Muslims in many countries are increasingly rejecting Darwin’s theory of evolution, under the influence of conservative elements in Islam, a science conference was told yesterday.
Nidhal Guessoum, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, told the conference, being held in Egypt by the British Council, that in too many places students and academics believed they had to make a “binary choice” between evolution and creationism, rather than understanding that one could believe both in God and in Darwin’s theory.
Dr Guessoum, who is a Sunni Muslim, said that in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia, only 15 per cent of those surveyed believed Darwin’s theory to be “true” or “probably true”. This stand was equally prevalent among students and teachers, from high school to university. Most alarmingly, he claimed, science teachers were misrepresenting the facts and theories of evolution by mixing it with religious ideologies.
A survey of 100 academics and 100 students that he conducted at his own university showed that 62 per cent of Muslim professors and students believed evolution to be an “unproven theory”, compared with 10 per cent of non-Muslim professors. “The rate of acceptance of evolution and of the idea of teaching evolution was extremely low,” he said. “I wondered, who are all these educated people rejecting evolution? They are even rejecting the fact that it should be taught as scientific knowledge.”
Evolution did not contradict Islamic beliefs, Dr Guessoum said, unless a literal reading of the texts were adopted. “Many Muslim scholars, from the golden age of Islam to today, adopted an evolutionary world view,” he said.
Addressing the conference in Alexandria, organised for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, he said that concerns among Muslims about evolution were being fuelled by Christian creationists. People in Muslim countries would find creationist theses on the internet and, not realising that these were on the fringes of scientific debate, assume that creationism had scientific credibility in the West.
“It is a serious problem,” he said. “It would be like going to my students and telling them the planets are not related to the stars, there is no relationship between them and gravitational pull or radiation, and they were all created on one day. We would not dream of describing the cosmos in such a ridiculous manner … We cannot allow people to go into the 21st century with no understanding of science.”
Science and faith
— Charles Darwin lost his faith, but did not become anti-religion. The Rev John Brodie Innes, his friend and parish priest, wrote: “I never saw a word in his writings which was an attack on Religion. He follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself”
— The trial in 1925 of John Scopes, who taught his high school class about evolution, tested a Tennessee law that made it illegal “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of Man as taught in the Bible”. Scopes’s conviction was overturned on a technicality
— In 1968 Susan Epperson challenged the state of Arkansas for preventing her from teaching evolution to her students. The Supreme Court ruled in her favour
— Last year a Muslim creationist succeeded in getting the website of the leading atheist Richard Dawkins banned in Turkey. Adnan Oktar, from Ankara, offered £4.4 trillion to anyone who can point to a single fossil that proves evolution
By. Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent