Monday, November 28, 2011

British Muslim students are boycotting lectures in evolution
JohnThomas Didymus
for the Digital Journal

Professors at the University College London have expressed concern at the growing number of Muslim students boycotting lectures on evolution saying they cannot take courses in the subject because it is opposed to their religious belief .

The professors are concerned because the courses in biological evolution are an important part of the syllabus, and theory of evolution is considered by modern biologists the corner stone of modern biological thinking.

According to Muslim teaching, Allah created all that is and He( Allah) only needed to command "be!" and everything came into being. In contrast, the Darwinian theory of Evolution, as expressed in the no-Darwinian synthesis, says that all life forms evolved over millions of years by random mutations acted upon by natural selection in the struggle of individuals for survival. The theory asserts that individuals possessing traits that enhance their survival are immediately selected and spread their genes rapidly in a population. In this way species evolve over millions of years from simple multicellular organisms to complex multicellular organisms including man.


  1. I really, really hope that the university doesn't figure out some half-assed way of compromising with this. Please, please stand your ground! Do NOT give the students, especially medical students, some alternative course of study or some shit waiver to weasel around reality. Do not modify syllabi or curriculum. Do not create special tracks for different religions. Do not even change wording to respect sensibilities.

  2. Send them the advice column by Billy Graham.

  3. Those who don't 'believe' in evolution should not benefit from it. Therefore, those students who say their religion doesn't allow them to 'believe' in evolution should not be receiving yearly flu shots.

  4. Anthro Girl, it's tempting to want to punish fools this way. However, the beauty and power of science is that it functions the same way whether you believe it or not.

  5. Amen, Beaker Ben.

    I do not teach in the sciences, but I feel strongly that as evolution forms the basis of teaching in biology, you should probably understand how scientists think it works. What I tell my students who are in the throes of the faith/science question is that whether you believe in it or not, it's on the test. The same would be true if I were teaching a Bible as Lit course: you don't have to believe it; you just need to know that it is basically one of the foundational texts for modern Western art and literature. I'm not a Christian, but even I will acknowledge that.

  6. In the last paragraph of the re-posted article, I think the word "immediately" should be replaced with "likelier to be" in order to make it scientifically accurate. Right?

  7. I personally don't care if students "opt out" of any portion of a course because of "religious reasons". Some of the stuff I teach can be obscene, or certainly a challenge to their religious sensibilities.

    But if you choose to "opt out," then you have to deal with the consequences. Don't want to read "The Miller's Tale" because you're religiously opposed to sex, adultery, and farting? Okay.

    But "The Miller's Tale" is going to be on the test.

    I now include a sentence on my student contract which indicates that the student realizes that the course is for adults, and they will be reading material of an adult nature, and that they understand this and accept it. If they do not submit the contract by a specific date, all their assignments after that receive zeroes.

    Biology teachers, unfortunately, should adopt a similar rule if they wish to avoid conflict. Then, at least the idiots will not take the course to begin with, or won't have cause to complain when they are responsible for what the entire scientific community has determined to be fact.

  8. Stella, the problem of opting out of evolution is that it is the whole reason why any of biology makes any sense. You might allow a student to opt out of a particular text, but you don't allow them to opt out of grammar (probably a poor analogy, but you get the point).

  9. Roberto--

    Well of course! But this puts the onus on them. It's "their decision" whether to take the course, whether to study evolution. You really aren't letting them "opt out" because you provide them a contract stating that they the course involves evolution and that evolution is the basis of biology, and if they do not wish to study it their grade will suffer. In my lit course if about half the stuff were made into a movie (as described in the text), it would be rated NC-17. My students must sign a contract saying they accept that.

    Complaints? Whip out the contract. Problem solved.

    In a biology course, what will happen is that those Muslim students will either avoid the course, or fail. And they will not have a leg to stand on if they do. And if the course is required as a part of their curriculum, they must take it, acknowledge evolution, or give up wanting to be a doctor or whatever.

  10. I had a student once state "Okay, evolution. Convince me." And my response to him was 'I don't need to convince you. You'll be tested on what is taught in this course about it, whether you are "convinced" or not. I'm not out to convert anyone as a type of missionary for science.' End of conversation.

  11. It's not "their decision" whether to study evolution and natural selection, which is the cornerstone of biology. If they do not want to study it, then they cannot become doctors. It's irresponsible to release a bunch of doctors who do not accept biology onto the hapless public. I do believe most laypersons misinterpret the meaning of the "theory of evolution." It is not a theory in the colloquial sense - a completely unproved idea. A scientific theory is supported by empirical observation and rigorous procedure. Natural selection isn't some vague idea that may or may not account for the diversification of life. It's a fact - and its effects can be observed within a human lifespan (as with Dmitry Belyaev's "tame foxes" study).

    If they want to major in some other subject that does not put public health at risk, they are free to reject natural selection, but no way should they be permitted to become medical doctors. Public safety trumps religious freedom.

  12. Patty, I think the situation solves itself. If a pre-med student chooses not to learn evolution, then he or she will get a B at best in at least one intro to biology course. Med school is competitive enough that a B in intro to biology will prevent them from becoming a doctor.

  13. Islamic creationism is not all that new; I'm looking at a 2006 Reuters piece which mentions Harun Yahya's "Atlas of Creation", which is pretty much the Turkish version of all those crappy Christian creationist books ("Of Pandas and People", all those Duane Gish titles, etc.) They are much slicker than real Turkish science textbooks, magazines, or journals and are geared toward a lay audience. There is a real mystery where Harun Yahya (real name: Adnan Oktar) got the money to publish his tripe; before the early 2000s he was publishing pamphlets on Jewish-Masonic conspiracies, and was described by Edip Yuksel* as a "Sunni zealot" when he knew him in the 1980s. Due to his fervent religiosity I would say that Oktar was backed at one point by the Saudis; he is of the right Islamic sect, they like promoting reactionary ideas. It would explain why thousands of copies of "The Atlas of Creation" were given to Turkish libraries, grade schools, and colleges, and why English-language translations were sent to promenent scientists in the West. I would bet that if you asked those British Muslims if they had read Harun Yahya's books, and that is the reason why they are opposed to evolution, they would say yes.


    *Yuksel is an interesting fellow; he opposes Islamic creationism, but he is a promoter of Theistic evolution and a non-believer in Islamic tradition - he follows Rashad Khalifa's "Koran Alone" philosophy.

    Harun Yahya is an Arabic name meaning "Aaron John" as in Aaron, the brother of Moses and John the is a tradition for religious/philosophical writers in the Islamic world to adopt Arabic pen names.

  14. @Ruby: You asked, 'In the last paragraph of the re-posted article, I think the word "immediately" should be replaced with "likelier to be" in order to make it scientifically accurate. Right?'


    My locale has an interesting mix of vocal Christian creationists and observant Muslims who seem to embrace science. My approach to the creationists has been to devote the second class period of the semester to the process of science; to note that they'll be tested on the science; and to advise them that the most effective way to debate anything is to know the other side very well. So if they really feel the need to defend their faith, first they should spend the semester trying their best to excel and to learn as much as possible about the scientific evidence for evolution.

  15. I have zero patience for these tea partiers -- and never has "tea party" been more in sync with the F-bomb, for which I use it euphemistically. And I'm not merely referring to the students specific to this article.

    The course material is the course material. It's non-negotiable. Course material is not up for debate, in any subject. In all responsible places of higher learning, that course material isn't arbitrary; it's decided upon by people who are experts in both subject matter and teaching. In all responsible places of higher learning, the course material goes through a vetting. And all responsible places of higher learning are accredited, somehow, by outside bodies.

    Seriously, I'm tired of this shit. It's not like you can walk into a college course and order off the menu. "I'll take a little discussion of molecules, but hold the evolution, please."

    I get the same shit in my lowly Writing for Your Hamster Audience courses at LD3C, the course designed to get students up to speed for Freshman Hamster Composition. I have students actually attempt to debate me -- debate me, in class and in my office -- regarding pedagogy. Are they tea-partying serious? Their test or placement scores have indicated that they require remediation before heading off into the glories of Freshman Hamster Composition, and they think they know better than I about how to get them there.

    It's all the same mentality, the idea that their mere ability to utter syllables renders those syllables (and the thoughts for which they stand) bedrock correct. The resistance to instruction is ridiculous.

    Don't like the subject matter that I teach? Don't like that I'm telling you that you need to do certain things to improve your writing, reading, and critical thinking skills? Fine. Don't take the class. Refuse to learn the course material? You certainly have the right to fail the class.

  16. Strelnikov is bitter because, back during his undergrad days, he had to re-take BIO 101 for using his ideas about яровизация to solve a tough problem on the final exam.

  17. I also cover scientific method early in the semester. I end it with this:

    "If you don’t want to believe any of it, fine, you don’t have to: I don’t require belief. This is a science class: it isn’t about believing, it’s about knowing. You therefore do have to know what scientists think, and why they think what they think."

    Once a student asked me, "Do you require belief?" I grinned and said, "No!" My students loved that: one of the them remarked, "You're -so- open-minded!"

    But then, what other answer could I have given? I'm interested in education, not mind control. And besides, if I did require belief, how would I check it? By telepathy? "I see, by reading your mind, that you're not a True Believer! No 'A' for you!!"

    I also point out that if you want to know where exactly to drill into the ground and find oil, a knowledge of fossils will help. This means an honest knowledge of fossils: not like what Rick Perry or Mike Huckabee have.


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