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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse University scientist presents new research on evolution and Islam at AAAS Annual Meeting

Symposium topic: "The Challenge of Teaching Evolution in the Islamic World"

Feb. 18, 2011, by Judy Holmes

Fierce debate over teaching evolution in public schools has raged across the United States since the epic courtroom battle between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (State of Tennessee v. John Scopes). Science education researchers are now turning their attention to the Islamic world to determine whether teaching of evolution in schools spawns similar social controversy and what that means for the future of scientific thought across the globe.

Jason Wiles, assistant professor of biology in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, presented new research on how evolution is viewed and taught in predominately Islamic nations during the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 18. Wiles is also associate director of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, Montreal.

The presentation was based on preliminary results from a four-year study of five, countries with predominately Muslim populations regarding Islamic understandings of evolution and attitudes toward teaching the subject. The study includes surveys of teachers, university professors, and high-school students in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, as well as Muslim populations in Canada. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the study was conducted by Wiles, Brian Alters and Anila Asghar of McGill University, and Saouma BouJaoude of the American University of Beirut. The researchers plan to expand the study to six more predominately Islamic countries and to Muslim populations in the United States.

“One of the most interesting findings when talking about Islam and evolution is that there isn’t only one Muslim way of thinking about evolution,” Wiles says. “Thoughts about evolution in the Muslim world are just as diverse as you would expect to find in the Western world. The teaching of evolution will vary greatly by country and cultural attitudes within the country.”
Wiles’ presentation was part of the AAAS symposium, “The Challenge of Teaching Evolution in the Islamic World.” Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), organized and moderated the session. The work was cited on March 3 in Scientific American.

Also on the panel were Taner Edis of Truman State University, who presented “A Brief History of Islamic Creationism in Turkey;” and Salman Hameed of Hampshire College, who presented “The Future of Acceptance of Evolution in the Muslim World.”

Wiles earned a bachelor’s degree (minor in Bible) at Harding University, a conservative Christian college in Arkansas. He also holds an M.S.T. from Portland State University, an M.S. from Mississippi State University, and a Ph.D. from McGill University. In addition to his appointment in the Department of Biology in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Wiles is a member of The College’s Department of Science Teaching. His research efforts focus on the teaching and learning of evolution. He has also written on policy and politics around evolution teaching in his home state of Arkansas and continues to work with teachers and students in the state.