Friday, November 13, 2009

In Alexandria for Darwin's Living Legacy conference

I have just arrived in Alexandria, Egypt for Darwin's Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society (Nov 14-16), organized by the British Council. It's a big conference (over 250 participants) and is taking place in Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Here are three areas that are the focus of this conference:

Cutting Edge Evolutionary Science
Current research focusing on: Genetics; Genomics; Speciation; Origin of Adaptation; Epigenetics; Evolutionary Microbiology; Molecular Biology; Evolutionary Ecology; Biodiversity.

Applications of Evolutionary Science
Agriculture and Plant Sciences; Biomedicine; Engineering; Anthropology; Economic development.

Social and Cultural Impacts of Darwinism and Evolution
Historical debates; Reception of Darwinism across cultures; Evolution and Education; Evolution and Ethics; Science, Religion and Society.

Of course, I fall in the last category. It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don't know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction.

I'm scheduled to be on the opening panel on Evolution and Faith in the 21st century, and I'm very excited that I will be sharing the stage with John Hedley Brooke and Eugenie Scott! The chair of the panel is BBC's Bridget Kendall and other panelists include Nidhal Guessoum and Samy Zalat (I briefly met Bridget at dinner and have never met Nidhal and Samy). A portion of the panel will broadcast on BBC (radio) on November 22nd.

On Saturday evening there is an interesting open forum organized by BBC Arabic. Here is the description:
This will be aired as a BBC Arabic's Open Agenda programme. This special episode, will discuss the freedom of knowledge and scientific research in the Arabic world on 14 November during the British Councils Darwin's Living Legacy conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The panel will include two speakers from the conference Prof. Nidal Guessoum and Prof. Ramez Maluf.
Issues to be debated will include: How much the Arabic society will accept the freedom of knowledge? What is allowable and what is not? What is the limit of the science research in our society? Is there any struggle between the freedom of knowledge and the restrictions of religion?

The Open Agenda programme will discuss also the degree of development and participation in scientific research in Arab countries.
I will be in the audience (they will have live english translation) - and again, I have no idea what to expect here. But it is fantastic that this sort of debate is taking place on BBC Arabic. Will report on that later.

Also - I will be going to a panel on evolution and education. Eugenie Scott is chairing the session and the panel includes Reverend Michael Reiss, Jason Wiles (go Jason!), Touria Benazzou, and Amy Sanders (I just met her on the shuttle from Cairo to Alexandria - the shuttle that took almost 4 hours to get to our respective hotels!). So stay tuned - if there is wireless at the conference (hey - there better be - its the Bibliotheca!), I will try to send updates.


Matthew said...

Wow, have fun! And please post pictures of the library!

Anonymous said...

Muslims don't believe in EVOLUTION. Is this the cirrect place for this conference?

Larry Fafarman said...

>>>>>> Issues to be debated will include: How much the Arabic society will accept the freedom of knowledge? What is allowable and what is not? What is the limit of the science research in our society? Is there any struggle between the freedom of knowledge and the restrictions of religion? <<<<<<<

Ironically, the "freedom of knowledge" regarding evolution may be greater in Islamic countries than in the United States, where the courts and academia have censored scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution theory.

Tahseen Siddiqua said...

There has come up a new book entitled “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Amazing New Insights from Qur’an in the Light of its Own True Nature.” It quotes extensively from Qur’an to prove in an extremely amazing and convincing idiom that biological evolution isn’t at all at variance with the true teachings of the Qur’an. The books even goes a step further to show that this sort of evolution is pervading not only terrestrially but on a universal scale too. The book is available online at:

Heidi Hesham said...

Hi, am an Egyptian Muslim medical student I had the chance of attending the Darwin's conference , I really liked all the material presented , Dr's salman Fahem presentation was inspiring & really outstanding.

I have a comment about surveys'results presented by the speakers & indeed the generalized idea, " Islam is against evolution"
2 main aspects here :
First not all individuals being interviewed have enough information about the issue ,It's not an easy question being posed.
Second:being a religious muslim doesnot necessarily mean you are an expert in Islam . You can be religious who prays , fasts & everything but still doesnot know the interpretation of every single word in Qura'an .
You can't blame the muslim world depending only upon those surveys
when you dont have enough awareness, rejecting becomes way easier than acceptance I guess.

Anonymous said...

Great to see this conference going ahead, hopefully the religous bigots who think all Muslims are anti-evolution will ponder this for thought.

Anonymous said...

Tahseen Siddiqua said...

Did you happen to read the book “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Amazing New Insights from Qur’an...” that I earlier requested from you, Hameed?

Salman Hameed said...


No, I haven't read the book - though I have seen its chapter outline and its description. I think its a fundamental folly to try to find science in the scripture. Bucaille did a similar thing with The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, and it was a lamentable exercise. Lets not drag science into religion.

Tahseen Siddiqua said...

But, don't you think that painting all attempts at reconciling religion with science with the same old generalised brush qualify for the same folly? As such, don't you also think that the people associated with science loose their moral right to criticise religion? Whereas, the book on hand attempts at exploring a wide range of the natural phenomena through altogether new and significant Qur'anic insights, which prove to be insightful on many occasions to the science itself. On a personal note, I can say that my faith in science too has been bolstered after reading this amazing amazing book.

Tahseen Siddiqua said...

I am still awaiting your approval for my comments posted on Nov. 24, 2009 and your response to them.

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