Islam, Modern Science, Evolution: Conflict or Harmony?


11 Apr 2016

History of Science, Evolution

Nidhal Guessoum

Nidhal Guessoum discusses the framing of science and Islam, with a particular focus on biological evolution, including human evolution.  He positions his ideas among various thinkers of the past fifty years or so.

He is emphatic that science must be based on naturalistic principles, including that it be falsifiable.  The slide that he presents at about 22:30 of the lecture, which he calls the most important slide of the lecture, lays out the basis for science.  This might be contrasted with his slide at about 44:00, which lays out his proposal for harmonizing science and Islam.  This proposal begins, he emphasizes, with adopts that which has been proven with science’s rigorous methodology.  This acceptance is augmented with a “optional theistic interpretive mantle”, although a particularly tolerant one, as it would also need to accept other interpretive mantles, including non-theistic ones.

Guessoum places himself within a heterogeneous “new generation” of thinkers about Islam and science, which follow two prior generations.  The first generation he characterizes as “mostly failed”, and the second as “rare and not very impactful”.

Guessoum provides a quick overview of premodern Muslim science.  He also provides references to several books throughout the lecture for those interested in additional material.

The question and answer session, which is the final 22 minutes of the video (and appears to have been edited), includes two questions about reconciling biological evolution and creationism.  For both of these, Guessoum is emphatic that the evidence for biological evolution, including that of humans, is overwhelming, better proven, he says, than the fact that the Earth rotates around the Sun.  He is also asked about iʿjāz, and he forcefully says that he has never found any iʿjāz that could not be disproven, despite, as he notes in the lecture, its being “extraordinarily popular”.  He mentions that he has a whole chapter in his book on the topic.  In the lecture, he calls it “a huge cultural problem”.

The lecture was given on 28 March 2016 at the New York University Abu Dhabi (UAE) Institute.  This is generally based on material in his book, Islam’s Quantum Question (2011, I.B. Tauris).


Islam:  The material on Islam is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable.

Science:  This is not directly presenting science, but the science that Guessoum talks about is all well validated with evidence.

History:  The historical material corresponds with contemporary historical consensus.  Guessoum presents opinions about works as opinions rather than facts.

About Nidhal Guessoum

Born in September 1960, Nidhal Guessoum is a renowned astrophysicist from Algeria. Guessoum received his Bachelors of Science in Theoretical Physics from the University of Science and Technology of Algiers in 1982, his Masters of Science in Physics and his Ph.D. in Theoretical Astrophysics (1988) from the University of California at San Diego. After spending a two-year stint at the NASA-Goddard Flight Space Center as a researcher, and another ten years teaching, divided between the University of Bilda, Algeria and College of Technical Studies in Kuwait, Guessoum settled at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), United Arab Emirates in 2000. As of 2015, he is still a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Interim Head of Physics at AUS.

Guessoum has a long list of publications to his name – articles, technical papers, and books – in Arabic, English, and French, and often writes on the intersections of Islam and science. He was a columnist for Huffington Post from 2011-2012, publishing six articles that discussed aspects of the relationship between Islam and science. Guessoum has lectured at many universities around the world and participated in the international media for many years. In addition, he is a member of the board of trustees for the John Templeton Foundation, a foundation supporting discoveries “relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.”

As of 2015, Guessoum operates an active Twitter page in Arabic, a personal Facebook and website where he often blogs in Arabic (as recently as May 2015). A more extensive faculty biography, CV, and list of publications may be found on AUS’s website.

Selected Bibliography:

AUS Faculty Bios.” American University of Sharjah. AUS, n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Guessoum, Nidhal. Facebook. Facebook, n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Guessoum, Nidhal. Huffington Post. HPMG News, n.d.

Guessoum, Nidhal. Nidhal Guessoum. N.p., n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Guessoum, Nidhal. Twitter. Twitter, n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Mission.” The John Templeton Foundation. N.p., n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Nidhal Guessoum.” The John Templeton Foundation. N.p., n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.

Nidhal Guessoum.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Accessed 06 June 2015.