Monday, February 11, 2013

IERA and Evolution

The iERA (Islamic Education and Research Academy) have recently released the latest opus in their oeuvre of philosophical treatises: Has Evolution been misunderstood? Revelation, Science and Certainty. And what a scorcher it is! With daring elan and an inspiring disregard for logic, truth or syntax, the mysterious author (Hamza Tzortzis) has once more confirmed his place in the pantheon of preposterous pretenders to philosophical portent. 

Over twenty-seven pages of befuddled oxymora iERA/Tzortzis attempt to show that the theory of evolution is, like most science, impossible to prove absolutely. Because of this lack of absolute, definitive proof, it is illogical, the authors say, to base one's beliefs on how the complexity of life came about upon it. 

(Ironically, from the outset, Hamza attempts to make clear that his gripe is not with evolution per se. "Note: The aim of this article is not to reject the science related to evolution. Its aim is to evoke thinking about the scientific method and the philosophy of science." A more disingenuous piece of mendacious clap-trap it would be hard to find.  I might find his plea more credible were it not for the existence of numerous references to Intelligent Design (ID) on the iERA website and the fact that despite his note, the aim of the paper is clearly to throw doubt upon evolution.)

Although immensely long and distressingly wordy, the paper can be summarised in the "conclusions" reached (rather precipitously) on page 3, where it is proudly announced that the "problem is solved" by "an approach which follows the subsequent logical structure":

Conclusions:   a. Science is a limited method of study with its own scope and sphere b. The philosophy of science brings to light a whole range of issues and problems concerning the theory and study of knowledge (epistemology). c. The philosophy of science, when applied to evolution, exposes it as not reaching the level of certainty. d. Revelation is a source of certain knowledge.  e. In situations where science and Divine revelation are irreconcilable, revelation supersedes science
  Astute readers may have seen a chink in the reasoning here, but at the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me highlight it. If the Theory of Evolution is questionable because its absolute proof is impossible, then by what possible criterion (other than faith) can Divine Revelation be said to be "certain"? To call points a-e above a "logical structure" is so far removed from reality that one has to wonder at the sanity of anyone who can say such a thing, let alone proudly publish it under the aegis of an organisation which receives tax breaks from HM Government due to its charitable status as a religious and educational organisation.

So convinced are the authors of their argument regarding the factual certainty of Divine Revelation, that they repeat the canard several more times: 

# Divine Revelation is certain knowledge (this type of certain knowledge is known as al’ilm al-qat’i) # …revealed texts are certain and science cannot produce certain knowledge. # For the Muslim, this revealed text is the Qur'an, and this text can be established as a Divine book outside of the method and philosophy of science using deductive arguments. # The point that needs to be understood here is that the Qur'an can be shown to be Divine revelation, and therefore its claims to knowledge are certain and factual.
So the Qur’an is indisputably, provably and factually certain beyond any doubt because…because…well because Hamza and the iERA say so and because there’s an exotic sounding Arabic term for it. So that’s fine and dandy then.
But perhaps we’re being unfair. Surely the iERA can’t expect its visitors to accept such a claim without some reasoned argument…can it?
No, of course not. Closer examination of the above excerpts reveals that the divinity of the Qur’an can be ascertained via deductive arguments. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion can be deduced from its premise. The deductive argument used by iERA is this:
1. A miracle is an event that lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (there are no causal links between the event and the nature of the event). 2. The Qur'an's literary form lies outside of the productive capacity of nature (its literary form cannot be logically explained using the Arabic language). 3. Therefore, the Qur'an is a miracle (a miracle is an act of God).
 Now, once again, perceptive readers may have noticed a slight logical leap that the iERA were perhaps hoping to slip past us. A miracle, they explain, is by its very nature supernatural. The Qur’an’s literary quality is so perfect as to be beyond natural explanation. Whoa there! Back up a bit, guys! Did you spot that, folks? The Qur’an is a literary miracle. No ifs, buts or argument. The whole of iERA’s paper on logic and the inadequacy of science to reveal absolute truths revolves around our agreeing on this one point. 
Let me summarise: We must apparently be wary of basing our beliefs on how life reached its present variety on a theory which cannot be proved absolutely, and yet we have to accept the divinity of the Qur’an on the basis of something so subjective and flimsy as literary quality, which itself is decided by “experts” whose livelihood is dependent upon their saying the Qur’an is a literary miracle… or as Hamza et al have it: Since revealed texts are certain and science cannot produce certain knowledge, revealed texts will always supersede science…
 But let us leave such obvious objections aside for a moment and look instead at the main thrust of the paper: that evolution cannot be proved absolutely and as such it is as much a matter of faith - as is belief in God (although, as Hamza has "proved", Divine Revelation is an indisputable fact and therefore faith is unnecessary).
 The awkward (for the iERA) notion that evolution is, to all intents and purposes, a fact as far as science is concerned is addressed early on. On the second page of his paper Hamza quotes one of my science heroes, Stephen Jay Gould, in defence (unbelievably) of his argument that evolution is unproven: In scientific terminology evolution is a fact, but this use of the term means confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent. Thus Hamza seems to be accepting that to question evolution would be inexplicably irrational and stubbornly unreasonable (the dictionary definition of perverse) but is apparently happy to be labeled such in his quest to calm the trauma of his cognitive dissonance caused by Allah telling him that evolution is bollocks. (Note: I know there are plenty of liberal, intelligent Muslims out there who accept evolution. My gripe is not with you. It's with the Miracle Seekers like the eejit Yusuf Estes - get over it.)

Hamza and the iERA seem to think that because we cannot observe evolution happening, it must remain nothing more than a theory which awaits definitive proof. Has the iERA not been reading the news these last few years, I wonder. The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria must surely be one of the plainest, most well-known and simplest examples of evolution happening quite literally under our noses as there is possible to be. And yet this fact must remain in the drawer marked unproven whilst the miracle of the Qur'an's literary quality is accepted, no questions asked (or allowed).

Let me finish by referring you to an irony noticed by Hamza.
The irony of this evolution debate is that majority of the people who believe in evolution do so out of the testimony of others, namely our teachers at school or the books we read, because we haven't done the experiments ourselves.
Or, looked at another way:
The irony, Hamza, is that the majority of Muslim Miracle seekers who believe in the perfect literary quality of the Qur'an do so out of the testimony of others, namely their immams at the mosque or the websites they visit, because they haven't  got the skills necessary either to read Classical Arabic or to make such judgments. Evolution, on the other hand, can be verified simply by asking your doctor about antibiotic resistant bacteria.


  1. Hamza has written at length on the literary qualities of the Qur'an that plainly prove it is miraculous.
    Do you even read Arabic, Spinoza?

    1. @Anon,
      Really? Well, let me direct you to a thorough refutation of Tzortzis' claims:

    2. @ anon 10.19
      more pertinently, let me direct you Spinoza's examination of the supposed literary miracle of the Qur'an and a refutation of Tzortzis' paper on the subject:

    3. I think Varma was pointing out the weakness of Hamza's arguments generally, Anon.
      But thanks for the plug, anyway...

  2. The paper was a joke. Anyone impressed by that hogwash deserves to enter the Guinness book of World Records for being the most gullible and ignorant person on the planet

  3. There's a difference between the small examples of evolution we see all around us and believing that Man evolved from monkeys.
    WE were created by God.

    1. how do you explain fossils and the several extinct hominid species

    2. The "microevolution" argument is I see alive and kicking. Can I as ask our learned expert what stops the small changes becoming bigger changes over time?

  4. If I'm not mistaken, Hamza appears to be lifting his philosophical perspective wholesale from the Answers in Genesis / Genesis Flood dictum that states that where scripture and scientific evidence conflict, the evidence is to be ignored.

    The degree of intellectual submission of Islamic creationism to its US evangelical counterparts is hilarious.

  5. hamza is a fraud.