Evolution Discussion Continued

My previous posts on the topic are here, here and here.

Aziz Poonawalla has now posted his own viewpoint on the topic. In broad details, we agree.

Aziz also points to an article on Evolution and the Quran at Talk Origins Archive. There are also some links to the Quranic verses related to creation in their creationism FAQ.

Andya Primanda, a Muslim biologist from Indonesia, has posted some refutations of Harun Yahya’s book “The Evolution Deceit” from the scientific point of view.

And finally, here are some must-read articles from the Talk Origins Archive:

Evolution: Another Viewpoint

Following up on my critique of Muslims not accepting evolution and after finding out that Harun Yahya, one of the opponents of evolutionary theory, is not a scientist, I discovered a lecture by a Saudi geologist (specializing in micropalaeontology) Dr Zaghloul Al-Najjar that he gave at the University of New South Wales Islamic Society. He basically denies macroevolution and humans being related to animals.

Muslims have taken one of two stands regarding this issue. One is to completely reject it, and the other is that this is the result of scientific endeavour and we have to accept it fully. Both stands are completely wrong. In Islam we are taught not to accept theories dogmatically and at the same time, not to reject theories that have some evidence behind them.

The theory says that everything in this Universe was created gradually, created one step after another, which is true. We can find ample evidence that supports gradualism in Creator. This does not negate creation at all, and does not stand in the face in the limitless powers of the creation. So we believe in the gradualism of creation. Things were not created suddenly, but Allah has the power to say “Be” and it “is”.

The second part of the theory says that the simple forms led to more complex forms. This part must be considered more carefully and critically. How can a simple single-cell amoeba understand that in time it will develop into a human being, needing a backbone, and requiring particular dimensions for the skull and limbs, and certain organs to function? No man worth his salt would assume this. This assumption is beyond the scientific process itself. To assume that simple forms evolved to higher forms by themselves without any divine guidance is completely incorrect. It is unscientific. We know from life on Earth that this process is very slow, and neither subject to direct observation nor to direct experimentation. The shortest lifespan of a species is 500,000 years. Who would live for 500,000 years to observe that species A has slowly changed into species B? It is unscientific. It is a theoretical conclusion established on the background belief of whoever is expounding this theory. If you are a believer, you will frame this information in a completely different way from someone who has a disbelieving attitude.

In the area of evolution, Islam has no trouble at all accepting the concept of evolution, with three basic conditions:

  • We cannot believe that the earliest forms of life started spontaneously by the reaction of the sun with mud and water. One of our contemporaries wanted to estimate the probability of making a single protein molecule. Protein is composed of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen and sometimes Phospohrous. To simply select these five would take a mass much greater than that of the known universe and an ange several time the age of the universe. Then each protein molecule consists of amino acids and these can be very complex. The probability of assembing the amino acids into useful proteins and to DNA in particular is extremely remote.
  • For creation to take place by itself is impossible. The early beginnings of life must be carefully planned, else they are doomed to failure. This creation by whatever means, is a miracle that is beyond the reaches of science. These simple forms of life can not evolve upwards by themselves, and if evolution did occur as suggested, it must have been encoded into the first cells themselves.
  • Man is not part of this general schema and was created separately and is not linked to the process itself.

This means that in Islam, it is perfectly acceptable to accept one of two theories. One of separate creation of each individual lifeform, or what we might call “evolutionary creation”, carefully planeed and set out, with each lifeform having its own period and stage.

Why can’t he simply accept evolution while maintaining that everything is created by God? Sort of like the pope.

Harun Yahya

Continuing my previous post about evolution, I want to just let you know who Harun Yahya is.

HarunYahya is a pen name used by Mr. Adnan Oktar.

Born in Ankara in 1956, Adnan Oktar is a prominent Turkish intellectual. Completely devoted to moral values and dedicated to communicating the sacred values he cherishes to other people, Oktar started his intellectual struggle in 1979 during his education at Mimar Sinan University’s Academy of Fine Arts [emphasis mine — ZA]. During his university years, he carried out detailed research into the prevalent materialistic philosophies and ideologies around him, to the extent of becoming even more knowledgeable about them than their advocates. As a result of his accumulation of knowledge, he has written various books on the fallacy of the theory of evolution. His dedicated intellectual effort against Darwinism and materialism has grown out to be a worldwide phenomenon. Quoting from the 22 April 2000 issue of New Scientist, Mr. Oktar became an “international hero” in communicating the fallacy of the theory of evolution and the fact of creation. The author has also produced various works on Zionist racism and Freemasonry and their negative effects on world history and politics. Besides these, Oktar has written more than a hundred books describing the morals of the Qur’an and faith related issues.

If he was at the Academy of Fine Arts, he wouldn’t have studied Biology or not? Let’s check another source:

The author, who writes under the pen-name HARUN YAHYA, was born in Ankara in 1956. Having completed his primary and secondary education in Ankara, he then studied arts [emphasis mine — ZA] at Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan University and philosophy [emphasis mine — ZA] at Istanbul University. Since the 1980s, the author has published many books on political, faith-related and scientific issues. Harun Yahya is well-known as an author who has written very important works disclosing the imposture of evolutionists, the invalidity of their claims and the dark liaisons between Darwinism and bloody ideologies such as fascism and communism.

Great! An arts and philosophy major debunking evolution! I need to go find a Muslim scientist, specifically a Biologist, who has written on evolution.

Muslims and Evolution

Ticked off by The B. Files’ saying:

my anti-darwinism has been reaffirmed after I read “The Lost World.”

And Abez:

Evolution is bogus.

I am asking my readers, especially Muslims, to tell me their viewpoint about the theory of evolution. Do they think it is all bogus? Do they agree with the young earth creationists? Do they disagree with speciation and are ok with microevolution? I would also like to know why you have these views.

I must say that I do not know many Muslims, especially devout or fundamentalist (in the original sense of the term rather than the one common in the media) ones, who think that the theory of evolution is correct. On the other hand, evolution was not a big deal for the religious as it is in the US. The reason for that might be that evolution wasn’t talked in our Biology classes in Pakistan. (I took Biology only until my sophomore year of high school and this was about 17 years ago; I am not sure about the current textbooks.)

To start off my survey of Muslim opinion on evolution, I asked Amber. Since I can’t get her to post it herself here, I am going to describe her position. She agrees with microevolution and speciation/macroevolution. In fact, she agrees with the whole theory except for the fact about man being descended from apes. Her reason for that is it conflicts with the Quran.

Surfing the net, I found different viewpoints of Muslims on the theory of evolution. Let’s start off with Moiz Amjad.

if ‘evolution’ implies that man is actually an evolved form of a certain other creature, then Islam does not affirm such a standpoint. According to the Qur’an, Adam (pbuh) – the first man – was a direct creation of God, as a man. The Qur’an does not support that Adam evolved from another species.

However, it may be of some interest to note that in Al-Sajadah 32: 7 – 9, the Qur’an has referred to three different stages involved in the creation of man in such words that a slightly varied version of ‘evolution’ may be derived from it. The Qur’an says:

He, Who perfected everything that He created – He started the creation of man from clay then he inculcated in him [i.e. man] the potential to reproduce through a drop of humble fluid then He embellished and fashioned him in due proportion; and breathed into him of His spirit and [thereby] developed in you [the abilities of] listening, vision and feeling.

He then goes on to expound different theories which try to reconcile the fossil record of hominid species with this verse. A reader of Understanding Islam also wrote about reconciling the “blindness” of natural selection with theism.

The conservative website Islam-qa refutes that man evolved from apes and gives a religious description of the creation of man.

Nuh Ha Mim Keller uses the standard anti-evolution arguments along with some Islamic ones and declares:

In view of the above considerations of its coherence, logicality, applicability, and adequacy, the theory of the evolution of man from lower forms does not seem to show enough scientific rigor to raise it from being merely an influential interpretation. To show the evolution’s adequacy, for everything it is trying to explain would be to give valid grounds to generalize it to man.

[…]Allah alone is Master of Existence. He alone causes all that is to be and not to be. Causes are without effect in themselves, but rather both cause and effect are created by Him. The causes and the effects of all processes, including those through which plant and animal species are individuated, are His work alone. To ascribe efficacy to anything but His action, whether believing that causes (a) bring about effects in and of themselves; or (b) bring about effects in and of themselves through a capacity Allah has placed in them, is to ascribe associates to Allah (shirk). Such beliefs seem to be entailed in the literal understanding of “natural selection” and “random mutation,” and other evolutionary concepts, unless we understand these processes as figurative causes, while realizing that Allah alone is the agent. This is apart from the consideration of whether they are true or not.

As for claim that man has evolved from a non-human species, this is unbelief (kufr) no matter if we ascribe the process to Allah or to “nature,” because it negates the truth of Adam’s special creation that Allah has revealed in the Qur’an. Man is of special origin, attested to not only by revelation, but also by the divine secret within him, the capacity for ma’rifa or knowledge of the Divine that he alone of all things possesses. By his God-given nature, man stands before a door opening onto infinitude that no other creature in the universe can aspire to. Man is something else.

And finally the big guy: Harun Yahya. It seems he has made a career out of refuting evolution. Here are his books on the subject. His book “The Evolution Deceit: The Scientific Collapse of Darwinism and Its Ideological Background”, that Abez likes, is available online. In case, you are not interested in going through his books, he has a number of articles on his website on the subject.

And finally, the Hazara Society for Science-Religion Dialogue, Pakistan has some articles about evolution as well as the creation of the universe. I haven’t read these yet, but I’ll get to them soon and report if I find anything interesting.

In the end, I want to emphasize that I am not an expert myself but in general I trust scientific consensus on science questions and there has been consensus on the theory of evolution for quite some time now.

UPDATE: No discussion of evolution on the internet can be complete without the Talk Origins Archive.

Talk.origins is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology.

The Talk.Origins Archive is a collection of articles and essays, most of which have appeared in talk.origins at one time or another. The primary reason for this archive’s existence is to provide mainstream scientific responses to the many frequently asked questions (FAQs) that appear in the talk.origins newsgroup and the frequently rebutted assertions of those advocating intelligent design or other creationist pseudosciences.

Face Recognition

Here is a news item on CNN about face recognition using a 3-D scanner instead of a regular 2-D photo.

For a fleeting moment, Mohamed Atta appeared on an airport security camera minutes before he boarded one of the planes which crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Was there any way the camera or its operator would have been able to identify Atta as a suspect before he hijacked and flew the first of two planes into the twin towers?

Israelis Michael and Alex Bronstein think they have the answer.

The computer whiz-kids — 22-year-old identical twins almost impossible to tell apart — have applied a new technology to recognizing faces in a way that may yet revolutionize international security.

“I said it to them as a joke: if you succeed in building a system that can distinguish between the two of you, you’ll get (a grade of) 100,” said the twins’ professor, Ron Kimmel of the Technion Institute in Haifa.

“They succeeded and got 100. They are brilliant.”

The technology scans and maps the human face as a three-dimensional surface, providing a far more accurate reference for identifying a person than current systems, most of which rely on two-dimensional images, Kimmel said.

The product can potentially meet a wide range of security needs in a world shaken by the September 11 attacks and a series of bombings blamed on Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, of which Atta was a suspected member.

Kimmel and one of his former pupils, Assi Elad, had already developed the algorithms used as building-blocks for the face-recognition system. The Bronstein twins constructed a 3-D scanner, together with engineer Eyal Gordon, and applied the ideas to face recognition.

The twins and Kimmel say they want to turn the technology — registered for a patent in the United States — into a commercial product, with applications ranging from airports and border crossings to security zones and teller machines.

“We have a prototype and we saw the idea works,” Michael Bronstein said. “There is a hope that this will become a commercial product and allow all of us to feel more secure.”

Unique facial signature
The technology records the surface of a person’s face by scanning it with a series of light patterns and stores the data as a three-dimensional image in a computer.

Employing mathematical algorithms similar to those used in Internet searches, the computer measures the distances between a number of sample points on the facial surface.

The distances are then reconfigured as straight lines in a three-dimensional space, creating a new and abstracted image, or signature, of a human face built on precise mathematical calculations.

Kimmel and the Bronsteins say that this signature is more or less unique to a particular person.

The advantage of the system is its ability to compare facial structures as they appear in different poses or light conditions, variables which could distort a face seen as a two-dimensional image.

“One of my students calls it sculpting in numbers,” said Kimmel. “This kind of mapping makes it all invariant, or it is not influenced by our expressions. If we smile a little bit or we change our face a little, it will still be mapped into the same signature, the same kind of surface.”

The system could be employed at airports or border crossings where a 3-D security camera could scan passengers’ faces and compare them with a database of three-dimensional pictures of suspected criminals or terrorists, the twins said.

The technology would not work with existing two-dimensional images of suspects.

Facial signatures could also be embedded in credit cards or entry permits. People withdrawing money from an automated teller machine or seeking access to a secure compound could have their identity verified by an on-site camera.

A facial signature would be effective as a means of identification for more or less for the same number of years as a passport photograph.

Ageing, cosmetic surgery, significant changes to facial surfaces such as growing or removing a beard could disrupt the matching process.

Twin phenomenon
The Bronstein twins know first hand the importance of face recognition. During a recent interview, even Kimmel confused the young men, who share the same lanky build, wispy brown hair and steel-rimmed glasses.

The twins immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1991 and say they have always shared the same interests. As adults, Alex and Michael frequently complete each other’s sentences and begin statements with “we” even when speaking on their own.

“We always studied the same things and it was always connected to science, if sometimes indirectly,” said Alex.

Michael added: “We started working on explosives at a very young age, when we were about eight years old, and it lasted until we were about 13 when we built a bomb that was so powerful, we were scared of it ourselves.

“So we swore that we would stop that and as a reward, Mom and Dad bought us an aquarium with fish.”

The face-recognition project was assigned in a computer science course the twins took with Kimmel at the Technion, where they are studying for a masters’ degree in electrical engineering.

Asked if there was any way to distinguish between them, except for Michael’s shorter haircut, Alex said: “I must say that I’ve got a girlfriend.” Michael chimed in: “We don’t share those.”

This is close to my research area. But I am frustrated at the way the popular news media presents scientific news. For one thing, is this really the first time anyone has used a 3-D model for face recognition? I don’t think so. Secondly, the article does not really tell what the achievement of these guys was. The reporter just thinks it’s cool that identical twins are working on recognizing their faces. And where’s the information telling us how they differentiate between identical twins in their algorithm? What is the heading of the article about? What puzzle?

Here is a web page on the Technion website describing their work.

Range image acquisition is a crucial part of the 3D FACE technology. First experiments were performed using a laser range camera proposed and built by Zigelman and Kimmel. Acquisition time was about 20 second, with postprocessing taking several minutes.

For presentation on the Ministry of Science exposition (23 – 26 September, Jerusalem), a coded-light range camera was built. The new setup features very fast data acquisition (less than a second).

This means using a 3-D scanner to extract all the information about the 3-D shape of the face. This severely limits its application in a real crowded public place like an airport.

The main work done by these guys seems to be to convert the data from the 3-D facial scan to a form which is not affected by facial expressions and to compare the data for two different faces.

Computer Languages

A reader Trevor Anderson of Volokh Conspiracy defends C and blasts Java, Ada and Pascal.

There are other languages, sure, and they are not all bad, I suppose. Java is okay if your objects need to be oriented: it looks a lot like C and its working parts are written in C (I’d bet!), but there is something of the granola-eating, latte-quaffing, socks-with-sandals options-watcher to its aura that I just don’t like. If Java is still too liberal for your tastes there is always Ada, as good an example of totalitarian programming as ever there was. Choc-full of turgid rules and regulations and government interference, invented by comittee with the express intent of keeping incompetent programmers in business. Full of itself, it lets the anal control freaks among us think we’re really in charge. Ugh. Another choice might be Pascal, eminently suited to prescriptivists: no split-infinitives there, pal, just rigid typing and pedantic grammar.

It had me laughing a lot.

Evolution Controversy

When I came to the US, I was very surprised to find out that a lot of people here consider the theory of evolution to be wrong of “just a theory” (the word “theory” as used by laymen is very different from its scientific use.) I come from a country (Pakistan) where most people do not believe in evolution, but I had better hopes of the US. Now comes the story of a student who’s suing a biology Professor for not giving recommendations to students who do not believe in evolution. According to the AP,

[T]he Liberty Legal Institute … calls Dini’s policy “open religious bigotry.”

“Students are being denied recommendations not because of their competence in understanding evolution, but solely because of their personal religious beliefs,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for the institute.

The student had this to say:

“It’s a theory. You read about it in textbooks. I could explain the process, maybe how some people say it happens, but I could not have said … I believe in it,” Spradling said Wednesday. “I really don’t see how believing in the evolution of humanity has anything to do with patient care or studying science.”

Eugene Volokh thinks it’s a complex case and gives arguments for and against based on legality and academic ethics. But I like what CalPundit had to say about this:

I would venture to say that belief in creationism indicates a striking lack of competence in understanding evolution, but hey, that’s just me.

Of course, I also wouldn’t recommend someone who didn’t believe in general relativity to a physics program, or someone who thought the Earth was 10,000 years old to a geology program. Blinkered of me, I know….

Volokh Conspiracy has a number of posts and readers’ comments about this case (1, 2, 3, 4).

UPDATE: Patrick Nielsen Hayden had a short post on this and the comments there are worth reading.