Source: Pew Research Center
This survey also provides a window into the kinds of things that Christians see as a conflict between science and religion. In an open-ended question included on the Center’s survey, respondents who said science conflicted with their personal religious beliefs were asked to identify up to three areas of conflict. Christians most commonly mentioned the creation of the universe, including evolution and the “Big Bang” (cited by 38% of U.S. Christians who saw a conflict between science and their religious beliefs). Respondents also mentioned broad tensions including the idea that man (rather than God) is “in charge,” beliefs in miracles, or a belief in the events of the Bible (26%). Others cited conflict over the beginning of life, abortion, and scientific technologies involving human embryos (12%) or other medical practices (7%).
Evolution raised areas of disagreement for many Muslim interviewees, who often said the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Islamic tenet that humans were created by Allah. Evolution is also a common, though by no means universal, friction point for Christians. By contrast, neither Buddhist interviewees, followers of a religion with no creator figure, nor Hindu interviewees, followers of a polytheistic faith, described discord with evolution either in their personal beliefs or in their views of how evolution comports with their religion.
Some Muslims interviewees see origination of humans from the prophet Nabi Adam as at odds with evolution
When asked about the theory of evolution, Muslim interviewees generally talked about conflict between the theory of evolution and their religious beliefs about the origins of human life – specifically, the belief that God created humans in their present form, and that all humans are descended from Adam and Eve. “This is one of the conflicts between religion and Western theory. Based on Western theory, they said we came from monkeys. For me, if we evolved from monkeys, where could we get the stories of [the prophet] Nabi? Was Nabi Muhammad like a monkey in the past? For me, he was human. Allah had created perfect humans, not from monkey to human,” said one Muslim man (age 21, Malaysia).
Islamic views on evolution
“Nonsense. I believe that Nabi Adam is the first human in the world. Before Nabi Adam was created, other living things such as dinosaurs and so on were also created. The theory of human evolution from apes to human is very different from the teaching in Islam.”
– Muslim man, age 24, Malaysia
“That theory to me is absurd. People might be saying that during time of Mesopotamia, the people there hunch and bow, with appearance looking like an ape. Maybe that is why one says we come from apes. But, for me, I believe that we come from Adam and Adam came from heaven.”
– Muslim woman, age 36, Malaysia
“Our ancestors are not monkeys. Maybe there’s similarity in the DNA, but in Islam the first human is Adam. He’s not a monkey.”
– Muslim man, age 35, Singapore
Others emphasized that evolution is only a theory and has not been proven true. “It’s just a theory, because there is no specific evidence or justification. … Just because the DNA [of humans and primates] has a difference of a few percent, that doesn’t mean we are similar,” said a 29-year-old Singaporean Muslim man. Still others said that Charles Darwin developed this theory in order to get famous and did not put adequate thought or research into his theory.
However, a handful of Muslims said they personally believed that humans were descended from primates via the evolutionary process, even though they believed that this deviated from Islamic teaching. “Monkeys can crawl. After that, stand, stand, stand, then become human, right? Yes, I think so. I think, yeah, that one I believe. … [But] religion says all humans in the world come from God. A bit of conflict,” said a 44-year-old Muslim woman from Singapore. Another Muslim woman (age 39, Singapore) said she was open to the concept of evolution, even though her religion tells a different story. “According to religion, we don’t originate from monkeys. But being that we may be related, the possibility is there,” she said.
A Pew Research Center survey of Muslims worldwide conducted in 2011 and 2012 found a 22-public median of 53% said they believed humans and other living things evolved over time. However, levels of acceptance of evolution varied by region and country, with Muslims in South and Southeast Asian countries reporting lower levels of belief in evolution by this measure than Muslims in other regions. In Malaysia, for instance, 37% of Muslim adults said they believed humans and other living things evolved over time.
In the U.S. context, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey found that views of evolution among American Muslims were roughly split: 45% said they believed humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 44% said they have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
Hindu and Buddhist interviewees emphasize the absence of conflict with the theory of evolution
Evolution posed no conflict to the Hindus interviewed. In keeping with thematic comments that Hinduism contains elements of science, many interviewees said the concept of evolution was encompassed in their religious teachings. “In Hinduism we have something like this as well, that tells us we originated from different species, which is why we also believe in reincarnation, and how certain deities take different forms. This is why certain animals are seen as sacred animals, because it’s one of the forms that this particular deity had taken,” said a 29-year-old Hindu woman in Singapore. When asked about the origins of human life, many Hindu interviewees just quickly replied that humans came from primates.
The Buddhists interviewed also tended to say there was no conflict between their religion and evolution, and that they personally believed in the theory. Some added that they didn’t think their religion addressed humans’ origins at all. “I don’t think Buddhism has any theory on the first human being or anything. For Buddhism, we don’t really have a strong sense of how the first human came along,” said a Buddhist man in Singapore (age 22).