Thursday, August 16, 2007

‘Islamic Creationism’: A Turkish cultural export to the Muslim world

Sami Siddiq has been following the Islamic creationism issue. He has prepared the following analysis. I thank him for allowing me to put it here; it is his work alone. RLC

Sami Siddiq
August 5, 2007

Perhaps the most prolific propagator of ‘Islamic Creationism’ active in the Muslim world today is a Turkish man who goes by the pseudonym of “Harun Yahya” (real name: Adnan Oktar). In that he claims to have published over a hundred or so ‘books’ (read tracts) it’s more than likely he is merely the front man of a much larger outfit committed to the proliferation of contemporary Muslim apologetic literature. Whatever the case may be, it does not seem that Yahya could possibly corner the market on Islamic creationist publishing without a little help from some friends.

On his web-site,, one can find Yahya’s hostile opinions regarding almost every religion/ideology in the world other than Islam (I personally was unaware of negative Muslim views on Buddhism until I read what this fellow and his cohort had to say about it). Somehow, in every book that he ‘authors’, he manages to almost always sneak in a word (if not an entire chapter) denouncing Darwinism/ evolution. Even when the primary topic has no relation whatsoever to human evolution, Yahya finds a way to put the pieces together.

A rather deceptive ploy, used quite frequently in such writings, is the selective appropriation of testimonials/evidence against evolutionary theory in the form of outdated and disavowed concepts. Turkish creationists (dishonestly) attempt to link modern evolutionary theory with incorrect theories (such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s “inheritance of acquired characteristics”) that were disputed by Charles Darwin himself or by later discoveries. The intent of such deliberate falsifications must be to confuse non-technical readers with misrepresentations of the history of evolutionary thought rather than present any scientific evidence contradicting it.

Also on exhibit in glossy pictures are the historic evils of perverted Darwinian thought such as Herbert Spencer’s “Social Darwinism” used to rationalize and thereby justify European colonialism, as well as the American Eugenics movement whose ideas were brought into practice in Nazi Germany. It is obvious here that Yahya would like us to understand that a dogmatic acceptance of natural history as interpreted by evolutionists will inevitably result in the replacement of God and morality with Science and moral relativism if not complete amorality. If godlessness alone does not frighten you, then perhaps the dread of totalitarian regimes reliant upon incredibly subjective scientific “theories” alone for legitimacy might as well do the trick.

In a similar vein, Karl Marx’s materialist view of history is also merged within this category of “fascist” evolutionism and also condemned for disastrously genocidal policies in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China. If one follows what Yahya suggests here, even Communism, a social philosophy much discredited since the end of the Cold War, which no longer provides a viable doctrine for would-be revolutionaries, is still a menace to be feared by individuals if not states. Gentle readers are ostensibly warned to heed the lessons of history and recognize the evils that Darwin’s evolutionary path may quite possibly lead to yet again.

It bears mentioning here that evolutionary thought has not always been a contentious issue of public import among Islamic societies, especially not in the latter half of the last century until quite recently. One reason for this might be the lack of scientific achievement in the Islamic world over centuries of societal stagnation, colonialism, and post-colonial mediocrity that made evolutionary theory a non-issue for mostly illiterate and impoverished Muslims. As one of the few Muslim countries to have wholeheartedly embraced a secular modernity, it would follow that it is Turkey’s Islamists who are now, rather belatedly, at the forefront in attempting to critique it.

Another explanation for this previous lack of criticism could also be that the Quran provides a much more ambiguous account of the Creation than the explicit narrative found in the Old Testament. Whereas many Jewish and Christian theologians and scientists have advocated the benefits of a less literal reading of biblical scripture, the Islamic version while not explicit, remains somewhat open to interpretation and therefore also does not necessarily have be in conflict with scientific theory. Nevertheless, a popular misunderstanding of the theory in which men supposedly descended from apes has traditionally limited public discussion and understanding.

Seen within this context, Harun Yahya is truly a pioneer of sorts, although by no means an original thinker. A comparison of books belonging to the American creationist genre and Yahya’s own corpus of works might reveal some unsettling similarities between the two in terms of the choice of selective quotation from scientific and pseudo-scientific sources. While the bibliographies may be identical, the only obvious difference one can spot is that in Yahya’s works biblical citations are replaced with quotations from the Quran.

Plagiarist or not, fending off wicked Darwinist ideas to keep them from achieving hegemonic status within Turkish public discourses happens to be his forte (more likely his only schtick). He claims to do this out of a sense of pious duty in defense of the faith. I suspect this may in reality have a lot more to do with a not so indirect critique of Turkish secularism and the overwhelming influence of the military in matters of state and society.

Feigning moral outrage over the bogeyman presented by a Darwin makes for a less threatening statement vis-à-vis the Turkish establishment than directly accusing army generals of apostasy. Instead, science professors in Turkish universities have been targeted in a campaign of defamation and demonization in which faculty have suffered harassment and blacklisting as materialists or atheists in a predominantly Muslim society. In that it is much too easy to pick on naive and unsuspecting academics for allegedly popularizing evolutionary theory in the national education system, Harun Yahya and Co. found the perfect scapegoats for their witch-hunt; from whom there is little fear of physical retribution. Now that’s the kind demagoguery people see as courageous, no doubt.

In avoiding any discussions of politics or history related to the immediate condition of Muslim world, Yahya’s creationist fashion themselves as an otherwise non-subversive, quietist movement. However, in the minds of the faithful, of which there seem to be many these days if one considers the increasingly growing role of Islam in current Turkish political trends that have empowered Islamists against the avowedly secular state safeguarded by the military. Yet despite this strategy of subtlety, Yahya and friends have frequently found themselves at the receiving end of state harassment and have been arrested on a series of charges unrelated to their publishing duties.

What is odd though is that these Islamic creationist ideas are relevant even in Muslim countries far more backwards in scientific research in relation to Turkey itself, never mind the rest of the world. Translations can be found in several languages both online and in print courtesy of regional publishing and distributor offices around the world. Although many of these affiliates are located in some of the more obvious places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, there are several other conduits through which these books find their way to the West, e.g. France and Britain, as well as in the United States via publishers in Canada.

Most interesting (or disturbing) of all is that not only is much of the foolishness one finds in these books heavily borrowed from American creationist and ‘Intelligent Design’ literature, but the fact there is also a great deal of mutual cooperation between American and Turkish creationists. Unable to export their anti-evolutionist ideas elsewhere in the West, American creationists have found kindred spirits among Turkish Muslims who are more than happy to sample their wares.

What makes this interfaith cooperation particularly odd is that while much of humanity today finds itself in the grips of eschatological warfare in which both reactionary elements on both sides, Christian and Muslim, see themselves in civilizational struggle à la Samuel Huntington. Perhaps if Christian-Muslim dialogue could also be promoted to work towards more constructive goals for the betterment of humanity and global peace as opposed to preaching faith as a justification for trivial denial. Locating common ground between Westerners and Muslims, who are today either antagonistic or otherwise indifferent towards one another, might help to arrive at mutual respect and understanding as a befitting service to God.

For more on American-Turkish creationist cooperation, see:

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