Today is a momentous day, especially if we turn back the clocks 200 years exactly. On February 12, 1809 two freedom fighters were born at opposing ends of the Atlantic: Lincoln and Darwin. Abraham Lincoln freed America from the intolerable idea of human slavery; Charles Darwin freed the human mind from the dogmatic shackles that viewed scientific inquiry as heresy. I have been preparing a paper on Darwin’s reception by Muslims for an upcoming conference at Hofstra University on “Darwin’s Reach” March 12-14. As you might suspect, the initial reaction was not very positive. Of course information about Darwin’s new theory of natural selection did not come through any scientific venues but through the negative filter of Protestant missionaries. Branded a materialist and atheist, there was little enthusiasm in the late 19th century for a challenge to the traditional view of Adam and Eve.

While there are Muslims who are ardent creationists (most notably on the web Harun Yahya), often borrowing their ammunition from Christian fundamentalists, the kind of culture clash between the scientific community and general public that has haunted America (far less so in Europe) has been minimal. Let’s face it, imperial ambition and global interference of Western powers has been a far more painful thorn in the side of Muslim countries than scientific debates. There will be more comments to come in future posts, but for the time being, let me wish dear old Charles Darwin peace on the conclusion of the second century of his profound influence on the world.

For anyone wishing to read Darwin’s works, they are archived online in various places. The best place to start is http://darwin-online.org.uk/contents.html.

Daniel Martin Varisco