Evolution and the Qur'an
Post of the Month: November 1996
ecently, within the past couple of decades, there has been a revival of the debate between evolutionism and creationism. By creationism, believing that God created life without the process of evolution, is meant. The Christian creationists believe that God directly created life from clay. The process by which He created the world is not explainable, according to them, because the laws involved were not the same as the existing laws of the universe. Many Muslims are left wondering where they should stand on this topic. Almost every educated Muslim believes in the evolution of lower life forms, but not as many believe in the evolution of man. Do they believe this because of the Qur'an, or because they were fed these beliefs by their parents and teachers?
When one studies the Qur'an to see references to creation, it makes much sense to look at Muslim scientists interpretations of certain verses of the Qur'an, who lived in the early days of Islam. When this is studied it is realized that Darwin, who gets the credit for the idea of natural selection and evidence for evolution, was one thousand years late in the discovery. The Muslim scientists ibn Kathir, ibn Khauldun, ibn Arabi, ibn Sina, among other scientists, such as the Ikhwan school of though, arrived at the same conclusions as Darwin with a convincing amount of evidence. Every Muslim school and mosque used to teach evolution up until a few hundred years ago. Some westerners, including Darwin's contemporary, Sir William Draper, called it the Mohammedan Theory of Evolution. Draper admitted that the Muslim version was more advanced than Darwin's, because in the Muslim version, the evolution starts out with minerals. The Muslim scientists used the Qur'an as their guide in doing this. Even in the most simple statement of human creation that is mentioned in the Qur'an, evolution is implied: 'We initiated your creation (khalaqa), and then we shaped you...' (7:11) The Qur'an says that humans were alive while still being shaped. This implies that either humans were made from clay, but were alive even before being molded into shape or that the initiation of creation represents the first life and the shaping is the evolution. A time lapse is definitely implied. The word 'khalaqa' is derived from the root kh-l-q, which is usually translated as simply 'to create.' This definition does not give the word justice, though. The original dictionary meaning is 'to create gradually in successive stages, each one being different from the previous.' The word is almost interchangeable with the word 'evolve,' which is defined, according to The American Heritage Dictionary as 'to undergo gradual change.' For this reason, khalaq will be used instead of create and will be treated as an English word.
Another verse of the Qur'an implies that there was a time lapse in the creation of man: 'And lo! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to khalaq mortal human out of sounding clay, out of dark slim transmuted; (time lapse) and when I have fully formed and breathed into him of My Spirit, fall prostrate before him!"' (15:28-29)
The clay represents the organic and inorganic matter which makes up living organisms. This interpretation is supported by the fact the Qur'an also says that man is made from 'dust' and from 'the essence of clay.' Since the Qur'an uses different objects to represent the same thing, the author of the Qur'an (which Muslims believe is God) either kept contradicted himself, or was speaking metaphorically.
Another verse dealing with time and the creation of humans is: "Has there not been an endless time span when humans were not even a thing thought of? Verily, it is We who have khalaqed man out of a drop of sperm intermingled (with the female ovum)...We made him a being endowed with hearing and sight (ie; wisdom and reason)." (76:1-2)
The Muslim evolutionists make the comment that the phrase used for 'a thing thought of,' implies the human existence at a time when it was nothing special. They contend that this can only imply that before humans were in a different form, since the creation of them is in the next verse. There are some almost identical verses which can be interpreted in two ways. Neither way explicitly contradicts evolution, though one interpretation leans more towards evolution and the other leans more towards creation. One example of this is: '...will you blaspheme against Him who has khalaqed you out of dust and then out of a drop of sperm and in the end has fashioned you into a human?' (18:37) This can be interpreted to refer to the initial act of creation, or as two both the initial creation and the successive one which happens daily. If it refers to the initial creation, then the first human was conceived like any other human and therefore had parents. The Muslim scientists of the past looked at this verse, along with scientific evidence, and interpreted it this way. There is also another repeated verse which can also be interpreted as either referring to the initial creation or the daily creation: '...He has khalaqed you in successive stages.' (71-14) Three verses after this, the Qur'an says: 'And God has caused you to grow out of the earth in (gradual) growth.' (71-17) There is one verse, which is almost identically repeated throughout the whole of the Qur'an, which explicitly states what the evolutionists say about the origins of life: 'And it is God who has created all 'dabbah' from the water...' (24:45 and other places) Dabbah is defined as anything which has life and spontaneous movement. This includes all animals, including man, and every other one of the eight kingdoms of life (bacteria, protozoa, etc.) excluding fungi and plants.
Some say that the Qur'an is actually just stating that life consists of mostly water (in 1973 the Noble Prize awarded to two men who showed that life is about 80% water), denying that it is referring also to evolution. They say that people are just trying to bend the Qur'an to modern science. Considering that the original Muslim scientists inferred the same interpretation before Darwin, however, is a sufficient rebuttal against this argument.
Another verse of the Qur'an which can be interpreted in two ways is: 'It is We who have khalaqed them (time lapse) and strengthened their make...' (76:28). How did God strengthen human's make? Could it be through evolution? If this verse should be interpreted otherwise, then why does it not simply state, 'It is We who have created them in a strong make,' instead of implying two separate steps and a time lapse? The same argument pertains to one translation of the following verse: 'He...designed you and (time lapse) perfected your design...' (64:3)
The reason why many Muslims were lead to believe in a creation story like that of the Jews is because the Jewish converts to Islam brought their traditions with them, which became mixed up with the hadith, or the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Most of these hadith were discounted in the past, but they gradually became reaccepted as the educated class in Muslim countries dwindled and the illiterate class exploded.The original Genesis, from the Bible, must have been general like that of the Qur'an. Throughout the years, considering that the Bible is two thousand years old and was passed orally in the beginning, the story was changed and many additions were made. The concept that God changes all the laws of nature in order to accomplish something was a concept that the Babylonians had. This is because of the amount of natural disaster in that area, which makes God look like a constantly, and not suddenly, intervening God. Genesis borrows very heavily from Babylonian creation myths. Some people cannot distinguish between the two when they are compared side by side. It makes sense that God is more powerful if He does not need to change the laws of nature to do His will, but planned out the universe so that the laws would naturally carry out His will. Since God knows the future, He would be able to plan the laws to allow miracles, though others may have been changes in the usual laws of nature in order to demonstrate a certain point. According to the authentic hadith, w hen the Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) only son, Ibrahim (or Abraham), died, an eclipse occurred the next day. Followers thought that God, or nature, was displaying His, or its, grief. Muhammad said that God does not simply change all the laws of the universe in order to grieve for somebody. If anything, God had calculated the event to happen for the followers to learn this lesson. So, if the laws of the universe existing today are the same as those during the creation, and evolution is proven to be currently happening, then evolution must have been the process by which life exists. Creationists accept this, but they believe that the laws are different now, than during the original 'six days'. It is very difficult to have a scientific debate, when the ground rules cannot even be agreed upon.
As mentioned, in the areas where the original Jews and the Babylonians lived, life was heavily affected by natural disasters. This is why throughout the history of these people, they imagined God as one Who is constantly intervening with His power. This contrasts to the people of the Nile, who were used to the gradual rising of the floods helping their crops and benefiting the villages. These people naturally imagined God to create things in stages and not to keep changing the laws of nature. Historians have trouble explaining why Muhammad (PBUH) talked about creating things in stages if he supposedly was simply a plagiarist of the Bible.
Some Muslims may question how evolution was possible if Adam and Eve were created in Heaven. The Qur'an, when analyzed, never states that Adam and Eve were in heaven. It actually implies that they were created on Earth as the modern Christians and Jews believe. During the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the Jews and Christians believed that Adam and Eve were created in Heaven; so again, their beliefs were mixed into Muslim beliefs. According to the Qur'an, in Heaven, there is no such thing as aging or decay. Yet in the Qur'an Adam and Eve knew they were going to die, and Satan tried to deceive them by telling them that the metaphorical tree would give them eternal life. "But Satan whispered unto him, saying, 'Oh Adam! Shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternal Life, and to a kingdom of that will never decay?'" (20:120)
If they were in Heaven, they would have no need for this fruit. Also, what kingdom would Satan be referring to if they were already in Heaven? In addition, the place where Adam and Eve stayed had the sun. There is only one sun, and that is in the Earth's solar system. '...and thou shalt not thirst here or suffer from the heat of the sun.' (20:119) Unless Heaven is in Earth's solar system, which would contradict statements of the Qur'an which say otherwise, they must have lived on Earth.
Another example of how Judeo-Christian beliefs were mixed into Islamic ones, is that many Muslim children are taught that Eve was made from Adam's rib. This, though stated in the Bible, is never in the Qur'an. Firstly, the Qur'an never even states whether Adam or Eve was created first. The Qur'an says that humankind 'was created from one soul and its mate.' The word for soul, 'nafs,' is feminine. So there is no implication that Adam was created first. Yusuf Ali, under the influence of the Bible, mistranslates those verses into, 'mankind was created from one soul and his mate.' Though the Qur'an does say that the 'mate was created from the it (the first soul),' it does not say by which process. The most logical way to interpret this, is that God means to say that the mate was from the same essence, or scientifically, the same species as the first soul. Muhammad Asad, a German Jew who converted to Islam, agrees with this in his famous translation and commentary of the Qur'an.
The names Adam and Eve even imply the allegorical nature of their story. Adam comes from a Hebrew word meaning, 'the dark-colored one' or 'humankind' and Eve means, 'the mother of the people.' Therefore, the names are very much like descriptions of the first people who could differentiate between right and wrong. They may have never even had direct communication with God. They originally followed their preprogrammed instincts, but they did something which let them reason for themselves. This something is symbolized by the tree. Even the way the tree is described as the Tree of Eternal Life or the Tree of the Knowledge between Good and Evil, displays its metaphorical nature.
The creationists try to disprove evolution in many different ways. They almost always use negative arguments. For example, because of this and this, the present evolutionary theory is false, therefore creation is true. Look in any book on how to argue, take any debate class or look at the p implies q logic used in math. Creationist have committed the converse error argument. One of the most common things they say is the the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not allow evolution to happen. Scientists, therefore, for scores of years, completely forgot one of the most basic laws of science when arriving at the conclusion of evolution, according to them. This law states that everything tends to change from order to disorder (entropy), or that all usable energy tends to be lost as unusable energy, namely heat. For example, one's hair begins the day nice and combed, but ends messy. A teenager's room starts out being clean, and in a few days becomes a mess. When a ball drops, it may only bounce back up on e-third of the way, because energy was lost in the form of sound and heat, and some energy was absorbed into the ground. Therefore, the originally chaotic world could not have gone the reverse of the law and have attained more orderliness. The problem with this argument is that the law only applies to a closed system. This means that no matter or energy is added or subtracted from it. Hair can be fixed nicely all day if it is brushed again now and then. The earth is not a closed system. The earth has matter added to it every time a meteor comes in the atmosphere and has energy added to it from the sun. Therefore, the argument is useless. The creationists cannot even get their basics in chemistry correct, it seems. Another argument is that the earth is only 6,500 to 10,000 years old. These numbers are calculated from the genealogies contained in the Bible. The earth can be dated through a variety of methods. This includes dating by the ratio of uranium to lead, rubidium to strontium and strontium-8 7 to strontium-86. Every single method of dating the earth leads to approximately the same conclusion. The earth is around 4.5 billion years old. The suns size, color, heat and other things can used to be calculate the age of it. The same number is reached by all methods. By the laws of chemistry, these methods are completely reliable. All of the creationists' arguments against these methods have been completely futile. The methods are not even explained correctly in the books written by the ICR, which use the art of distortion to try to convince readers of their viewpoint. Some creationists state that though the original proportions of atoms can be known, the time period in which they were in that proportion is merely conjecture.
This is completely against the commonly known algebraic rule which says that if the formula of the decay is known, which even the ICR agrees on, the graph can show the time of equilibrium from the interceptions of the graph. The only thing that creationists can still say, which some do say, is that God purposely made the earth appear old, therefore not letting humans find the origins of the earth. Muslims cannot accept this view, because according to both the Qur'an and the authentic hadith, God provides humans with all the evidence of how the earth was created. This evidence serves as proof of His existence, according to Muslims. If God told humans one thing and gave the evidence for another, this would do the opposite of proving His existence. Some Muslims even try to say that one cannot question the origins of the earth, but must blindly accept the common view of the Muslim world. This is completely a western idea, not supported by the Qur'an. Some Qur'anic passages which exemplify the previous statements are:
Whole books have been written on the subject of creationism vs. evolution, this essay introduces some of the basic arguments for evolution in light of Qur'an. A soon to be published book, written by Dr. T.O. Shanavaz extensively covers the Qur'anic and Muslim scientist view on the creation of the universe and of man. This essay touches on the major points of evolution in the Qur'an, including some points not advanced by Dr. Shanavaz's book. Muhammad Asad's and Muhammad Ali's translations of the Qur'an also support evolution. There are also many other books written on this subject, including the available original works of the Muslim evolutionist of the past.
Muslims must understand that religious ideas can be interpreted in different ways in order to match the changing times. There is only one absolute truth, but as long as it does not contradict whatever truth exists in a certain point in time, the latter is acceptable. If Muslims were to go to the original source of Islam, the Qur'an, without biases from their teachings of their parents and teachers, the Muslim world will once again prosper. When people stopped questioning, the Muslim empire fell. One must remember the famous saying of the Prophet (PBUH), 'God's greatest gift to humans is reason.'
Ashley Montagu. Science and Creationism. New York, US. Oxford University Press, 1984.
Maurice Bucaille, translated by Alastair D. Pannell and the author. The Bible, the Qur'an and Science. Indianapolis, Indiana, US: North American Trust Publications, 1978.
Ahmad Mahmud Soliman. Scientific Trends in the Qur'an. London, England: Ta-Ha Publisher Ltd., 1985
Seyyed Hossein Nasr. An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Albany, US: State University of New York Press, 1993
Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Qur'an. Melksham, Wiltshire, Great Britain. Redwood Press Limited, 1993
A. Yusuf Ali. The Holy Qur'an. Lahore, Pakistan. Muhammad Ashraf Publications, 1990.
Article originally posted November 24, 1996
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