Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Internet and the spread of Islamic Creationism

Here is an interesting paper by Martin Riexinger: Propagating Islamic Creationism on the internet. He provides a nice context for the rise of creationism in Turkey - and the dominant role of culture and politics in the opposition to evolution. Here is the abstract:
Although negative reactions accompanied the reception of Darwinism in the Islamic World from the beginning, a full fledged Islamic creationist movement did not appear before the 1970s. Originally it was restricted to Turkey, where Islamic groups attempted to undermine the materialist foundation of Marxism and Kemalism. From the late 1990s onwards the subject became popular among Muslims in the diaspora. This was due to the efforts of Adnan Oktar alias Harun Yahya, a hitherto marginal figure in Turkey, to propagate his ideas via the Internet. The Internet allows him to adapt his propaganda constantly to new issues and creationist and anti-creationist publications and to recruit volunteers willing to translate his books. Thanks to the combination of a neglected subject with the innovative use of new media Oktar gained the opinion leadership in this field. Even movements, the founders of which had attacked Darwinism, now refer to Oktar as main authority on this issue. However, he failed to gain an equal degree of attention for topics like conspiracy theories and eschatology. In these fields he had to compete with a bulk of existing material in conventional media. The success of his former disciple Mustafa Akyol shows that using the Internet as main means of propaganda may restrict the political impact. He became the chief Muslim ally of Christian creationists in the USA by managing to get published by respectable “old media”. For him the Internet only fulfils an auxiliary function.
Regarding Harun Yahya's impact, Martin points out an interesting distinction between Turkish and non-Turkish audience:

In Turkey itself Harun Yahya's ideas are primarily promoted by other media than the Internet. Öztürkler, a Turkish educationist who has analysed the impact of Islamic creationist ideas on the educational system, shows that lise (high-school) students who object to Darwinism have derived their ideas from his books and video-CDs.[29]

With regard to his international audience the picture changes considerably. Links to his websites are to be found on a broad array of web-pages. Organisations dedicated to the "Islamisation of Knowledge" refer to his websites to bolster their claims.[30] By avoiding controversial subjects he becomes acceptable for different movements which are extremely hostile to each other. Among Muslims with a South Asian background his English website is linked by both Sufi oriented Barelwīs[31] as well as their archenemies, the puritan Deobandīs.[32] In the West his popularity is not restricted to migrant communities, he also reaches out to converts.[33] His articles are reprinted in "traditional" Islamic media like the "Islamic Voice" from Bangalore.[34]
In general it is remarkable that at least at present websites of Turkish Muslims living abroad seldom refer to Harun Yahya sites.[40] As in Turkey itself his success is due to the dissemination of books and audio-visual materials, in particular through mosque associations of the Islamist Millî Görüş movement and friendly reports in its daily ‘Milli Gazete'.[41]
I am curious here as to the difference of Yahya's image within Turkey and abroad. For example, Yahya may be seen in Turkey more in line with anti-Kemalists and Nursi-like movement and his position within the society is defined according to that (though he may disagree with that characterization). Whereas, for non-Turkish Muslims, the Turkish context is missing and it is the presentation (the glossy books, sophisticated website and documentaries, etc) that defines his image - and he is seen as a scholar and a scientist facing down the West and western dominance. Thus, Islamic creationism may have a different face inside Turkey (and the Turkish diaspora) than outside.

Martin concludes about the use of the internet:
As Anderson and Eickelman have remarked‘[the Internet] has the potential to promote greater openness in the Islamic decision-making process as well as to reinforce entrenched views.'[55] The success of Harun Yahya's activities may serve as a proof for the second aspect. As his critics referred to in this text have demonstrated Harun Yahya's argumentation is based on a dogmatic preconception and the proofs he presents are mostly forgeries and misquotes.[56] Apparently the fact that these refutations are easily available on the net does not hamper Harun Yahya's success. Easy access to information alone does not increase the desire to question one own's concepts. The slow and weak response to Harun Yahya's campaigns further highlights the negative aspect of the ambiguity exposed by Anderson and Eickelman: in certain contexts the possibility to publish a lot in a short time works to the disadvantage of scientific thought and a rational discourse.
Yes, this is correct. But scientists need to not just counter Harun Yahya (this will give him even more publicity), but to present a more positive alternative narrative that does not threaten core religious values and that weaves together the importance of science with the scientific evidence for evolution. More importantly, that connects science and evolution to everyday life (before you call me completely naive, I'm not saying that this is easy - but that it is possible: see Sagan's Cosmos). Yahya's science is terrible - but his message connects for many at an emotional level. Scientists need to bring an emotional connection to evolution.

Read the full article here.


Anonymous said...

I only knew you through amastropak but recently i've started visiting your blog as well. And it has intrigued me in knowing about evolution. I am still of the opinion that evolution has no scientific basis but only taken seriously because there is no other explanation(beside the religious one that is). I am a bit perplexed because some explanations about evolution coming out of scientist just belittles their intellect. Recently i saw a talk by Dr Susskind where he was discussing one of his books and touch upon evolutionary explanation of the eye. Though he is not a biologist but the explanation couldnt have been far more absurd.
I have been reading books about physics for sometime and people have done a great job in delivering the message to the layman what the 21st century physics is all about. I am wondering whether there are books about evolution that explain the science behind it for a layperson to understand. Because most of the misunderstanding is due to ignorance. If you know any such books please let me know.

Salman Hameed said...

Oh yes there are many excellent books on evolution. And you are absolutely correct - that there are many many misconceptions about evolution - both from historical and scientific perspective. So here are some book suggestions:

An excellent book I am reading right now:
Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. It is a spectacular example of a prediction of evolutionary theory (that transitional fossils of species between fins and limbs will be found in rocks between the ages of 360 and 380 millions years ago - and how that led to the discovery of Tiktallik). Well written - and provides a nice overview of paleontology.

On general evolution (there are many many books - but here is a good start):
Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea by Carl Zimmer. He is an excellent writer and he presents both history and science of evolution. Also check out another book by Zimmer, At water's edge: Fish with fingers, whales with legs, and how life came ashore but then went back to sea

On history:
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place by Janet Browne. An excellent account of the circumstances surrounding the publication of the Origin of Species and Darwin's later life.

These should provide you with a fantastic overview - and I highly recommend reading the books. However, for a quick reference, you can download Science, Evolution, and Creationism by the National Academy of Sciences here. It seems that you can download it in audio format also.

Hope this is useful.

Larry Gilman said...

Good job covering this topic both here on the blog and in the recent Science piece. It is easy to get informed about the state of Western (mostly Christian) creationism, but until I saw your material I was finding it difficult to get the Islamic picture into focus.

It delights me to find Islamic voices that, like yours, are imbued with the scientific spirit. There is no surplus of such voices, alas, in any major religious community. (I happen to be Episcopalian--a type of Christian.) Keep up the good work. In a world swirling with sad nonsense, we need each other's voices.

To the previous poster on this thread, Anonymous: I salute your curiosity. My own favorite online resource on evolution, not addressed to specialists but to ordinary literate readers, is talkorigins, at http://www.toarchive.org/. Here mainstream scientific explanations of evolutionary ideas are given and creationist misconceptions about evolution are corrected.

To be open on this point, I accept the picture of evolutionary theory as affirmed by something like 99% of the world's biologists and earth scientists, just as I accept the science produced by other specialists, such as astronomers. Evolutionary biology has been rigorously tested, and continues to be tested, by scores of evidential tests. There is no real scientific doubt about the essentials: i.e., all life, including humans, has evolved, and natural selection is a major aspect of that process though not the only one. But of course you should not take my word for it. Examine the science and evaluate its quality for yourself, by all means. That is everyone's intellectual right.

A good place to start might be the TalkOrigins frequently-asked-questions page, http://www.toarchive.org/origins/faqs-mustread.html.


Larry Gilman


Anonymous said...

I think, internet is a bliss to unveil how a scientific theory has been presented as world view or ideology rather than true science. I am a biologist and my work has to connect with evolution at any means. Good thing of evolution theory is that you can add up or delete any genes in order to serve your purpose. It seems like a goal post, where ever play around the field, you have to focus on the goal post. To me, Darwin has contributed a lot in science perspective, but he is not the man of moral authority. Whatever you try, Darwin wont get any ground in muslim world. That does not mean, Muslim world against science. You see, after reading this post evolutinist will start think me as
a biogot or ignorant! In the era of freedom of expression, people cant
express anything against this theory or ideology. I am worried whether my almost certain phd degree will be jeopardized due to this post. The whole is under intellectual dictatorship. I have no power so far to come out from this hallucinated world environment as a free thinker.


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