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July 04, 2005

Placing American Muslims within the distribution....

I promise I'll start focusing on genetics again soon (I'm really getting into epistasis FYI). But back to Islam. One thing that I like to say is that you need to characterize the distribution of Muslims (ie; radicals, moderates, liberals) in the context of how they map on to Christians when making analogies or comparisons (for instance, the moderate Christian and moderate Muslim identity).

So I thought I would extract the following data from The Future of Religion by Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge:

"Evolution could not possibly be true"

Southern Baptist - 72%
Nazarene - 80%
Assembly of God - 91%
7th Day Adventist - 35%
Roman Catholic -28%

Here is the survey of doctors beliefs about evolution:

Q: Do you agree more with the evolution or more with intelligent design?
A: More with Intelligent Design.

Muslim - 73%
Hindu - 23%

Q: What are your views on the origin and development of human beings?
A: God created humans exactly as they appear now.

Muslim - 43%
Hindu - 11%

Q: What are your views on Evolution?
A: Reject it.

Muslim - 40%
Hindu - 6%
Catholic - 6%

Comments: I used Hindus as a comparison point because most Hindus are either immigrants or the children of immigrants, and, from a "traditional" culture known for its conservatism. I suspect most of the Muslim doctors are either South Asian or Arab, not black or white American converts. There is a substantial intersection in the cultural origin of Muslim and Hindu doctors (the South Asians), but you see signs here that as regards attitudes toward evolutionary science, Muslims do tend to be rather conservative (many liberal atheists like PZ Meyers would use stronger language when describing religionists who reject evolution, but I will demur).

I want to frame this in comparison to the Christian groups in the USA. Muslim doctors are well educated, and middle class, but I think one can guess that at least on the evolution question they tend to slot into the region of the spectrum where conservative Protestants and fundamentalists normally are placed in in the United States. Assuming that Muslim American doctors are mostly "moderate" (my experience), I think one can place American Muslims on the conservative end of the religious spectrum, and this is not just due to their immigrant background, seeing as how Hindus (and Buddhists, who are often immigrant) tend toward more open religious views (this is a character I think of Hinduism in general).

I was prompted to this post by someone jumping on Scott at Sepia Mutiny for implying that Muslims are generally not too modern or assimilated. But objections to this generalization I think obscure the reality that if non-Muslims (think conservative Christians) espoused a set of views that Muslims normally espouse, there is, shall I say, less reluctance to ascribe lack of modernity or sophistication to said group. There are some modern, assimilated and liberal Muslims. I am not one who says there is something essential in the character of Islam that dictates a specific set of beliefs which are congruent with conservative Protestantism (and further to the religious Right), but, let's get real, the center of gravity in American Islam (for one) on the character of "religious conservatism" is not where that of American Christianity is. This makes "conservative Muslims" on a relative intragroup scale a different beast than "conservative Christians" (just as conservative Congregationalists are different from conservative Baptists).

Caution: The sample size was small and the questions between the two surveys were analogous, not identical. But at least there's some data here....

Update: I want to clarify a few things. Ikram asks "Is 'intelligent design' a well understood term in Muslim context?" Well, most people don't understand 'intelligent design,' whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish. I recently talked to a phylogeneticist who was clearly confusing 'intelligent design' with Young Earth Creationism. I suspect most evolutionary biologists don't really think much about the nuanced differences between 'intelligent design' as promoted by William Demski and Michael Behe and the older schools of Youth Earth Creationism.

In most people's minds 'intelligent design' is just a new semantic placeholder to address the question: is man descended from monkeys? Most people who espouse anti-evolutionist views do not ever show to me that they have ever really thought much about irreducible complexity or Demski's use of information theory, they are just props for their beliefs which reject the man-is-a-monkey hypothesis.

In other words, surveying attitudes toward 'intelligent design' is simply a gauge for a general sentiment that might be used as an indicator for 'modernity of religious outlook.' In hindsight using Hindus as a comparison group is probably a bad choice in the context of is-man-a-monkey question hanging in the background in light of some unrelated facts.

My opinion is that a straightfoward interpretation of the scriptural monotheisms seems to imply some sort of special creation of humanity. The fact that liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics have modified their worldview in light of science is indicative to me of a general attitude of maintaining a truce with the modern intellectual environment, that is, grappling with the modern world on its own terms. The rejection of such by fundamentalists is in my opinion a rejection, or at least a refusal to grapple with, modern intellectual developments. To me the lack familiarity with the details of Creationism or Intelligent Design on the part of Muslims is irrelevant because most fundamentalist Christians aren't familiar with the general concepts either, beyond a reflexive my-uncle-ain't-no-monkey sentiment (Intelligent Design doesn't even reject common descent necessarily, something many popular adherents seem to not grasp).

Posted by razib at 09:18 PM