No evolution, thanks, we’re Arabs

Part of the work I do involves developing educational materials (mostly textbooks) for various countries. This week, a project came in for a country in the UAE. A Muslim country, so we have to be sensitive to cultural difference. In practical terms, that means no pictures of pigs and dogs, modest clothing for girls, women with hair covered. Oh, and – in the maths – you can’t use gambling examples (dice, card games) to teach probability. Oh, and – in the science – to quote the publisher, “we need to remove all references to the concept of evolution”.

When I asked for more detail on this little detail, I was told, “just take out anything that talks about evolution. We were created.”

It’s easy enough, on a superficial level. You just avoid mentioning Darwin, you neglect to explain principles of natural selection. But if you take it to its logical conclusion, you end up with very sketchy science.

Do kids learn that each adaptation that helps a plant or animal survive in its habitat was a special little prezzie from god? (If you’re a bacterium or virus species, every day is Christmas it seems, as these guys get truckloads of adaptations by the week.) What about cell fission? Is it even allowed if we don’t join cells in holy matrimony? Sorry, I’m being facetious. But where do you draw the line? Do they learn about genetics? What about mutations during meiosis? Also just part of god’s daily admin?

What happens when these kids get to university one day? Do they need a crisis of faith in order to study science? I’m baffled.

I haven’t seen the project yet, so I’m intrigued to see how far it goes. And my role doesn’t involve generating content (thank, um, god). But I am wondering how the countries of the middle east ever intend to produce educated scientists and doctors when the “concept” of evolution is taboo.

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About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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6 Responses to No evolution, thanks, we’re Arabs

  1. mcoville says:

    The concept of evolution that they rationally oppose is not the minor adoptions that plants and animals have done to adjust to there environments so your examples are not an issue.

    The part of the main stream theory of evolution that is being rightfully removed from the text books is the unproven part that describes common ancestry between humans and plants. “Evolution means that we’re all distant cousins: humans and oak trees”.

    Also, it is not taboo to discuss evolution in Islamic culture, the same way it is taboo to discuss Intelligent Design in America, all they are doing is correcting the misinformation in text books which we should be doing in America. If any statement says “Could have”, “might have” or “probably” then it is not science… it is opinion.

  2. LOL, thanks for the laugh. Sounds like you come across some very interesting projects. I feel a certain sympathy for the content developer, cos I’m one and I know how hard it is to try to write something meaningful while hampered by unusual client requirements.

  3. Jeannine says:

    Interesting post. Cross cultural references are minefields. Living in Abu Dhabi last year brought that home. Seemingly innocuous images or words cause great offense – you mention dice, and with Gavin working for the only English language newspaper in the city, there were reams of editorial guidelines.
    Using crusade as a verb in a headline or article – as in ‘he is on a crusade to reduce smoking in schools’ is an absolute taboo. Recently a story in the travel section was canned because the article’s pics featured too many churches. Quite difficult to write about medieval buildings in Europe without featuring churches.
    The funny thing is that these decision are made by Western editors, not Muslims, so I wonder how necessary it all really is. I just can’t fathom that an educated person, secure in their faith, would be offended by photographs of churches.

  4. David says:

    In large swathes of the US it is also verboden to teach evolution at school. Perhaps voluntary ignorance is a growing global phenomenon. We should tell more people about this, but the people most affected are choosing to be ignorant so we can’t.

  5. mcoville says:

    David, really? Where in the US is it verboden to teach evolution in the government schools?

    And I would agree that voluntary ignorance is growing, ever since evolution became the standard in the government schools. Before that the US was a world leader in the sciences.

  6. daverein says:

    mcovllie – sorry for (super) delayed response. I hadn’t noticed you’d asked that until now. Maybe I’m on an evolutionary timeframe.

    Here are some sources…
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32444-2005Mar13.html

    http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/97-–-where-and-how-evolution-is-taught-in-the-us/

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_school.htm

    I picked those up by search “teaching evolution in us schools” Hope that’s helpful.

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