At Science, Framing Evolution in the Muslim World

In a Policy Forum article this week at Science, Hampshire College professor Salman Hameed discusses the reasons for widespread rejection of evolution across Islamic countries.

Surveys show, for example, that public acceptance of evolution stands at lower than 20% in many Muslim nations. The reason, Hameed details, is that few citizens have had exposure to evolution in school and so to form an opinion about evolution, instead rely on what they might pick up via interpersonal sources or in the media.

The result is that many Muslims misperceive evolution as equaling atheism and as a direct threat to their religious way of life (an outcome not unlike the U.S.) To close his essay, Hameed cites our past article at Science on framing, advocating that any communication initiative on evolution needs to be tailored to the political and cultural realities of the specific country and that a frame of religious compatibility needs to be emphasized.

The message about evolution in the Islamic world needs to be framed in a way that emphasizes practical applications and show that it is the bedrock of modern biology--thereby capitalizing on the existing proscience attitude (13). The national academies of Muslim countries will need to tailor the specifics of the message according to the political and cultural realities of their respective countries. Religion in the Muslim world plays a much larger role in the social and cultural landscape, and thus, our discussions with the general public need to take that into account. As scientists, we should present, without compromise, the best available science. Evolutionary ideas about human origins may face serious obstacles, but a peaceful religious accommodation is also possible. However, efforts that link evolution with atheism will cut short the dialogue, and a vast majority of Muslims will reject evolution.

A general respect for science affords scientists a high prestige in the Islamic world. Research scientists, especially biologists, should take advantage of this and write for Muslim audiences in the form of newspaper and magazine articles. At the present time, Harun Yahya is the loudest voice in the debate over evolution in the Islamic world. At this critical juncture, we cannot afford to leave the initiative with Muslim Creationists.

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