Skip to content

Tag: Malaysia

In denial over evolution, in denial over science

Published in The Malaysian Insider

“Malays have no problems embracing science when it supports their pride, but they won’t even acknowledge the theory of evolution,” a friend remarked after reading the news on proto-Malays. It might sound like a broad sweeping statement, but it is obvious that most Malaysians, and by extension most Malays, have strong disagreement with the subject despite being poorly educated on it.

When asked “Did human beings develop from an earlier species of animals?”, slightly over half of Malaysians answered “false”, a mere 17.4 per cent answered “true” and the rest were unsure. This statistic was then published in the most recent report on scientific and technological awareness by the Malaysian Science and Technology Information Centre (Mastic) in 2008.

In comparison, almost half of those surveyed back in 2004 answered “true”, 21 per cent answered “false”, and the rest unsure — a complete opposite of 2008’s result.

Suspiciously, Mastic decided that the correct answer to the question is “false”, contrary to the answer in the American and European version of the survey. The decision was, according to them, “for many different reasons not to be mentioned in this report.” By their own admission too, this had eliminated any fair international comparison for the survey.

It is no secret that there are some of our medical students overseas who purposely skip their evolutionary biology lectures “in protest.” Steve Jones, emeritus professor of human genetics at University College London, claimed that an increasing number of Muslim students in UK had been boycotting his lectures.

In TV AlHijrah, we have a government-owned (read: taxpayer-backed) Islamic TV channel which freely airs pseudo-scientific and pro-creationism drivel such as the show “Signs of Creator”. This is just one of the many works by cult head Adnan Oktar, more known and idolised in Malaysia by his pen name Harun Yahya. I tried watching it the other day, but lost my patience by the time it got to the “Miracles by Prophets are Proofs that Evolution is Wrong” section.

What in the name of Darwin happened here?

Proto-who? On the origin of Bumiputeras

Published in The Malaysian Insider

Fresh from being told that Hang Tuah — the icon of Malay resilience (“takkan Melayu hilang di dunia”) — did not exactly exist, some Malays may be shocked to learn that they were originally Africans. Suddenly, it dawns on them that those they have mocked freely with names like “Awang Hitam” and “Dayang Senandung” might turn out to be their ketuanan compatriots.

At least, that’s the claim made at a conference known as Konvensyen Asal Usul Melayu: Induknya di Alam Melayu (literally Convention on the Origin of Malays: Ancestry in Malay World). With a RM1.4 million grant from, of all people, the Higher Education Ministry, it is hard to argue with them.

Or is it?

To be precise, a presentation in the convention posited that the ancestral people called proto-Malays originated from Africa before migrating to the Sunda Shelf, the mass of land covering the area of Southeast Asia. It is believed that the proto-Malays then survived the supervolcanic eruption of Danau Toba in Sumatra by living in places not affected by the volcanic ash.

The Toba event happened between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago, which would make proto-Malays among the only 10,000 humans estimated left during that time. The event is an important explanation for the bottleneck in human evolution, which answers how the human race actually descended from a very small population.

Fleeing from global warming that flooded the Sunda Shelf into different islands 25,000 years ago, the people would have migrated north to the rest of the world, populating, among others, India, China, Japan and the United States. In short, these proto-Malays might be the origin of human life on Earth.

This, of course, flies in the face of the previous three theories on proto-Malays, which suggested Yunnan, New Guinea or Taiwan as their point of origin, which means they were northern people migrating south. These three theories were mostly based on archaeological findings and linguistic studies, as opposed to genetic studies which became the reference for the latest theory.