Science through a `religious lens'

11th April 2014 at 01:00
Muslim countries show God and evolution can be compatible

Blurring the lines between theology and science is a contentious issue in British and American education, with highprofile calls for any mention of creationism to be banned from lessons on evolution.

But in a number of Muslim countries, references to God and the Koran are regularly used to support the teaching of key scientific concepts, a new study has found.

While some evangelical Christians insist that evolution is incompatible with the biblical view of creation, these Muslim countries teach that evolution is entirely consistent with a devout, religious view of the world, according to the study.

The academics focused on the textbooks used to teach biology in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia and Syria. In all five, the science curriculum emphasises the importance of scientific knowledge and analytical skills, but this does not preclude reference to religion.

The academics from McGill University in Canada and Hampshire College in Massachusetts say that the distinction between science and theology in these countries is fluid. "Islam, in many Muslim societies, is essentially considered a complete code of life, and therefore permeates almost every aspect of the culture," they write in a paper published in the latest issue of the journal Religion amp; Education.

"Thus, it is not uncommon to see modern scientific principles and ideas often interpreted or validated through a religious lens."

In Malaysia, for example, the stated objective of the science curriculum is "to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonious, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God".

The goal of studying science in Pakistan, an Islamic republic, is "to enable students to develop an understanding of scientificbiological facts, concepts and principles", but also "to appreciate that Allah is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe".

Meanwhile, in Egypt, the objectives of the curriculum are entirely scientific. However, the preface to the biology curriculum includes a Koranic verse and a prayer: "Verily, God is the granter of success."

"The presence of religious goals and prayers in the science curricula.suggests that the study of the natural worlds is explicitly viewed as a study of God's creation," the academics write.

The findings come after separate research from the UK recommended that teachers talk about creationism in lessons on evolution to avoid "alienating" students with strong religious beliefs.

As reported in TES in February, Pam Hanley, a research fellow at the University of York, warned that students with a strong faith were likely to be turned off science if it did not correspond with their own overarching outlook on life. "You have to differentiate between teaching creationism as fact and teaching about it as context," Dr Hanley said.

"I wouldn't for a moment say that you should teach creationism in science, but you could certainly talk about evolution in the context of when Darwin published his ideas, when it was challenging the religious orthodoxy," she added.

Alice Roberts, a British television presenter and president of the Association for Science Education, has called for a blanket ban on the teaching of creationism in science, even at private religious schools, claiming that it amounts to "indoctrination".

The academics from McGill University and Hampshire College found that all five countries they studied teach students the history of evolutionary theory, as well as Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection. The concept of descent from a common ancestor is discussed only briefly in Turkey, which, although politically secular, is the only country not to discuss human evolution.

Pakistani textbooks, however, also contain detailed religious discussion, illustrated with quotations from the Koran. The religious text is generally cited in support of evolutionary theory. "It appears that the textbook authors have tried to explicitly harmonise religion and science in the arena of biological evolution," the academics said.

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