Islam Science & Evolution
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
There is no doubt that there is a raging controversy over the theory of evolution. Evolution has been denounced across the board by the clergy and scholars of the Abrahamic religions which include Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The controversy surrounds Charles Darwin’s publication, The Origin of Species. Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution, however, should be labeled as Darwinism. Darwin neither originated the theory of evolution nor is his book the definitive statement regarding the origin of species. There is a current alternate theory of evolution which Wikipedia in its article Theistic Evolution describes as:
“Theistic evolution or evolutionary creation is a concept that asserts that classical religious teachings about God are compatible with the modern scientific understanding about biological evolution. In short, theistic evolutionists believe that there is a God, that God is the creator of the material universe and (by consequence) all life within, and that biological evolution is simply a natural process within that creation. Evolution, according to this view, is simply a tool that God employed to develop human life.
Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory, but a particular view about how the science of evolution relates to religious belief and interpretation. Theistic evolution supporters can be seen as one of the groups who reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science – that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict…”
Western scholars are ignorant of the fact that evolution (defined as the development and mutation of species into other species through a process of natural selection) was first described in the Quran. Verses from the Quran were elaborated upon by Muslim scholars as far back as the 9th Century. According to the above article:
Ideas on theistic evolution can be found in Islamic philosophy as far back as the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 15th centuries), when early ideas on evolution were taught in Islamic schools. Abu Al Fath Al-Khazini, the 12th Century Persian Muslim astronomer, stated that ideas on evolution were widespread among even the common people in the Islamic world during his own era. However, those who adhered to their Biblical texts, both Christians and Jews, viewed the controversy between science and their religious texts from an insurmountable chasm which vastly distanced faith from science. John William Draper, a contemporary of Darwin, a 19th-century scientist, philosopher and historian found it necessary to condemn Christian and Jewish beliefs in order to justify his modern scientific views. Because, Draper was ignorant of the contents of the Quran as well as the life of the Prophet (pbuh), he condemned both with the same vehemence he condemned Christianity and Judaism. This ignorance compelled him to propagate a grossly distorted view of both the Quran and Muhammad (pbuh) in his texts. However, he was very impressed with Muslim scientists, whom he falsely stated were forced to overthrow the teachings of the Quran in order to develop their scientific theories and methods. Due to his failure to read and understand the Quran, he totally misrepresented the scientific information and inspiration that the Quran provided for these very scientists whom he so admired. Nevertheless, in his book, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, Chap VII, p. 180, he conceded:
(Christian) “Theological authorities were therefore constrained to look with disfavor on any attempt to carry back the origin of the earth, to an epoch indefinitely remote, and on the Mohammedan theory of the evolution of man from lower forms, or his gradual development to his present condition in the long lapse of time.”
The first Islamic biologist and philosopher to speculate in detail about evolution was the Afro-Arab writer Al-Jahiz in the 9th century. In the Book of Animals, he speculated on the influence of the environment on animals and developed an early theory of evolution. Al-Jahiz considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the natural struggle for existence. He described the struggle for existence in terms that anticipate natural selection. Al-Jahiz’s ideas on the struggle for existence in the Book of Animals have been summarized as follows:
“Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”
“Ibn Miskawayh’s al-Fawz al-Asghar and the Brethren of Purity’s Encyclopedia (The Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa) set forth ideas on how species developed: from matter into vapor and thence to water, then minerals into plants and then animals, leading to apes and, finally, humans.”
Another Islamic scholar who advocated the theory of evolution was Ibn Khaldun. According to the Wikipedia Article entitled Muqaddimah (Universal History), a book written in 1377 by the renowned Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Khaldun:
“Some of Ibn Khaldun’s thoughts, according to some commentators, anticipate the biological theory of evolution. Ibn Khaldun asserted that humans developed from “the world of the monkeys”, in a process by which “species become more numerous” in Chapter 1 of the Muqaddimah:
This world with all the created things in it has a certain order and solid construction. It shows nexuses between causes and things caused, combinations of some parts of creation with others, and transformations of some existent things into others, in a pattern that is both remarkable and endless.
One should then take a look at the world of creation. It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch. The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the newest group.
The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this point we come to the first stage of man. This is as far as our (physical) observation extends.”
Ibn Khaldun believed that humans are the most evolved form of animals, in that they have the ability to reason. The Muqaddimah also states in Chapter 6:
“We explained there that the whole of existence in (all) its simple and composite worlds is arranged in a natural order of ascent and descent, so that everything constitutes an uninterrupted continuum. The essences at the end of each particular stage of the worlds are by nature prepared to be transformed into the essence adjacent to them, either above or below them. This is the case with the simple material elements; it is the case with palms and vines, (which constitute) the last stage of plants, in their relation to snails and shellfish, (which constitute) the (lowest) stage of animals. It is also the case with monkeys, creatures combining in themselves cleverness and perception, in their relation to man, the being who has the ability to think and to reflect. The preparedness (for transformation) that exists on either side, at each stage of the worlds, is meant when (we speak about) their connection.
Plants do not have the same fineness and power that animals have. Therefore, the sages rarely turned to them. Animals are the last and final stage of the three permutations. Minerals turn into plants, and plants into animals, but animals cannot turn into anything finer than themselves.”
His evolutionary ideas appear to be similar to those found in the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity. Ibn Khaldun was also an adherent of environmental determinism. He explained that black skin was due to the hot climate of sub-Saharan Africa and not due to their lineage. He thus dispelled the Hamitic theory, where the sons of Ham were cursed by being black, as a myth.”
The above articles fail to mention that the inspiration for the Theistic Evolution proposed by the above Islamic scholars, actually came from the book they studied most, the Quran. According to modern scholarship, evolution began with the Big Bang which is described in the Wikipedia article Big Bang:
“The Big Bang was the event which led to the formation of the universe, according to the prevailing cosmological theory of the universe’s early development (known as the Big Bang theory or Big Bang model).
According to the Big Bang model, the universe, originally in an extremely hot and dense state that expanded rapidly, has since cooled by expanding to the present diluted state, and continues to expand today. Based on the best available measurements as of 2010, the original state of the universe existed around 13.7 billion years ago, which is often referred to as the time when the Big Bang occurred. The theory is the most comprehensive and accurate explanation supported by scientific evidence and observation.”
The Big Bang theory closely parallels the Quran’s assertion that the universe was once a single unit:
(Al Anbiya) 21:30: “Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?”
This verse is astounding, not only in the accurate description of the creation of the universe, but in the statement that the ‘unbelievers’ or non Muslims would actually view for themselves this wondrous act. Scientists have established that the universe was created from a condensed particle of energy which exploded and eventually produced light about 380 thousand years after the initial explosion. This light traveled through space at a known speed of 670,616,629 mph and took about 13.7 billion years to reach earth. So, by looking into space, scientist can actually see the beginnings of the universe when light first began to appear approximately 380 thousand years after Allah (swt) ordered creation into existence. These scientists have all been citizens of non Muslim nations. They have launched telescopes into space and they have seen for themselves the light from the infant universe. As Allah (swt) foretold in this verse, it was non Muslim scientists who would actually view and confirm that the heavens and the earth (universe) were one unit that split apart. However, the first affirmation that all living things were created from water came from the Muslims.
After the formation of the universe, the Quran goes on to state that Allah created every living thing from water. The theory of the aquatic origin of life from a primordial life form is being investigated by researchers who propose that life began around hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean. The discovery of extremophiles (organisms that thrive in what, for most terrestrial life-forms, are intolerably hostile environments) has prompted renewed speculation about the conditions under which the first terrestrial organisms appeared. Some researchers favor the hot environs of undersea hydrothermal vents as a likely birthplace for life, a hypothesis given further credence in 1999 with the announcement by Japanese researchers that they had managed to synthesize peptides around an artificial deep-sea vent. Others, most vociferously Gold, have promulgated the notion of a deep (and also hot) subterranean place of origin.
The abiogenesis theory which proceeded from the thermal vent as the origin of life theory, is that land bound life began in tidal pools where it was deposited by ancient oceanic tides. Here life developed in the mud or clay that was deposited along with the marine life. Scientists argued that some way of concentrating polymers, proteins and nucleic acid (the basic ingredients of life) was needed and that lagoons and tidal pools around the early oceans would have served this purpose well. Polymerization may have taken place with the aid of clay minerals, which would have provided a surface for the absorption of organic molecules, a means of holding them while they joined together, and protection from the disruptive effects of solar ultraviolet. The possible role played by clay and a semi-dry, lagoon-like environment has since been stressed by others, notably Graham Cairns-Smith, Harold Urey and Stanley Miller. Miller and Urey conducted the famous Miller-Urey experiment which demonstrated the abiogenesis origin of life proposed by Alexander Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane, i.e., that life was produced when conditions on the primitive Earth favored chemical reactions that synthesized more complex organic compounds from simpler inorganic precursors.
Scientists have been exploring a multitude of possibilities for the generation of earthly life. However, according to the Quran, life began with Allah’s (swt) decree:
(Hud) 11:7: “He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days – and His Throne was over the waters – that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct. But if thou wert to say to them, “Ye shall indeed be raised up after death”, the Unbelievers would be sure to say, “This is nothing but obvious sorcery!”
One of Allah’s names in the Quran is Malik or King (see Quran 20:114 & 23:116). The Arabic word ‘malik’ is derived from the root malaka which means to own, to possess, so a king is one who owns or possess his territory or kingdom. Thus, Allah (swt) names Himself as King because He is the sole owner and disposer of his creation. Kings issue decrees from their thrones. In the above verse, Allah (swt) is depicted as issuing from His throne a decree commanding the waters to produce life. The waters then began to produce life, which resulted in the evolution of life; plants, animals and man according to the following verses in Suras An Noor and Al Furqan:
(An Noor) 24:45: “And God has created every animal from water: of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. God creates what He wills for verily God has power over all things.”
(Al Furqan) 25:54: “It is He Who has created man from water: then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage: for thy Lord has power (over all things).”
Allah (swt) goes on to explain that man was created from a mixture of earth and water or clay:
(Al Muminoorn) 23:12: “Man We did create from a quintessence of clay…”
It is very important to point out that Allah (swt) stresses that He created human beings from a quintessence of clay or the water and the minerals from which clay is composed. According to scientists as Haldane and Cairns-Smith, clay was critical to prebiotic evolution. Clay minerals seem to have played a vital role in the manufacture of large prebiotic molecules – their lattice structures acting as templates for the organization of organic matter into polymers. The clay or mud from which man was created was black mud altered or formed:
(Al Hijr) 15:26: ” Verily We created man of sounding clay of black mud altered.”
Allah (swt) emphasizes that not only was man formed from water and the minerals contained in clay, but that the clay was black. The current theory of man’s evolution has his origins in the African continent. The above verse emphasizes that early man was dark skinned which is consistent with current theories of man’s African origins. Allah (swt) says that he created man in stages. He further states that this creation took place over a long period of time:
(Nooh) 71:14: “Seeing that it is He that has created you in stages.”
(Ad Dahr) 76:1: “Has there not been over Man a long period of Time, when he was nothing – (not even) mentioned?”
The Quran depicts the origin and evolution of the universe and life as one of slow development. However, there are those that will argue a rapid development scenario based upon the following verse in Surat Al Hajj 22:47:
(Al Hajj) 22:47: “And they will bid you to hasten on the Doom, and Allah does not fail in His promise, but lo! a day with Allah is a thousand years of what you reckon.”
The thousand years mentioned in this verse applies to Arab cultural history and not to the evolutionary aeons of the universe. The Arabic word, yawm, means, not only ‘day’, but also time, era, age. The ancient Arabs divided their cultural history into ages of one thousand years. An example of this calculation would be the Age of Noah or Noah’s tribe which, according to Surah Al Ankabut 29:14, lasted “one thousand years less fifty.” The interpretation that the word ‘day’ (yawm) in this context means historical age is confirmed by the Arabic word ‘t3dwn’ meaning ‘what you (Arabs) reckon.’ The Hebrews had a similar millennial concept of their history, which is expressed in the Book of Genesis, chapter 5.
According to the Quran, man’s evolutionary development took place over a period of time until he reached a point of evolution when he and his mate would beget the human race in all of its variations:
(Al Hujiraat) 49:13: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
(AnNisa) 4:1: “O mankind! Reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single Soul, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- Fear God, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (that bore you): for God ever watches over you.”
Once the genetic code for the sons of Adam had evolved enough to allow the human race to assume responsibility for establishing the moral code on planet Earth, Allah (swt) appointed him as His caliph on earth. The moral code consists of a set of laws which insure the worship of Allah (swt) alone and the establishment of a Quran based shariah which would allow man to live in harmony in his own society. Human conduct not only affects the man and his social environment; it also affects the planet and all of the species which call this planet home. Allah (swt) says in the Quran:
(Al Baqarah) 2:30: “Behold, your Lord said to the angels: “I will create a caliph on Earth.” They said: “Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood while we do celebrate Your praises and glorify Your holy name?” He said: I know what you don’t know.”
According to the Quran, the angels were surprised at Allah’s choice of caliph. Allah (swt) created the angels before He created man so they had ample opportunity to witness this creature’s biological and social evolution. The creatures which preceded Adam were driven by the same violent tendencies as Adam’s descendants. However, Allah (swt) chose Adam and this act of choosing implies that Adam was not the only representative of his species:
(Aal e Imran) 3:33: “God did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of ‘Imran above all people…”
Allah (swt) confirms that Adam was surrounded by the creatures from which Allah (swt) chose him. The fact the Allah (swt) chose Adam indicates that Adam may have been a unique development among his fellow creatures in that he and his mate were the first human beings to whom Allah (swt) granted a soul. Adam and his mate became the sole progenitors of the human race. Allah (swt) allowed the genetic code of Adam’s fellow creatures to expire. Thus, we are all children of the same parents who evolved from the quintessence of clay and water to a creature able to assume responsibility for establishing Allah’s law on earth as is described in the Quran. The accurate description of man’s evolution in the Quran is just another proof of Allah’s (swt) overwhelming mercy in revealing this miracle to benefit all of mankind.