Is Muslim PseudoScience Taught at GWU?

by Lorna Salzman

Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University was chosen a year or two ago to lead a  Muslim delegation to the Pope. This was a bit of unusual irony: the Catholic Church has accepted the fact of evolution but Nasr and the Muslims do not.

As an environmentalist and writer on ecology and evolution, I received an email regarding Islam and science, and was prompted to do further research. I was appalled at the abysmally distorted views on science and evolution of Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who teaches at GWU. I wonder if this is what his students are being taught, and what GWU science teachers would think of this.

Nasr is University Professor of Islamic Studies. Last year I went to the web and printed out an article  published in the journal Islam &  Science, Winter 2006, as transcribed from an interview with him recorded in Canada in 2006. The Turkish scientist Edis (see Salon URL at end) does not fully convey the laughable distortions and ignorance revealed by Nasr in his article, most of which is devoted to (purportedly) refuting Darwin and evolution. Some of Nasr's statements follow here:

"I reject the ordinary understanding of the Darwinian theory of evolution even on scientific grounds...The theory of evolution is the peg of the tent of modernism. And if it were to fall down, the whole tent would fall on the top of the head of modernism.And therefore it is kept as an ideology and not as a scientific theory that has been proven".

The scientists' use of the word theory is not the same as the layman's. The layman thinks the word is synonymous with idea or conjecture or hypothesis; for scientists, a theory is a demonstrably workable formula which is used as the basis for research. Darwinian theory is considered a fact in science, while the means by which evolution proceeds, natural selection, is an hypothesis, even though it has been actually demonstrated). Nasr's statement reveals more about his ideology than about Darwin, an ideology that rejects materialism and scientific inquiry in their totality.

"God is both Life and the Giver of Life, and that for me is...true without being unscientific.  God is also the source of all existence, whether alive or not other power in the universe can bestow life except the Source of Life".

"If we migrate to Zimbabwe, our skin grows darker; if we go to Sweden, it would grow a bit lighter".

Nasr here reveals himself as an adherent to the wholly discredited Lamarckian theory, which tainted Soviet science for so many years under Stalin, namely that acquired traits are passed on to our descendants. It is truly awesome to see remnants of Lamarck popping up today.

"How could something greater come out of something lesser? could the greatest works of literature, like Dante or Shakespeare, come out of a bowl of soup of molecules? "

The same way, one might conclude, that Nasr's statements come out of the "stone soup" of his brain's molecules. The same way that single digit numbers, if multiplied, result in "something greater". The same way that a single seed, if planted, can produce a whole crop of apples. The same way that a single fertilized human egg can grow into a many-celled human being.

"..the scientific worldview separates what it studies of the world of nature from all that is Divine and then considers this truncated reality to be the only reality...for the theologian or the man of religion or the philosopher of religion, there is no way that biology can destroy his view of Divine causality...No theologian can deny that God said, let there be light and there was light, that He created birds, the whole phyla (sic) of birds....creative power belongs to God alone and not to matter as the Qur'an also makes clear".

First, a small quibble that reveals his scientific ignorance in another way: birds are not a phylum; they are a class called Aves, which is under the phylum Chordates. Second, just what IS "divine", how can a mere mortal perceive it, and if he claims he has, why should we believe him? And to my knowledge, no one is alive today who actually heard god say "let there be light....". This statement reminds us of the first reactions to Darwin from "natural theologians" of his day who scrambled to reconcile science and religion, and the creationists of today. It smacks of both arrogance and desperation, a desperation that sweats profusely as the sciences reveal more and more the nature of life and the cosmos and clings for its life to antiquated irrational belief systems. Not even the Catholic Church was able to sustain its stubborn theological resistance to evolution for so long.

"People in the Islamic world who are evolutionists are not important and influential religious thinkers...their influence is limited, confined especially to the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent where the British taught evolution in all the schools. Four fifths of Muslim evolutionists come from Indian and Pakistan. The Arabs and the Persians were protected to a large extent from this prevalent error by the language barrier.." What he doesn't comment on is the primitive intellectual and educational condition of Arabs today, or, to the contrary,  of the Persians (Iranians), who, despite the language barrier, did become a nation with an advanced culture and science orientation. The division in the middle east was and stlll is between the Arabs and the non-Arabs. It's easy to see why when you read someone like Nasr, but he is hardly alone today. Al Jazeera broadcasts are full of the most fanciful fairy tales about medicine, science and health, equalling the health herbalist charlatans in this country but much funnier.

Do I detect some racism and chauvinism here....towards the two countries that have, structurally if not perfectly, secular of which is arguably the most educationally and scientifically advanced in Asia, namely India, thanks to the British....and which possesses a secular democracy where all religions are equal? Of course evolutionists have no interest whatsoever in being "influential religious thinkers", and one would fervently hope that religious thinkers would refrain from re-interpretations of  science and evolution.

"95% of our neurocells (sic) are similar to those of monkeys....Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel have almost identical DNA, but they are two very different people..."

The echoes of racism and eugenics raises their heads, which is scarcely surprising given the close relationship Arabs had with Hitler and Nazism and which persists today. Nasr is again revealing his ignorance by conflating brain cells with DNA. Humans share 98.5% of their DNA with apes. DNA is contained within brain cells. He doesn't seem to understand this. I suspect he thinks DNA resides outside cells. In a strange contradiction he also appears to be  disciple of B.F. Skinner in  dismissing anything but genes and heredity as influences on human behavior. He apparently thinks that Arabs and Jews evolved differently. Someone should break the news to him gently.

"..human beings have a more complicated life form than the monkey, but possess also some of those characteristics we see in the monkey but this does not mean that we have evolved from the monkey".

Of course no scientist ever claimed we evolved from monkeys. Humans share a common ancestor with apes. This guy probably never read a 20th century biology text in his life but feels qualified to shoot off his mouth. I hope he refrained from this in the presence of the Pope, who might have corrected him.

"...The Qu-ran says specifically, that God is the creator of all things...if God has knowledge of the ant, the ant must have a kind of archetypal reality in the 'mind' of God, in the Divine Intellect." (Shades of Plato). Some people think humans have a "God gene ". Is this a way of saying that ants have one too ? It is a humbling thought.

"We train a lot of Muslims to become scientists, and many become very good Western scientists, some being among top scientists  but they are not Islamic thinkers. They have had no education in Islamic thought. We have few people in the Islamic world who can understand such deep theological and philosophical ideas and are, at the same time, good biologists and physicists, and that is a tragedy". Not surprising though.

"These days we have the theory of S. Jay Gould, of volcanic eruptions of species.....We should remain faithful to authentic Islamic thought..which does not surrender to the prevalent materialistic and reductionist worldview that is a truncated worldview....we should not follow the path of providing logically absurd answers which also keep the Hand of God out of His creation".

Gould proposed no such theory. He and Niles Eldredge proposed a theory  called "punctuated equilibrium", (colloquially called "punk-eek") which has been seriously misunderstood and sometimes considered anti-Darwinian, which it is not.

"Paleontology does not support the theory of evolution as usually taught, and that is why some famous biologists such as R. Sheldrake and S. Jay Gould have proposed other ways for the explaining the phenomena of the multiplicity of life forms on earth, departing from classical Darwinism but still calling it evolution although what they propose is based on a different understanding of this term".

This is about the most ridiculous pack of lies. Sheldrake, a former botanist, is a scientific ignoramus regarding evolution who tried to promote a supernatural fantasy about how evolution occurred; no one has ever paid him any attention, since he used such terms as "fields of resonance", which Nasr quotes. At no time did Gould ever dispute Darwinian evolution; his writings are world-famous as a result of his numerous articles and books explaining Darwinian evolution, and he was as it happens also a geologist. His hypotheses on "punctuated equilibrium", evolutionary processes and rate of evolutionary change were disputed by other biologists such as Richard Dawkins - such disputes are the way science functions and progresses - but they never questioned evolution itself.

"How can we have a critique of modern science in general, specifically modern biology, can we..bring together scientists and religious thinkers and produce a generation of Muslim thinkers who understand science and Islam..? That will not happen unless what is called science today is mastered and then integrated into the Islamic worldview". What means is integrating the Islamic world view into science, though he has expressed it poorly. It means absorbing what is congruent with Islam and discarding the rest.

As anyone can see, this is indistinguishable from creationism. Just substitute Christianity for Islam. It is interesting that Nasr's focus is on the biological sciences rather than the physical sciences and cosmology, the sciences that differ from the biological sciences by explicitly seeking information about the material (as opposed to the miraculous) origins of the universe and of life itself.

"We are conscious before we leave this world and shall be conscious after we leave this world. ..Muslim thinkers must..provide an authentic Islamic interpretation of the data of these sciences without accepting the ideological basis of the interpretation of these data, this ideology being itself founded upon a specific philosophy that is not acceptable to genuine Islamic thought". How does one deal with this kind of statement that purports to "know" that we will be conscious after death? Of course, since it cannot be falsified, Nasr is free to make this claim without fear of contradiction.

Like creationists, he expresses certainty about things that cannot be tested much less proven (consciousness after death). Is this the kind of propaganda that Nasr's students at George Washington University are being force-fed? If anyone wonders why most of the Muslim world is so backward intellectually and scientifically, Nasr's opinions will provide the reason.  The resemblance to Christian creationism and fundamentalist thought is striking.

What is also striking is something I discuss in my book Politics as if Evolution Mattered (on my web site), namely that creationism and fundamentalism find evolution indefensible not only because it banishes the need for  a god or creator, but because  it provides the basis for materialism, which in turn leads to the inescapable conclusion that the notion of a god is simply a function of the human mind which is the product of the brain which evolved along with the rest of our body.

Reference: The religious state of Islamic science

© 2017 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.