Evolution and Islam

From October 2-3, 2009, a conference was held at Hampshire College titled “Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World.” Discussions at the conference addressed a number of aspects that included: authority of the Qur’anic text in the creation story, authority of religious scholars versus scientists, and how evolution is addressed in textbooks in Muslim countries. This topic has also received attention recently with a few articles appearing in The New York Times  and The Guardian, for example.

The focus of the conference and the articles revolved around the fact that many Muslims may accept aspects of evolution that relate to the age of the world and how the theory enters into astronomy and geology, but reject human evolution. Some scientists explain Muslim acceptance for the old age of the world, for example,  from the fact that the Qur’an, unlike the Bible, is ambigious about how long the six days were in the context of human time.  Salman Hameed, a professor of integrated science and humanities, goes so far as to argue that “There is no young-Earth creationism” because of this fact. Thus, many do not perceive certain aspects of evolution as contradicting with their religion.

On the other hand, there is large rejection of evolution of humans, which many scientists regard to be central to the theory. The problem with this aspect also stems from the Qur’an and passages on the creation of human beings. The Qur’an, religious scholars emphasize, is quite clear that God created human beings as human beings, thus removing the possibility of common descent. However, interestingly enough, this aspect does not prevent teaching the theory. Prof. Hameed, talking about a biology textbook in Pakistan, asserts that evolution is taught in different branches of science, but human evolution is simply ignored.

This discussion on evolution, while highly charged, is interesting because it raises the question of authority, the intersection of religion and science, and how something like colonization, for example, can play a very big role in how ideas develop across cultures. Most scientists, Muslim and non-Muslim, looking at the Muslim world recognize the historical connection between Islam and science: that in fact the faith has long been comfortable with science. Our next Inside Islam Radio Show, in December, will examine that history. However, in this discussion, they argue that the “lag” of Muslim countries in terms of scientific developments results from the fact that science is perceived to be pitted against religion, which some argue was caused by colonization and the importation of “Western” ideas.  The debate around Darwinism represents one avenue that scientists are taking to try to understand the role of science in Muslim countries today.

What do you think the relationship is between Islam and Science? Are religion and science mutually exclusive? Is Darwinism important in this debate?  Please share your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Evolution and Islam

  1. I just found your site today – it’s extraordinary.

    I look forward to reading and exploring in the future.

    Thanks!

  2. A truthful person is usually described as a person who tells the truth. No one simply “tells” without a context. We speak in dialogues, responding to what we hear, and listening to how another person hears what we have said. For that reason, it is just as helpful to think of a truthful person as one to whom we can tell the truth. If we are forced to hide away and retreat in order not to give offense, to pretend we don’t know something we know or see something we see, the force that produces that effect is the untruthfulness of the person to whom we are speaking. Those whose conviction repudiates others for seeing what they see and knowing what they know are not merely practicing a tradition: they are raising a rampart of falsehood. Above all, they are annihilating wisdom. A person may achieve wisdom by letting go of the false ideas he or she have acquired, and the falseness of these ideas usually becomes apparent from one source only – the criticism we hear in dialogues with others. We are truthful people to the extent that we are willing to listen to the opinions and the knowledge of others with a willingness to let go of our own presuppositions if these turn out to enclose our horizons and leave us locked up in a defensive position that refuses to acknowledge what others know. Attachment to a tradition can open up an abyss of greed in the spiritual realm.

    The discussion of Islam has not been truthful because it has emphasized such things as the serenity and confidence that Muslims feel within their defensive border, secured by refusal to see others as equal in knowledge and in vision to themselves. Serenity and confidence secured by rituals and conformity, discipline and exclusion, should not be counted as values, but as deep self-enclosure.

    Ideologies seem to prosper when they set themselves up as systems of exclusion, devoted to notions of purity, expanding a boundary to diminish the realm beyond. To praise ideologies for the satisfaction they offer those who adopt them, who erect barriers between themselves and those who see the world differently, does not seem honest or decent at all. If it is diplomacy, then it’s diplomacy. But to praise those who pursue purity of vision by refusing to see what others see, who refuse to consider how others see them and why in their pursuit of a purified unity in their own world, will not produce any reciprocal recognition. So then it turns out not to be diplomacy after all. If diplomacy is a careful, patient, and tactful means to reach mutual recognition, then we need to give this another name. We have a right to ask recognition of other people, to ask them to soften the borders of exclusion and the pursuit of purity. Our patience should be identified as waiting for that recognition, not as giving up and filling in the emptiness with hollow praise of our own diminution.

  3. Hi
    Based on the book, Creation And/Or Evolution An Islamic Persective [ISBN: 1-4134-6581-1] by T.O.Shanavas, there is no conflict between the theory of evolution and Islam. Shanavas argues that the theory was first proposed by Pre-Darwin Muslims. Shanavas gives lots of references in his book to support his argument. Quote in the book from John William Draper, a well-known American scientists and a contempoary of Darwin, states: [Christian] ”
    (t)heological authorities were thereforeconstrained to look with disfavor on any attempt to carry back the origin of the earth to an epoch indefinitely remote, and on the Mohammedan theory of evolution which declared that human beings developed over a long period of time from lower forms of life to their present condition.” [The History of the Conflict between Religion and Science by John W. Daraper].

    Probably many people would be interested to hear a Wisconsin public Radio interview of T.O.shanavas
    Mathew