A view of global creationism

Kenneth Chang reports on a recent conference that gathered academics to discuss creationism in a global context: “Creationism, Minus a Young Earth, Emerges in the Islamic World”. The discussion of evolution education too often focuses on the issues within the United States. Chang gives only a brief glimpse, but it has interesting moments:

Research led by the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, in Montreal, found that high school biology textbooks in Pakistan covered the theory of evolution. Quotations from the Koran at the beginning of the chapters are chosen to suggest that the religion and the theory coexist harmoniously.

There’s an idea for my textbook…

The underlying theme of the article is reflected in the title: Evolution as part of science training in many Islamic nations was once “not a problem”, but in recent years a kind of fundamentalist fervor for creationism has been surging:

Pervez A. Hoodbhoy, a prominent atomic physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan, said that when he gave lectures covering the sweep of cosmological history from the Big Bang to the evolution of life on Earth, the audience listened without objection to most of it. Everything is O.K. until the apes stand up, Dr. Hoodbhoy said. Mentioning human evolution led to near riots, and he had to be escorted out. Thats the one thing that will never be possible to bridge, he said. Your lineage is what determines your worth.

People spread creationism into non-creationist education establishments because they recognize it as an ideal cultural marker. In fundamentalist Christianity, it is a marker of resistance to elites. A creationist won’t have much, if any, trouble with training in most technical fields, so it is not a barrier to employment. Yet it stands completely opposed to rationalism, in a way that’s hard to fake. In other words, it’s expensive from the standpoint of cultural integration, without being expensive in economic terms.

In many non-Western nations, creationism has become a marker of indigeneity – ironic, since it was imported from the West. This aspect of cultural marking figures into the conclusion of the story, about a study of doctors of different nationalities:

We actually expect, especially in Europe, where they have a harder time merging in the culture, Dr. Hameed said, harsher rejection of evolution in England and Germany than in Muslim countries.

That’s the point.