Waiting for evolution in Pakistan’s classrooms
When I was in class III, my school teacher showed us an unusual illustration in our science class. It was the classic drawing of the evolution of man, from monkey ancestor to homosapien, and I remember thinking back then: well, that makes a lot of sense, we look just like monkeys.
There was no big debate in our science class. The teacher just taught us evolution (change via natural selection across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations), and we just absorbed the information and assumed it to be true. The narrative of how life came into existence was not so hard to swallow at that young age; the story was simple and elegant.
Luckily for us, it was also true.
Unfortunately, today teachers and professors establishing Pakistan’s science and biology curriculums would be loath to mention the subject of evolution directly, either out of fear, ignorance or outright hostility.
Where does this fear, ignorance and hostility come from? How is it possible that something a young child can absorb and understand is simply unacceptable and unteachable? The answer to this question is also simple: evolution is a scientifically proven narrative to the creation of life, and that (to some religious people) is seen as a threat to the religious narrative. This is where teaching science moves from education, to politics.
The politics of education
Following in the footsteps of the Creationist craze spreading in the US, there is now a growing body of literature on ‘Muslim Creationism’ – an attempt to scientifically explain the existence of life and the evolution of man through religion, as a response to the now widespread acceptance of evolutionary theory.
This Islamic (dev)olution on the science front has been led by the likes of Harun Yahya, alias Adnan Oktar a man whose books are found in many Pakistani homes with titles such as “The Evolution Deceit”, “Disasters Darwinism Brought to Humanity”, “The Design in Nature” and “Fascism The Bloody Ideology of Darwinism”.
Bear in mind this body of ‘scientific’ literature is written by the same man who has written “The Holocaust lie” and been accused in Turkey of creating an illegal organization, the “Science Research Foundation” for personal gain, blackmail and extortion, not to mention threatening and defaming professors of science.
Luckily in Turkey, the professors successfully sued Oktar’s organisation. Sadly, in Pakistan, going under the Yahya alias has let this pseudo science permeate among people willing to accept anything with the ‘religion’ label tagged to it.
There are countless critiques of Yahya’s nonsense available, perhaps most poignantly by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins pin pointing factual errors, incorrect photo captions all the way to highlighting how Yahya has simply ignored all scientific research contrary to his ideological standpoint.
To cite just one example, Yahya’s seminal work, The Atlas of Creation is so disgracefully put together that it misidentifies a sea snake as an eel (unrelated species) and labels Google images of fishing-lures as actual species.
Where do the lies begin? The question should be, where do the lies end?
Fallacies of logic are aplenty in Muslim creationist texts. Creationists look foolish again and again as new evidence and new theories come up to fill the gaps they point to as evidence against evolution. Where are the fossils showing humans evolved, ask creationists? Here they are say scientists. In fact, here are eight different forms from homohabilis to homosapien. Aha! But where is the ninth and the tenth form ask creationists – that is surely evidence that the theory is flawed. Well, damn, say the scientists – we just dug up two more, which means the last slew of creationist books now need to be updated with newer, smaller gaps.
The above fallacy identifies just one critical reason religion should not step into the domain of science. Religion does not evolve or change fast enough to keep abreast of science, and when religious ‘science experts’ tie key parts of religious texts to science theories or facts that change, all it does is make a mockery of the religion. This is sadly the state of biology in the Muslim world, where research is limited the moment it steps into the quagmire of religious pseudo-science; where Muslim scientists and teachers are threatened and/or fear alienation from their community; where young children are taught that God created all living things, but let’s not find out how.
Read more about evolution here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.