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