Monday, March 7, 2011

Violence & Forced Silence in the Evolution vs. Creation Controversy

I'm going to try not to launch into a personal diatribe about why religion and evolution don't have to be mutually exclusive, but please note this post is entirely my opinion - an editorial if you will.

It seriously burns me that so many people insist that the issue of human origin has to be black and white either all science or all religion, completely overlooking the grey area where science and religion could meet if we were willing to see things in a new way. I bring up this up, despite it being undoubtedly controversial, because of this: Imam who believes in evolution retracts statements. Dr. Usama Hasan, a lecturer at Middlesex University in the UK and an Imam at Leyton Mosque in east London has retracted statements in favor of evolution after receiving death threats.

I'm not criticizing Dr. Hasan for saying he thinks he went too far and retracting the statements. But I am criticizing the fact that he was put in the position where he felt he had to. People should be able to disagree about ANY issue, let alone their personally held (even when publicly expressed) religious beliefs without fearing for their life.

According to the BBC's article on the retraction, Dr. Hasan originally made the comments in 2008, but in January 2011 received death threats following a lecture where he re-iterated the ideas. The original opinion piece by Dr. Hasan, which appeared in the Guardian Newspaper, stated that Muslims are in need of an open discourse about creationism and evolution because science can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. This is an argument that is true for any religion, and honestly not one that I find all that extreme. He's just saying we should talk about it.

The following video is of Dr. Hasan trying to explain his beliefs on evolution to a group that heckles him from the start. What strikes me most is when he says to the audience, "disagree if you wish, but please read," he encourages them to learn basic science and gets verbally berated for it.

In the Guardian article Dr. Hasan also says, "One problem is that many Muslims retain the simple picture that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into the lifeless statue and lo! it became a living human. This is a children's madrasa-level understanding and Muslims really have to move on as adults and intellectuals."

Now, I get why he pissed people off with the above statement. No one wants to be called a child for believing as they do. It is incendiary, more incendiary than some of his other claims in favor of evolution. He poked the proverbial sleeping bear with this one. But that doesn't mean the people he offended should be allowed to threaten his life, or should even feel it is their right in the first place to tell him that he deserves to die for his ideas. No one has that right.

As a society we have determined that it is not okay to just kill anyone who doesn't agree with you. Death threats and intimidation are illegal, religiously grounded or otherwise. I think it is honestly a tragedy for society that someone who encourages a peaceful meeting place between science and religion has been in a way silenced by fear.

If we don't question religion, how can we be sure that it is really what we believe? I don't think that blindly following the interpretations of religious texts is the best way to guide your actions through life. Think about your religion. Think about what the texts say. Think about the world in which you live, and what you know to be true about it. Look at the scientific evidence. Give it due consideration. Form an opinion based on all of that, and allow others to disagree with you. If someone wants to believe that science is itself the work of God, let them. It doesn't hurt you, or diminish what you believe.

If we can not express our beliefs, even when critical of the beliefs held by others, then society is not free. Why can't we all just get along, really? Having differing opinions on the origin of humans doesn't hurt anyone socially, economically or otherwise. As a society we COULD just agree to disagree on this issue. But I have no misguided hopes that we someday will.

For a full disclosure of where my personal bias stands on this issue, I identify my own beliefs with the following thinking: "That which is impenetrable to us really exists. Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything we can comprehend is my religion" and "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." -  both are Albert Einstein.  And for good measure: "There is not a righteous man on Earth who does what is right and never sins" - Ecclesiastes 7:20. No one is right all the time. To think so is in itself to challenge religion (at least in this example, Christianity - to which I most closely identify of all the organized religions.)

If EVERYONE whether you believe in Evolution, Creation or something in between could come down off their soap box to admit that maybe the opposing view isn't pure hooey, wouldn't we all be better off? You don't have to sell out your own beliefs or give up on them to admit that another way of thinking might be possible. If only we could all be so highly evolved as to do so....

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