November 19, 2009

Islamic creationism and Harun Yahya

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Some readers may have heard of Harun Yahya, the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, a creationist in the Islamic world who is based in Turkey, who uses as arguments against evolution the same absence of bizarre hybrids as Duane Gish and Kirk Cameroon, although he differs from them in that he is an old-Earth creationist.

Oktar/Yahya seems to have, like his American creationist counterparts, rich backers who are willing to stay in the background and shell out huge sums of money to advance their beliefs. In Oktar/Yahya's case it has enabled him to create a large cult-like organization. He has been convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for running a criminal organization. He is awaiting the outcome of his final appeal to the Turkish Supreme Court.

Among other things, he produces and widely distributes free lavishly colored books under his name that propagate the same kinds of creationist ideas that Christian creationists have. Some time ago I too unexpectedly received in the mail such an unsolicited book The Creation of the Universe (2000). This book deals mainly with the physical universe. Like with Ray Comfort's introduction to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, I decided to take one for the team and read and summarize Oktar/Yahya's ideas for the benefit of the blog's readers.

The book starts out in the introduction by attacking the principle of materialism, that matter and the natural laws are all that exist. He has to do this because all religious people know that since there is no evidence for the existence of god, unless they are able to postulate the existence of mysterious, nonmaterial entities that can act in the universe in unpredictable and undetectable ways, they are lost. Oktar/Yahya simply asserts that the materialistic view has been defeated, throwing in some quotes from the Koran because we all know that no arguments are more powerful than quotes from ancient texts of dubious origins.

The entire book repeats over and over again the same old tired 'anthropic principle' argument, that the properties of the universe are so finely tuned to create the conditions for humans to exist that they must have been designed. The name 'anthropic principle' seems to me to be too high falutin' for such a childish argument. A more accurate label would be the 'Goldilocks principle' because according to them every thing in the universe is not too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, too big or too small, but is just right for us humans. Hence it could only have been created by Allah/Jehovah/Yahweh/Melvin/Krishna/_____ (fill in the blank).

As I have pointed out before, the fatal weakness of the Goldilocks principle is why his god goes to all this trouble over such minute details. If god is so powerful, he could create humans to live under any conditions, such as on a planet as hot as Mercury or as cold as Jupiter or without water or oxygen or even food. He could make us able to live in a vacuum.

The book consists of each chapter taking one feature of the universe and arguing that if its particular properties had been slightly different, the universe and life could not exist. Hence god exists. That's the book's argument in its entirety.

He also sprinkles verses from the Koran to claim that it predicted scientific discoveries. (Jesus and Mo has a wonderful cartoon on such Koranic 'predictions'.) He quotes from religious scientists and also quote-mines famous scientists shamelessly, using the anthropomorphic language that some are wont to use, to argue that they too at least implicitly believe in Allah's role in creation.

He argues that chance or Allah are the only two options. He repeatedly 'calculates' the probability that some specific feature could have occurred by pure chance and finds that it is one-in-a-huge-number and thus highly unlikely. He likes to write out these huge numbers in large font in decimal form (sometimes in reverse white lettering on black background) for dramatic effect, with the result that there are an awful lot of zeros in his book: page 39 has 123 zeros, page 108 has 25 zeros, and page 198 has a whopping 950 zeros.

In chapter 1 he says that the Big Bang proves that god exists because it implies a beginning and a beginning must have a creator. Who was the creator? Allah, of course. And not only that, the Koran actually predicted it, when it says "He (Allah) is the Originator of the heavens and the earth." What more proof do you need than that that the Koran is of divine origin and that Allah exists and created the universe? But he goes on to give more.

In chapter 2, he argues that the physical constants are just the right size to support the existence of the universe. Hence Allah exists.

What if (chapter 3) atoms were not electrically neutral (as they are now) but were positively charged? Why, everything would fly apart and life would be impossible! So the fact that atoms are neutral is proof that Allah exists. Man, that Allah really thinks of everything.

In chapter 4, he hauls out the second law of thermodynamics and argues that the "order of the universe is the most overwhelming proof of the existence of a superior consciousness." Hence Allah exists.

Another example (chapter 5) is that it is only because the Earth is at exactly the right distance from the Sun that it has temperatures that can support life as we know it. If it had been a little closer, it would have been too hot. If it had been a little further, it would have been too cold. Coincidence? I think not. Hence Allah exists.

Chapter 6 makes the case that the wavelengths of the spectrum of light that reaches the surface of the Earth lie in just the right range to support the chemical processes on which life depends, like photosynthesis, and that none of it is 'wasted'. What are the odds of that happening by chance? Lots of zeros, baby. Hence Allah exists.

Another example (chapter 7) is that that of water expanding upon freezing and thus ice rising to the top. If that had not been the case, oceans and lakes would freeze solid and kill all life. But luckily for us, there was someone (guess who) who knew exactly what properties water needed to have and ensured that it did.

The electronic structure of carbon is such that it can form covalent bonds (chapter 8). This is so crucial to life that if it could not do so, we could not have carbon-based life forms. Hence Allah must have created this particular electronic structure and hence he exists, yes indeedy!

So that's pretty much the book. I bet you can't wait to read it for yourself.

What does Oktar/Yahya say about evolution? I'll look at that in the next post. But here's a hint: "I do not like it, Sam-I-Am."

POST SCRIPT: Primatologist Jane Goodall on The Daily Show

A sweet, gentle interview with a sweet, gentle person. Really, there's no other way to describe it.

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On your Goldilocks principle point:

You know that whatever limits a God might set for our abilities there would still be strengths and weaknesses. Whether you can lift a stone or a boulder or a mountain might there not be something greater you can't lift? It is all relative. The better question is whether you consider that the way we were made is 'just right' for learning about God or not.

The other thing I would add is that the Goldilocks principle is usually argued BY evolutionists explaining why we are here, "that the conditions of the big bang and all the universal constants and everything else were just right for us to be here now." BUT I can see that the creationist you are referencing is suggesting that Allah exists because conditions are right.

Posted by Mat on November 20, 2009 07:37 PM

Actually Mat, evolution does not say that "that the conditions of the big bang and all the universal constants and everything else were just right for us to be here now" because that implies that the environment adapts to meet the needs of the organism.

It is actually the other way around, that organisms evolve in ways that are best adapted to their environment. So if the Earth had always been much warmer, we would likely have evolved to be able to cope with that, because those less well adapted would have died out. Of course, the "what if" experiments to test this hypothesis cannot be done with humans which is why they are done with insects, animals, and bacteria, or we look for naturally occurring events that test it.

Posted by Mano on November 21, 2009 10:03 AM

Look at the reference of each wiki.

It's clearly an idea of looking for planets that are suitable for life and not the reverse of God creating a universe 'just right' for us.

Posted by Mat on November 27, 2009 04:32 AM

Posted by Mat on November 27, 2009 05:17 AM

Hi Mat,

I see now the point you are making.

When we look for extra-terrestrial life, we try to find planets that have similar conditions to ours because that is the only life we know. We know that the probability of carbon-based life is non-zero because we exist. We have no idea what conditions might create life forms vastly different from ours, so we would not know what planet features to to look for, and have to simply await signals from them, if they exist.

But god could create life to exist on any planet or any star or even in the deep vacuum of space. So that present parameters of the universe are (or should be) irrelevant to him. The question of a highly unlikely coincidence, which is what the anthropic/Goldilocks pirnciple argues for, simply does not arise.

Posted by Mano on November 28, 2009 10:38 PM