Most Muslims ‘accept’ human evolution

By Razib Khan | May 4, 2013 4:48 pm

Update: Just to be clear, I think the variation across cultures is probably explained in large part by confusion as to what is being asked, and differential sampling. In particular, I suspect that the ‘Turkey” sample is more representative than the “Bangladesh” sample, because Turkey is a more developed society.


I’ve mentioned before that many (most?) Muslims are Creationists, broadly understood. According to Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey 42 percent of American Muslims accept that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth. This is roughly in line with the American public, if a touch on the Creationist side. The numbers are similar in Turkey. Also, it must be mentioned that unlike most I have some experience with educated (and scientifically trained) Muslims, and can attest to the fact that many are Creationists (my family).

So the results of a new survey of the world’s Muslims by Pew took me aback a bit, in that it reports widespread acceptance of evolution among Muslims.  To add to the plausibility the results for Turkey are in line with previous findings: a bit more of Turkey’s population are Creationist than not. The results for highly secularized European Muslim populations are plausible, though the gap between Albania and Kosovo is somewhat strange. But look at the results for Bangladesh and Lebanon!

I have to admit some skepticism. My concerns are twofold: first, many of these questions may be interpreted differently from society to society, so that comparison may be difficult. This is why I tended to focus on within-region comparisons when ingesting the other survey responses (Pakistan vs. Bangladesh, Lebanon vs. Palestinian territories). Second, I am not sure as to the representativeness of the sample. Do the opinions surveyed actually reflect the broader society? In extremely poor nations like Bangladesh I have difficulty even comprehending how illiterate subsistence farmers would interpret some of these questions, their perceptions of modern abstractions of nationality and identity are generally so inchoate.

There’s also a broader dynamic which needs to be addressed: modernization in many cases leads to greater ‘conservatism’ of belief and practice. Older subsistence farming societies are often tolerant and accepting of diversity of opinion on a macro-social scale because they are fragmented enough that such variation can be accommodated without too much controversy. In contrast, urbanizing societies characterized by upwardly mobile middle classes living cheek by jowl often exhibit simultaneous patterns of secularization and radicalization, with the latter often defined by appeals to a reversion to tradition and proper adherence to formality and ritual (often these are novel constructions and modern interpretations of ancient motifs). Turkey’s Creationism in relation to Bangladesh may simply be due to the relative social advancement of the former in relation to the latter, where broad based mass popular culture has attained a level of power and self-determination to challenge elite narratives. Ultimately the terminal state of this challenge seems to be capitulation and co-option by the elites, but until that moment one is confronted by the reality of dramatic ideological tensions between the elite and aspirant elite factions.

MORE ABOUT: Creationism, Religion
  • omar ali

    A few thoughts:
    1. Apropos the last paragraph, the mechanics are interesting. In Pakistan, evolution was not really controversial until the 70s. It was part of the high school curriculum in Punjab (not sure of other areas, different educational boards had different textbooks). Most people were illiterate and wouldnt understand the question, those that did compartmentalized reasonably well. But since then there has been an aggressive Islamist push in education and in the media, led by the Jamat Islami and its student wing, and they make an issue of “Darwinian education”. We were IN high school when that push managed to remove the 2 chapters about evolution from our textbook. I remember the more pious members of our class actually tore them out of the book. So educated people became much more likely to explicitly reject evolution. I imagine JI type parties are not equally present everywhere (the Soviet republics for example had nothing like that in soviet times) and that detail makes a difference. The Jamat’s international network is not just informal. The Saudis pay for the rabita alami al islami and there is a certain amount of coordination and talking points get passed around. Nowadays the Turkish creationists (Harun Yahya and friends) are the main source of detailed creationist information. The internet helps.
    2. Once the Islamic creationists do get into a place, then they are hard to get rid of. Criticism of Islam is usually punishable (either by the state or by free lancers) and blasphemy and apostasy rules make it hard to challenge them. But the internet has its (huge) heretical side too, so its going to be interesting. Waiting for stage 3

  • dieter_at


    The question doesn’t even imply biological change. It could be interpreted as “We used to ride camels, now we drive cars.”

    They should simply ask “Did humans evolve from apes?”

    • CD5

      Did we evolve from apes?

    • PoliticalPunnery

      “Are humans apes?”

      …Would be better.

  • Dan Tdaxp

    I don’t know the details of Islamic Creationism, but “always” seems like a red flag — the only uncreated things in Islam (I believe, I am sure I can be corrected) are God and the Recitation.

    • razibkhan

      most muslims don’t know that.

      • omar ali

        and some wandering mutazilite would disagree in any case with that formulation (proving that nothing about Islam..or any large “only this and nothing else”)

  • মহান আল্লাহ

    i find it really surprising that 54% Muslims in Bangladesh supports evolution. evolution is not taught in school, college level and in medical level. even in university level evolution related subjects are not very popular. people probably don’t even know their names. teachers in school, college, and university level are mostly creationists, even the science teachers. i know that from my own experience. here people think, science = technology. education system also reinforce that notion. they see science as a tool to do business only.

  • Brandt Hardin

    Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

    • james cromwell

      Hard to believe Tn does that.

  • ohwilleke

    Some of the variation might be due to Marxist-Stalinist influence in the education system. Those ideologies were firmly atheistic and while obviously Muslims did not embrace an atheistic philosophy, the influence of a widely held scientific outlook on evolution may have muted creationist tendencies in some places. In Kosovo, low acceptance could be related to the influence of a religiously based insurgency (that notably organized non-government schooling on a widespread basis) resisting a Marxist-Stalinist influenced Yugoslav and then Yugoslav successor state regime. A similar dynamic could be present in Afghanistan.

  • Jakob Steixner

    The gap between Albania and Kosovo is perfectly explicable. While Yugoslavia was an atheist state, Albania was a state that demanded of its citizens to be atheists. In Yugoslavia, publicly announcing that you main goal in life was to fund the building of a new chapel or mesjid probably would have reduced your chances to get into a position to actually implement this, and criticising the government on the grounds that you considered its actions incompatible with your faith’s teachings was likely to get you into just as much trouble as criticising it on any other grounds, people were free to practice their religions in private. Not so in Albania.


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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


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