What about Islam and Evolution?

So far, a lot of the discussion has focused on the controversy between Christianity and evolution in the United States.  What if we looked at the relationship between evolution and a different religion in a different region of the world—say Islam in the Middle East?   Zapaer Alip, the author of the article below, writes about the McGill Center for Islam and Science and its mission to explore religion and science in Muslim communities.


Though “there is no contradiction between Islam and evolution,” as Professor Dajani from the McGill Center stated, most Muslims continue to refute evolution.  One of the reasons for this issue is the language barrier Arabic-speaking communities are burdened with.  It took a century for any Arabic translation of Darwin’s book to be published.  One hundred years is a long time to not have any translation of a major scientific theory available in a country.  So when being introduced to the theory of evolution, it makes sense that Muslims would join the opinion of refuting Christians—that the idea of evolution should be discarded because it contradicts long-held religious beliefs and scripture.  Evolution was a completely new idea, and Christianity was a familiar concept that held similar foundations to Islam.  Without accurate language translations and modern scientific development, Muslim people stuck to the familiar.

Muslim communities are definitely behind in the scientific community, but Alip discusses the different aspects of science based on culture.  Islamic countries rely on Western society for scientific advances, but one cannot fix this issue by simply transferring Western science into Muslim communities.  Alip believes that cultures, and religions, can have unique effects on science.  Science is the study of the physical/natural world through observation and experiment, so should culture really have an effect on it?  Observations can be tainted by perspectives and biases based on one’s upbringing, so maybe culture does influence the study of science—especially if you look at fanatic religious groups and how they can impact societies.

The following news article from MSNBC reports of tactics from ISIS to limit teaching certain subjects in Iraqi schools—including evolution.


The hostile Islamic group banned the teaching of evolution and endorses “religious sciences” instead—even though most Iraqi schools did not teach evolution in the first place (hinting at the already underdeveloped scientific knowledge in Muslim countries).  The MSNBC report strengthens the McGill article’s argument that predominantly Muslim countries are not up to date with modern thought and ideas.  How do zealous religious groups hinder the progress of countries in the scientific world?  Do you think it’s possible that religion can advance or “spark an ambition” for scientific knowledge and discovery in evolution like Alip alludes to?  Does culture play an important role in assessing scientific progress—and specifically, the acceptance of evolution—in different countries? Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have some of the lowers acceptance rates of evolution—25-30% (http://ncse.com/news/2013/05/polling-muslims-evolution-0014838).  Do you think these low rates are caused because of the Islamic religion, the underdevelopment of science, or both?

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28 Responses to What about Islam and Evolution?

  1. butterjones says:

    Interesting, collegeblogger– I was waiting for somebody to bring up this topic, as I saw the ISIS article a couple weeks ago, and figured it wouldn’t be long until it made it onto the blog in some way. Though I definitely think this topic is pertinent, I think you have presented it in a slightly disturbing manner. That is, you have made the common mistake of lumping many vastly different states into the category of “Muslim Countries”. You say, “Muslim communities are definitely behind in the scientific community… Islamic countries rely on Western society for scientific advances, but one cannot fix this issue by simply transferring Western science into Muslim communities… predominantly Muslim countries are not up to date with modern thought and ideas.” I’m definitely not one to play the role of “offended internet user”, (and I truly believe that taking offense is a choice and nothing more), but I could see how people could choose to take offense to such a statement. Because Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq appear so frequently our media, we tend to think of all “Muslim Countries” as similar to those we hear about so often. But there is great disparity between a lot of the countries that are primarily Muslim. The problems we associate with “Muslim Countries” are much more often problems specific to a certain country or regime or sect than to the religion as a whole.

    A pretty good explanation of my point can be found in this video I saw a couple weeks ago: http://mic.com/articles/100156/everything-wrong-with-calling-muslim-countries-sexist-in-one-5-minute-video
    though this video is talking about sexism, and the guy gets a bit too worked up to make his point eloquently, you’ll get what I/he am/is trying to say. Basically, we can’t talk about education in Syria like it’s the same as education in Indonesia, or Turkey.

    That being said, we can talk about education in Syria (or any other country) specifically, and that specific country’s problem involving religious extremism and evolution. I do think that culture and religious zeal have an obvious effect on scientific progress (not in terms of what is going on in the lab, per se, but on public knowledge and understanding and acceptance of such goings-on), as proven by evangelists in our country.

    Again, I don’t mean to be the blog patron who goes off on an angry tangent. I just mean to point out the problem with making blanket statements.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      Thank you for your comment butterjones! I was expecting a comment like this, and I’m glad it came early so I can address it first, in hopes that our discussion will turn towards the relationship between culture and evolution. The McGill article talks about “Muslim countries” as a collective group, and before writing the blog I was debating whether to address this or not. I did not mean to clump all Islamic religious states together as one, but rather to describe that these very different countries have a similar religion, which could lead us to examine the differences in these countries and discuss whether culture/religion has an effect on education/pubic knowledge. I did not mean to offend anyone, and hopefully this makes sense! And again, thank you for your comment–it was definitely needed for the clarification!

    • sunny2018 says:

      I agree on your opinions regarding blanket statements; for example, Christianity and evolution are hugely different issues even between the United States and England. The issue will likely vary greatly between countries due to things like cultural differences. I think it would be interesting to find out exactly what those differences are between these countries, and how it relates to opinions on evolution.

  2. sm4321 says:

    Interesting post, collegeblogger19. I think it is important that we consider evolution in regards to other religions besides those that are a branch of christianity. I agree with the topic matter discussed above, by butterjones and think that it is important that we account for that in our analysis. That being said, I think that things such as culture and religion greatly influence individuals opinions on evolution. As for the acceptance rates of evolution and the development level of countries, collegeblogger, you write “Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have some of the lowers acceptance rates of evolution—25-30%”. While this is true, the acceptance rate in America is only about 40%(http://www.livescience.com/963-lags-world-grasp-genetics-acceptance-evolution.html), 10% higher than the less developed countries mentioned above. So this question becomes interesting – it appears that acceptance has less to do with levels of development, and more with the culture, religions and belief of a countries citizens.

    • gatorade15 says:

      Nice point sm4321! I find it interesting that the acceptance rate for evolution in America is so low, especially compared to other countries. What do you this means for American culture? Are we less scientifically literate? More religious as a whole? Do you think acceptance rates will increase or decrease in the future?

      • sm4321 says:

        I do not think this means that we are scientifically less literate, gatorade15. Rather that we choose to not acknowledge the scientific evidence we know exists due to the controversy it creates. I am not sure what will happen to the acceptance rates in the future. But I do think it will effect how we accept other controversial scientific findings in the future.

      • glowcloud says:

        I think a big part of this has to do with the way evolution is presented to us. Our media tends to inflate certain opinions to create two sides to issues in order to avoid a perception of bias. The result is that people believe that unpopular scientific ideas get more airtime than they deserve and the public believes them to be more valid than they actually are. This is what we discussed in the Manufacturing Scientific Controversy article in class and I think it definitely affects American progress in thought and controversy

      • I would just like to point out that the article you used, sm4321, was published in 2006.

      • graduallychanging says:

        Gatorade15, it is primarily a religious issue. Even people that are aware of evolution, to any extent, may simply reject it due to their religious background. In the United States, 83% of people are Christians (of any denomination). I think it would be difficult to use acceptance of evolution to judge scientific literacy, at least in the United States.
        ABCNEWS poll: http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90356&page=1&singlePage=true

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      sm4321, yes, it is interesting that America’s acceptance rate of evolution is low compared to the rest of the world–the global median is 53% according to the article I cited in the blog post. So, it seems that the level of acceptance could possibly have a relationship with the level of belief of any religion in a country–whether it’s Christianity or Islam? What do you think? And in response to your statement “that we choose to not acknowledge the scientific evidence we know exists due to the controversy it creates,” I think you bring up a very insightful point! In the article you posted, it stated that the percentage of adults that believed in evolution decreased and that those who are unsure about evolution increased. This is very interesting considering that as we progress into the modern world, scientific knowledge is advancing, yet as a country we still struggle with the concept of evolution. Thanks for bringing up this interesting point!

  3. waterbottle19 says:

    While I do agree the language barrier is part of the problem in regards of acceptance of evolution, I think more of the problem is what the article described as “The Holy Quran is a guide, not a science book.” I think the assertion by Dajani in the article describes the point very succinctly. Religion should be separated from the scientific process. The statement in the article that any association between the two could produce a poor result for religion really intrigued me. I think the point that linking the two could disprove certain aspects of religion or uncover contradictions was very good.

    I really liked the introduction of ISIS into the argument as well! While they should by no means be seen as representative of the entire Muslim population, I think it is a good representative of an extreme fringe group. I don’t know if anyone else has read this, but ISIS recently hijacked trucks full of school books for Iraqi schools and are demanding around $100,000 for ransom. I can’t find the article right now, but I’ll keep looking.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      Wow, that’s an interesting fact about ISIS. I think it shows how extreme religious groups can affect society and culture, especially when they become a very prevalent part of society. However, society would be much better off and much more progressive if, like you brought up, the idea of science and religion were separated. Using religious readings as a guide book might be beneficial in advancing scientific knowledge, rather than using religious readings as a “scientific textbook.”

    • Waterbottle19- that ISIS hijack would be an interesting read! I do agree with you in that religion and science should be kept separate. I really liked that quote you took from the article: “The Holy Quran is a guide, not a science book.” This has been mentioned numerous times by various religions and its institutions. The holy books, Bible, Quran, Torah, are meant to be guidelines as to how we should live our lives in order to achieve salvation, if the religion believes in it. The objective of these books is not to explain creation, evolution, or even provide opinion on homosexuality.

      • pianokid123 says:

        californiarepublic79, I would have to disagree with your comment that “the objective of these books is not to explain creation, evolution, or even provide opinion on homosexuality.” Almost all religion provide a creation story, and it is only very recently that we have classified these stories as bogus and have began to view them as “interpretative” or “figurtive.” Saying the Book of Genesis is nonfactual a few centuries ago would have gotten you killed, and was still taught even in the 1800’s as a core part of any Western biology curriculum. There are still many people in the USA today that take these stories literally, which was how they were originally intended to be read.

  4. greyelephant1 says:

    collegeblogger19, I enjoy the topic of this, considering that we go to a school so involved with international affairs. I think that the correlation of acceptance of evolution in Islamic countries is lower partly because of, as it has been mentioned, the lag in scientific research. That being said, the fact that the the research and evidence is more accessible for other regions because of the need of translation is definitely a contender, but there is no clear cut answer to this mystery.

  5. I would just like to point out that along with the restricted access to scientific information that some of these undeveloped countries we should consider some economic factors. It is no secret that n general the western world has a higher “quality of life” than those who live under the oppression of radical regimes. We live in a world where we have the time to consider and worry about these scientific ideas. We have the money to go to school and learn about these issues. But in other parts of the world people might not always have this luxury. Personally, if I were living under the oppression of ISIS, I would not be worried about the idea of evolution not working with my religion. If I were to hear about it I would simply sell it off as some scientific idea that doesn’t effect me and must be wrong. People don’t always have the luxury of leisure time to read up and teach themselves about evolution. Therefore, they obviously wouldn’t believe in it

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      I think you bring up a great point, vinkingsfootball33. Economic factors have a huge impact on culture and society, so it seems that it would have an effect on public knowledge of scientific theories–especially when we consider the increased educational opportunities we have in the Western world.

    • macnplease says:

      I can see where you are coming from in discussion the economic factors, but keep in mind this is talking about the philosophy and religious question of accepting evolution in Islam. We are not asking the average Muslim in Saudi Arabia to snap out of it and change their stance, but rather for religious leaders to begin studying how their religion and the science can coexist and thus both be learned by the future generations of Muslims.

  6. thinkbrush says:

    I don’t know if anyone else read the comments on the article posted on The McGill Daily but user everybody knows shared information about Muslim scholars who wrote on natural selection during the Islamic Golden Age (622 C.E. – 1258 C.E.) I think this questions what we value as scientific progress and advancement in a Western society and how we might hold unfair, different standards for different communities. What does everyone else think about this?

  7. macnplease says:

    Fascinating subject matter, collegeblogger19. I’m happy to switch gears from the classic evolution theory vs. creation theory. Let’s get away from beating the dead horse. I found the article to be most enlightening and provocative. As Dajani points out, evolutionary theory indeed does not contradict with conventional Islam (a reality which rings true with other religions, as it turns out). Alip’s explanation for many Muslim’s aversion to Evolutionary theory is their close ties to Christianity, and following suit with their fear of the science.

    My favorite quote from the article was “The Holy Quran is a guide, not a science textbook, meant to inspire humanity to seek knowledge; supporting scientific claims through associating verses from holy scripture sets a dangerous precedent.” This is how religion SHOULD be; not a burden that dictates how one should act but a guide for how one should live.

  8. pianokid123 says:

    Previous bloggers have mentioned economic factors being a factor in public acceptance of evolution, but I have a huge anomaly — the United States! How is it that one of the wealthiest nations in the world has such a low public acceptance of evolution? Religion. My other example is that India, a developing country, has a very high acceptance of evolution. This is because predominant religions there embrace evolution!


    As you can see, religion can either inhibit or promote scientific theories, it all depends on context!

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      Great point. Economic factors differ tremendously when it comes to acceptance rates of evolution. Religion seems like the most determining factor–because it is very controversial. Some religions are more accepting than others, and this can explain why there are varying levels of acceptance of evolution throughout the world.

  9. cfc0567owls says:

    Great article collegeblogger19. I knew that Islamic countries have a tendency to be antievolution, and I heard about the ISIS situation as well, but I had no Idea that it took an entire century for “Origins” to be translated into Arabic. By then the evolution debate in the USA was 40 years old. It is only natural for them to assume that it goes against their scripture as well. It is very interesting how people seem to assume science always goes against religion.
    I am personally interested in the subject because I am Jewish. Judaism has historically been very accepting of science. I think this is largely because, more than other major religions, Judaism is largely centered around asking questions. Modern Jewish customs do not come directly translated from the Torah (Old Testament), but from centuries of Jewish scholars and Rabbis asking questions and searching for new interpretations. Knowledge is very important in Judaism. That is why 20% of all Nobel Laureates are Jewish, despite making up just 0.2% of the worlds population! Jews account for 41% of all recipients in economics, 28% in medicine, 26% in Physics, 19% Chemistry, 13% of Literature and as well 9% of all peace prize winners. All while making up less than a quarter of one percent of the worlds population.
    Religion and science are not enemies. If the Muslim world could accept that, perhaps we could see another Islamic Golden Age. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening for a while. With the rise of radicalism, and ultimately the creation of ISIS, modern Islam’s relationship with science will probably get worse before it gets better.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      Thanks for this post cfc0567owls. I like how you brought Judaism into the discussion. I think it’s important to examine all religions. And, it is very intriguing that Judaism is very accepting of science, and it is evident in the world today, while Islam and Christianity are less accepting and hinders the education of scientific knowledge in certain countries.

  10. moneytrees3001 says:

    Possibly defeating my own point by saying this, but I don’t understand the reason for discussing what does and does not “conform” with religious teachings. In Christianity, the Bible is the word of God. In Islam, the Koran is the infallible book of Mohammed. Each one says that God created man. As a religious believer you can choose to accept creationism, or you can think that God created multi-cellular organisms and sent them to Earth, or that humans evolved, but not from monkeys. Throughout history religious views shift and adapt to accommodate new science, so why do we make such a fuss about what religious people choose to accept and ignore in their books? Islamic doctrine certainly contradicts the idea that humans randomly came into being, but since there’s no proof for any Islamic teachings it doesn’t seem relevant to try and argue what should and should not be accepted by the Muslim population.

  11. Pingback: No More Accommodating! | Darwin's Legacy

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