Evolution is haram!

By Razib Khan | November 27, 2011 8:47 pm

Ruchira Paul points me to this peculiar article, Muslim medical students boycotting lectures on evolution… because it ‘clashes with the Koran’:

Muslim students, including trainee doctors on one of Britain’s leading medical courses, are walking out of lectures on evolution claiming it conflicts with creationist ideas established in the Koran.

Professors at University College London have expressed concern over the increasing number of biology students boycotting lectures on Darwinist theory, which form an important part of the syllabus, citing their religion.

That Muslim students have Creationist beliefs isn’t too surprising. There’s plenty of evidence of robust Creationist belief as being the Muslim mainstream. Though a minority of Muslims accept evolution in a manner conventional among theistic evolutionists, the majority seem to reject this interpretation. I recently had an interaction over Facebook with a Bangladeshi cousin who queried me whether I accepted “Darwinism,” a theory for which he contended “there was no proof.” I responded that the only reason I continued to talk to him was that he was my relative and it seemed a minimal level of courtesy (I generally “avoid boring people”). The background here is that my cousin comes from a very affluent secular background. My uncle doesn’t pray. This was an issue for my late grandmother, but his sojourn in the Persian Gulf turned him off to organized religion. Also, my uncle’s wife does not cover her hair. Finally, my cousin is sent to a private school where all instruction is in English, and he is very fluent in the superficial aspects of American pop culture. One can extrapolate from that the potential attitude of more genuinely religious Muslims when it comes to evolution.

But the bigger concern here is the walkout. It’s one thing to disagree with a perspective, but a disturbing aspect of some corners of modern academic discourse is the acceptability of shielding oneself from offensive or contradictory opinions. Most of the kids in my high school came from conservative Protestant or Mormon backgrounds and were skeptical of evolution, but they didn’t boycott the class when my biology teacher cursorily touched upon the topic. The fact that university students would behave in such a manner strikes me as particularly disturbing, because they should be held to a higher standard. Secondary education is about learning the basics, but higher education should be about learning to think, and taking in differing perspectives is an essential aspect of that process.

All that being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that British Muslims in particular behave so bizarrely. They’re pretty out of step with the norms of the British public on some “hot button” cultural issues. A few years ago Gallup asked Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain, Germany, and France, a variety of questions. Out of 500 Muslim Britons surveyed exactly 0 accepted the proposition that homosexuality was morally acceptable. This does not mean that no Muslims in Briton accept a tolerant attitude toward homosexuality. Rather, they’re such a small minority than even an N = 500 could miss them! In that context a walkout due to the offensiveness of evolution in the nation which proudly claims Charles Darwin seems less surprising. Cultural diversity is great!

Addendum: The link is from a British publication. Therefore, I’m open to the possibility that aspects were exaggerated or fabricated. On the other hand, evolution skepticism from British Muslims has been widely reported in other sources, so I think it is plausible overall.

MORE ABOUT: Creationism, Evolution
  • Dan Bentley

    You make a big mistake: there’s a huge difference between believing something is morally acceptable and accepting a tolerant attitude towards it.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #1, this is a good point, and i misspoke! and it’s a common confusion of contemporary folk.

  • Joe

    FAIL THEM! I do not want doctors who cannot handle simple biology anywhere near me or my family. I will be sure to check the qualifications of any doctors I visit in the future.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

    “But the bigger concern here is the walkout. It’s one thing to disagree with a perspective, but a disturbing aspect of some corners of modern academic discourse is the acceptability of shielding oneself from offensive or contradictory opinions.”

    I don’t think this is limited to academia. The same thing increasingly happens in business (especially big ones) and government (at least some governments). In particular, image control and repression of criticism is common in all large organizational fields. (edit, meant business, not academia)

  • http://www.eurasian-sensation.blogspot.com Eurasian Sensation

    I agree this is unsurprising that (some) British Muslims behave this way, but I’d be surprised if Muslim students in the US, Canada or Australia did so.
    Is this a result of a particular facet of British multiculuralism? The particular population dynamics of the UK?

    I know quite a few educated people, both Christian and Muslim, who would sit politely through a lecture on evolution, but then decide they still disagree. I don’t have a major problem with that. But walking out or boycotting a lecture speaks of a greater sense of entitlement, of not needing to even bother to learn the argument for evolution so that one can make an informed decision.

    I suspect that the proportionally larger size of the Muslim community in the UK compared to other similar countries allows more Muslims to exist within their own little Islamic world where they don’t have to acknowledge different points of view.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    but I’d be surprised if Muslim students in the US, Canada or Australia did so.

    don’t know about canada or oz, but yeah, i can’t see american muslims doing this. some muslims were certainly in bio classes for pre-med when i was an undergrad, and they probably disagreed with the theory, but they didn’t skip out.

    i think this is a reflection of mirpur, sylhet, and a particular form of british multiculturalism.

  • http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/ Dr. GS Hurd

    As a former professor of medicine, I know how to prevent any medical student from walking out of class- put the material on the licensing exam. The more unpopular the material, the more points in the exam.

    Evolutionary medicine is not a trivial topic. The evolution of antibiotic resistance by bacteria, if not managed properly, will bring on a medical crisis equal to the 12 century European plague. We each have more bacteria, yeast, and fungi cells in, or on our bodies than we have cells of our own. And every one of them has viruses. Some are deadly, some we need to live. Evolutionary theory is the only concept that coherently organizes how all these life forms can co-exist, and points to ways that illnesses might be better managed.

    Further, many if not most homozygous recessive diseases are associated with some advantage in the hetrozygous state. The best known example is probably Sickle Cell Anemia. In hetrozygous individuals, ~50% of people in malarial regions, there is a strong resistance to malaria. Sufficiently strong that sickeling mutations have been conserved in three separate populations despite serious illness in ~25% of offspring.

    Medicine should be the profession of mature, and sane individuals. Religious mania should be grounds for dismissal, just as blindness disqualifies a surgeon. There are better able candidates who will better serve their patients.

    My colleague, Taner Edis, has a recent book, “An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam” devoted to this topic. He is not particularly optimistic.

  • Charles Nydorf

    How does British multiculturalism differ from, say, French multiculturalism?

  • jb

    For me the biggest concern is that, by boycotting the classes (rather than simply not signing up for the courses), the students seem to be positioning themselves to start making organized demands, in the name of diversity, that they be given a pass, and be allowed to become doctors without having to be exposed to the theory of evolution. The scary thing is, I can imagine them getting their way! Muslims are good at making demands, because there is always the threat of violence — sometimes explicit, sometimes just implied — if their religious beliefs aren’t given the deference they consider to be their due.

  • Bean Soup

    Simply put- if they don’t take the course they don’t get the grade and they fail.

    Do they walk out of every store with christmas decorations in it? Perhaps not go to any grocery store around Easter that is selling hot-cross buns. Surely that disagrees with their religion too.

    Even if they think from an intellectual standpoint it is wrong- it is still part of their requirements and to learn how to argue someone elses viewpoint you must first LEARN what it is and why they think that way.

    Back in University I was pretty certain that much of what my Sociology class was teaching was flawed pseudo-scientific nonsense (still do). Still took the class- still studied what those people believed- still aced the class. Certainly- there was nothing religious about my disagreement with my professor’s teachings,

    Perhaps one can become a doctor without understanding evolution; but, it is somewhat symbolic that if one turns to religion at the exclusion of knowledge for evolution- who is to say that they don’t do it for other topics partially- and don’t learn what they need to.

    I know that in many islamic countries evolution is harder to accept than it is for christian nations due to it being labeled a “western” dogma”. This is a shame- science for the good of man shouldn’t really have borders.

  • TJR

    It might be true, in which case it is very worrying. However, the article is in the Daily Hate and so could easily be completely made up.

  • omar

    Muslim creationism is almost entirely cut and paste from American Christian creastionist websites, so the evangelists of this creationism are no more innovative or sophisticated than American Christian creationists. But the population receiving the message is much better primed to accept it and to vigorously defend it ….In general, Muslim communities tend to believe that IF X flatly contradicts a particular orthodox Islamic belief, then they are fully within their rights to refuse to have anything to do with X (in other words, orthodox Islam enforces a degree of public consensus about its unchallengability that other religions can only envy). The community in Britain is even more fanatical than most and Harun Yahya is now telling them that “Darwinism” is contrary to Islam. Once they accept this (and many of them do) then refusing to have anything to do with it is the logical next step.
    Some multiculturalists will think this is a good sign (“successful emancipation from a colonial mentality”). British Muslims seem to have absorbed an above average dose of this “strong and proud” multiculturalism and in fanatical Islamism they have a more developed alternative worldview than, say, Rastafarians or “Black Pride” West-Indians. Its a perfect storm.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    How does British multiculturalism differ from, say, French multiculturalism?

    are you serious? the french are much more hostile to multiculturalism. go do some reading, it’s not hard to find….

  • S.J. Esposito

    “I recently had an interaction over Facebook with a Bangladeshi cousin who queried me whether I accepted “Darwinism,” a theory for which he contended “there was no proof.” ”

    This — and really the entire blog post — highlights a major issue that I have in dealing with religious people or creationists. I don’t mind people being religious, but I do think there needs to be a distinction made between fact and belief. Many fundamentalists — of any religion — cannot seem to make that distinction.

    To make matters worse, the students here are not just denying fact, they’re supporting fiction. The fact that there is even the possibility of science students walking out on lectures because the theory being taught goes against their beliefs blurs the line in a very dangerous way. It goes against everything that science is — or is supposed to be — and it should not be tolerated.

  • Alam

    “the french are much more hostile to multiculturalism.”

    Thats true. Also, any data on the “quality” (education, prior socio-economic status, prior profession, etc ) of immigrants in France vs Britian? I dont know, but there might be differences…

    Any views?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Thats true. Also, any data on the “quality” (education, prior socio-economic status, prior profession, etc ) of immigrants in France vs Britian?

    i think the main difference is that north african muslims start out much closer to french norms than pakistan or bangladeshi muslims do to british norms.

  • Bob Dole
  • Uzoozy

    Islam is an religion which has clear guideleines. So most Muslims views are similar.
    Today New Jersey (Usa)nurses are refusing to perform abortian in hospitals as it conflicts with their Christain belief. So does it mean all Christains are insane.
    Everytime somethings happens it becasue of Islam.
    Good moderate Islam followers are never given a chance to discuss these issues.
    Everyone is an expert in Islam without being one.

  • omar

    Uzoozy, you have managed to completely confuse me. Are you saying that moderate Muslims accept evolution while some crazies do not (so we should not label all Muslims as crazy, just as we don’t label all Christians as crazy based on the actions of a few bible-thumpers)?
    Or do you mean that evolution IS against “Islam” and violates some “clear guideline”?

  • Alam

    There is also a spectrum of crazy Creatioanist Muslim folks out there. Some might agree that there is mutation, genetic drift, etc going on, and Humans have evolved . But important thing for them is to put a divide b/w animals and human beings, and saying Adam was the chosen one, from whom the human race grew (meaning there were other Adams, but God chose Adam). And then they bring the “spiritual existence” into the arguments to distinguish humans from other “beasts”

    Dr. Israr Ahmed was a Pakistani Islamic “scholar” (died few years ago), and here in this clip, he is putting the same spin: (the whole lecture is pretty boring, but that segment gives u the gist. (after 9 minutes). The lecture goes on to 9 segments


  • http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/ Dr. GS Hurd

    Dr. Israr Ahmed seems to be very close to the notion Christian theologians call “theistic evolution.” IE, the origin of the universe, earth, and life follows the path described by science- but this was by the will, and intention of God.

    He departs slightly with some theistic evolutionists who believe that the “soul” is also preordained and emerged through evolution. Dr. Israr Ahmed differs from this by saying that God implanted “soul” or “spirituality” into mankind through the biblical Adam and Eve. Many Christians, and Orthodox Rabbis as well, would have no problem with this. For an example of the later, I recommend Rabbi Natan Slifkin, “The Challenge of Creation: Judaism’s Encounter with Science, Cosmology and Evolution” (2006 New York: Zoo Torah and Yashar Books).

  • Neran

    I’ve had Muslim acquaintances vouch for the veracity of the Koran by arguing that it contains scientific facts which weren’t discovered by modern science until recently.

  • omar

    Neran, this is an “islamophobic” website but it will give you some idea about what the “miracles” are supposed to be..http://answering-islam.org/Responses/Shabir-Ally/science11.htm

  • http://stonesnbones.blogspot.com/ Dr. GS Hurd

    Neran, The “scientific facts” falsely claimed to be found in the Quran are of the same quality as the “facts” used by Christian creationists to “prove” their presuppositions.

    The sum of these facts, and $1 will buy coffee.

    I again recommend Taner Edis’s recent book, “An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam.”

  • Alam

    This is good info on “Embryology in Quran” touted as the revolutionary discveries in Quran by Islamists:


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    if the koran is the answer re: science, howz come science sux in the islamic world? :-) just sayin’

  • Neran

    This is good info on “Embryology in Quran” touted as the revolutionary discveries in Quran by Islamists:

    Yeah I remember now. They were saying that embryology had been perfectly explicated in the Koran before it was discovered by modern science.

  • Alam

    2 verses of Quran explains the whole embryology, so indeed, its miraculous 😀

  • Ashmorris

    The problem here is not the students’ religious views. It is the fact that they walk out. Fundamentalist Christians and Orthodox Jews also have Creationist beliefs. Lots of them attend medical school and listen to all of the lectures without walking out. The difference here is the ability to tolerate opposing views. The Western world has laws granting freedom of speech, while the Islamic world has blashphemy laws. It’s a huge cultural difference. These students have a mindset that different views do not have to be respected or tolerated. They are attending British Universities though, not Islamic ones and shouldn’t behave like this. A person with strongly held beliefs should not feel threatened because they have to listen to different ideas. If their relgious sensiblities are so offended perhaps they should study abroad, not in a Western University, where the very definition of an education is the exposure to and understanding of a broad range of ideas.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    They are attending British Universities though, not Islamic ones and shouldn’t behave like this.

    and that’s the issue. why is an ‘islamic’ university parallel with a ‘british’ one? and yet it’s not unreasonable. we talk about the ‘islamic’ world vs. the ‘west.’ the latter has been secularized, and the former has not. there’s an apples to oranges problem here that needs to be resolved.

    though note that freedom of speech is qualified in most western nations. but much more free than in most muslim nations.

  • TJR

    Helping children to avoid religious indoctrination is more important than ever, so I find the following far more worrying than anything in the Daily Hate:


    (You could say fairly similar things about Xian schools).

  • Brett

    I’m a bit wary of the source (the Daily Mail, which can be rather . . . sensationalistic on issues like this). Did they provide any numbers on how many students were walking out?


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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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