Posted by: Lister | October 7, 2007

Islamic Theory of Evolution

I first heard of this when I read a TalkOrigins Post of the Month, from November 1996. I don’t know how such awards are selected.

Here’s the claim:

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 thought, 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.

Different is not the same as “more advanced”. In this case, perhaps “more extreme” would be appropriate. Evolution, in the modern concept, applies to living things. When Islamic scholars applied it to minerals, their thoughts were along the line of Alchemy. From wiki:

“When common people hear from natural philosophers that gold is a body which has attained to perfection of maturity, to the goal of completeness, they firmly believe that it is something which has gradually come to that perfection by passing through the forms of all other metallic bodies, so that its gold nature was originally lead, afterward it became tin, then brass, then silver, and finally reached the development of gold; not knowing that the natural philosophers mean, in saying this, only something like what they mean when they speak of man, and attribute to him a completeness and equilibrium in nature and constitution – not that man was once a bull, and was changed into an ass, and afterward into a horse, and after that into an ape, and finally became a man.”

History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science — William Draper

So the common people imagined Gold at the end of a “Great Chain of Being”. And apparently that is not what the scholars meant. The scholars meant that Gold arose by a process similar to that by which man arose. What was that process?

The Mu’tazili scientist and philosopher al-Jahiz (c. 776-869) was the first of the Muslim biologists and philosophers to develop an early theory of evolution. He speculated on the influence of the environment on animals, considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the struggle for existence and an early theory on natural selection. Al-Jahiz wrote the following on the struggle for existence:

“Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”

[Gary Dargan, palaeontologist and a practising Muslim, during a debate on ABC]

Wiki also lists some other Muslim scientists who wrote about evolution and says that their work was translated into Latin and reached the West after the Renaissance.

It also quotes from a summary by Muhammad Hamidullah. He says Islamic scholars gave God credit for creating matter; giving it energy, so that it became vapour then water; mineral life, stones — their highest form being coral. [note: Coral is an animal, Coral Reefs are the structures they build.]

There are clearly things which are simply argument by analogy. For instance: coral has branches like a tree; the date palm “does not wither if all its branches are chopped but it dies when the head is cut off” — so it’s like an animal. And through such analogy they link minerals to plants to animals.

In fact, Hamidullah’s summary reads something like a Great Chain of Being — which was associated with commoners earlier — while al-Jahiz’s description reminds of natural selection.

Clearly, things weren’t agreed upon throughout. But these were mainstream ideas, taught by Muslims to Muslims. Hamidullah ends his summary by reminding us that the theories are firmly within a theistic belief:

This is not the statement of Darwin. This is what Ibn Maskawayh states and this is precisely what is written in the Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa. The Muslim thinkers state that ape then evolved into a lower kind of a barbarian man. He then became a superior human being. Man becomes a saint, a prophet. He evolves into a higher stage and becomes an angel. The one higher to angels is indeed none but God. Everything begins from Him and everything returns to Him.

[Muhammad Hamidullah and Afzal Iqbal (1993), The Emergence of Islam: Lectures on the Development of Islamic World-view, Intellectual Tradition and Polity]

There’s a lot of irony in all this.
Consider the claims by the likes of Harun Yahya regarding the Quran’s supposed description of the Big Bang — why didn’t Muslim scholars talk about that 1000 years ago? — while at the same time Yahya argues that evolution is intrinsically atheistic and un-Islamic.

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Responses

  1. Well, he’s right about evolution being intrinsically atheistic. It is also anti-Christian.

    The chance encounters of various chemicals in a long ago warm pool could never have created even the simplest of life forms. Those who might think it possible, know nothing about how living things are assembled. Or, they love the evolution lie. The complexity of living things are beyond comprehension. Scientists all over the world are still studying desperately to understand it all.

    But: If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a ‘simple’ living cell. ‘Surely they have a very great amount of knowledge about what is inside the ‘simple’ cell.

    And after all, shouldn’t all the combined Intelligence of all the worlds scientist be able the do what chance encounters with random chemical collisions, without an instruction manual, accomplished about 4 billion years ago,according to the evolutionists estimation. Without any intelligence at all available to help them these ‘simple ‘ cells miraculously created themselves into a living entity. Surely then today’s evolutionists scientists should be able to make us a ‘simple’ cell.

    If it weren’t so pitiful it would be humorous, that intelligent people have swallowed the evolution mythology.

    Beyond doubt, the main reason people believe in evolution is that sources they admire, say it is so. It would pay for these people to do a thorough examination of the flood of evidence CONTRARY to evolution which is readily available: Try answersingenesis.org. The evolutionists should honestly examine the SUPPOSED evidence ‘FOR’ evolution for THEMSELVES.

    Build us a cell, from scratch, with the required raw material, that is with NO cell material, just the ‘raw’ stuff, and the argument is over. But if the scientists are unsuccessful, perhaps they should try Mother Earth’s recipe, you know, the one they claim worked the first time about 4 billion years ago, so they say. All they need to do is to gather all the chemicals that we know are essential for life, pour them into a large clay pot and stir vigorously for a few billion years, and EUREKA, LIFE!

    Oh, you don’t believe the ‘original’ Mother Earth recipe will work? You are NOT alone, Neither do I, and MILLIONS of others!
    Please don’t swallow the lies they tell about the ‘first life’ problem, scientists are falling all over themselves to make a living cell. Many have admitted publicly that it is a monumental problem. And, is many years away from happening, if ever. Logical people understand this problem and have rightly concluded that an Intelligent Designer was absolutely necessary. Think of it this way, if all the brilliant scientists on earth can’t do it, how on earth can anyone believe that it happened by accident?????

  2. Hi, Jim.
    There are many evolutionists who believe in God. There are some examples at wiki. So evolution cannot be intrinsically atheistic.

    As far as creating life is concerned, that is abiogenesis. Evolution is a phenomenon observed in populations. I recognise the importance of your argument (what evolves if there is no life?) but I just want to get the terminology right. By the way, I made an earlier post: explaining evolution.

    You might also be interested in:

    First synthetic virus (2002)

    The team from the University of New York at Stony Brook constructed the virus from scratch using the genetic blueprint of the polio agent. They followed a “recipe” they downloaded from the internet and used gene sequences from a mail-order supplier.

    And Craig Venter may be close to a larger breakthrough — making the DNA of a bacterium, though not the cell itself.

    These are milestones on the road to making artificial life. I see no reason why it should be easy. Just the sheer bulk of infomation makes it a daunting task.

    And A Genetic Alogorithms Demo — evolution in action in a simulated world. Mathematically, the theory is sound.

  3. Sir, it is not from scratch unless the builder starts with the Amino Acids and go on from there. Also, they needed to assemble the DNA too.

    Yes they are making strides, but just knowing how long and hard these scientists have been exploring cell life and yet there is much more to learn.

    I’m flabbergasted that anyone that could get a doctorate in biology can believe that life came about by chance. It’s impossible, why can’t they see that?

    Here’s my guess: They have been mesmerized by THEIR professor, who ‘certainly’ wouldn’t teach them anything false. Who himself was taught, and was mesmerized by the same mythology.

    Yes there are evolutionists who believe in God, but mostly because the have taken the words of the scientists. And have not studied it themselves.

    I graduated from NC State Univ. nearly 50 years ago. I know something of science. My professors had me convinced that evolution was a scientific fact. I stuck to the idea for another decade, plus. I then decided to learn more biology and what I found convinced that I had believed a lie for a very long time, too long.

    And, no-one has ever observed macro-evolution. We ARE observing micro-evolution. But it (micro) can never change one kind into another kind. God provided micro-evolution so that you and I and ever other living male doesn’t look EXACTLY alike. Imagine the confusion if God hadn’t taken this important step.

  4. Hi Jim,
    Scientists haven’t worked out abiogenesis. I admit that. But they are making progress.

    The reason biologists believe in evolution is because very little makes sense without it. How do you explain the route of the recurrent laryngeal nerve? Why does it take such a round-about route? — even in Giraffes. And here’s an article on the retina in human eyes being wired backwards. Such things are difficult to explain in terms of design. But such results are to be expected from evolution, which modifies what is available.

    I’m willing to consider, in principle, that our current theory of evolution is incorrect. But what is the alternative theory? I can see none that comes close. Evolution itself is an observed phenomenon — as beyond doubt as gravity.

    Can you please explain to me why you think the theory of evolution rules out any kind of God?

    And as for speciation:
    Two new species of goatsbeard, observed about 50 years after 3 species of the plant were introduced into North America.

  5. Hi Misterlister:

    About the goatsbeard, a goatsbeaard is a goatsbeard and will remain a goatsbeard forever. These are minor changes within the various kinds of all life forms, including humans. Without this ability, all humans would be carbon copies. Chaos would reign. So, in all actuality evolution is NOT an observed phenomenon.

    There are many good reasons to reject evolution as the means of creating life. One of them is that it requires extremely long time periods. Much longer than the 6000 years of earth.

    Also, evolution relies on life and death, over and over trillions upon trillions of times. God is a God of love and the Bible says that DEATH is the last enemy He will expunge from His universe.

    Also, I have studied the prophecies and they definitely prove that a supreme being inspired them.

    The last great prophecy is rushing toward us and increasing in speed. Many elements that set the stage for the end times are already in place.

    And there is a very good scientific reason to reject the theory of evolution. It is totally illogical. Life is nearly infinitely complex, even in the ‘simplest’ cells.

    IF you would study the intricacies of biology, apart from the influence of prejudiced professors you will find that the complexity is beyond, far beyond what is ‘apparent’ to most people.

    For example: To make a protein the 20 amino acids must be linked together into a long chain, a very long chain of the various acids. The ‘easiest’ one for a cell to make has about 1000 amino acids linked together exactly according to the instructions of the DNA. Just one mistake will usually kill the cell. A so called simple cell has hundreds of proteins made this way. But we are not finished the complexity part, just barely started.
    The protein is useless if it is not folded into a precise complex pattern. This act too is orchestrated by another machine within the cell.

    I should be able to stop right here and you would be convinced that evolution is a farce. But because it is believed by people with doctorates in science and presented to the public as a known fact. You will most likely still believe in evolution.

    People have presented the following scenario: How likely is it for a tornado in a junk yard to construct a jumbo jet? In very fact it would be thousands of times (perhaps millions) more likely to produce the airplane than for nature to produce life by chance.

    Study carefully the whys and wherefores of cellular life and their complexity, then call in Mr. Common logic.

  6. Hi, Jim.
    Why do you move the goalposts? I gave you an example of speciation. It was what you asked for.

    Helen Curtis: “Evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.”

    As goatsbeard spread in the USA, change occured generation after generation. Some traits became more common, some less common. That is evolution. Mutations brought about new traits — some of them beneficial, some of them not.

    Some populations got seperated. The changes in one could not spread to another. Enough change occured to make one group of descendents unable to breed with another group of descendents.

    And all that in about 50 years. Imagine the changes that could now build up over the next million years. Then 100 million years.

    There are many good reasons to reject evolution as the means of creating life.

    I agree.
    Evolution requires a population. By definition.

    The creation of life is abiogenesis — a different phenomenon.

    Much longer than the 6000 years of earth.

    Now I know you’re joking.
    The evidence for the age of the Earth is over-whelming. If you believe that God created the Earth 6000 years ago, then you believe that God is a liar.

  7. I’d like to thank Robert for posting (on my about page) a link to Evolution and/or Creation: An Islamic Perspective — by TO Shanavas.

    One of the reviews is by a Christian teacher in Morocco who considers himself to be both a creationist and an evolutionist. He says:

    Shanavas succeeds at what he attempts. He wants to write a book to help non-Muslims understand the Muslim perspective and contribution. It does. He wants to write a book to help Muslims see they can be Muslim and accept evolution. Through this book they can. They can not only accept it, they can be proud of their heritage in seeing how the great Muslims of the past established the groundwork for this venerable theory.

    Another reader says:

    Sometimes the questions of an innocent child make your thinking to off in new directions. It was his son asking why he was taught evolution in public school and creationism in Muslim school that caused Dr, Shanavas to research and then write this book. He sees it as lamentable that many Muslim imams have taken the psuedoscience of the fundamentalist Christians and are teaching it to their students. Likewise he laments that students in the sciences look at what the imams are teaching and begin to distrust or reject Islam.

    Another appreciates the message of the book, but points out a couple of scientific errors: the building blocks of DNA being referred to as “amino acids” instead of “nucleotides”; and the “great chain of being” isn’t an accurate description of evolution as understood today — though it is consistent with at least some (most?) of the Muslim scholars I referenced above; and…

    Shanavas’ most wild contention, based on a highly original reading of Sura 4:1, is that the first humans, Adam and Eve, were twins born to a non-human primate mother. He argues that concurrent creation of both a male and a female would be necessary in order to propagate the new species. This betrays a complete lack of understanding of how speciation is thought to occur. In fact, most evolutionary biologists believe that speciation is a gradual process, with no clear cut line between different non inter-breeding species.

    I don’t know who “primordial Eve” refers to in the next bit — maybe Mitochondrial Eve, who certainly wouldn’t have met the Y-chromosome Adam, but that’s another story.

    Shanavas’ haphazard, scientifically inaccurate attempts to mesh Quranic verses or the beliefs of early Muslim scientists with modern science, as in the examples given above, highlight the inherent flaw in arguing that science agrees with religion – or vice versa. Inevitably, such explanations involve twisting understanding of either theology or science in a manner that does proper service to neither. At best, we can conclude that science, while not allowing room for some forms of religious belief (i.e. literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2; earth-centric cosmos), cannot disprove the existence of a non-anthropomorphic, and non- time constrained Creator who works with scientific laws to create multiple possibilities for evolutionary trajectory.

    […] However, finishing Creation and/or Evolution, I felt that this topic needed a practicing Muslim evolutionary biologist to do both the theology and science proper justice. Unfortunately, such individuals are few and far between, though perhaps this book is the first step in encouraging young Muslims to enter science and act to bridge this false divide.

  8. The above quote by al-Jahiz is prefaced with:

    “Al-Jahiz wrote the following on the struggle for existence:”

    What follows is a quote by Gary Dargan, not Al-Jahiz. Mr. Dargan is paraphrasing an interpretation of Al-Jahiz’ writing. I am looking into what Al-Jahiz had to say about evolution, but he certainly did not write those sentences. I assume this section came from the Wikipedia entry on Al-Jahiz, which is the source of this error.

    I’ll let you know what I find out!

  9. Good Oak,
    That whole section is from the wiki link given earlier.

    Gary Dargan was speaking in a live interview. (Linked in the post above, and at wiki). So it is likely that what he said was a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. (Unless he came prepared with the quote).

  10. Take a look at our website.

    http://www.TruEvolution.net

  11. Related article by Usama Hasan.

  12. ihave question???what are the inconsistence of the drawning theory of evolution??????


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