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Rejecting Materialism: Muslim Responses to Conceptual Frameworks of Modern Science

Taner Edis
Truman State University

In the past centuries, most Muslims have encountered modern science as a Western import. To avoid being overwhelmed by the military and commercial advantages enjoyed by technologically advanced nations, Muslim societies had to begin adopting modern knowledge. As westernization started to shape social structures and institutions as well as technologies, devout Muslim responses to modern science typically became conditioned by the demands of cultural defense. Many Muslim thinkers argued that upholding the religious character of Muslim civilization meant borrowing technology but rejecting the materialism pervading the conceptual frameworks of modern science. This defensive approach remains prominent in present Muslim thinking about science. Almost all religiously-oriented Muslim thinkers take harmony between science and Islam for granted, but in practice, conservative Muslims often express deep reservations about the naturalistic perspectives dominating modern science. Especially in popular literature, religiously motivated distortions of science are common. Darwinian evolution is particular target of rejection. Varieties of creationism not only find strong support in Muslim populations but have made some inroads even in the Muslim intellectual high culture.

Muslim Perspectives on Evolution and Science & Religion

Salman Hameed
Hampshire College

Islam and modern science are often seen as compatible in the narrative popular in the Muslim world. Furthermore, there is widespread recognition that science (usually in its applied form) is essential for progress. At the same time, many Muslims see the theory of biological evolution as a challenge to the Islamic account of creation. Thus, when a well-established scientific idea, such as biological evolution, clashes with the religious beliefs of many Muslims, we find complex reactions, ranging from rejecting a particular scientific claim, to ignoring the troublesome scientific theory altogether, to interpreting the Qur’an in ways that eliminate inconsistencies with science. Biological evolution, however, is still a relatively new concept for a majority of Muslims and a serious debate over its compatibility with Islam has not yet taken place. The circumstances for the debate are, in many ways, significantly different from the engagement between evolution and creation in the West. For example, all of modern science, including evolution, is an import for Muslims, often seen through the complicated lens of modernity and the interaction with past European colonial powers. I will present an analysis of the reception of evolutionary theory and perspectives on science & religion in contemporary Muslim world.

From the Pillars of Islam to the Pillars of Creation

Joshua Rosenau
& Peter Hess
National Center for Science Education

American Christian creationist movements have three major pillars that have persisted for over a century: evolution is a failed science, soon to be replaced by creationism; evolution cannot be reconciled with religious belief, and people must choose between the two; and voters or students in the classroom are entitled to pick and choose between the two. Without changing those false claims, American creationists have changed their rhetoric substantially in response to a changing legal landscape. The history of exchange between American creationists and creationists in Turkey and other parts of the Islamic world is well-documented. Nonetheless, the different legal and cultural contexts suggest that the pillars of Islamic creationism need not be the same as those of American creationism for us to view those movements as standing in essential continuity. It is known that Turkish creationists, especially the writings attributed to Harun Yahya, have drawn heavily on American creationist works, and this presentation will track the shared characteristics and derived traits of Islamic creationist claims as they have evolved from that common ancestor. Where American creationism, especially its "intelligent design" avatar, places the greatest weight on the third pillar, these sorts of disingenuous appeals to classical liberal ideals are comparatively rare, and take a very different form, in the writings of Harun Yahya. Instead, Yahya places the greatest weight on the first pillar, employing the “two-models” understanding of evolution and creation that is also widespread in American creationism.

Bridging Islam and Evolution Through the Secret World of Ants: The Socio-political and Scientific Struggles of a Muslim Evolutionary Biologist

Ehab Abouheif
McGill University

We may now be witnessing the beginning of what could become a large-scale clash between Islam and the science of evolution. I will argue that this conflict is largely based on political ideology rather than a proper understanding of the “theory of evolution” and what it represents for Islam. Most of the current discussions on evolution taking place within Islamic societies proceed in complete absence of insight from professionally trained evolutionary biologists who are also knowledgeable about Islam, or who are at least able to communicate with the Muslim world. Herein, I will focus on examples of evidence of the factuality of evolution drawn from my own research on the evolution of social behavior in ants, and I will explain that my daily scientific activities of performing evolution-centered research do not conflict with my daily spiritual activities as a Muslim. While there may remain several philosophical and scientific challenges to be addressed, I strongly believe one can practice evolutionary biology without compromising one’s faith as a Muslim. It is now clear, however, that if a genuine cultural deliberation of evolutionary theory within Islam is to occur without being entirely shaped by political ideologies, then it is imperative for evolutionary biologists of all nationalities to reach out and initiate respectful discourse and dialogue with Islamic scholars. Otherwise, it is almost certain that evolutionary theory will continue to be politically misused to deepen rather than bridge the divide between East and West.

Egyptian and Lebanese Secondary School Students’ Conceptions’ of Biological Evolution and their Relationships to Religious Beliefs

Saouma BouJaoude
American University of Beirut

Egypt and Lebanon are two Middle Eastern countries with a majority of Muslims and sizeable Christian communities. As such, they present opportunities for science education researchers to investigate the interaction between science and religion. Consequently, the purpose of this study is to explore Egyptian and Lebanese secondary school students’ conceptions’ of biological evolution and their relationships to religious beliefs. Specifically, the study addresses two questions: 1) What are Egyptian and Lebanese secondary school students’ conceptions of biological evolution and 2) How do students’ religious beliefs relate to their positions about evolution? Participants in this study were 194 Egyptian and 865 Lebanese students enrolled in the last two years of secondary school. Data sources for this study came from a survey that gauged students’ knowledge and conceptions of biological evolution. In addition, students were asked to provide information about their own and their parents’ religious beliefs and practices. Results will describe students’ conceptions in each and identify trends in data across countries. Implications for research and teaching will be discussed in light of each country’s cultural identity, needs, and future aspirations.

Creation and Evolution in the Canadian and Turkish Schools: A Case Study

Minoo Derayeh & Üner Turgay

This paper reflects our team's experience of data collection process in Toronto and Turkey. It also examines the ways in which Muslim high school science teachers in Turkey teach the theory of evolution. Among Muslims there are different positions held on evolution theory. Some argue that evolution theory is in harmony with the story of creation in the Quran. Others argue that evolution theory contributes to the philosophy of materialism and contradicts certain verses of the Quran. This controversy surrounding evolution and creation is no longer limited to science education but has gained a broader spectrum among Young Muslims. The study was conducted through interviews with three science teachers in Istanbul. Data was also collected from lise (high school) science textbooks, curricula and lesson plans.

Islam, Culture, and Evolutionary Science: Evolution Education in Indonesia

Anila Asghar, The Johns Hopkins University
Jason Wiles, Syracuse University
Liana Aisyah, The State Islamic University, Sunan Kalijaga, Indonesia
Nina Hamidah, The State Islamic University, Sunan Kalijaga, Indonesia
Brian Alters, McGill University

This study attempts to describe the intricate web of intersections among evolutionary science, religion, culture, and education in the culturally and otherwise diverse setting of Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority country. In particular, we explored the religious and scientific understandings of Muslim science teachers and secondary students related to evolution. Data were collected through surveys administered to over 1,200 high school students in various public and Islamic schools in Singkawang (West Kalimantan), Padang Panjang (West Sumatera) and Yogyakarta; interviews with science/biology teachers which explored their perspectives on evolution and their experiences in teaching evolution and provided insight as to the norms and values to which Indonesian students are exposed in connection with evolution in their science classrooms; and via examination of curricula and textbooks for secondary science which were analyzed to determine the prescribed treatment of biological evolution in Indonesian schools. We employed the theoretical framework of border-crossing to systematically interpret and gain understanding of the subculture of Indonesian schools in relation to evolutionary science. The questions we explore in this paper are: How do participant teachers' religious beliefs influence their understanding and pedagogical practice related to evolution? In what ways does the subculture of school science resonate or conflict with the culture of science? Methodological issues concerning survey development, translation into the Bahasa language, and administration in the Indonesian context will also be illuminated.

Biological Evolution and Islam: The Paradox of Evolution Education in Pakistan

Anila Asghar, The Johns Hopkins University
Jason Wiles, Syracuse University
Brian Alters, McGill University

Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim yet ethnically diverse society, presents an interesting case study in paradoxes related to the teaching and learning of biological evolution. The country's inherited colonial education system, including modern science education, continues to be shaped by the Islamization project initiated by the military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq in early 1980s. Evolution features visibly in biological sciences curricula at the high school, college, and university level. Nevertheless, conflicting religious perspectives on the origin and creation of life continue to influence scientists' notions, teachers' pedagogic decisions, and the content of secondary biology textbooks related to evolutionary theory. High school students' understanding and acceptance of evolution may be affected by these contradictions in interesting and important ways which will be expounded herein. Multiple data collection tools generated a comprehensive and rich picture of the status and treatment of evolutionary science in the Pakistani education system. Data were gathered through (a) a survey administered to over 2000 high school students (grades 9-12) and (b) qualitative interviews and focus group discussions with secondary science/biology teachers and scientists. The national science curriculum and biology textbooks were also analyzed to determine the curricular goals, objectives, and content in relation to biological evolution.

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