Hameed spoke with New Scientist about the rise of creationism in the Muslim world, what scientists can do to promote evolution there, and why he thinks Richard Dawkins and other atheists will push Muslims away from evolution.
How is evolution perceived in Muslim countries?
If you ask the question of whether you accept evolution or not, we find that a large portion of people, vast majorities, reject evolution. Compared to the US, where 40% are comfortable with evolution, in the Muslim countries that would go down to 10, 15, or 20%. In Turkey, one of the more secular Muslim countries, the level is between 22 and 25%.
Why the low acceptance rates?
Evolution has not been in the public discourse, so it depends on what people believe evolution is. Right now, there is a misperception that evolution equals atheism.
Are there any religious teachings in the Koran or elsewhere that conflict with evolution, as some creationists claim is the case with the Bible?
The Koran itself does not provide a single clear-cut verse that contradicts evolution.
One of the big evolution problems from the US creationist perspective is the age of the Earth. Logically speaking, if you believe in a 6000 or 10,000 year-old Earth, then you have to reject evolution
In the Muslim countries, young Earth creationism is nonexistent. The Koran is very vague about creation stories, specifically regarding the creation of the universe. If you accept an old Earth, then it makes it relatively easier to accept evolution.
Then what is the basis for Islamic opposition to evolution?
In some instances, evolution becomes a symbol for Western dominance and a sign of modernity. Evolution can act as a lighting rod, as a symbol of the West and everything that is bad about the West - usually translated as material culture or materialism.
Are there any organised efforts to discredit evolution in Muslim countries, like we see in the US and Europe?
The most prominent is Adnan Oktar, who goes by the pen name Harun Yahya.
He has the most well-funded organisation and its main purpose is to discredit evolution. He believes that the theory of evolution is the cornerstone of Western ideology and that if he undermines evolution, it's going to undermine Western society.
His books are widely available in the Muslim world and they are translated in several Muslim languages. His TV shows are shown once a day in Pakistan.
Does that make you worry about evolution's chances in the Muslim world?
I think that science can provide an alternative viewpoint. In the Muslim world there is tremendous respect for science itself. The general thinking is that Islam and science are compatible, or that Islam is a scientific religion.
If evolution can be shown as a sound science, then the general belief that Islam and science are compatible may lead people to accept evolution within Islamic framework, especially if it is presented with good evidence.
I think it's not a doomed situation. This is the time when people are starting to inquire more about evolution, so I think the next five to 10 years are crucial in solidifying people's opinions.
Read the full interview here.