We are living in a world where emphasis on science and technology has never been greater. Be it from parents who want their kids to do well in school, employers which are putting expensive efforts in R&D, or the governments which want the economy to but down on expenses through innovation, the focus on material science does benefit – more or less – man to do improve on life on Earth.
But to what extent? Based on conversations and observations, while anecdotal, I have a fear that the belief in God is being eroded by the very emphasis in science. Scientific advancements and discoveries aside, it is the fundamentalist belief “science can explain everything” that bothers me.
As Muslims, we are usually well-protected from such forms of influence, as the “arch-opponent” for our faith is usually deemed to be the Christians, who also believe in the existence of God. Coupled with layers of tough measures to prevent prosletyzation against Islam, conversion issues are usually tackled with eloquent approaches – academic arguments, scientific evidences, etc – on why being a Muslim makes sense (for one, Islam doesn’t say that Christians and Jews are totally wrong).
In fact, if one were to believe in a religion, I would argue that none is more complete that Islam, from the moment you wake up, to interaction with people, food you eat, economy, up till the moment you go to bed, and even when you are sleeping. There exists specific Islamic guidance on all aspects of life. It is a way of life. The most complete way of life, based on the belief of Allah and his prophets.
Nevertheless, such concerns usually may be summed up in the question “which religion?”, so the debate over the existence of God never came up.
But, in current times, the belief in The Creator itself is gradually being overshadowed by science and its atheistic rhetoric. Its spread into the minds of Muslims bypasses the protective system designed against apostasy; some scientific theories are being accepted in schools as “unfalsifiable”, thus regarded as the “truth”. And it may easily be ingrained in the young Muslims who are just discovering the world of science. Chief among it is evolution.
The discovery of Ardi (above) – the name given to a 4.4 million year-old human-like fossil – made news late last year. One can only know so much about the past, but the discovery has prompted revisions on the theory of evolution. Nothing drastic; mainstream science still states that modern men evolved from chimps of the past.
Her skeleton promises to fill in gaps about how we became human and evolved from apes. It has already reversed some common assumptions of evolution.
Rather than humans evolving from chimps, the new find provides evidence that chimps and humans evolved together from another common more ancient ancestor. (Source)
Yet despite that, the details of evolution is still being questioned by those who believe in Creationism, which I believe are usually led by the Christians. Muslims seems to be at loss when questioned on their religious views pertaining to such scientific theories. With the caveat of quoting Wikipedia, the theory of evolution and its compatibility with religion is a relatively new subject to Muslims.
A 2007 study of religious patterns found that only 8% of Egyptians, 11% of Malaysians, 14% of Pakistanis, 16% of Indonesians, and 22% of Turks agree that Darwin’s theory is probably or most certainly true, and a 2006 survey reported that about a quarter of Turkish adults agreed that human beings evolved from earlier animal species. (Source)
An article in the latest issue of the journal, “Science,” suggests the evolution-creationist divide is about to emerge in the Muslim world. The article’s author, astronomer Salman Hameed, talks to “The World’s” Marco Werman about why the debate is heating up now, and implications for Muslims on both sides of the debate. The creation story in Islam is similar to the Biblical creation story, according to Professor Hammed: “But unlike the Book of Genesis, it is not laid out in a chronological order, nor is it in one single place. Secondly, it has this six-day creation, but the length of the days is less ambiguous.” (Source)
To highlight the seriousness of the issue, there are also calls for the school curriculum in Saudi to be revised to stem “foreign ideologies such as the Theory of Evolution.”
Evolution in Islam
It began in the sea, some three thousand million years ago. Complex chemical molecules began to clump together to form microscopic blobs: cells.
These were the seeds from which the tree of life developed.
They were able to split, replicating themselves – as bacteria do. And as time passed they diversified into different groups.
How does Islam fare in the trolling against creationism? The advance of science, the proliferation of knowledge, and the smart-asses on the internet seemed to have given a new reason to scoff at beliefs which advocate creationism, i.e. all religions.
Some versions of Christian creationism theories believe the earth may be as young as 10,000 years of age, putting it on a collision course with scientists who place the earth at billions of years old.
Islam meanwhile doesn’t limit the theory of evolution to a time-frame; moreover the position of the theory of evolution is still somewhat vaguely established among Muslims.
Like many other issues which is not specifically stated in the Qur’an or hadith, it is open to many varying views. Some simply denounced evolution. Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah lined out the Qur’anic evidences of the creation of man, while steering clear of any scientific arguments.
Some attempted to combine both scientific reasoning and for Muslims to ally with Christians and support Intelligent Design.
…Said Nursi, in the 1950s, foresaw an alliance between Islam and Christianity against materialism. He prophetically wrote, “A tyrannical current born of naturalist and materialist philosophy will gradually gain strength and spread at the end of time, reaching such a degree that it denies God. … Although defeated before the atheistic current while separate, Christianity and Islam will have the capability to defeat and rout it as a result of their alliance” (Nursi, Letters, s. 77-78).
…Intelligent Design (ID) is a term that implies creation. The universe and life are not products of blind forces of nature, ID holds, but show evidence that they were designed by an intelligence. The ID Movement has deliberately chosen not to specify the identity of the Designer. Through science you can demonstrate convincingly that there is a designer, but you can’t go further without invoking theology. (Source)
Some, such as Sheikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller went to great lengths to debunk evolution.
“Though their existence provides the basis for paleontology, fossils have always been something of an embarrassment to evolutionists. The problem is one of ‘missing links’: the fossil record is so littered with gaps that it takes a truly expert and imaginative eye to discern how one species could have evolved into another…. But now, for the first time, excavations at Kenya’s Lake Turkana have provided clear fossil evidence of evolution from one species to another. The rock strata there contain a series of fossils that show every small step of an evolutionary journey that seems to have proceeded in fits and starts” (Sharon Begley and John Carey, “Evolution: Change at a Snail’s Pace.” Newsweek, 7 December 1981).
Speaking for myself, I was convinced that the evolution of man was an unchallengeable “given” of modern knowledge until I read Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species“. The ninth chapter (The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Ed. J.W. Burrow. London: Penguin Books, 1979, 291-317) made it clear, from what Darwin modestly calls the “great imperfection of the geological record” that the theory was not in principle falsifiable, though the possibility that some kind of evidence or another should be able in principle to disprove a theory is a condition (if we can believe logicians like Karl Popper) for it to be considered scientific. By its nature, fossil evidence of intermediate forms that could prove or disprove the theory remained unfound and unfindable. When I read this, it was not clear to me how such an theory could be called “scientific”.
However, it seems clear that none of the Islamic views support that Prophet Adam evolved from an ape. So what does that make of the hours of evolution-of-man being hammered into young Muslims’ mind? How do we answer this, amidst all the differing views and opinions? Do we even have a concrete answer?
Answering with the Mind
Islam and science have also been supportive and complimentary. There are many many many verses recording scientific facts revealed some 1400 years ago, long before they were discovered by scientists. (Dr. Maurice Bucailles’ The Bible, the Qur’an and Science is a good start.)
The Qu’ran and sunnah revealed passages about the creation of earth and space which is compatible with the Big Bang and expansion of universe theories. For instance, as for the video above on the Tree of Life, which stated that everything started out in the sea, the Qur’an states (which also includes the Big Bang):
أَوَلَمْ يَرَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَنَّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأرْضَ كَانَتَا رَتْقًا فَفَتَقْنَاهُمَا وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ أَفَلا يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were joined together as one united piece, then we parted them? And we have made from water every living thing, will they not then believe?” (al-Anbiyaa’:30)
وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَ كُلَّ دَابَّةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى بَطْنِهِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى رِجْلَيْنِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَى أَرْبَعٍ يَخْلُقُ اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
“And Allah 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. Allah creates what He wills for verily Allah has power over all things.” (al-Nuur:45)
(Sidenote: In the same video, there is also an interesting point which is related in the Qur’an, regarding the extinction of dinosaurs and the appearance of the birds. At 4m 24s, it noted “…65 million years ago, a great disaster overtook the Earth. Whatever its cause, a great proportion of animal life was exterminated. All the dinosaurs disappeared – except for one branch, whose scales had become modified into feathers. They were the birds.” After Prophet Adam’s descent to Earth, which he is told to take sartorial cover from the feathers of the birds as in al-A’raaf, 26: “You Adam’s sons and daughters, We had descended on you a cover (that) conceals your shameful genital private parts, and feathers/riches/possessions, and the fear and obedience (of God’s) cover/dress, that (is) better.” The word for ‘feather/riches/possessions’ here is ريشاً and usually translated as adornment, but in it’s original meaning, it is referred the feather of birds; the bird’s feather is its adornment. Obviously this is a relation which may require some stretch of imagination, so I’ll pause here. Furthermore, this doesn’t exactly assist my argument below.)
Answering from the Heart
Yet despite the great scientific revelations of the Qur’an, humans have a tendency to nitpick on one single scientific theory (evolution) which may not be explained by the Qur’an? Or perhaps it will be, in the far future, once Allah decides to reveal that particular detail to mankind. What is the possibility that we didn’t evolve from apes? Long ago, everyone on earth believed the world was flat, and that theory was history. How sure are we about evolution that it can’t be falsified and proven otherwise?
And perhaps the actual danger comes from the fact that most of the college and university-educated Muslims are simply trained have a systematic thought process; one before two, have money before kids, etc. While it may be beneficial, it may also hinder the faith in Allah and the spirit of tawakkul when in dire circumstances, such as those who would thinks that a credit loan is the foremost solution to monetary problems instead of praying first to Allah. This also signals the loss of adab to The Creator, He is the utmost whom we seek refuge and help in any situation.
A pertinent question was asked by Ziauddin Sardar:
[The scientific-miracles apologia] opens the Quran to the counter argument of Popper’s criteria of refutation: would the Quran be proved false and written off, just as Bucaille writes off the Bible, if a particular scientific fact does not tally with it, or if a particular fact mentioned in the Quran is refuted by modern science? (Source)
How true, not everything can be scientifically explained. How would one scientifically explain heaven and hell, isra’ mi’raaj, and many more instances of mu’jizah gifted to our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ? Scientific knowledge is still growing and ever-changing pending new findings and experiments. How would one explain the ruh (soul) to scientists? Even with the MacDougall Experiment in 1907, the loss of weight upon death was some 21 grams, which some argue is either the weight of breath inside the human body, or within the margin of error.
Attempting to justify everything with scientific knowledge may lead to bad science. One doesn’t need to be convinced of the scientific advantages behind Allah’s instruction. It could simply be a test for the heart and soul, to elevate the faith of the believer and condemn those who aren’t.
A friend once asked me why do Muslim women wear the hijab. I told her for reasons such as modesty and humility. She replied, “But you do not need reason to do that. If you believe in Allah, why do you need to question his command?”
Not every single thing can be proved by science. Instead in this “everything-can-be-explained-by-science” world, more emphasis should be placed on faith. Just because you believe in miracle, doesn’t mean you must or can explain it.
Even though the fitrah of the human is belief in The Creator, having ourselves tamed to do otherwise in years of secular institutions only serves to enhance our insecurity through the limited reasoning of the human mind. Often the teachings of Islam is sidelined to accommodate the peer-pressure rhetorics of society dominated by secular atheistic opinions.
For this reason, it’s not surprising that non-religious, college-educated adults fall back on purpose-seeking explanations. Many people have little understanding of evolution and instead view it as a cultural belief, thinking: “‘I’m a good secular liberal, I’m no yokel, I believe in Darwin,'” Bloom says. (Source)
And the gifted Sayyed Hossein Nasr recently pointed out:
The secularist paradigm which was created in the 17th century is itself a pseudo-religion in that it is a view of the nature of reality. There is no abstract knowledge; knowledge is always within the framework of a worldview, of a way of looking at the nature of reality.
We need to be reminded that secularism itself is not value-free. It is heavily influenced by the post-Christian movement, and the result is looking at everything from a completely atheistic point of view.
We always forget that Allah is the creator of this beautiful earth, suspended in space with the other planets religiously moving on a trajectory determined by Him. We always forget that Allah doesn’t need scientific reasoning to create, “kun fa yakuun” (“Be, and it becomes”), as was how we were created into beings. We always forget that we were created from nothing, and once we pass away, from nothing we will be recreated. Nothing is impossible, as Allah the Omnipotent Creator is unlike us, not bound by the laws of physics which He imposed on us mortals. If he decided to create Prophet Adam from dust, then he be. And he was.
…regarding the issue of natural “laws,” or more precisely, the issue of causality which is a prerequisite for the construction of natural laws. Scholars from Ash`ari school of theology, such as Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, denied the principle of causality, asserting that Allah is either acting directly or through the angels. This was done in order to uphold the omnipotence of God who, given a strict view of causality, would be subservient to the laws of nature, and, hence, would not constitute the ultimate reality. (Source)
Allah doesn’t need a cause. Kun, fa yakuun.
Even experts who delve deep in the knowledge of science find themselves berlieving in the existence of a Creator. For instance, the man who cracked the genome code said:
“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.
“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”
While from Einstein himself:
“There are people who say there is no God,” he told a friend. “But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views.” And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos,” he explained.
In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. “The fanatical atheists,” he wrote in a letter, “are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who–in their grudge against traditional religion as the ‘opium of the masses’– cannot hear the music of the spheres.”
So, while the certain parts of the Qur’an may be supported by science, we must also remember that many other parts involve the ghaibiyyaat, the world of the unseen, not bound by the laws of science and physics that applies to Allah’s creations: the minerals, animals, elements, planets, and his creatures which we do not even know exist. Some people are more keen to credit unexplainable events to the “force of nature”, rather than Allah. Lest we forget, our very existence is bound by our purpose in life. Humans are no “accident” of “nature”. We will be questioned on our doings.
Evolution and Islam by Shaikh Nuh ha Mim Keller (recommended)