Today the Texas Board of Education voted on how American history will be taught in Texas schools. It is a version of history that fits the conservative world view. From the New York Times
The conservative members maintain that they are trying to correct what they see as a liberal bias among the teachers who proposed the curriculum. To that end, they made dozens of minor changes aimed at calling into question, among other things, concepts like the separation of church and state and the secular nature of the American Revolution.
Texas textbooks are important not just because Texas is a big state, but also because many small states just go with the Texas version of the textbooks because it costs less than commissioning their own versions.
Around this time last year the Texas Board voted to change science text books. Evolution, which is always in the spotlight when such matters are discussed, was saved by the skin of its teeth from being relegated to “one of many alternate theories”. However,
Failing to overhaul the curriculum broadly, conservatives instead attached a series of measures specific to subjects like biology, where teachers would be newly required to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”
Christian Conservatives in American politics have recently been tripping over each other in their eagerness to denounce evolution. Bradley Byrne, candidate for Governor of Alabama was recently attacked in a TV ad which claimed that he believed in evolution. Byrne denied the “despicable lies”
“As a Christian and as a public servant, I have never wavered in my belief that this world and everything in it is a masterpiece created by the hands of God,” he said. “As a member of the Alabama Board of Education, the record clearly shows that I fought to ensure the teaching of creationism in our school text books. Those who attack me have distorted, twisted and misrepresented my comments and are spewing utter lies to the people of this state.”
Evolution and to some extent the Big Bang are the flash points in the battle between organized religion and science. They both inject serious doubt into the belief that god created the world and all its creatures, or Creationism. Sure, Intelligent Design can sort of fit the facts into a new theory that preserves the role of god, but that’s not good enough because the Bible doesn’t talk about ID. It vividly describes how god created the world.
This allergy to evolution is to be seen in Islam as well. Turkey, which is the most liberal Muslim country, has very little support for evolution. From the Washington Post
A recent survey, quoted in a 2008 article in the American journal Science, found that fewer than 25 percent of Turks accepted evolution as an explanation of how modern life came to be — by far the lowest percentage of any developed nation.
In the same article
The Discovery Institute of Seattle, which researches and promotes intelligent design as an alternative to creationism and evolution, also sent speakers to Turkey after being invited by the Istanbul municipal government in 2007. President Bruce Chapman said the institute helped bring Turkish evolution critic Mustafa Akyol to a 2005 Kansas school board hearing on teaching critiques of evolution.
A battle against as formidable a foe as science can bring together the two faiths. Somewhat like how Delhi High Court’s verdict allowing consensual gay sex brought together the BJP and All India Muslim Personal Board for the first time on any issue.
Are all religions opposed to evolution? Buddhism and Hinduism are the two other great religions of the world. Do devout Hindus view evolution as a threat to their beliefs? I haven’t heard of any attempts to mess around with science text books in India based upon ideology. Although the BJP did try to change history text books when Murli Manhor Joshi had charge of the HRD ministry.
In my view, other things being equal, Hinduism will be friendlier to evolution. The “other things being equal” being mostly about education. A high school education that teaches science and evolution well, will matter more to people’s acceptance of evolution than their religion or religiosity.
Why is Hinduism friendlier to evolution? It is not because religiosity amongst Hindus is less. Razib Khan analyzes religiosity amongst South Asians in developed countries. It turns out that South Asians are very religious. Being a large majority Hindus must also be very religious.
So there must be other reasons.
Many scriptures, not one Book – Islam and Christianity both have The Book which is the word of god, the ultimate truth. If that book says that god created the earth, then there can be no negotiation on that. Hinduism on the other hand has many scriptures – Bhagvad Gita, Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Ramayana. None of them to my knowledge are considered to be the word of god.
Many gods – For millennia, Hindus have had many gods. Personally you might worship just one god, but the people around you worship different gods. In a Hindu’s world view there is no one god and no one truth. Acceptance of alternate gods was in fact a design criteria in the Hindu faith. It was how the Aryans assimilated the tribes in India. This flexibility continued. As far back as the 15th century Hinduism tolerated an atheist school of philosophy.
No organized religion – Organizations perpetuate themselves. The conditions for organized religion to thrive are just not there in Hinduism. As a consequence there is very little, if any, religious education. Faith is a family or personal matter (Here I’m talking about faith rather than ritual).
Bizarre mythology – In Hinduism, scripture, literature and mythology weave a seamless fabric that every Hindu grows up with. From Ram Leela to Grandma’s stories to Amar Chitra Katha we are immersed in this sea of lore and mythology where individual stories can be evocative and powerful, but together they don’t make a cohesive whole. There are miracles in all religious texts, but Indian mythology can get so bizarre that really nobody will ever think it to be possible. The gods are depicted to be flawed, with unpredictable behavior (Why doesn’t Indra just use his thunderbolt and get it over with?). They are more like the DC comics of ancient Hindus than the Bible.
This tolerance for internal inconsistency makes it easier for Hinduism to accept a new idea like evolution. In fact if you look hard enough you will be able to find support in the scriptures or elsewhere in ancient texts for almost any idea. One might, for instance, see the Dashavatara as a metaphor for evolution.
I am not a devout Hindu. I am more Hindu by culture than religion, if there is in fact, a line separating them. I am sure many readers are though. It would be very interesting to get your views on how do you think Hinduism will respond to challenges from science in the years to come and specifically, evolution.