Richard Dawkins Encourages Creationism

Does Richard Dawkins’ brand of in-your-face science atheism push religious people to embrace a “creationist” identity?

That’s a common argument—one I heartily agree with—made recently by Andrew Brown in his Guardian blog.

In this case, Brown argues that Dawkins’ attitudes push British Muslims, especially disaffected youth, to adopt more radical creationist positions.

Brown reports a talk by Salman Hameed, who insisted that Muslims often feel forced to make a false choice between science and faith. Not surprisingly, many choose faith.  Hameed related a telling anecdote.  One young woman reported attending a lecture in which

the lecturer started by asking if there were any creationists in the room. She put her hand up, because she believes that God created the universe, and was immediately singled out for humiliation.   

In the case of young British Muslims, Brown makes a compelling argument.  Already facing a crisis of cultural identity, many young British Muslims come to see their religious identity as a way to channel their feelings of alienation.  In such a Dawkins-influenced climate, young British folks may feel pressured to reject modern science as part of their assertion of an oppositional Muslim identity.  As Brown puts it,

Because there is a self-consciously oppositional culture among young poor Muslims, who feel themselves stigmatised and disadvantaged, they can tend to embrace creationism simply because they know it’s wrong by the lights of the majority. Dawkins’ dismissal of Muslim creationism as “alien rubbish” was not only found as a YouTube clip on the EDL website for a while, but also used in the propaganda of Harun Yahya, the Turkish creationist and self-publicist. The emotional logic is clear: if this rich, sneering white man is against it, it must be good for disaffected young Muslims who feel that they are themselves treated as “alien rubbish”.

Brown is right on.

Offering a false choice between religion and science fuels creationism.  As Brown points out here, so does suggesting a false equation of “Western” or “White” with “atheist.”  Better, as Brown says, to engage in the arduous and awkward task of building true dialogue.

Inter-faith Creationism?

It is no longer surprising to see deeply conservative religious thinkers reach across religious lines to work together.  Could we soon see effective Muslim-Christian coalitions to support the teaching of creationism?

Perhaps as a model, interfaith creationists could consider Robert George and Hamza Yusuf’s collaboration.  The two leading intellectuals, one Catholic, one Muslim, co-wrote an open letter to hotels, requesting the removal of pornography from television options.

Even more apt, we could consider the fact that American creationism has always used the work of fellow creationist writers from different religious traditions.  In the 1920s, as my grad-school mentor Ronald Numbers argued, Catholic writers such as Alfred McCann were favorites among ferociously Protestant creationists.  More recently, this tradition has continued with the creationist embrace of Jonathan Wells’ work.

Could this tradition of creationist ecumenism work to bridge the Christian-Muslim divide?

There is no doubt that both religions harbor fervent creationists.  A recent article in The Economist detailed recent creationist developments among Islamic populations.  The article cited a study by Salman Hameed of Muslim attitudes to evolution.  That study found that 20% of Muslims in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan embraced evolution.  In Egypt, only 8% did.

As The Economist article describes, “controversial” Turkish evangelist Adnan Oktar, known as Harun Yahya, has long conducted an energetic creationist campaign in Muslim circles, including a series of conferences in the USA.

Of course, the conservative theology behind both Islamic and Christian creationism creates some barriers.  Orthodox religious thinkers on both sides will be wary of working with people from opposing traditions.

But there has also been a long tradition of cooperation.  As Ronald Numbers pointed out in The Creationists, in the mid-1980s, the Institute for Creation Research received a telephone call from the minister of education of Turkey, requesting teaching materials (Creationists, 2006, pg. 421).  In 1992, a Turkish creationism conference invited ICR stalwarts Duane Gish and John Morris as keynote speakers.  Professor Numbers also describes the founding in 1990 of the Turkish Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV).  In Numbers’ words, “For years BAV maintained a cozy relationship with Christian young-earth creationists, feting them at conferences, translating their books, and carrying their message to the Islamic world”  (Creationists, 2006, pg. 425).

For a long generation, then, Muslim and Christian creationists have worked together.  The question is not whether such cooperation can happen.  Rather, the question is whether and when these efforts will gather enough support to become a major influence on the politics and policies of creationism and evolution education.