So, here is the blog post I promised on evolution. Last week, I was invited to a recording of the BBC’s Big Questions programme. The topic of discussion was ‘Is it time that all religions accepted evolution as fact’. It was a lively debate and was aired this morning on BBC1. You can still watch it here on i-player for the next seven days.
In addition to recording the Big Questions debate I also took part in an online debate with a Christian creationist for the BBC Religion & Ethics website. That debate can be read here.
I have previously written about how when I was younger I had misgivings about Darwin’s theory of evolution and was initially taken in by the pseudo-science in Harun Yahya’s popular books. It was only after I began reading books about evolution by actual scientists including Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Kenneth Miller, Steve Jones and many others that I realised how compelling the evidence for evolution (including human evolution) was and just how bogus and silly Harun Yahya’s arguments were.
So, I very much enjoyed my opportunity to make this clear on BBC’s Big Questions. It is a source of sadness to me that so many Muslims have a knee-jerk opposition to Darwin’s theory without taking the time to read books on the topic before making up their minds. This is all the more ironic from a religious community which holds the Qur’an in high esteem because the Qur’an’s very first verses emphasised the huge importance and centrality of reading, writing and learning.
The debate went pretty much as expected with a number of the religious creationists refusing to even contemplate the idea that Darwin was right because it went against their interpretation of Christian/Muslim scripture. At one point I specifically interjected to ask the creationists to consider that it might not be the science that was incorrect but it might be their interpretation of scripture that was incorrect. Science itself is a self-correcting mechanism and allows for scientists to correct the work of others through observation, experimentation and peer-review. It has been a hugely successful enterprise. Whereas, all the Muslim works I have read on evolution by Harun Yahya, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Zameelur Rahman, Shaikh Abdul Mabud and others have in my view been woeful in their understanding of science.
It is worth reflecting that Muslim civilisation reached its greatest creative height when Muslim scholars were willing to learn from others and encouraged study and innovative thought. Today’s Muslim societies cannot really hope to regain what they have lost unless they embrace science and research and learning. There is simply no greater engine for economic growth than science and innovations in technology.
One Muslim Imam (Abdullah Hasan) said on Big Questions that he would not accept Darwin’s theory because he was not aware of any Muslim scholar who accepted it. That is a very short-sighted outlook in my opinion. Darwin’s theory stands or falls on the evidence behind it. It does not require that any particular Muslim scholar accepts it in order to be true or not. The Imam displayed a fundamental ignorance of how science works.
The commonest objection to evolution I have encountered from Muslims is that it allegedly contradicts the Qur’anic account of the creation of Adam. So, it is worth noting here that very learned Muslim scholars such as Muhammad Abdul Haleem (Professor of Islamic Studies at SOAS and a translator of the Qur’an into English) and the late Muhammad Hamidullah (translator of the Qur’an into French) have said that the Qur’anic account of Adam’s creation uses figurative language and should be interpreted symbolically. That seems to me to be a very sensible approach.
I am grateful to Nicky Campbell and the BBC team for inviting me to their programme and giving me the opportunity to meet some of the scientists whose books I have very much enjoyed reading including Matt Ridley (Genome), Steve Jones (Almost Like A Whale) and Robert Asher (Evolution and Belief). Evolution and Belief is a superb book by the way. Asher is a paleontologist and a believing Christian who decimates creationist and Intelligent Design arguments in his book.
Anyway, do watch the BBC Big Questions here if you are interested in the evolution & religion debate. It is only available on i-player for seven more days.