Saturday, January 10, 2009

Evolution: Preaching the Truth of Darwin in the Muslim World

I was delighted to pick up the weekend edition of the Hampshire Gazette today and to see a big cover story on my friend and colleague, Salman Hameed. Although Salman is an astronomer by training, both his personal interests and the definition of his position at Hampshire College--in "integrated science and humanities"--have led him to the history of science.

Among his specialities, as reported earlier here, are the history of Islamic science and the history of Islamic creationist theory, which is much less studied than Western Christian creationism and related beliefs. Part of this work involves talking to Muslim audiences about evolution--especially in his native Pakistan. His most ambitious outreach project is projected documentary on evolution and origins for a Pakistani audience--an reflection of the inspiration that he, as a teenager, felt, when he first saw Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series.

Representative quote:
The Muslim population's acceptance of evolution is necessary for the religiously bound nations to excel in science and technology - advancements that can ultimately yield power and prestige on a global scale, Hameed said.

"We simply cannot afford a mass rejection of evolution by one-sixth of the world's population," said Hameed, referring to the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

"Muslims are already behind in contributions to science and technology," Hameed said. "If they reject evolution, there goes the hope that they could catch up. How many geniuses in this large population could we lose because of a culture that rejects evolution?"
(full article: Kristin Palpini, "Darwin's disciple: Hampshire professor promotes theory of evolution in Muslim world")

The US, however, has no reason to be particularly smug. As the article points out, the percentage of Americans who believe in evolution has slipped from 45 percent (already a disgrace) to 40 percent (scary) since 1986--whereas 80 percent of the French (could this explain why they look down on us?) and 60 percent of Italians accept evolution as true.

This issue of the paper also includes as a pendant an interview with Northampton author Barry Werth on his Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America (Random House, 2009).

Representative quote:
Q: Why did Americans embrace Darwin's "The Origin of Species" in the late 1800s?

A: (Evolution) was an extraordinarily popular idea, much more popular here than in any other country, except maybe Germany. It fit neatly with America's idea about itself: capitalism, the economy, we had just fought a war (the Civil War) in which one side won and one side lost and the victors in business and in government and in war all felt this was part of the natural process. The winners went on to reproduce and create the future.
(full article: Kristin Palpini, "Why Darwin's theory slipping in U.S.")

1 comment:

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Hi Jim. Thanks for the post! The Gazette articles did have a couple of historical errors, though, which I corrected in comments to the online versions. The more serious is the garbled account of State v. Scopes, which incorrectly states that it overturned the Tennessee anti-evolution law; in fact, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality, and it was not until 1968, in Epperson v. Arkansas, that the US Supreme Court ruled that anti-evolution laws violate the Establishment Clause.

It may seem to be a small point, but the article's offhand remark paints a seriously distorted picture of the mid-20th century by implying that anti-evolution laws had been declared unconstitutional in 1926.