Harun Yahya : an Invitation to Dogmatism
“Harun Yahya” (the pen name of Adnan Oktar) is the name of a popular proponent of Islamic apologetics, born in 1956, whose books and articles are said to receive wide publication in Turkey and other Islamic countries. He also claims himself to be an intellectual hero against neo-Darwinism.
His 180 books include such enlightening tomes as “Allah is Known Through Reason”, “The Design in Nature”, “The Other Name for Illusion : Matter”, “The Collapse of the Theory of Evolution”, “Disasters Darwinism Brought to Humanity”, and “The Qur’an Leads the Way to Science”. Some others look more like Chick tracts, with names like “Crude Understanding Of Disbelief”, “Solution: The Values of the Qur’an”, “Jesus Will Return” and “Romanticism: A Weapon of Satan” (!).
Because of his popularity and body of work, we should be interested in examining more carefully his web site, called “Harun Yahya : an Invitation to Truth”. This is available at http://www.hyahya.org/ , and the full text of some of his books are also available.
I myself have a web site about philosophy, and try to be as lenient as possible : unfortunately, the front page of the site (as I see it in June 2002, anyway) does not inspire confidence. While it is professionally-made, it includes an ironic placement : the header “The True Islamic Morals”, telling us how Islam leads to love and justice, side-by-side with “Perished Nations”, telling us that Allah destroyed ancient nations because they rebelled against him. It also includes such titles as “The Fact of Creation” and “Fascism : the Bloody Ideology of Darwinism”.
Such contradiction and absurdity may be superficial assessment on my part, but does not reflect well on what Yahya sees as important issues : it implies that the contents of his web site are inane and anti-scientific.
1. Articles on Faith & Wisdom
His articles are divided in three sections : “Articles on Faith & Wisdom”, “Articles on Science & Faith” and “Articles on Social Issues”. The articles are sprinkled with Qur’an verses and praises to Allah, and this makes the content, once again, very uninspiring. Most of the articles in this first section consist of two maneuvers : praising Allah for creating everything, and the argument from design.
In his books and articles, Yahya seems inordinately fond of the simple version of the argument from design (that is, descriptions of complex entities and systems, followed by the assumption that they must have been created). It seems his Turkish audience is very unrefined in theological matters : at least here in North America we have people like Behe and Demski to attempt to spice it up for us. While the latter also fail miserably, the process of refuting them is more challenging than refuting Yahya.
This robotic transcription of facts, as if they represented some kind of higher truth, is lengthy and unfruitful. An example : “The solar system revolves around the centre of the galaxy at 720,000 km an hour. The velocity of the Milky Way itself, comprising some 200 billion stars, is 950,000 km an hour. This continual movement is inconceivable. The earth, together with the solar system, each year moves 500 million kilometres away from its location of the previous year”.
What is this, and other facts about the galaxy, supposed to prove ? That “the universe we live in is created by a Creator, whose existence and attributes are revealed in everything that exists”. But such expositions of facts do not show us a Creator, and neither do they make obvious the necessity of a Creator : they only show us the majesty of natural law. The burden of proof is on the religious apologist : he must demonstrate that natural law is impotent in explaining a particularity of nature.
Yahya also finds it necessary to constantly praise Allah for his supposed creation. For example, in “Basic Questions of our Lives”, we learn that sociology is impossible without belief in Allah :
“Essentially, the existence of Allah and the reality that there is no deity other than Allah are crystal clear facts. But in “the society of ignorance” where people fail to use their reasoning due to their habit of indifference and indolence, they grow blind and cannot comprehend this reality. As a matter of fact, that is the reason why they were stigmatized as a “society of ignorance” ”
The entire section is filled with rhetorics of this nature, and therefore I will not pick them apart individually. I will, however, discuss one point raised which is particularily laughable in its absurdity. While the author discusses, in the same article, the “miracle” of childbirth, he quotes the book of Al-Mumenoon, which says :
“Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay); Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed; Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah, the best to create !” (23:12-14)
Anyone who thinks this is a good explanation of how Allah creates a foetus must be illiterate. The foetus is not made of clay, neither is the sperm transformed into congealed blood, or developed into another creature. Bone development depends on bone-producing cells – flesh. Bones in the human foetus do not begin to form until the 40th day (Cell and Molecular Biology of Vertebrate Hard Tissues, Caplan and Pechak, 1988). This is all basic embryology which would be available even to desert dwellers of the time, let alone Allah.
The verses I have quoted are, I assure you, a staple of Islamic apologetics. That they use such an absurdity in a widespread manner shows how little science there is in the Qur’an.
Furthermore, other statements in this article, which imply that Allah creates every foetus individually, betray an ignorance of modern biology. His college education in “Mimar Sinan University’s Academy of Fine Arts” may be a problem to his understanding of science, which is limited to regurgitation.
In “Never Plead Ignorance that Quran is the Just Book”, the book of Yunus is invoked :
“This Qur’an is not such as can be produced by other than Allah; on the contrary it is a confirmation of (revelations) that went before it, and a fuller explanation of the Book – wherein there is no doubt – from the Lord of the worlds. Or do they say, “He forged it”? say: “Bring then a Sura like unto it, and call (to your aid) anyone you can besides Allah, if it be ye speak the truth!”” (10:37-38)
It seems that Yahya does not know that many Christians have indeed made suras like it, and succeeded. The biggest web site about these made-up suras was attacked by Internet Islamic fanatics, but an archive of four such suras is still available at http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/suralikeit/original/index.shtml .
There is no need to continue indulging this nonsense. My conclusion is that these articles exhibit an abundant amount of faith, but virtually no wisdom.
2. Articles on Science & Faith
Fortunately for the reader’s sanity, the articles on science are less spasmically religious and more serious. Unfortunately, they also fully display Yahya’s basic scientific ignorance. His numerous arguments are dispersed in the various articles in this section, so I will make a list of those that pertain to evolution, Yahya’s pet subject :
1. Darwinism is based on chance (“Darwinism’s Contradiction With Religion”)
2. Punctuated Equilibrum says that jumps in evolution are possible, like birds popping out of reptile eggs, instead of the gradualism of neo-Darwinism. It was made to cover up the “fossil fiasco” (“The Evolution Deceit”).
3. All living creatures are designed and ordered, and therefore were created (“The Design in Nature”, “The Signs in the Heavens and on the Earth”).
4. Darwinism disrupts the natural harmony of science and religion, proof that it is false (“Scientists Confirm the Signs of God”).
5. Instincts do not exist : rather, all animal behaviour is inspired by Allah (“Self-Sacrifice in Animals”, “Spiders’ Fishing Techniques”).
6. No beneficial mutations have ever existed (“The Design in Nature”).
7. Vestigial organs do not exist (“Yet Another Blow to the Myth of Vestigial Organs”).
8. “Laboratory experiments and probabilistic calculations have definitely made it clear that the proteins from which life arises cannot have been formed by chance” (“The Evolution Deceit”).
9. Cells, DNA, and the information in DNA, cannot come to exist by chance (“The Evolution Deceit”, “The Miracle of Design in the Cell”).
10. No transitional forms have ever been found. Each species was created by Allah – in scientific terms, this is called Special Creationism (“The Fossil Record Refutes Evolution”, “The Evolution Deceit”, “Darwinism’s Contradiction With Religion”).
11. The Cambrian Explosion is proof that Allah created the variety of life at once (“The Fossil Record Refutes Evolution”, “The Evolution Deceit”).
12. The systems in the human body are so interlocked that they cannot have evolved – this is Behe’s “Irreducible Complexity” (“A System Planned in its Every Detail”)
Also, some features of nature are extensively described, and propped up as proof of creation, including : DNA (“The Evolution Deceit”), the immunitary system (“The Defense System”), the bees (“The Honey Bee”), the Earth as suportive of human life (“The Earth : A Living Planet”, “The Obvious Existence of God”), the coordination of the human body (“Co-Ordination in Human Body”), butterflies (“From a Caterpillar to a Butterfly”), bird migration (“Migration and Orientation in Animals”), rain (“Rain by Design”), water-spiders (“Spiders’ Fishing Techniques”), water (“The Design in Water”), ants (“The Perfect Social System of Ants”), woodpeckers (“The Design of the Woodpecker”), and more. As explained before, these examples prove nothing except the power of natural law, and that Yahya is capable of regurgitating common science, but not of understanding it.
Some of these arguments are laughable and betray a fundamental ignorance of the theory of evolution, and you may doubt that they are really proposed – feel free to consult the articles listed besides them to get confirmation. But let me now take these arguments one at a time. For the sake of space, I will discuss the arguments against evolution – the cosmological arguments would require more lengthy discussion, although the Big Bang argument on order is also answered in point 3.
1. Darwinism is based on chance.
This argument demonstrates that Yahya, like most Creationists, has no knowledge whatsoever of what biological evolution is. It is probably too much to expect for religious fanatics bent on disproving a menace to their religion to actually know what it is they are trying to disprove.
This bromide is not only false, but doubly false. From a metaphysical point of view, “chance” is mostly an illusion caused by our incapacity to perceive everything. For example, when we say that the throw of a normal die entails a probability of 1/6 for each side, what we are really saying is that we do not have the information about the throw, the air, and the table necessary to say which side will come up. Of course, the real probability is of 1 for one side and 0 for the others.
From a scientific point of view, this claim is also false. Neo-Darwinism (which I assume here is what is meant by “Darwinism”, perhaps in the author’s confusion) is based on mechanisms such as natural selection, mutations, sexual selection, genetic drift, and others. None of these mechanisms are based on “chance”. Even mutations have definite properties, dictated by genetic processes and natural law : there are germ mutations, point mutations, frame-shift mutations, and so on. As such, the statement that neo-Darwinism is based on “chance”, is an elementary lie.
2. Punctuated Equilibrum says that jumps in evolution are possible, like birds popping out of reptile eggs, instead of the gradualism of neo-Darwinism. It was made to cover up the “fossil fiasco”.
Punctuated Equilibrum is a hypothesis, promoted notably by Eldredge and Gould, which proposes that the tempo of evolution is made of accelerated and slow periods, instead of constant change. It does not cover up any “fossil fiasco” : in fact, it puts the focus on what we observe in the fossil record. If the fossil record was a fiasco, then any number of hypothesis could not cover it – the hypothetical corrupt scientists in Yahya should rather have kept the problem under silence, rather than try to reconcile their theory with it.
3. All living creatures are designed and ordered, and therefore were created.
Yahya simply assumes design and order, jumps to a Creator, and then jumps again to his favourite deity, Allah. But all these steps are faulty.
He defines design as “a harmonious assembling of various parts into an orderly form towards a common goal”, and that this applies to animals :
“Can a bird and mechanics of its flying be a design as well? (…) The goal at hand, in this case, is to fly. For this purpose, hollowed bones, strong muscles that move these bones are utilized together with feathers capable of suspending in the air. Wings are formed aerodynamically, and metabolism is in tune with the bird’s need for high levels of energy. It is obvious that the bird is product of a certain design.”
It is not, in fact, obvious at all. His definition of design is an assumption of Creationism, nothing more. The rational way to determine design is to compare the power of natural law with the possible design alternatives. Since evolution explains the adaptation of organisms sufficiently, there is no need to invoke design. Also, it is not obvious that animals have “goals”, except if we again assume Creationism – a goal implies a goal-giver. Order and design are in fact both staples of natural law, not design.
Finally, it is not necessary for the hypothetical design to have been made by a Creator, neither is it necessary for the hypothetical Creator to be Allah. This whole argument is pure circularity and assumption.
4. Darwinism disrupts the natural harmony of science and religion, proof that it is false.
Is Yahya right in saying that science has always been theistic, until evolution came in the picture, and that it is therefore an aberration ? Certainly not. While the strength of religion and the relative paucity of scientific explanations made most scientists of earlier times profess religion, scientific discovery has at all times been opposed by religion. Science is based on reason, materialism, and discovery, while religion is based on faith, supernaturalism, and the occult.
Virtually all the great scientists and discoveries in history until recent times – like Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and even today researchers in genetics – have faced tremendous religious opposition. To claim harmony is disingenuous, and to disqualify a sound theory on its basis, ridiculous.
5. Instincts do not exist : rather, all animal behaviour is inspired by Allah.
Yahya tells us that “[the] instincts [of living things], which Darwin was unable to explain within the scope of evolution, are actually the inspiration given by God to all living things”, and that “God is the master and supervisor of everything and that every living creature acts on His inspiration”.
Not only is this a lot of unncessary work for a deity, but we would have to answer, what is the difference ? We cannot distinguish between a behaviour motivated by the brain, and a behaviour inspired by Allah : both produce the same tangible effects. By Occam’s Razor, we must therefore reject the idea that Allah is involved in the production of animal behaviour.
In fact, Yahya’s example of self-sacrifice (in “Self-Sacrifice of Animals”) is already well-explained by the fact that it is genes that tend towards adaptation, not individuals. The name given in evolution to this phenomenon is Hamilton’s Rule – the evolutionary pressure for an action is proportional to the benefits it confers to the genes of the individual present in other members of his family (for example, a brother or sister has in average one-half of the species-specific genes in an individual). This is not a mystery or divine revelation, but simple science.
6. No beneficial mutations have ever existed.
I have Sickle Cell anemia, a mutation of red blood cells that gives them a sickle shape and extra hardness. This mutation is widespread in many regions, including Latin America, Southern Europe, and Arab countries, and confers a greater immunity to malaria. It seems that Yahya does not live in these regions, otherwise he would already know about that widespread example !
Most mutations are destructive in nature, but some are positive. This is enough for evolution to generate adaptation in species.
7. Vestigial organs do not exist.
Yahya demonstrates his ignorance of basic definitions again, by defining vestigial organs by “non-functional organs”, and complaining that they “[turn] out to be organs whose functions had not yet been discovered”, thus once again disproving evolution. But a vestigial organ is only an organ with reduced functions compared to its previous uses in evolutionary ancestors. The appendix used to be a part of the digestive system, but now only houses some immune system cells.
8. “Laboratory experiments and probabilistic calculations have definitely made it clear that the proteins from which life arises cannot have been formed by chance”.
9. Cells, DNA, and the information in DNA, cannot come to exist by chance.
The probability of proteins is is a common calculation amongst Creationists, which consists of calculating the probability that each part of a protein somehow clicked into place by chance. Yahya, fearing that his readers may not have the imagination to grasp the probability involved (1 on 10 950), conveniently included the complete notation of the number 1 with 950 zeros. Unfortunately for him, his childish appeal to big numbers fails because evolution does not claim that proteins arose by chance, but rather by a gradual process (see point 1). The same is true for cells and DNA.
10. No transitional forms have ever been found. Each species was created by Allah – in scientific terms, this is called Special Creationism.
11. The Cambrian Explosion is proof that Allah created the variety of life at once.
These two arguments are contradictory. Yahya contends that “[t]he fossil record clearly indicate that different living species (…) appeared on earth suddenly fully formed and without any preceding ancestors similar to them” and that this entails that “God created every species individually and at one moment”. Then how is it possible that the Cambrian Explosion is an indication that “living things did not evolve from primitive to the advanced forms, but instead emerged all of a sudden and in a perfect state” ? Either Allah created all species at once during the Cambrian Explosion, or he created them individually over time. Either solution contradicts the theory of evolution and the fossil record, but at least Yahya should try to be internally consistent.
As it turns out, both arguments are distortions by Yahya of the theory of evolution. In one sense, there is no such thing as a “transitional form”, since we always classify a species as being part of one or the other phylum : there is no “official middle ground” simply because taxionomy doesn’t work that way. The transitions between species are themselves well-documented in any textbook of evolution (beginners can start with chapter 22 of “Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution”, Carroll, 1988, or “The evolution of mammalian characters”, D.M. and K.A. Kermack, 1984, and work their way from there).
The Creationist interpretation of the Cambrian Explosion is also a naive interpretation of taxionomy. Should we be surprised that phyla suddently appear at a certain era ? Not any more than we should be astonished that the major branches of a tree start growing around the same time. The so-called “explosion” is the consequence of our classification of animals in groups and sub-groups, not of any creative action.
12. The systems in the human body are so interlocked that they cannot have evolved – this is Behe’s “Irreducible Complexity”. Yahya’s arguments here are simpler than Behe’s, and refuting the latter is adequate for refuting the latter. I therefore refer you to a document on Talk Reason about Behe’s arguments, located at http://www.talkreason.org/articles/behe2.cfm . Suffice it to say here that the argument that interlocked systems cannot evolve is easily disproven by simpler forms in nature of the organs or systems which Behe and Yahya consider “irreducibly complex”, as well as by the adaptation of systems from one function to another.
The already prohibitive space I took to refute these general arguments stops me from answering his cosmological arguments, as well as more specific arguments against, amongst others, molecular biology and the Urey-Miller experiment. It will suffice to say that Yahya’s track record in arguing generally against evolution does not inspire confidence in his capacity to nitpick.
3. Articles on Social Issues
If the articles about science betrayed Yahya’s scientific ignorance, the articles about societal problems betray his ethical ignorance. Their rhetoric is simplistic : faith makes for a good society and good values, and faithlessness makes for a bad society and bad values.
Even for the uninitiated, this seems as bizarre as Yahya’s claims that religion has never conflicted with science. The most destructive times in history were times when religion was proeminent. The countries and continents with the greatest concentration of religious beliefs also experience the most scientific, political and economical retardation (including, do we need to mention, Islamic countries).
Putting aside Yahya’s self-righteousness evident in every article, we can list some attributes of what Yahya calls “ignorant societies” – people who live in disbelief of Allah. Without evidence, he proposes that they are to be associated with : lawlessness, dishonesty, lies (“Moral Degeneration”), the abolishment of morality and the rise of whim-worship, degeneracies like sexual perversion and drug addiction, falsehood and betrayal, the abandonment of doing good and self-sacrifice because our lives are finite (“The Depressions of a Faithless Society”), Social Darwinism and racism (“Superiority Comes from Character, Not Blood”, “The Real Ideological Root of Terrorism – DARWINISM AND MATERIALISM”), elimination of the family, social anarchy and general hatred, suicide, thievery, the end of solidarity and generosity because everyone evolved from an ape (“The Disasters of an Irreligious Social System”), war (“The Pacifism of Islam”).
What, then is his alternative ? Fear of God (“Moral Degeneration”), divine “knowledge” (“In Every Age there Existed an Ignorant Society”), servitude and faith to God (“The Depressions of a Faithless Society”), accountability in the hereafter (“The Disasters of an Irreligious Social System”), to struggle against one’s nature (“The Pacifism of Islam”), peace, well-being and happiness, the end of all evil acts, tolerence and freedom of speech, respect for life, modernism, progress, compassion, forgiveness (“The True Islamic Morals”, “Why an Authoritarian Rule is Against Islam?”).
I ask you, are these the words of a rational man ? Perhaps I should not ask rhetorical questions : but it seems to me that to pin all the ills of mankind on lack of belief in one particular deity is fanaticism pushed to the extreme. Once again, we are forced to wonder what kind of people believe this extremist pablum.
While it would be unproductive to examine all his propositions individually, I will examine a number of them here. Let me first clear the question of Social Darwinism. Yahya uses evolution, as we say in french, in all sauces : it is his hammer, and he sees every problem as a nail. But even a cursory understanding of logic would let him know about the Naturalistic Fallacy – that is, that associating behaviours found in nature with ethical behaviour is fallacious. There is no necessary relation between the behaviour of lower animals and ours, and no serious philosopher would propose it. I have never heard it being used as a serious argument by anyone : it is simply a non-issue.
What are the facts about the social superiority of Islam ? Yahya himself does not propose any such facts, but asserts this superiority as a given. I have discussed at length the moral inferiority of Christianity, and many of these arguments still apply here (see my article Religion’s Devils).
Data specific to Islamic regions – the Middle-East (MEC) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) – likewise show negative results on two our of four variables. Violence-related death rate is highest in SSA and MEC, and homicide rate and war-related death rate are highest in SSA. However, suicide rates were lowest in SSA and average for MEC. In reverse, established market economies, which tend to be more secular, show the best results except as regards to sucide rates (data from “Epidemiology of violent deaths in the world”, Reza, Mercy and Krug – please note that use of the data is not meant as complete endorsement of the paper in question).
As it is well-known, Islamic societies are based on violence, intolerence, authoritarianism. Harsh treatment to women (including female genital mutilation), and severe curtailing of any non-religious liberties, based on the Qur’an, is the norm. Iran and Saudi Arabia are two of the five countries that contribute most to capital punishment (another being the United States), and Iran still executes juveniles.
Yahya’s ethical points are no more valid. His fundamental point is that an “ignorant society” is “a society where people live only for the satisfaction of their own desires”, and that in such a context, “it surely is not possible to maintain peace, love and amity”.
However, this is either trivial or false. It is trivial in the sense that everyone seeks the “satisfaction of their own desires”, even the Islamist, whose obedience of Allah exists only because he desires to be obedient. It is false in the sense that prosperity and harmony of interests can only obtains if people act neither for their own detriment, nor for the detriment of others. Self-sacrifice and its derivates, Yahya’s proposed solution, goes against his calls for peace, well-being and happiness, the end of all evil acts, respect for life and progress.
Yahya also seems to be confused, or dishonest, in his discussions of the afterlife and its ethical consequences. The finiteness of our lives is not a motivator to do evil : in the contrary, the fact that our life is the only one we have motivates the atheist to try to make the best life for himself on this Earth. Doing evil would only be a waste. But for someone who is assured of living forever, such considerations are irrelevant : his only accountability is to believe in Allah. There is no reason for a religious person to do good, except by imitation of the behaviour of non-religious people.
As for his accusations of falsehood, well, Yahya’s articles themselves provide the best argument against that, now do they ?
As I already mentioned, his claims of results for Islam are contradictory. Self-sacrifice is not compatible with accomplishment. Likewise, his calls for fear of God, faith, servitude, and struggle against one’s own nature, are all negative psychological factors which go against his positive claims. These are not the words of self-accomplishment, but the words of delusion and psychosis.
That much is acknowledged by any person of sense, religious or not. Yahya, however, sees no problem in this, and rather contends that believers like him are in the minority and persecuted because Allah wants to test them :
“Surely this is not a coincidence but a special situation created deliberately by God for a certain cause. That believers are in the minority makes their virtuous conduct even more precious in this world. Furthermore, this is a factor enhancing their rewards in the Hereafter”
Surely it should be questioned why a good god would create 6 billion people, and then throw them in Hell, with the sole goal of testing believers. One way or another, it reflects little except Yahya’s high opinion of himself and his fellow “true believers”.
There is little in Yahya’s work, as represented by his web site, which is intelligent, laudable, or even original. His exposition of complex natural systems is marred, like Behe’s, by an arrogant “design” premise. In the end, there is nothing to recommend it.