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.