Evolution in Islam

Evolution in islam

A brief look at Evolution

Evolution, as an underlying theory, has become the fabric of modern scientific thought and process.

Modern science tells us that our Earth is one of eight planets orbiting the Sun, the Sun is at the centre of the solar system, our solar system is orbiting the centre of the Milky Way, a galaxy containing billions of other stars and billions of other solar systems. Our galaxy is part of a cluster of billions of other galaxies which itself is part of a super cluster, floating somewhere in the vast expanse of an expanding universe approximately 14 billion years old.

Some 4.6 billion years ago the Earth, the Sun and our solar system were formed by ‘gravitational condensation of dust and gas’.

All life on Earth has descended from ‘self-replicating molecules’ through chemical means approximately 3.5 billion years ago. Darwin claimed that all living organisms were produced by the process of ‘descent with modification’ and are genealogically related to each other forming the tree of life.

Darwinian Evolution claims that mammals such as human beings, chimpanzees, and gorillas, all descended from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago. Vertebrates such as mammals, and reptiles descended from a common ancestor about 300 million years ago. And all vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds, descended from a small fish-like creature without a backbone, some 500 million years ago.

Even though it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish relationships between different classes of organisms the further back you go, modern scientists claim that the genetics provide evidence of a common ancestor shared by all.

The process of Evolution is predicated on (1) the observable and testable nature of micro-evolution which entails genetic mutation resulting in observable ‘differences’ within one species, (2) the survival or extinction of ‘different’ species resulting in the purport of natural selection, and the theorising (3) of the hypothesis of macro-evolution, or cross-species evolution, manifest in observable differences and similarities of species belonging to same or similar taxonomical groups.

Early European Scholarship

Only 450 years ago scientists and religious scholars believed that the Earth was, geocentrically, at the centre of the universe, and that the planets, the Sun, and stars all rotated around the Earth. Until about 250 years ago, they believed that the universe was created 6,000 years ago.

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus purported that the solar system was heliocentrically structured, that in fact the Sun was at the centre of the solar system and that the Earth and planets orbit around the centre. By the early 17th century Galileo Galilei, using a telescope, confirmed Copernicus’ model. Scholars began to accept the heliocentric model and began to believe that the universe was much larger than previously thought. By the 19th century, they began to accept that the Earth had undergone millions of years of geological and organic change. And by the late 19th century, Charles Darwin published his works, solidifying Evolution as a primordial bases for organic life on Earth and development of the Heavens and Earth. Yet, the predominant view of European and Western scholarship till the late 20th century was that God had created everything.

Much of early European scholarship on the ‘science of creation’ and the ‘modality and manner of creation’ had been the subject of institutional religious imposition, and interpretation of scripture by clergymen and those thought to have been divinely selected as leaders and rulers.

With the increasing distance between Church and State, by the middle of the 21st century, few scholars of science continued to adhere to traditional views of creation if any, whilst religious leaders began to question the role of God in creation. The rigour of scientific observation and inference has seen a rapid change in Western thought, religion, and philosophy over the last 500 years. Yet much of the rest of the world still adheres to traditional narratives of creation.

Islamic Scholarship

Islamic views, whose sources are primarily predicated on Quran and al-Sunnah (the traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him) remain largely silent on the ‘modality and manner of creation’. Yet the Quran, as the true word of God, encourages its readership to travel, observe, ponder, and think. Its readership has produced a large number of scholars, predating the likes of Copernicus, such as Abu Sa’id al-Sijzi, and Nur ad-Din al-Bitruji in the 12th century who discuss the motion and movement of the earth using primitive astrolabes.

Unlike early European, and Western scholarship, Islamic scholars were not restricted by rigid interpretations of scripture on the ‘modality and manner of creation’. Early forms of modern scientific methodology of observation and inference can be found as a central practice of research and theory amongst Muslims, except there was no need to redefine religious theology or traditional narratives. Muslims, whilst adhering to their narrative of creation did not shy away from observing God’s creation free of imposition from religious institutions. This is largely because European and Western scholarship suffered from Graco-Roman structures of centralised authority, whilst Islam lacked an authoritative clergy that would impose its ideas on free thinking scholars. Albeit, Islamic scholarship was for the most part a sincere attempt to understand both God and His creation refined through scholarly critique and peer-review. This meant that Muslim scholars had the freedom to both hold onto their religious views and observe reality as it is, without imposing one on the other, and enjoy the organic synthesis of the two, since the belief has been, that nature and reality necessarily conform to scripture, although one’s interpretation may not. On the other hand, European scholarship suffered from the authoritarian arm of the Church, as can bee seen in the political rift caused between Galileo and the Pope.


Islamic views on Evolution

Keeping in mind two fundamentals; (1) Islamic freedom of research and development, and as a result (2) lack of interpretation on modality and manner of creation; whilst Islam as a religious ideology has been classically silent on the ‘process of evolution’, some elements of modern Evolution violate neither theological nor juristic boundaries, yet other elements clearly depart from theological fundamentals and are scientifically questionable.

Whilst Islam does not seem to contend with micro-evolution, genetic mutation, the emergence of observable ‘differences’ amongst individuals of the same species, the resultant survival or extinction of ‘different’ individuals, nor the observable differences amongst species of different taxonomical groups; all ingredients of natural selection and macro-evolution or cross-species evolution; the very hypothesis, that all this could result in a an entirely new species evolving from an existing genealogical branch is neither testable nor observable scientifically, let alone sufficient to redefine theological boundaries or question the traditional narrative of creation. The data used in this purport is a towering house of cards that require quite an unfathomable leap of faith to make an assumption which neither aids or abets any scientific field of research or development, nor does it question the Islamic narrative of creation. To renounce the former, the ingredients of macro-evolution are sufficient to further scientific development in the fields of medicine, biology, genetics etc.; regarding the latter, even if, hypothetically, one where to entertain the purport of macro-evolution, what stops an Islamic scholar from saying, “well, maybe that’s how God intended to bring life on this Earth!”.

For a Muslim, the primary concerns are; (1) to believe that God brought Adam into existence from nothing, of no biological means, of no mother nor father, and that the entire human race is born of Adam according to the norms of biological means, and (2) to believe that it is the decree and will of God that cause all to come into existence and creation, and death or extinction, and (3) to believe that God is the ultimate creator of the Heavens and the Earth, and that He will cause all to die and that He will resurrect all in the Hereafter for judgment and destination.

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