Islam and Evolution discussion from 2010

I just found that the video of a discussion about Islam and Evolution that I took part in 2010 is available on the web. It turned into a more general discussion about science and religion as well. Ehab Abouheif, a biologist, leads off by explaining why evolution and Islam are compatible for him; I come in with a more skeptical point of view.

Anyway, since I enjoyed this event, and I think of it as a good example of what can happen in the context of a dialogue between a believer and a nonbeliever, I thought I’d post it.

Ehab Abouheif & Taner Edis on Evolution and Islam from evolutionandislam on Vimeo.

Hampshire College | Night QA Panel Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World from Hampshire TV on Vimeo.

Books on Islam
Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2
More Open Questions for Muslims
Evolution vs. The Argument from Providence
About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    At minute 57:50 of the video Taner says: “If you’re looking at biology and biology alone you cannot infer a cosmic designer by just looking at biological phenomena.

    This is ambiguous. It is true that right now we cannot make that inference, but neither can we make the opposite inference. That is, we cannot infer the absence of a cosmic designer by just looking at biological phenomena either. In other words: Right now we can infer that the complexity of the species is the product of a process of natural evolution, but we cannot infer whether that evolutionary process was blind (as naturalists believe) or directed (as theists believe).

    Define p=”the probability that blind evolutionary processes operating in the actual physical universe will produce the degree of functional complexity that humans possess”. Here are a few factual propositions I'd like to claim:

    1. Today we have no idea what the value of p is. For all we know it may be very small, or very large, or anything in between.

    2. Even though the estimation of the value of p is a strictly scientific task, it may be the case that science is not capable of estimating that value because of practical or even fundamental reasons. So we may never know the value of p.

    3. Should science succeed in estimating the value of p in the future then:

    3a. If p is very small then the science of natural evolution will have falsified naturalism, and will have confirmed the existence of some kind of cosmic designer/creator.

    3b. If p is very large then the science of natural evolution will *not* have falsified theism. The basic reason is that if physical reality is such that blind evolution is capable of producing species as complex as we are – then, obviously, directed evolution is also capable of the same.

    3c. If p is neither very small nor very large then we won’t be wiser one way or the other.

    In conclusion: We know today that natural evolution *is* compatible with theism. Indeed given the probabilitistic nature of physical law we know that it is compatible with full-blooded classical providential theism. We also know today that natural evolution may *not* be compatible with naturalism, simply because it is not today established that they are compatible, and given that the Darwinian processes do not always result in an increase of complexity it may turn out to be the case that they are not. Those who suggest otherwise are overselling the science, or else begging the question by assuming that their naturalistic interpretation of the physical sciences is true. As Taner appears to be doing (at about 1:01:50) when he says that nature is “blind and unthinking”. That is of course only the metaphysical assumption of naturalistic scientists. Theistic scientists on the contrary hold that nature is the direct and continuous handiwork of a purposeful author, and that its beautiful but open to providential action mathematical order is a marvel of design.

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