Islam, creationism and evolution11 Dec 2008
Just as there is no monolithic Islam, there is no "official" opinion on evolution. There are indeed verses in the Koran that talk about the creation of the universe and of the living beings on Earth, but specific details are often not laid out. For example, the Koranic narrative of creation includes a 6-day account of creation. The length of each day, however, is not clearly specified. One day has been defined as "a thousand years of what you count" (32:5) or as "a day the measure of which is fifty thousand years" (70:4). The resulting ambiguity leaves open the possibility of a very old Earth. Indeed, young-Earth creationism is wholly absent in the Muslim world, and a universe billions of years old is commonly accepted. On biological evolution, Islamic scholars and popular writers hold a wide range of opinions that represent a broad spectrum of culture and politics, from secular Turkey to the conservative monarchy of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim diasporas in Europe and in the United States.
Hameed argues that the concept of evolution is up for grabs for the Muslim public, because it is a relatively new idea, and “a serious debate over its religious compatibility has not taken place.”
Naturally, the essay covers the growing creationism movement, focused around Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya). But unlike other commentaries, Hameed also emphasizes the creationism espoused by a growing collection of Muslim academics in Western nations:
Some prominent Islamic scholars teaching in Western institutions also reject evolution. For example, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, does not consider evolutionary theory to be more than an ideology: "The theory of evolution is the peg of the tent of modernism. If it were to fall down, the whole tent would fall on top of the head of modernism. And therefore it is kept as an ideology and not as a scientific theory which has been proven".
He discusses a number of other scholars who reject evolution as a “social and cultural threat” to Islam. Meanwhile, some seem to be re-inventing the Presapiens theory:
For example, Maurice Bucaille, famous in the Islamic world for his book claiming that many of the modern scientific discoveries were already mentioned in the Koran, accepts animal evolution up to early hominid species and then posits a separate hominid evolution leading to modern humans.
I recommend the entire essay. It’s an interesting review of the sociology of scientific education and communication. It would be very interesting to work through the many parallels between the current diversity of opinion about evolution and Islam, compared to nineteenth-century (and early twentieth-century) attitudes toward Darwinism.
Hameed urges us to help spread a correct scientific view of evolution. Communication and education may change the debate. But there is far to go:
Asghar and Alters recently interviewed 18 science schoolteachers in Pakistani schools located in Karachi and Lahore and found that all favored using religious explanations about the creation of life, but most presented both scientific and religious perspectives while teaching biological evolution (10). Most (14 out of 18) accepted, or at least held as possible, the evolution of organisms; but at the same time, 15 out of 18 rejected human evolution. All agreed that there is no contradiction between Islam and science.
Hameed S. 2008. Bracing for Islamic creationism. Science 322:1637-1638. doi:10.1126/science.1163672