice” is not as useful as “make clear”.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Some of us are convinced that “make nice” is not as useful as “make clear”.

            And many of us are fairly certain that is a false dichotomy.

            • gbjames
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

              Sometimes it is. And sometimes not.

          • JeremyR
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            That’s a way of evading my point: option 2 says nothing about lack of clarity on the case for evolution. But it is a challenge to the superficial comfort of black and white positions. In the real world, in which there are Muslims and Christians, and massive differences in view within each religion, I’d far rather that many of them were people of goodwill who accept evidence where it matters in terms of what they actually do (which is already the case for very many Christians) than one in which there is constant warfare between hard line believers and hard line atheists. Interestingly, the view that evolution, and retaining a Muslim identity, are incompatible is shared by both sets of hard liners. Nice bedfellows?

            • gbjames
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

              “constant warfare”

              Do you know what warfare actually is and is not? It is not an atheist pointing out why religion makes no sense.

              Please gain some perspective. There are those who are threatened by having their religious beliefs challenged. We all understand that. The solution to the problem is not to ask the rest of us to never draw a picture of Mohammed for fear of offending someone.

              • JeremyR
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:09 am | Permalink

                Er.. I agree with you. I thought we were talking about Muslims seeking to reconcile acceptance of evolution with their religion.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

                Well you’re the one who use the phrase “constant warfare” to describe atheists pushing against religion (Islam in this case). Good that we agree.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              The so called “hard line atheists” are just moving the Overton window a little.

              Atheists are not the ones that aren’t allowing them as much trust in the public sphere of US as many earlier derided groups. Atheists are not fundamentalists that won’t be moved by evidence. Atheists are not the ones that say STFU on criticism and then as bigots say that free debate is “hard line”.

              STFU “warfare” “strident” “black and white” accommodationists are hard line entrenched positioned.

              • JeremyR
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 2:14 am | Permalink

                I agree that in the US there is a different situation to most other countries, such as here in the UK, where there are far more Muslims (as a proportion of the population) and far less status for religion politically and socially overall. The conference being discussed here took place in the UK.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          And how do you suggest Option 2 be implemented?

          • JeremyR
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            Going easy on Option 1 might be a good start.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              How so? Do you really think there are Muslims who would accept evolution, but don’t because there are atheists urging them to abandon Islam?

            • Explicit Athist
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

              JeremyR: “option one” is a negative stereotype fiction you created. “option two” isn’t promoting “accepting evolution”, it is welcoming a basterdized substitute for genuine science. Clearly, the best option is for everyone to be encouraged to trade-in their fictions for properly justified beliefs, which is the real option 1. The better question here is why you are so committed to protecting unjustified beliefs from valid, impersonal criticism that directed against the poorly justified beliefs.

              • JeremyR
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                No-one seems to be interested in answering the original point, which was that it’s a fact that, like it or not, there will be mIllions of Muslims in the world for the foreseeable future. Some of them are intelligent educated people who can see the truth of evolution and want to square it with their faith (evidence for that is that the conference took place). So what’s the best reaction to that development from atheists?

                Most people posting here seem to want to support the position of the illiberal Muslim scholars who say that evolution and Islam are incompatible, so those liberal Muslims who want to accept evolution should give up their faith.

                Is it really so stupid of me to argue that a better reaction might be to welcome the fact that liberal Muslims with an interest in science are willing to put their heads above the parapet? Maybe over time evolution will begin to be accepted in Islam as it is today in all but the most fundamentalist varieties of Christianity (which are unfortunately prominent in the US, but less so elsewhere).

              • Gary W
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                Is it really so stupid of me to argue that a better reaction might be to welcome the fact that liberal Muslims with an interest in science are willing to put their heads above the parapet?

                Yes, it is. Your “better reaction” is dishonest and wrong. Whatever you imagine its short-term benefits to be, it is ultimately destructive.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                So what’s the best reaction to that development from atheists?

                The best reaction is exactly the same as it is for Christians, to insist that evidence must be made for claims about the universe and to demand that whatever their superstitions, they have no place in public policy. If they are doing good science we should appreciate the good science. If they insert Allah into the mix they should be roundly denounced.

                I suppose we should also send them cards thanking them for not being really, really crazy.

              • Posted January 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

                Concur.

                Maybe not about the cards.

                /@

              • Posted January 11, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

                PS. It remains a fact that evolution and Islam are incompatible, just as evolution and other religions are incompatible, as long as any religion tries to insert Allah/God/יהוה/… into the process. Once you know this, to say otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

                Which is not to say any believer cannot square naturalistic evolution with their faith; it just requires some cognitive dissonance and/or Sophisticated Theology™ – intellectual dishonesty!

                Acceptance of evolution (and other science) by the faithful is clearly to be encouraged, for its own sake but also because we know (evidenced by some folks on this site, inter alia) that it leads some to atheism (in a broad sense).

                Is it actually the case that hearing some atheists make the “same”* claim as illiberal Islam scholars are is going to deter these Muslims any more than hearing that claim from those scholars, who surely have more sway with them?

                (* Of course, it’s not the same claim, because each is saying a different element is wrong.)

                On the other hand, as I said, we know that hearing the claim of incompatibility from evolutionary biologists does help evolution-accepting believers make that next step.

                /@

    • Andrew B.
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Choice (B) has absolutely no merit by itself. Getting people to mouth the words “I accept evolution” means nothing. Our aim is improve UNDERSTANDING of evolution AND getting people to understand that EVIDENCE MATTERS MORE THAN AUTHORITY, TRADITION AND DIVINE REVELATION.

      A billion Muslims affirming belief in a theory (1) that they don’t understand and (2) because some Religous authority figures said that they’re “allowed” to affirm doesn’t mean squat.

      Science shouldn’t compromise with religious conviction.

      • JeremyR
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I said “accept evolution”, meaning understanding it, not just mindless affirmation. Pretty clear that those who are arguing for a change are educated people who understand what they’re arguing for.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          If they are educated people who understand what they’re arguing for then they should be perfectly capable of handling direct challenges to superstitions.

        • Andrew B.
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          You may be sure, but I’m not. Thank you, however, for your clarification.

      • Pray Hard
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they can point at the word “evolution”, move their finger back and forth while mumbling. That should be sufficient for Muslim understanding of evolution. I think it’s sufficient for becoming an Islamic scholar.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I also note that you think it likely that millions of people will remain Muslims for the foreseeable future, yet think there is hope of getting some of them to accept evolution. Why do you think getting them to accept evolution would be easier than getting them to abandon Islam?

      • JeremyR
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Look at the evidence: despite death threats, there are Muslims who are willing actively to promote that viewpoint without ceasing to blue Muslims.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          I’m pretty sure it is just a typo, but I find the phrase “blue Muslims” kind of humorous…. perhaps they are sad about the cognitive dissonance?

        • Explicit Athist
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          JeremyR: There is nothing Muslim about science and no proper justification for there to be some need to keep saying “I am a Muslim” as a pre-requisite to discussing what is true or false about how the world works. Instead, we determine what is true or false about how the world works based on empirical evidences, not based on any pre-existing ideology. Anytime someone introduces irrelevancies such as I am a Muslim into such discussions we will point that is irrelevant because it is. You have a problem with that? That is your problem, not our problem.

        • Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          Look at the evidence: despite death threats, there are Muslims who are willing actively to promote that viewpoint without ceasing to blue Muslims.

          FIFY

          /@

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

            Both are important.

            • Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

              Well, yes. But that was really directed to JeremyR’s response to “Why do you think getting them to accept evolution would be easier than getting them to abandon Islam?”

              Saying that one happens while ignoring that the other happens doesn’t answer that question.

              /@

            • truthspeaker
              Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

              Since both are important, there should be no problem with using both approaches. Muslims who think science is compatible with Islam are free to make their case, and those of us who advocate abandoning Islam (and all other religions) altogether are free to make ours.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

                That’s fine so long as the second group (among whom I count myself) doesn’t use as an argument that accepting evolution is incompatible with being a Muslim. That would be a false and damaging assertion.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                You are giving us the STFU response. What right do you have to that position?

                (And the assertion is neither false nor damaging. Your insisting that it is doesn’t make it so.)

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

                If you are going to assert that accepting evolution is incompatible with being a Muslim, then you become part of the problem, IMO.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 11, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Consider that your opinion might be wrong.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      JeremyR,
      You’re just promoting accommodationism. Promoting the idea that we should ignore the fundamental incompatibility between science and religion for narrow tactical reasons. The failure of Muslims and other religious adherents to accept evolution isn’t the real problem. It’s just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is the idea that faith, revelation, sacred scriptures, holy prophets, etc. are legitimate sources of knowledge.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Agree 100%.
        The illusion of “progress” by “going easy” is not worth pursuing.

        The earth orbiting the sun is irrefutable science. Yet, even if a $1million prize were offered for using common household goods to demonstrate the earth circles the sun, and not the other way (as the visible illusion suggests) no one could claim the prize.

        The momentum and stridency of believers of any religion should not make anyone knowing the truth pull back from the truth. Not one step.

        As a counterweight and measurement to religious arguments, perhaps the claims of current religions be weighed against the Aztec religion, and ask religionists, “Why are the claims of (Islam, Xianity, etc) more true than Aztec theology?”

      • Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        Here, I have to agree with you, Gary.

        But we can take it a step further, I think.

        The real problem is the idea that faith, revelation, sacred scriptures, holy prophets, etc. are legitimate sources of knowledge and take precedence over science as a source of knowledge where the two conflict (e.g., Adam and Eve trumping the evolution of humanity).

        /@

        • Gary W
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          The second part of your statement is redundant. Since faith, etc. are not legitimate sources of knowledge, they can’t take precedence over science, which is a legitimate source of knowledge. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a conflict with science or not. Faith-based beliefs simply aren’t knowledge, period.

          • Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

            Duh. Now I have to disagree with you again: No it isn’t.

            Of course they’re not, and of course they can’t.

            But there’s a gulf between (a) believing that they are but yielding to science (eg the Dalai Lama’s declared position) and (b) believing that they are and that they do trump science (the fundamentalist Christian and Muslim position).

            Both (a) and (b) are untenable, but (b) is easily the more pernicious.

            /@

            • Gary W
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              Not only is there no “gulf,” but the two kinds of belief are equally unjustified. Believing something without evidence is no more justified than believing something despite conflicting evidence, since it allows conflicting evidence to be dismissed without evidence. The fundamentalist can say to the Dalai Lama that he believes, through faith, that the scientific evidence is false. Unless the Dalai Lama rejects faith as a source of knowledge, he has no basis for rejecting the fundamentalist’s claim.

            • Explicit Atheist
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              That b is more pernicious than a is not a good reason to refuse to argue that a and b are both equally untenable. The fact is that by refusing to argue on behalf of what is tenable you are enabling and facilitating b because b prospers when this distinction between the tenable and untenable is not emphasized.

            • Posted January 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              Dudes… you seem to be suggesting that it would not be an improvement if all the fundamentalists thought like the DL … ?

              /@

    • johncozijn
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Jeremy,

      You are advancing a position: 1) supported by the majority of scientists, 2) embodies a practical approach to tackling religious obscurantism, and 3) exemplifies the approach of America’s greatest science educators — Sagan, Gould, Tyson.

      You can therefore expect short shrift from many regulars on this site for whom an ideological opposition to “accommodationism” takes precedence over all other considerations, including the actual real-world effects of their positions if anyone were to take them seriously.

  12. derekw
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Have to remember also that Islam sees the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) as the divine revelation/Word of Allah so there also needs to be reconciliation with Genesis as with the Christian faith.Excepting humans from naturalistic evolution pretty much destroys the whole enterprise, for, after all, it preserves the religious superstition that we’re special objects of God’s creation, and therefore cannot be understood by neo-Darwinian processes. It keeps people believing in the unsupported idea, promoted by people like NIH director Francis Collins, that human morality and altruism must have been a gift of God, not a product of evolution and human reason.‘Destroys the whole enterprise’ would be considered as ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ by Collins/Biologos. As you mention they fully accept evolutionary processes up to the physical makeup of homo sapien sapiens but that ‘image of God thingy’ stops them from going all the way. Btw I think we’re still far from agreed consensus on the evolutionary processes that led up to human morality/altruism. As EO Wilson stated “The choice between transcendentalism (divine moral origin) and empiricism (biological moral origin)will be the coming century’s version of the struggle for men’s souls.”

  13. Jim
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    It was widely reported (also on Yahya’s site which refers to a Guardian article) the prize money is about 10 trillion Turkish lira – about 5 trillion US dollars, which is about 7-8 times the GDP of Turkey. Since you are going to get that instead of the paltry £5 mil, I can haz £5,000,000 plz?

    He is a charlatan. There was an interesting article on New Humanist about his rise. Unfortunately, he has a huge following among the Muslim population who would rather believe a coreligionist’s “sciency” theories than evidence contradicting their belief. It is the standard operating procedure. Quote scientists when it suits them, reject science when it does not.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I see the attraction of “sciency” as again simply a rationalization to combat a fear that science will take away eternal life in paradise, as all current mainstream religions promise.

      Problem is, if you can understand molecules, ions, enzymes, and elements, you understand that there cannot be any afterlife. Your memory is composed of physical atoms, and they stay in your head when you die.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        “physical atoms, and they stay in your head when you die”

        For a while. Then come the worms to and shuffle those atoms around.

  14. johncozijn
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    It is indisputable that Muslim majority countries provide a more hostile environment for the acceptance of evolution than even the US with its anomalously high level of Christian literalists.

    But for those of us in countries with rapidly growing Muslim minorities, the issue presents a different kind of challenge. In Australia, about 4% of children under 5 were identified as Muslim in the last Census. They will be growing up in a modern secular society although their parents (mostly) came from Muslim majority countries. The pressure on them to maintain a Muslim cultural identity will be very strong, but so will the pressures of modernity, including a modern education.

    Insisting that “being” a Muslim somehow excludes the possibility of accepting science’s account of the natural world is not a winning strategy in such a context.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Insisting that “being” a Muslim somehow excludes the possibility of accepting science’s account of the natural world is not a winning strategy in such a context.

      And you know this, how?

  15. gbjames
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Insisting that atheists refrain from speaking clearly what we think is not a winning strategy.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      sorry.. this was intended to be a response to #15.

    • johncozijn
      Posted January 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      But is what you think actually true? We would expect the majority of “Muslim children” in Australia to have a fairly tenuous relationship to the doctrines of their religion when they grow up and to accept science’s explanation for the natural world. That’s because they’re growing up in Sydney or Melbourne rather than Islamabad or Cairo. Why insist on an incompatibility that is not empirically correct in terms of people’s actual beliefs as we can measure them today, let alone tomorrow.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Incompatibility isn’t something I insist on. This isn’t a matter of negotiating some middle ground. It isn’t a question of belief. Religion and science aren’t incompatible because I insist on it. They are incompatible because they use mutually exclusive methods of describing reality. I have no more choice in that than you do. But I’m willing to admit it and you apparently won’t because you think it might hurt “the cause”.

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          But in the real world, the majority of Australian-born Muslims don’t hold to medieval views about the natural world, unlike the people in their parents’ countries of origin.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            If you had inserted the words “as many” just before “medieval” I could have agreed with that statement.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

              Insert if you wish, it doesn’t affect the argument, which is about process not ideological purity.

              • gbjames
                Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                It is neither process NOR ideological purity. It is about truth and accuracy.

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          you think it might hurt “the cause”

          If by “the cause” you mean a more secular, rational and less polarized society, then let me say that I don’t see what could be more important. How you get there is a strategic question, but I don’t see much in the US that offers the rest of us any lessons in this regard.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

            OK, I’m done. This is going nowhere. Have a good day.

          • Notagod
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

            Atheists in the United States were mostly softly spoken prior to the recent decade or so. The christians were becoming more and more bold prior to the atheists finally speaking out against the bullshit. During the “christian time” the President of the United States proclaimed that he didn’t believe in atheists, he didn’t believe that atheists existed. The current President has on occasion included atheists within his statements. Christians are still bad but not as bad as they were. Changes are happening including criticism of christian policies and criticism of government involvement with religion by the media. We still need to be more vocal but it is having positive results.

            Christians have always judged those that aren’t firmly outspoken and committed to be weak and exploitable. The christians that have power within the United States aren’t nice nor are they honest, and they aren’t reasonable.

            The christians will takeover Australia too if they are given the opportunity.

      • Gary W
        Posted January 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Why insist on an incompatibility that is not empirically correct in terms of people’s actual beliefs as we can measure them today, let alone tomorrow.

        We’re not. It is obviously “empirically correct” that a person can hold incompatible beliefs. That just means such people are confused, not that the beliefs are actually compatible.

        I still want to know why you think people are justified in believing, through faith, that God invisibly guides evolution (i.e., “theistic evolution”), but not that God invisibly planted fake evidence to make the earth look much older than it really is (“young-earth creationism”).

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          +1.

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          “I still want to know why you think people are justified in believing, through faith, that God invisibly guides evolution (i.e., “theistic evolution”), but not that God invisibly planted fake evidence to make the earth look much older than it really is (“young-earth creationism”).”

          Neither is “justified”, that’s not the point of difference (and most YECs don’t believe in the “deceptive” God, anyway). The issue is science-denial, and more broadly where people stand in the bizarre US culture wars.

          • Gary W
            Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

            Neither is “justified”,

            Right. *Neither* is justified. “Theistic evolution” and “young-earth creationism” are both irrational, unjustified beliefs. Both beliefs are held on faith, but faith is not a legitimate basis for belief.

            The issue is science-denial, and more broadly where people stand in the bizarre US culture wars.

            No, the issue is not “science-denial.” The issue is whether faith justifies belief. If it doesn’t, as you just conceded, then “theistic evolution” is no more justified than “young-earth creationism.” The fact that one involves what you call “science-denial” and the other doesn’t is completely irrelevant to whether Christians are justified in holding these beliefs through faith. So stop pretending there’s a relevant difference between them.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              “So stop pretending there’s a relevant difference between them.”

              I think most people would regard it as borderline insanity not to notice a difference that has real-world consequences.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

              I think most people would regard it as borderline insanity not to notice a difference that has real-world consequences

              The real-world consequences are *irrelevant*. One belief is not more likely to be true than another, and is not more justified than another, simply because it has what you (or anyone else) consider to be better real-world consequences. That’s called wishful thinking.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                The real-world consequences are *irrelevant*.

                How could anyone possibly argue with that?

              • Gary W
                Posted January 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                In your case, probably by ignoring the sentence that immediately follows it. You do know what “wishful thinking” means, right?

  16. Vaal
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    This report on the conference simply leaves me with the desire to throw up my hands and write “F#ck…(insert string of every expletive known to man)…religion!”

    But…I guess I won’t do that.

    Must…maintain…faith…in…humanity…

    Vaal

  17. Pray Hard
    Posted January 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    “Muslims must revolutionise their perspective on evolution if they are to move forward in the 21st century”

    From like, what, the seventh century? Hey, I admire his wishfulness, but there are about ten thousand things Muslims need to do before they can even begin to move with science. For instance, stop slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent people every year. Sorry, desiring or expecting Muslims to understand science seems utterly absurd to me … like the old fish riding a bicycle joke.

    • Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      It’s ironic that for several centuries before the Renaissance that science flourished in Islamic countries and that Islam was the custodian of much Greek philosophy and a conduit of scientific knowledge (crucially including zero, facilitating decimal arithmetic) from India to Europe.

      sl

  18. Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    “sl”? /@! (Stupid iPad mini keyboard!)

  19. JeremyR
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Here’s a better article in the Guardian on the same conference. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2013/jan/11/muslim-thought-on-evolution-debate?CMP=twt_fd

    • johncozijn
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      That certainly has a much better tone :)

    • gbjames
      Posted January 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      I suppose 150 years late is better than never.

  20. Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    Another perspective on the symposium: Islam’s evolution problem by Alom Shaha (Rationalist Association/New Humanist)

    /@


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