Is Evolution Compatible with Islam? (Part 1)

by / Monday, 13 May 2013 / Published in Evolution vs. Creation

ruins3

This is a pressing question in the minds of many Muslims. Some Muslims have decided to leave Islam after reaching the conclusion that Evolution is not compatible with Islamic tenets. Also, critics of Islam argue that the religion is unscientific because it rejects Evolution. Muslims are thus put in the awkward position of defending their faith against these criticisms while also remaining true to their beliefs. The purpose of this brief article is to give a clear answer to the question: Is Islam compatible with Evolution, specifically the evolutionary account of human origins?

(NB: I am not making theological claims along the lines of “Accepting evolution is disbelief, etc.” Rather my claim is that a plain reading of the relevant verses and hadith as they have been understood historically by Muslims is incompatible with Naturalism in general and Evolution specifically. I am also not arguing for the validity or invalidity of any specific interpretation of the relevant verses or hadith. Such questions are best left to qualified theologians and mufassirun (exegetes) of which I am neither.)

The Nature of Conflict

First of all, how can a religion not be compatible with a scientific theory or an idea in the first place? The most basic notion of incompatibility and conflict is between the proposition A and not-A. If one person claims that the sky is blue and a second person claims that the sky is not blue, they are in direct and immediate conflict. If, rather, one person claims that the sky is blue and the second person claims that the sky is bluish gray, then there still is conflict, but it is not as direct and clear-cut as the first case. It is more of a “soft” conflict.

Many modern theists — Muslim, Christian, or otherwise — implicitly or explicitly believe that religion does not make claims that could ever come into conflict with science. In their view, religion is purely a moral guide whereas science is a value-neutral description of the physical universe (i.e., “Non-Overlapping Magisteria“). To put it casually, religion tells you what you ought to do and science tells you what exists and how things work. In this way, science and religion can in principle never conflict because they do not share the same subject matter or domains of applicability. For example, when Muslims or Christians discuss Evolution, you will often hear the cliche: The Quran/Bible is not a science textbook. In other words, religion cannot strictly be held to scientific standards.

Conflicts Between Evolution and Revelation

My contention is that if we read the Quran plainly, we will certainly conclude that it is not a science textbook. At the same time, however, we will find that the Quran does make claims about the physical world (as does the Bible). And on a plain reading, many of these claims directly conflict with science. Some of these conflicts are direct, or “hard”, in the sense explained above. Revelation says A and science says not-A. A prominent example of such hard conflict concerns the origins of humanity. Consider these three propositions:

1. Adam had no ancestral origin, i.e., he had no parents.
2. Adam was a human being, i.e., not a proto-organism.
3. Genealogical Continuity — the theory that all organisms have ancestral origins — is true.

Here we find conflict between science and the Quranic accounts of the origin of man. Proposition 3 is a central, non-negotiable pillar of evolutionary biology. It holds that every organism comes from another organism; organisms do not just miraculously appear out of thin air, except for maybe the most primitive proto-organisms that emerged from a “primordial soup.” And even then, those proto-organisms were not spontaneously generated but developed from chemical processes studied in the field of Abiogenesis. According to revelation, however, the first human being was a man named Adam. This is Creationism. Consider some of the passages that describe him (emphasis added):

“The similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”. And he was.”

“O Adam! dwell you and your wife in the Garden, and enjoy (its good things) as you wish: but approach not this tree, lest you run into harm and transgression.” Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before). He said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest you should become angels or such beings that live forever.” And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser.”

“So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: “Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?”

“Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: If thou forgive us not and bestow not upon us Thy Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (Allah) said: “Get down (from here) with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood for a time.”

“He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels and said: “Tell me the names of these if you are in the right.” They said: “Glory to You, of knowledge we have none save what You have taught us: In truth it is You Who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom.” He said: “O Adam! Tell them their names.” When he had told them, Allah said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what you reveal and what you conceal?”

“We said: “O Adam! dwell you and your  wife in the Garden, and eat of the bountiful things therein as you will; but approach not this tree lest you run into harm and transgression.” Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get down, all, with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood for a time.” Then Adam learned from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord Turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”

One has to go out of one’s way to try to understand these passages as referring to a non-human organism or a primitive proto-organism. In fact, virtually no Muslim in the pre-modern period considered such an interpretation. Passage 3:59 also refers to the miraculousness of Adam by comparing him to the miraculous birth of Jesus, who had no father himself. Indeed, Adam had no father or mother.

Logical Opposition

So here we get to the hard conflict. Recall the 3 propositions:

1. Adam had no ancestral origin, i.e., he had no parents.
2. Adam was a human being, i.e., not a proto-organism.
3. Genealogical Continuity — the theory that all organisms have ancestral origins — is true.

If we accept #2, then #1 and #3 are logically opposed. (In formal logic, #1 would be considered a contradiction to the universal quantification of #3.) Ultimately, only two of the three propositions can be accepted without logical contradiction. Science and evolutionary biology requires #3, yet the Quran — or at least a straightforward, plain reading of it — requires #1 and #2. So, as for the origins of man, the Quran is logically opposed to science — or at least evolutionary biology — in a very clear-cut, direct way.

Verdict

What can we conclude from this? Some Muslims, by the power of their religious convictions, may oppose science, but in a broad and generic way that most moderns will find irrational and uncompelling. Other Muslims may decide that the straightforward, plain reading of the Quran — and its interpretation as understood by Muslims for hundreds of years — is not the correct reading, but many will find this equally uncompelling and unprincipled. Thus, Muslims remain in a very difficult position. In Part 2, we will discuss ways forward.

For now, the bottom line is that anyone who claims that Islam and the evolutionary account of human origins are compatible must reckon with this three-pronged dilemma. To avoid the dilemma, one must reject one of the three propositions. Logically, one cannot maintain all three and simultaneously claim that Islam’s most predominant understanding of human origins and Evolution are compatible. ♦

7 Responses to “Is Evolution Compatible with Islam? (Part 1)”

  1. Reza Jou says : Reply

    Daniel,
    You might want to add a one pager “ABUT THE AUTHOR” to the home page. This is to introuduce yourself.
    Best,
    Reza

  2. A. E.J. says : Reply

    You should read the book – Islam and Biological Evolution by David Solomon Jalajel. I believe he will cover your deficiencies on this topic. Islam has all through history been a religion that has been at the forefront of all wisdom and knowledge. It was at one time at the forefront of science, then during the dark ages the Islamic community protected the sciences and philosophies, and at some point in history- possibly after all of the colonizations throughout the Islamic world by Europe- the Islamic community lost this magnificent position and began to import ideas from American creationists. Islam is perfect and therefore will never be in conflict with any proven science. The great divide the Christian world created in denying the truth of science only turned millions of people from belief. I truly pray our community won’t continue to make this mistake. Many scientists have converted to Islam for the lack of conflict. The Qur’an is a magnificent and perfect book. If there is ever a conflict between it and another truth then the conflict lies in our interpretation of one or the other. The glorious Quran has a thousand layers of wisdom and truth and yet we humans are weak in depth and knowledge. To say that we have the answers and perfect interpretations of the origins of humanity is a shocking claim. Only Allah knows the many miracles he created in every aspect of our creation. A topic definitely worth exploring- to increase our faith and to marvel at the mystery and the genius of all He created, but to say you know the answer and to say it is in conflict with science is not a wise thing to do. Possibly not a wise thing to carry as a deed. Imagine if someone contemplating converting- one step from converting- read this and this article turned them away.

  3. Daniel Haqiqatjou says : Reply

    Thanks for the suggestion, Reza. You can find author/editor info on the About page.

  4. Daniel Haqiqatjou says : Reply

    Thanks for the comment, A.E.J. If you read the FAQ page (specifically the 3rd question), you will find more info on my views regarding the compatibility of science and Islam. The problem is people today, and especially Muslims, have a very unrealistic and limited understanding of what science is and how it works. This is because literally no one knows what science is exactly and how it works. These are open philosophical questions. Given our collective lack of knowledge on this front, it would be premature to say that science and Islam can NEVER conflict. This is both historically and conceptually false. I notice that you specifically mention “proven science.” But what is your standard for “proven” science? Are Newton’s laws of motion proven? How about Einstein’s General theory? Even by scientists’ own accounts, these are incomplete theories that, in actuality, are not correct, but are mere approximations. (Of course, these scientists believe that a Quantum theory of Gravity will fill in the missing pieces, but that’s a separate discussion.) And these examples are from physics, the most rigorous of the sciences, not biology, psychology, etc. So, from a Muslim perspective, how can we put the incomplete, flawed human endeavor of science on the same plane as the perfect revelation of our Creator?

  5. Hi to all, the contents present at this website are actually remarkable for people experience,
    well, keep up the nice work fellows.

    • Margaretta says : Reply

      I disagree H-J. Had they bulleted the entire facade, it would look like a wrecked mess. At least here, there's a sense of control to the holes. Specifically, the fact that they're only in the rusted, &#9d&;ol30#039; materials (rusted steel, not wood) instead of the clean, 'new' materials seems poetic of past versus future. The interior seems slightly underwhelming, but the overall is intriguing and poetic.

  6. Peace brothers and sisters I would like to invite you to read the article “God and the theory of evolution: Dispelling the confusion.” at http://protectordelafe.blogspot.com/2016/10/god-and-theory-of-evolution-dispelling_14.html

Leave a Reply to Reza Jou

TOP