Read, understand, think, reflect.
Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Islam: An issue of utmost importance.
A biologist, I quit Islam because it denies Darwin's well-established Theory of Evolution.
Islamic scholars and Muslim apologists have recently been engaged in a systematic campaign to discredit the theory of evolution. During my recent interaction with a few Muslim apologists, I came across certain pamphlets and booklets that strive to show ‘flaws in Evolutionary theory.’ Upon careful examination, I had to concede, that to a layman, these booklets will be very effective in showing that evolutionary theory is’ fallacious’. Of course, nothing can be farther from the truth. In this article, I will very briefly explain Darwin’s theory of evolution and the evidence supporting it. I will strive to show the stance of Islam with regards to theory of evolution and recent trends.
The issue of Evolutionary theory and Islam is of utmost importance. I cannot stress enough the importance of this issue.
Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory: It’s Significance:
During the course of human history, there have been certain key discoveries and insights, which have ushered in a sudden paradigm shift in the way we understand reality, the world around us and natural phenomena. Darwin’s Evolutionary theory is one such insight in to the very heart of our natural world. The importance, impact, ramifications, and implications of theory of evolution cannot be put into words.
The theory of evolution perfectly explains, in natural and biological terms, the manner in which plant and animal species originate. It explains beautifully how mankind (Homo sapiens) has its roots in the lower life forms. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution stripped man of its supposed ‘special place’ among the fauna and flora of the world and placed us among other living creatures. What this translates into is that we do not require invoking any sort of Allah to explain why or how we came about. Theology was dealt a decisive blow when ‘On the origin of species,’ was published.
Furthermore, the very concept of ‘Evolution’ has transcended the bounds of just being a part of theory of evolution; it has become an integral part of our modern way of understanding reality. In physics, physicists, talk about evolution of galaxies and stars;’ in music, musicians talk about evolution of ‘music’; and so on and so forth.
In short, theory of evolution is one of the greatest insights in to the heart of reality, in the entirety of human history.
Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory;
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was an English naturalist who after a series of observations and deductions proposed that all species of life have descended, over varying periods of time from common ancestors. He published his insights with substantial evidence in an 1859 book; ‘On the origin of species.’
Darwin had a fantastic opportunity to travel the world and observe wild life when he was assigned as a ship’s naturalist on board the HMS beagle, on a five year expedition around the world. During his voyage, Darwin observed and collected an abundance of organisms, being very interested in the diverse forms of life along the coasts of South America and the neighbouring Galapagos Islands.
The ever observant and intuitive naturalist as Darwin was, he deduced from his observations that each species had ‘evolved’ from ancestors with similar features through a process which he termed, ‘Natural Selection.’ Darwin’s idea of how evolution works relied on the following observations:
Completely successful reproduction of individuals of a species would result in an uncontrollable population of that species.
Populations tend to remain about the same size from year to year.
Environmental resources are limited.
No two individuals in a given species are exactly alike.
Variation in a population can be passed on to offspring.
Individuals of a species seem to be adapted to a certain environmental, ‘niche.’
He realized that since: a) living organisms tend to produce a greater number of off springs than the natural environment could possibly support, and since b) natural resources are limited; there must be, consequently, a competitive struggle for survival : only a few individuals can survive out of each generation.
He brilliantly deduced that chance alone is not responsible for the survival of a species. Instead, survival is directly correlated with the traits of each individual and whether these traits hinder or aid survival and successful reproduction. Well-adapted, or “fit”, individuals are likely to leave more offspring than their less well-adapted competitors. Darwin realized that the unequal ability of individuals to survive and reproduce could cause gradual changes in the population. Traits that help an organism survive and reproduce would accumulate over generations. On the other hand, traits that hinder survival and reproduction would disappear. Darwin used the term natural selection to describe this process.
Overtime, the gradual changes within the population of an organism build and lead to a divergence of group of organisms, a process called ‘speciation'.
This is, very shortly, crux of Evolutionary theory.
Evidence in support of Evolutionary theory:
The evidence in support of theory of evolution is immense. Infact, the evidence is so vast that it makes it rather difficult from where to start and where to end.
Briefly, the modern scientific community overwhelmingly supports evolutionary theory (more than 99 percent). There are thousands upon thousands of research papers and articles and books on various aspects of evolution. Palaeontology, geology, physiology, anatomy, histology, microbiology, virology, immunology, biochemistry and other life sciences; infact all life sciences, have large segments of curricula dedicated to evolutionary process.
I will touch upon a few:
The evidence for common descent comes from the study of gene sequences. Comparative sequence analysis is a technique that analyses the relationship between the DNA sequences of different species, producing several lines of evidence that confirm Darwin’s original hypothesis of common descent.
Palaeontology is the study of past life based on fossil records and their relations to different geologic time periods. It is possible to find out how a particular group of organisms evolved by arranging its fossil records in a chronological sequence. The fossilized remains and records conclusively show a gradual change and evolutionary pattern in fauna and flora.
Evidence from antibiotic and pesticide resistance:
Micro organisms, especially bacteria, provide a fantastic example of the process of evolution. Bacteria have been shown to evolve in response to their transient and shifting environment and varying selection pressures like antibiotics. The Staphylococcus aureus, a prolific bacterium, has been shown to evolve under pressure from various antibiotics. There are hundreds of other micro organisms, parasites, and viruses etc that have been shown to undergo gradual change and evolve.
Anthropogenesis or Human evolution is the discipline that deals with the evolution of human species as distinctly from other hominids, placental mammals and great apes.
This discipline encompasses archaeology, genetics, primatology, linguistics etc, within the context of humans.
Researchers estimate that humans branched off from the common ancestors with chimpanzees, only 5 to 7 million years ago. Several species of Homo (The genus to which our species belongs) evolved and are now extinct. These include Homo erectus, which inhabited Asia, and Homo neanderthalensis, which inhabited Europe. Archaic Homo sapiens evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago. The evidence in support of human evolution is insurmountable and decisive and it includes genetic analysis, comparative anatomy, physiology, etc.
The above mentioned evidence is a very small glimpse in to the vast and insurmountable body of evidence that supports theory of evolution. Evolution of living organisms by means of natural selection is a scientific fact, an incontrovertible fact, nothing more, nothing less.
Islam and Evolution:
Islam negates Evolutionary theory.
Quran; Al-Hijr verses 26-36: “Verily we created man of potter’s clay of black mud altered, And the jinn did we create afore time of essential fire. And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered.”
Quran, Al-Nisa; verses 004.001: “O mankind! Reverence to your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women.”
Quran Al-Araf; 007.011: “It is We Who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels prostrate to Adam, and they prostrate; not so Iblis; He refused to be of those who prostrate.”
Quran Al-Araf; 007.189: “It is He Who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love). When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah their Lord, (saying): “If Thou givest us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful.”
The above mentioned Quranic verses make it abundantly clear that man was created directly by Allah. It also becomes evident that man holds a special place among the other animals. According to Islam, man did not come in to existence through a gradual process of evolution from its ancestors but was created in a single flash of creative burst by Allah. Islamic scholars and apologists overwhelmingly agree that Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory is against the concept of genesis of man as explained in Islam.
Islam denies the theory of evolution. Islam and evolution are mutually exclusive. A Muslim who is convinced of theory of evolution will no longer be able to remain a Muslim.
Now, a number of interesting issues arise from this:
1.Firstly, how do Islamists defend Islam’s theory of genesis even in the light of insurmountable evidence supporting Evolution?
2.What are the common beliefs that Muslims hold with regards to evolution?
3.Is Evolutionary theory a threat to Islamic theology?
How do Islamists defend Islam’s theory of genesis of mankind, even in the light of insurmountable evidence supporting Evolution? There are two main strategies.
A.Straight out refutation:
The nature of theory of evolution entails that it can never be reconciled with Islamic theology. Islamists try to refute theory of evolution on the basis of very flimsy and fallacious arguments. They propose alternative theories like creationism and Adam and Eve theory etc. Zakir Naik & Adnan Oktar have been at the fore front of an onslaught against theory of evolution.
Adnan Oktar (pen name Harun Yahya) is a person who has published many a books and booklets. Based in turkey, Oktar runs two organizations: The Milli Değerleri Koruma Vakfı (Foundation to Protect National Values), which focuses on “moral issues”, and the Science Research Foundation (Bilim Araştırma Vakfı, or BAV), which promotes creationism. In 2008, Oktar was sentenced by a Turkish court to three years in prison for “creating an illegal organization for personal gain” Oktar has been diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia in seven different reports issued by different hospitals from 1983 to 1993. This man has singlehandedly done a lot to disseminate monumental misinformation about theory of evolution than any other Islamist or other Muslim apologist. And unfortunately he has been very successful. Alas. He has claimed to have authored more than 300 books on creationism, Islam, end of days, and against evolution etc.
His most famous collections are: a.) The atlas of creation b.) The evolution deceit. He is singlehandedly responsible for pushing modern scientific understanding in Islamic countries back many a decades.
Dr. Zakir Naik: Zakir Naik is an extremely popular Muslim apologist and preacher who is based in India. He is the founder and president of ‘Islamic Research Foundation.’ He advocates death penalty for Muslim apostates as the overwhelming majority of other Muslim scholars do in Indo–Pakistan. He is a doctor by profession and has used his position to drum up rhetoric against evolution.
B.Man didn’t evolve; other living creatures did:
This is a fascinating stance that entails that it’s not completely implausible to believe in evolution and gradual change in living organisms excluding Human beings. Western Muslim apologists have taken this rather awkward stance after succumbing to the overwhelming evidence in support of evolutionary theory.
The problem with this stance is simple: Evolutionary theory, by its very nature, encompasses the human species. One cannot possibly separate the human species from the rest of natural world.
How Muslims Perceive Evolutionary Theory:
The absolute majority of Muslim Ummah construes theory of evolution as an evil and dark proposition that places mankind among ‘monkeys and apes.’ Muslims, when asked about evolution, even very well educated ones, will retort angrily: ‘What do u mean; I haven’t come about from monkeys………Allah made me.’
Even the Muslim medical professionals and doctors will never agree with evolution. They will either show a lack of interest or exhibit cognitive dissonance. The reason why this is so is simple. Evolution implies that we are not special and that Allah didn’t make us from Adam, instead, we came about after a long and slow process of gradual change. This entails negating Quran and hence becoming an apostate.
This is the reason that the curriculum in most Islamic countries gives very little importance to theory of evolution and instead creationism is trotted about even in the textbooks.
Islam and Evolution: What must be done:
All ex-Muslim atheists and anti-islamists, especially those who are well versed in medical sciences; must understand this powerful and beautiful scientific theory and defend it against this ugly barrage of Islamist creationist propaganda.
I cannot stress enough or properly convey the importance and urgency with which it needs to be done. Richard Dawkins, the great champion of evolutionary biology has defended evolutionary theory against creationism very successfully. But that is not enough. We need ex-Muslims and critics of Islam; especially those with some basis in biological sciences, like Wafa Sultan, to come forward and defend Evolution against Islam.
The beauty of Evolution is that it is supported by an absolutely monumental amount of evidence, and this Evidence cannot be refuted. The theory of evolution can serve as a fantastic tool to re-educate those thinking Muslims who can still be saved from the evil Islamic ideology. Also, highlighting the incongruence of Evolution and Islam may serve constructively in the educational sectors of Islamic societies; where evolution is taught in a very toned down and almost disfigured form.
This article is also one step towards that goal of defending evolution. I intend to write a short booklet on this very same topic and would be happy to have feedback and resources as how to go about doing it successfully. Also, I will encourage everyone to publish this article where ever possible.
Islam has been left relatively unquestioned about its relationship with theory of evolution. It is high time to change that once and for all. Evolutionary theory can serve as a magnificent tool to challenge Islam.
In the face of truth, the falsehood shall be vanquished.
Feedback, comments, and resources welcome at:
Ex-Muslim atheist, living in UK.