Monday, January 30, 2012

Evolution and Religion Fighting Again

Recently, news accounts reported on several Muslim students in England who refused to attend classes dealing with evolution.  Nidhal Guessoum, a professor of Professor of Physics and Astronomy at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Republic, decided to take on this issue by arguing on line that the students may not have any objection to evolution per se, but may have been objecting to what they see as a “purely western theory, one which embodies a materialistic, atheistic philosophy; they then target it as an expression of a very different worldview.”
If I have this straight, Guessoum is saying that the students see evolution as nothing more than a way of insinuating Western culture into their beliefs.

So the 150 or so years of research, the studies that have systematically demonstrated the accuracy of evolution mean nothing?  Evolution is just an avenue to attack Islam?

This guy is a professor?  Of what, nonsense?

Let’s be serious.  Repeated polls in both the Western and Middle Eastern cultures have shown that religious people spurn evolution.  Guessoum knows that.  As he wrote: “Surveys have shown Muslims almost everywhere largely rejecting the main concepts and results of the theory of evolution, particularly when it applies to humans. Even educated Muslims … consider evolution as ‘only a theory’ and refuse to accept that we humans share common ancestors with apes, and that all creatures (animals and plants) came from an original cell.”

Ardent fundamentalist Christians feel the same way.  They reject the idea for the same reason: it contradicts their belief in God.

This is not a cultural argument; this is an attempt to hold onto a sliver of belief by spurning facts.

Guessoum tries to counter that reality by calling on Muslims to “open their minds to all new ideas. They must be confident that their faith and worldview are robust enough to deal with modernity in its various facets.  Islam,” he insists, “not only does not forbid studying evolution or any other theory; it welcomes new knowledge and deals with it objectively. Muslims are called upon to engage with science, philosophy, and art with confidence and open minds.”
He’s only at least 800 years too late for that advice.  That boat has sailed. 

Islam, like all fundamentalists faiths, deliberately rejects knowledge that contradicts religious teachings.  History demonstrates that easily. 

The Arab world was once the most scientifically advanced culture beyond China.  Arabs made important contributions in such diverse fields as mathematics, biology, astronomy and other sciences starting in the 8th century.  The Crusaders were crude ignoramuses compared to the Islamic doctors and scholars.  Many of them migrated into Europe later and shared their knowledge.  For example, that’s why we still call numbers Arabic numerals.  Algebra is one of many Arabic words that have become part of our language.

However, all of that died out around the 1200s.  There have been no prominent Arabic scientists since then simply because scientific research continually ran into the sharpened blades of religious zealotry.  Eventually, the West surpassed the Muslim world, which slowly slid back to the pre-educational morass.  It would have remained there except for the discovery of oil, which has funded massive infrastructure but done nothing apparently to open the minds that Guessoum addresses.

We have the same problem in this country as religious fanatics push such pious twaddle as intelligent design rather than confront the reality of evolution.

Ironically, the Roman Catholic Church has accepted evolution.  Pope Pius XII in 1950 opened the discussion by saying evolution was worthy of valid scientific inquiry.  Some 46 years later, Pope John Paul acknowledged that the studies have shown that “the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.”  Before becoming pope, Benedict XVI approved the statement of the International Theological Commission, which reported that “mounting support for some theory of evolution (accounts) for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.”

For once, the Church is on the right side of this debate.  The study of evolution has boosted our understanding of a wide array of fields, such as medicines that can cope with the ever-evolving viruses and other diseases.  At least 47 of the last 50 Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology have been awarded based on research built on evolutionary theory.

Anyone – Muslim, Christian, Jewish or believer in any other religion – who refuses to accept the tenets of evolution will simply find himself falling further behind in the quest for knowledge and understanding.  No amount of rationalization will change that.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at

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