Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The continuing rise of Islamic creationism

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In the past week or so, two leading US newspapers have run pieces on the continuing rise of creationism in the Islamic world. Observing that Muslim countries regularly come bottom of polls monitoring the percentages of people who accept evolution, both the Boston Globe and the New York Times point out that Muslim creationism rarely comes in the "young-earth" form characteristic of Christian fundamentalists, as the creation mythology in the Koran allows for the belief that six days in which God created the Universe are metaphorical, and that each day could represent millennia. And for some Muslims, the idea of animals evolving isn't problematic either – it's only when the thorny issue of where humans came from arises that evolution is completely cast aside.

In both pieces, we're reminded of how science education across the Islamic world omits any reference to evolution – in Turkey, creationism has been on the rise for decades, in Lebanon evolution has been left off the curriculum since the mid-'90s, while teachers will often ignore advice to teach about evolution in Egypt and Pakistan. And even the media is busy representing the facts – from the Boston Globe, we learn that Al Jazeera's Arab language site (not their English site, mind) reported the recent discovery of the fossil Ardi, or Ardipithecus ramidus, thought to be the oldest known human ancestor, under the headline "Ardi Refutes Darwin's Theory":
"American scientists have presented evidence that Darwin's theory of evolution was wrong. The team announced yesterday that Ardi's discovery proves that humans did not evolve from ancestors that resemble chimpanzees, which refutes the longstanding assumption that humans evolved from monkeys."
And of course, no article on Islamic creationism is complete without a mention of Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya. The New York Times even points out, worryingly, that "most of the biology teachers in Indonesia use Mr Yahya's creationist books in their classrooms". While the Boston Globe does point out that Oktar is "easy to lampoon", and does mention the fact that he is currently appealing a conviction in Turkey for running a criminal organisation, both newspapers do seem to present Oktar as someone serious about his creationism, someone who even writes his own books on the subject, as would befit a man with such apparent influence around the world. But, as we know from the major expose of Oktar we ran in our September issue, the creationism is little more than a sideshow. As a former member of Oktar's organisation told us:
“There is a group of followers who are commissioned to write the books. For every book, they will take a few key sources written by Christian creationist authors, mostly from the US. They plagiarise the chapters and paragraphs that agree with their creationist approach. Then they add the photos, a few ayat from the Koran, and sometimes a bit of a commentary. None of the ideas belong to Oktar.”
As Halil Arda's profile of Oktar showed, he is the leader of a cult, and the creationism matters only in so far as it helps to raise his profile. This is something worth remembering next time you see him cited as a "leading" Islamic creationist. Say what you like about the "young earth" creationists we're used to hearing about across the Atlantic, but at least some of them have actually written their ludicrous books and websites themselves.


Tahseen Siddiqua said...

I just came across a book “Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Amazing New Insights from Qur’an...” 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 Qur’an. It is available online at HarperCollins' website Authonomy: http://www.authonomy.com/ViewBook.aspx?bookid=11309