Evolution, the Muslim world & religious beliefs

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2009 5:50 pm

In the post below I pointed to an article which claimed:

It’s hard to say exactly how much support the theory of evolution enjoys in the world’s Muslim countries, but it’s definitely not very much. In one 2006 study by American political scientists, people in 34 industrial nations were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the idea that human beings evolved from earlier life forms. Turkey, the only Muslim country in the survey, showed the lowest levels of support – barely a quarter of Turks said they agreed. By comparison, at least 80 percent of those surveyed in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and France agreed. (The United States ranked second lowest, after Turkey, at 40 percent.) Turkey is widely seen as the most culturally liberal Muslim nation, and on attitudes about evolution, other polling has borne this out: A recent study of religious attitudes found that only 16 percent of Indonesians, 14 percent of Pakistanis, and 8 percent of Egyptians believed in evolution.

I asked the reporter for a citation, and I received one, On being religious : patterns of religious commitment in muslim societies. You can download the PDF at that link (bottom of the page). It has a nice breakdown of religious beliefs, including attitudes toward evolution. But the sample is non-representative:
muzsample.png
As you can see the sample is strongly skewed toward the more educated segments of society. On the other hand, they did try and include religious professionals as well, though I’m unclear as to the proportion within the samples. The N’s are large, so probably only a few percent. But keep in mind the biases in the sample above when looking at the data below.
So what’s the breakdown for evolution?


muzsample2.png
The graphic is small, so here are the percentages for those who think that evolution is certainly or probably true:
Indonesian = 16%
Pakistan = 14%
Kazakhstan = 37%
Egypt = 8%
Malaysia = 11%
Turkey = 23%
The graphic is small, so here are the percentages for those who think that evolution is certainly or probably false:
Indonesian = 72%
Pakistan = 72%
Kazakhstan = 28%
Egypt = 67%
Malaysia = 61%
Turkey = 63%
And those who have never thought about the question:
Indonesia = 2%
Pakistan = 14%
Kazakhstan = 35%
Egypt = 25%
Malaysia = 28%
Turkey = 15%
So reporting those who believed that evolution was true is somewhat misleading insofar as a substantial minority simply hadn’t thought of the issue. But it is rather disturbing that these are cultural elites, more or less, not the masses. 86% of the Pakistanis have a post-secondary education. Some more data:
I know Allah exists and have no doubt about it:
Indonesia = 97%
Pakistan = 97%
Kazakhstan = 31%
Egypt = 97%
Malaysia = 96%
Turkey = 88%
Iran = 85%
Only those who believe in the Prophet Muhammad can go to Heaven: (Completely true + probably true)
Indonesia = 74%
Pakistan = 81%
Kazakhstan = 30%
Egypt = 62%
Malaysia = 75%
Turkey = 49%
Iran = 29%
The data for Iran is curious to me. Though the author notes that Iranians are Shia, and that tends to influence the nature of their orthopraxy, I wonder if the low value for belief in Muhammad has to do with the supplementary role of Ali in Shi’ism.
Finally, here is a last result which i think is noteworthy, Would you agree that a person who says there is no Allah is likely to hold dangerous political views?
There are three options here, agree, disagree and uncertain. Weighting these as 1, -1 and 0, and multiplying out the proportions, here are the results:
Indonesia = 0.77
Pakistan = 0.60
Kazakhstan = -0.31
Egypt = 0.78
Malaysia = 0.63
Turkey = 0
Iran = 0.16
1 = 100% agree that those who say there is no Allah holds dangerous views, while -1 would be 100% disagreement. The Suharto era Pancasila ideology in Indonesia mandates a belief in a monotheistic God. So the connection between theism and patriotism might have a easy particular explanation in that case.
Note: In multi-religious societies it seems that the survey was limited to those who self-identified as Muslims.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
  • deadpost

    “Turkey is widely seen as the most culturally liberal Muslim nation, and on attitudes about evolution, other polling has borne this out.”
    Hmmm… if Kazahkstan is more liberal than Turkey; they used it in the study but funny thing how didn’t they mention it at all in the article.
    I guess the former Soviet -stans don’t come into the public consciousness when the Muslim world’s being discussed, eh?

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    yep. albania, bosnia and azerbaijan are all more liberal than turkey when it comes to religion, etc., too.

  • deadpost

    I guess I don’t get why Turkey gets touted so much as “the liberal one”.
    I guess it’s because Malaysia, Bosnia etc. are too culturally distinct from the Middle eastern perception most people have of Muslim nations.
    But then again, Lebanon should be too and that’s probably more stereotypically Mid-eastern than Turkey.

  • omar

    About Shias and the Prophet: Shias actually have a bigger cult of the prophet Mohammed than Sunnis do. The Saudi style Sunnis tend to play down the status of the prophet, consider it sinful to celebrate his birthday and consider him to have been a human being, with some human weaknesses. The Barelvi Sunnis (largest group in South Asia) venerate the prophet much more, but the Shias probably venerate him the most, considering him pure and free of sin and made of “noor” and so on. They add Ali (and later Imams) to this exalted status, but that does not really diminish the status of the Prophet Mohammed.
    These results could reflect two other facts though:
    1. Educated Iranians are now rather sick of fundamentalist Islam, to a degree not seen in other Muslim countries yet (well, not counting the Stans, which are a special case). 2. Shia theology is more flexible and “enlightened” (or at least, more sophisticated) than Sunni theology (which is frozen in the 12th century and refuses to budge) and several Shia Alims have accepted evolution as fact (though they probably have some kind of “guided evolution” in mind). If you want evidence to support this assertion (shia thteology being more enlightened) compare Iran (Shia theocracy) with Afghanistan. Some people would object that the taliban are at the extreme end of Sunni theology, but they are welcome to compare Iranian Mullahs with the Jamat e Islami in Pakistan or even their branch in the USA (ICNA, the Islamic Circle of North America)

  • Ponto

    [please don’t advocate genocide in comments. it’s rather unchristian]

  • Zora

    Ponto says: “To be fair to Muslims, I don’t know any, so I could be biased.”
    Yes Ponto, you’re biased. Wishing all Muslims dead IS biased.

  • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Tony P

    Iran really sticks out. That 78% is under 40 is astounding but then think about the events of the last thirty years and that is easy to understand.
    But it almost appears that a form of atheism is taking hold in Iran. That would be something.
    And as far as the U.S., I think we’re geographically too large to accurately count.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    But it almost appears that a form of atheism is taking hold in Iran. That would be something.
    this is false. i’ve looked into it. many iranians aren’t mullah-lovers, but they’re generally religious compared to westerners. iranians are still more religious than turks last i checked in the WVS. anti-religious iranians are a tiny minority.
    And as far as the U.S., I think we’re geographically too large to accurately count.
    no.
    http://religions.pewforum.org/

  • miko

    I think it’s interesting that Indonesia tops the list on many of these, but is in many ways completely divergent from Middle Eastern Islam. For one, Islam came via Sufism. Most Indonesians hold syncretic views (for example, Javanese pray at the graves of sultans, which would horrify strict Muslims), and traditional Javanese culture essentially remains Hindu. Once again, I think surveys such as this are hampered by cultural variation in how much people feel compelled to give expected or “correct” answers. In this case, it may relate to another component of Indonesian culture I’ve encountered again and again: a reticence to give negative or impolite responses to anything (saying God does not exist would be considered rude, no matter what you think). That said, the education system is horrible and monotheism is part of state philosophy, as Razib pointed out, despite the large numbers of animists almost everywhere and Hindus on Bali.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    re: islam & indonesia, it’s complicated how it came. i would say it is more trade than sufism, though the models are not exclusive. as a point of distinction i think one could say that sufism was critical in north india in spreading islam, but less so in kerala, where indian ocean trade was more important. also, there were also conventional wars of muslim states against non-muslim ones. see the fall of majapahit.
    Most Indonesians hold syncretic views (for example, Javanese pray at the graves of sultans, which would horrify strict Muslims), and traditional Javanese culture essentially remains Hindu.
    right, but “strict muslim” makes a judgement as to whether *some* sufi practices are strict or not. also, there’s a indigenous javanese substrate which persists even under the indian layer. slametan for example.
    Once again, I think surveys such as this are hampered by cultural variation in how much people feel compelled to give expected or “correct” answers
    probably. do note that urban and university educated javanese are probably far less likely to have ‘syncretistic’ views than rural peasants. this sample is biased toward them. the strength of ‘santri’ islam in java has been among urban merchants and such. that variant of islam is spreading, while more localized syncretistic strains are in decline.
    That said, the education system is horrible and monotheism is part of state philosophy, as Razib pointed out, despite the large numbers of animists almost everywhere and Hindus on Bali.
    balinese hinduism is officially monotheistic. so is buddhism.

  • http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/ Salman Hameed

    Razib,
    Two quick comments: I think you mistyped the percentages for Indonesia and Pakistan for those who think evolutionary theory is certainly or probably true. It is 16% for Indonesia (instead of 6%) and 14% for Pakistan (instead of 4%).
    Second, you are absolutely correct about the fact that these are the educated cultural elites and thus this serves as an upper limit to the acceptance of evolution. At the same time, answer to the evolution question is sensitive to the way the question is being asked and the context in which it is being placed in. Here, Riaz Hasan used evolution as a measure of people’s irreligiosity – and may have unintentionally skewed the answer to this particular question. In addition, the phrasing of the question leaves individuals to interpret Darwin and his theory of evolution – and many in the Muslim world equate it with atheism (and not necessarily with natural selection and common descent). From this perspective, the results may turn out to be a lower limit on the educated cultural elites. Thus, this study is a useful first-order snapshot of acceptance of evolutionary theory, but we have to keep some serious caveats in mind.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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