In a post on a creationist seminar by a group of Muslims, being held at UCL today, Telegraph journalist and blogger Damian Thompson notes:
One of the main themes of my book Counterknowledge is the spread of Islamic Creationism. Guardian and Independent readers are comfortable with the notion that Creationism is the preserve of swivel-eyed American fundamentalist Christians. They are much less comfortable with the reality that Islam is the main engine of Creationism in the world today.
I completely agree with Thompson in his criticism of Adnan Oktar and his acolytes (‘Harun Yahya’ is a front for several people), and the brand of “Islamic science” they promote. In fact, I will go a step further and say they tap into ‘lowbrow’ anti-Western feelings amongst Muslims, and have a tenuous grasp on histories of science and philosophy to say the least; all this even before we actually look at their struggle to understand the science of evolution.
But what evidence does Thompson’s have to claim “Islam is the main engine of Creationism in the world today”? If he has any I would be interested in reading about it. The truth of the matter is that, much like other forms of ‘religious marketing’, Muslim missionary activities are far behind their Christian counterparts (and this should not be particularly surprising given the relative histories of the two religious groups in the 20th-century). The promotion of creationist propaganda material is not much different.
Ali Eteraz did some digging into Harun Yahya last summer and guess what he discovered? Christian creationist groups are affiliated with the Harun Yahya team and involved in their marketing strategies. Taner Edis, a Turkish scientist who is hardly a fan of Islam with a publication like An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, notes:
[A] striking aspect of Yahya’s material is how much of it is taken, with minimal changes, from Western creationist literature such as that associated with the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). Since the Quran is not as specific as the Genesis story, Islamic creationists usually allow an old earth, so Yahya discards flood-geology and is noncommittal about the age of the earth. But the rest is there, flavored with quotations from some “Intelligent Design” figures, and all set in a matrix of traditional Islamic apologetics hammering on how obvious it is that there is a designing intelligence behind all the wonders of nature. ICR-style creationism, which we tend to think of as a sectarian, evangelical Protestant peculiarity, turns out to be pre-adapted to an Islamic environment.
Damo should be careful: he is starting to make a habit of spreading counterknowledge when the subject of his discussion happens to be Muslims.
I also wanted to note Thompson’s use of ‘extremist’ to describe the Harun Yahya group. (He uses ‘crazies’ instead of extremist on his own blog which suggests an editorial decision by the Telegraph.) If he is identifying the Harun Yahya creationists as ‘extremist’ then I presume he can point to ‘moderate’ and conservative creationists? Liberal-reformist creationists perhaps? Certainly, based on what little the evidence we have, Adnan Oktar resembles a cult leader — but Thompson doesn’t mention that in his post.
Or is it that this group happens to be Muslim that makes them ‘extremist’ creationists?
It is worth noting should that Thompson’s concern about “British universities are filling up with science and medical students who reject the single most important discovery in biological science” is a real one, as was reported by the Guardian in 2006. However, unlike Thompson, the Guardian report notes that academia finds itself battling not just with Muslim students, but those of Baptist and Pentecostal backgrounds too. In addition, Inayat Bunglawala, about the closest to a “spokesman” for Muslims in Britain we will ever have (thankfully!), has been quite critical of Harun Yahya creationism — so it is not like there is some widespread grassroots movement to take over education of science in Britain by Muslim creationists (and even there was one, it would no doubt have connections with Christian groups!). I do agree that there is a genuine concern about this sort of ‘science’ receiving a positive reception amongst technically-literate Muslims — the sort who have A-Levels, degrees and an amateur interest in science: this says a lot about their ‘illiteracy’ in the humanities.