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Clash or Fusion: In Bed With the Enemy

Clash or Fusion: In Bed With the Enemy

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Published by Jonathan Zilberg
Written in 2007, this paper is about the problem of Intelligent Design and reading Darwin in Indonesia.
Written in 2007, this paper is about the problem of Intelligent Design and reading Darwin in Indonesia.

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Published by: Jonathan Zilberg on Jul 30, 2013
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10/02/2013

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Clash or Fusion? In Bed with the EnemyJonathan Zilberg
Every group has a book that gets its goat, a tome that becomes a monkey on its back. For the
Christian Right it is Charles Darwin’s
The Origin of the Species
, for liberals it is SamuelHuntingto
n’s
Clash of Civilizations
 
and for Islamists it is Salman Rushdie’s
Satanic Verses
. Thestriking thing about this getting of the goat, across the board, is how humans insist on behavinglike lemmings. While each of these groups incessantly bray about these books, they rarely if ever actually read them. For those liberal Westerners engaged in development, politics and Islam, theworst example of this is the case of Huntington. Let us begin then with Huntington, dwell for as
 pell on Darwin and Intelligent Design (ID) and conclude by holding upon high Rushdie’s so
called Satanism.Liberals, and others of indeterminate politics, especially those involved in development, abhor 
Huntington’s book. A few brief examples of my experience in comparing Westerner’s reactions
to Indonesians reactions to
Clash
as given below
 
are perfectly symbolic. Interestingly enough,while highly educated Westerners dismiss
Clash
out of hand, all the Indonesians I have workedwith who have actually spent the time to read the book find its central thesis to be rock solid.Once in a meeting with a group of parliamentary economic advisors, for opening chit chat, Iraised
Clash
with their garrulous advisor, a senior cold war warrior. He exhaled the smoke
slowly from his Cuban cigar and declaimed: “If we burnt books in America, that is the first book that would have been thrown upon the pyre”. In another similar case, with an even more
educated, but far younger expatriate, a specialist on Islam and politics, I noticed that she haddelivered the usual uninformed castigation of 
Clash
in her doctoral thesis. Suspecting as much, I
asked her if she had actually read Huntington, to which she replied: “Why bother!”In contrast, when I asked JIL’s Hamid Basyaib w
hat he thought of the book, he quickly replied:
“Huntington is absolutely correct!” This was exactly the same response I got from my P3I
(parliamentary research) group. In contrast to these thoughtful Indonesians who have actuallytaken the trouble to read
Clash
, the simplistic and automatic rejection of ideas that do not
conform to one’s own view of the world is typical. It shows how there is a broad fundamentalist
streak even amongst highly educated liberals. By fundamentalism, I mean a stubborn resistance
to entertain anything other than one’s own preconceived and narrow view. I suppose we are all
guilty.
There are a few key books that are causing a clash of ideas within today’s collective
consciousness, a clash which has been ongoing since 1859. These are
The Origin of the Species
 and the Abrahamic monotheistic doctrine as handed down through the Torah, the Bible and theKoran. Darwinism, the theory that man evolved by chance from an ape-like ancestor isunacceptable to those who believe that God created man in his image -- for obvious reasons.Stimulated by the raging contemporary debate in America over evolution itself, a fascinatingconjunction is taking place in which Abrahamic fundamentalists are finding common ground.For example, Harun Yahya in his
Quick Grasp of Faith
embraces Christian creationism, namelythe intelligent design movement, and transforms it into Islamic terms, if only simplistically so.
 
Religious commentators such as Yahya reject Darwinism for the same ideological reasons asChristian fundamentalists do, instead of doing the harder work of trying to understand modernday biology on its own terms. Nevertheless, Darwin is not the real bogey man for Islamists.Here in Indonesia, the real unread bogeyman is Rushdie. But we are not yet finished withmonkeys and men.Religious scholars should either leave science to the scientists or learn something about science before they climb onto the facile anti-Darwinist Intelligent Design bandwagon. For example,
virtually all of Yahya’s objectio
ns to evolution are erroneous. He claims that natural selectioncannot produce new species without having the first clue about the new field of Evo-Devo or theFounder Principle, that complex systems like the eye cannot evolve though they do, that allmutations are harmful though many are advantageous, that aquatic beings cannot evolve intoterrestrial beings though the fossil record clearly shows how this is so, that birds and mammalsdid not evolve from reptiles though we have incontrovertible evidence of how they did, that notransitional fossils exist though a whole slew of such fossils exist, that all the fossils of early manare fake though only two were, and that Neanderthals were fully human which is utter garbage.He concludes that the theory of evolution has no scientific validity which reveals a paradoxicalrespect for science. Worse still he demonizes scientists by stating that they hold on to their  beliefs in evolution so strongly because they want to deny the existence of God. Apparently their real aim is to pervert people through teaching them that they do not have to follow any moralcode because they are not responsible before God.The tragedy of this is that potentially intelligent people are being and will be denied theintellectual and professional opportunities science education offers through turning them againstscience before they even have a chance to understand it. Think of all the time young Muslims inconservative Islamic contexts will spend slavishly if piously memorizing the Koran instead of learning about math and science and one day - God be willing - actually becoming doctors,scientists and physicists and healing the world rather than stubbornly holding it back in thedarkness of the Medieval mind. In any event, there is no necessary conflict between science andreligion and many scientists are religious people as Yahya himself acknowledges.A remarkable scientist who has written a great deal of accessible and interesting material onevolution, and who also happens to have been Jewish as so many eminent scientists are, was theHarvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Gould wrote a special book which anyone interested inlearning about science and religion should read --
 Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.
There Gould advances the theory of NOMA, of non-overlapping magisteria.This simply means that science and religion are two separate fields of logic, two separatedomains of teaching authority in which the former explains the natural world and the latter, provides a guide to the moral and spiritual world. According to NOMA, they should be keptrespectively separate. However, fundamentalists always have to totalize. The sacred hegemonictext, whether it be the Koran, the Bible or the Torah, has to explain everything literally, the sameway in all places and at all times. What to do?There is no solution to this simplistic rejection of science by fundamentalist thinkers.Fortunately, on occasion, enquiring young minds break free from orthodoxy against all odds.Embracing critical reflection and learning for the sake of seeking knowledge beyond the prison
 
of religious doctrine, they discover liberalism, and hopefully science and literature in the process.As I see it, what matters here, in this reading context, is that liberal minded Muslims in Indonesiastudy religiously, read more, question always, that they seek knowledge for its own sake.Should they do so by actually reading Darwin and Rushdie and studying science instead of simply accepting facile reactions to Darwin and scientific thought gleaned ironically from theChristian Right, should they critically read Huntington instead of aping knee jerk liberalreactions, and should they read
Satanic Verses
 
and Rushdie’s defense of it as a literary venture as
given in
Granta
, they will feel the divine creative spirit glowing within them, that holinessfundamentalists seem to consider Satanic.In short, the Indonesian liberal agenda to expand pluralism and tolerance as national virtuesshould also involve helping to open minds to science and literature, doors to knowledge andopportunity that fundamentalists are constantly seeking to close.
The Value of Intelligent Design?
These days, science and religion are widely perceived to be at logger heads, that is, by the ill-informed and by fundamentalists of all sorts. For the religious right, at least for Christianfundamentalists, the battle lines are drawn between creationism and evolution. Herein, intelligentdesign has become a weapon for inserting creationism back into the science classroom - a guisefor advancing a fundamentalist agenda in America and elsewhere. In contrast, in the Muslimworld, intelligent design is currently either little known or of little consequence except asengaged by Harun Yahya and perhaps some other Islamic scholars of whom I am as of yetunaware. Fortunately Yahya helps us to see how very much in common all Abrahamicfundamentalists have, especially when it comes to their opposition to Darwinism.
 
First one should be clear about what intelligent design (ID), a contemporary form of creationism,actually is. ID simply proposes that the emergence of life and the mystery and complexity of thenatural world supercedes mere chance
 – 
that life itself presupposes the existence of a designer.
ID “scientists” are actually philosophers of science because they do not propose to offer up any
science which can prove intelligent design in that their credo is a matter of faith though theystrategically eschew the use of the word God. Harun Yahya, on the other hand, boldly insertsAllah into the equation and thus reveals ID for what it is - Creationism. In short, the proponentsof ID argue that the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest cannot explain the majesty of creation and life itself, nor the sheer intricacy and complexity of biological structures. Indeed, if you read Darwin, you will find that he would not have entirely disagreed with this objection. Inaddition, let it be noted that Darwin explicitly stated that he was an agnostic and not an atheists.In order to promote the importance of intelligent design to Islam and monotheism moregenerally, rather than to simply dismiss the idea, it would be necessary to first salvage theconcept from the religious right and the political uses for which the concept has been used. ID isessentially an IUD in the womb of science education. It has been used to distort public perceptions of science and scientists as the enemy of God. Though this is a recent phenomenonconnected to the rise of the religious Right and the emerging political power of the moralmajority, the Creationist idea has probably been around for as long as we have had language and

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