Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Debating Evolution - The Muslim Edition

Its great that Taner Edis has an article defending evolution on islamonline.net. The article is titled Intelligent Design: A Blind Alley. The other side is represented by Harun Yayha (representing a mish-mash of Creationism and Intelligent Design) and Mustafa Akyol (representing a more traditional Intelligent Design argument).

Edis starts with talking about the issue of science & religion in the Muslin world:
Recently, I was in the audience when Munawar Anees spoke about science and Islam at the Jefferson Center's Summer Institute. Anees, a Muslim scientist who has become a social critic and student of religion argued that conflicts between science and religious doctrine were alien to Islam. Afterward, I asked Anees if this was not a strange statement, considering that the Muslim world harbors perhaps the strongest and most successful varieties of creationism in the world. He answered that Harun Yahya, the famous pseudonym that Turkish creationists operate under, and similar figures represent aberrations that could be ignored when discussing the Islamic attitude toward science.

I wish Anees were right; that his idealized, liberal version of Islam was the more popular, even dominant, point of view. Yet the fact is that creationism of the Yahya variety appeals to a large number of Muslims. And even the serious intellectual culture of Muslims is not friendly toward evolution. Certainly, modern Darwinian evolution, which explains the common ancestry of organisms through purely natural mechanisms, seems largely rejected by devout Muslims.
I'm not too familiar with the work of Munawar Anees, but the answer depends on what evolution we are talking about and in what context. I don't think there would be much problem with micro-evolution and even with evolution of animals and plants. The acceptance problem comes up directly with human evolution and then, yes, most of the thinking just simply shuts down.
And unfortunately, my contribution to the public debate over creation and evolution has to be somewhat unsatisfactory. I am not a believer - I have no business telling religious people how they should understand the Qur'an or the Bible or how they ought to imagine their God acting in the world. I have to be content with pointing out that the scientific community overwhelmingly supports evolution, and that we hold this position based on careful evaluation of evidence and arguments, including the best arguments put forth by anti-evolutionary thinkers. I have to claim that we - scientists - have the appropriate expertise, and that we are the proper authorities to consult about the history of life on earth.
I think this is honest and very well written. One can stick to science and scientific findings without telling telling others what to believe or not to believe. Yes, human evolution will be a huge issue in the Islamic world, but Taner is using the right approach to tackle the problem.
Where natural science is concerned, the Muslim world really is a disaster area. Many Muslims are worried about this state of affairs, regardless of whether they are devout or secular in outlook - they correctly perceive that Western accomplishments in science and technology are a key to unwelcome Western military and economic domination of Muslim lands. If the Muslim world is to improve its scientific prospects, can Muslims afford to indulge in ideas like the popular creationism of Harun Yahya? Is it really a good idea to go down a scientific blind alley such as ID?

I am inclined to think not. At the least, I would like to see more liberal Muslim options, represented by scientists such as Munawar Anees, become more prominent. Otherwise, I fear the future of science among Muslims will be as dark as the present.

Well said. Read the full article here and also note the reaction right underneath the article.