Theory of Knowledge
Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism
By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)
(Author’s e-mail: email@example.com)
Does the Qur‘an Support the Concept of Evolution?
Even though controversies exist among believing scholars, the following observations, though presented in brief, seem to lead us to the conclusion that the Qur’an supports the basic views held by modern science about biological evolution. Let us approach the topic directly and as concisely as possible.
1. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was able to discover the theory of evolution primarily by dint of traveling. His ship, Beagle, set out for a long voyage in 1832 from London. God also instructs man to do the same to earn knowledge.
Have they not SEEN how God begins with creation, then performs it all over again ?… “TRAVEL around the earth and SEE how He began with creation” (29:19-20).
Here God implies that:
So it is to be accepted that God’s method of creation is what scientists HAVE FOUND OUT; that is, EVOLUTION. In other words, when God refers to unbelievers in relation to what THEY have SEEN, then it becomes doubtless that what the unbelieving scientists REPORT TO HAVE SEEN is TRUE. Now, because the unbelieving scientists say that what they have found out to be the formula of creation is nothing but EVOLUTION, what else can these verses be said to refer to except EVOLUTION?
… Do they not consider that God, Who has created Heaven and Earth, is able to create the like of them (again) … (17:99)?
How can they consider so? Now we know that we can consider so by knowing about EVOLUTION and GENETIC ENGINEERING. By using the techniques of genetic engineering, even man can create the like of man, let alone God, the Creator of the Science of Genetics.
And CERTAINLY [through empirical research and scientific or inductive and deductive reasoning, which assure the CERTAINTY of hypotheses and thus create knowledge] you KNOW the first growth, why then do you not ponder (56:62)?
Now is it not to be inferred that when God says that “they” KNOW about the first stages of creation, He actually refers to what they themselves think they HAVE KNOWN through scientific investigation?
2. Like science, God also says that He created all creatures, including man, from water, in the process of evolution, in which NATURAL SELECTION determined the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST:
We created man from an extract of clay (23:13).
We have created every living thing out of water (21:30).
He is the One Who created humanity out of water (25:54).
He is the One Who created Heaven and Earth in six days [Geological ages]. His Throne rises over the water, so that He may test which of you is BEST IN ACTION [survives] (11:7).
Not surprisingly, the idea of Survival of the Fittest is a Qur’anic idea: it applies not only to the evolutionary process of creation on earth but also to the reality of the Hereafter – those who do not act best, or at least in an acceptable way, will not be able to survive there: they will neither die nor live.
... and death will come to him from every quarter, but he shall not die (14:17).
3. The Qur’an, like science, says that the creation of man and his physical development has taken place in DIFFERENT PHASES of evolution:
[God is He] Who has created AND [then] fashioned, Who has proportioned AND [then] guided (through knowledge and divine message) (87:2-3).
[God is] the One Who created you from dust, THEN from a drop of semen; THEN fashioned you into a [complete] man (18:37).
These verses, considered together, tell us that the structure of the human body evolved AFTER the hereditary relationship through semen had been established. This means that man was not human in form at an intermediate stage of his biological development. The following verses support this conclusion:
He [is God Who] started out by creating man from clay; THEN He made his progeny from an extract of discarded liquid; NEXT He completed him and breathed some of His own spirit into him. He has [through His spirit] granted you hearing, eyesight, and vital organs (32:7-10).
The above verses say that procreation through blood relations [i.e., through the liquid or semen] continued for a time even BEFORE the completion of the human stature and the breathing of God’s spirit into [the selected sample of] this stature.
There surely came over man a period of time when he was a thing not worth mentioning. [i.e., there was a time when the possibility of man was in a non-human form which, as science informs us, is a hominid form] (76:1).
The verse next to the above says:
Surely We have created man from a small life-germ uniting (itself), so that We might TEST him [in the huge laboratory of Nature to see whether he survives or not] (76:2).
This verse can be said to refer both to the formation of human embryo in the mother’s womb and to the evolution of complex organisms from a single-cell bacterium or amoeba in the prehistoric waters teeming with life.
He created the heavens and the earth with truth, AND He formed you, THEN made goodly your forms, AND [as the last goal of your development through these stages of evolution] to Him is the ultimate resort (64:3).
4. That man was created in the process of evolution, of whatever type it is, is alluded to in another verse:
So your Lord [O Muhammad (PBUH)] said to the angels: “I am ABOUT tocreate a human being from ringing clay, from molded slime. WHEN I have finished with him and breathed some of my spirit into him, THEN drop down on your knees before him (15:28-31).
God HAD UTTERED these declarations BEFORE the biological creation of man was finished. Actually, He made this instruction when the process of creation was still going on – i.e., to use the language that science prefers, the process of evolution was going on. In other words, it was a stand-by order from God. Understandably, any PROCESS taking place in time through some stages of activities and moving toward a cumulative outcome is, by definition, what is referred to by the term EVOLUTION.
5. That God created and established His creation on earth through the process of NATURAL SELECTION (which is based on the overall merit of the choices made in activities) seems to be the fact. Let us consider the following verse:
We have created man in the BEST of statures [the MOST suitable among the available alternatives] (95:4).
This verse implies that in the beginning there were more than one possibility of statures, among which only the best survived and the others (i.e., hominids, as scientists have called them) that failed to evolve perfectly were doomed to extinction. The following verses corroborate this conclusion:
He increases anything He wishes through creation [i.e. He adds to creation as He pleases] (35:1).
He is the One Who originates [matters], then REPEATS them all over again (85:13).
Through repeated creation and re-creation He makes an opportunity for natural selection.
If He so wished, He could take you away [ = destroy] and bring some fresh creation [through NATURAL SELECTION] (35:16).
We too have created them AND strengthened their sinews. Whenever We wish, We will REPLACE them with others like them in exchange [through “Social Selection” ] (76:28).
Then We raised up other generations after [having destroyed] them [because they could not survive the Selection Game of the reality by behaving in the standard way] (23:42).
… If He so wished, He would remove you [through natural selection] and bring replacements for you in any way [social or political or biological] He wishes, Just as He produced you from the offspring of other people [and helped you survive] (6:133).
6. It is evident that these verses also answer for genetic changes like MUTATION. That man has biologically evolved from a lower stage is clearly referred to in the following verses:
Among His signs is [the fact] that He has created you from dust. THEN you were scattered as human beings (30:20).
In this verse God alludes to the prehistoric, ancient men who were scattered all over the world thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Mankind, worship your Lord Who created you AS WELL AS those before you … (2:21).
Heed Him Who created you AND the character of the EARLIEST MEN (26:184).
In these verses the modern man is identified as being different from the ancient man, implying that there is a clear, sharp DIVIDING LINE between them; in other words, they belong to DIFFERENT CATEGORIES. The following verses clarify this truth beyond all doubt:
He [Pharaoh] said, “Who is Lord for both of you, Moses?”
Here Pharaoh’s last question is very instructive: he asks – O Moses, if it is true that your Lord has given everything its due PROPORTION or FORM and GUIDANCE, then what about those who have gone before? They were NOT WELL FORMED as the modern man, nor were they guided [ The Qur’an again says that the primitive people were not guided by messengers]. This definitively establishes the fact that the Qur’an says that man was created through the process of evolution, of whatever nature it is.
7. There is a verse in the Qur’an that can be interpreted to have said that the creation of man and the creation of the whole universe were inseparably linked to a process extended in time in different stages:
God is the One Who has granted you the earth to settle down on AND the sky built above you, AND has SHAPED you. He has made your shapes handsome AND provided you with wholesome things (4:64).
The juxtaposition of these apparently diverse facts in a single verse with the emphatic use of “AND” cannot but lead one to infer that all these events were different, simultaneous results of the same process adopted as the formula of creation. Incidentally, the theories of Ecology are revealing facts that are compatible with and suggestive of the implications of this verse.
8. Science says that the idea of evolution is inseparably linked to the idea of genetics in its latest development. The Qur’an, much to our surprise, alludes to all important discoveries of genetic science, which we will shortly see.
(a) The Qur’an says that the HEREDITY of man, and of many other species of animals, is maintained through BLOOD-RELATIONSHIPS:
He is the One Who has SCATTERED you over the earth [through genetic and geographical mobility] (23:69).
Have you ever considered what [semen] you emit? Did you create it, or are We its creator (56:58-59)?
And We made his [Noah’s] offspring the SURVIVORS [through genetic mechanisms] (37:77).
... There are signs in your own creation as well as how animals SPREAD AROUND [through genetic and geographical mechanisms] (45:4).
(b) Genetic science says that man’s biological, and even physiological, capabilities, which he earns through efforts and inheritance, survive or get expressed in his progeny and get manifested in various biological as well as socio-cultural spheres of life. The Qur’an says so too:
O children of Israel, remember my favor that I have bestowed on you. I have [GENETICALLY] preferred you to [the rest of] the Universe [which you are passing on to the later generations through genetic mechanisms] (2:47).
The above verse testifies to the fact that even God’s messengership is a characteristic which can be genetically passed from one generation to the next.
Noah said, “My Lord, do not leave any disbelievers with homes upon the earth. If you should leave them any, they will lead your servants astray and WILL ONLY BREED loose living disbelievers (71:26-27).
(c) A decisive proof of the role of genetic mechanisms in evolution is the DIVERSTTY of species on earth and the diversity within a particular species. Such BIODIVERSITY has been alluded to in the Qur’an in the most beautiful language:
O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and set you up as NATIONS [political communities] and TRIBES [genetic communities] so you may RECOGNIZE one another (49:13).
We usually hold the view that it is HOMOGENEITY that helps us know or RECOGNIZE one another. But here God says that He has created HETEROGENEITY to help us recognize one another. What does it mean? It means that God urges us to look for the UNITY in all this DIVERSITY. This is the basic principle behind the concept of BIODIVERSITY and SURVIVAL in the theory of evolution.
Among His signs is the creation of Heaven and Earth, as well as the DIVERSTTY in your tongues [languages] and colors. In that are signs FOR THOSE WHO KNOW (30:22).
In this verse the diversity has directly been pointed out as a sign of the truth of the Qur’an for those who have earned much KNOWLEDGE about what unity the diversity implies. Indeed, there can be no diversity without unity. The term “diversity” itself implies a latent unity.
Out of Moses’ folk [there grew] a nation who guided by means of the Truth and dealt justly by means of it. We SPLIT THEM UP INTO TWELVE TRIBES ... (7:160).
If God had so wished, He might have made you into ONE COMMUNITY [instead of diversity], but compete rather in doing good deeds so He may test you by means of what He has given you. To God is your return entirely ... (5:48).
Here God says that man should find out the homogeneity behind all the heterogeneity, because he will have to return to the Plane of Unity at last, when those who have not discerned the unity in the diversity will not survive.
The belief in Teleology is considered opposed to the way of believing or accepting the concept of RANDOMNESS, which is central and vital to the theory of natural selection of all kinds. Even genetic science at its molecular level, let alone nuclear physics, is founded on the concept of randomness. But if we carefully observe some verses of the Qur’an, we see that God has used the process of randomness as a way of being unbiased at the primary stage of creation:
He increases anything He WILLS [wishes] through creation [i.e. He adds to creation as He pleases] (35:1).
God does anything He WILLS [wishes] (22:18).
Once He WILLS [wishes] anything, His command only need to tell it: “Be!”: and it is! (36:82)
“Be!” and it exists! (16:40).
These and other similar verses imply that God’s WILL in such cases is not that of autocracy or caprice or bias. Rather, it is just the personified expression of STATISTICAL RANDOMNESS, which forms the basis of any unbiased method of sampling in scientific research activities. This same principle of reality is observed at the atomic level as UNCERTAINTY. In the political and psychological levels, it is usually called FREEDOM and CREATIVITY. Actually, God creates according to His WILL, because no other WILL can ever predate that of His. So whatever He wills is perfect justice at that level. But once He has created, He chooses the best of them according to how the organisms have used the grace that they have received from Him in choosing among the alternative courses of action. This is the way He adds value to organisms. Again, He never imposes any burden on any organism that it cannot bear:
We only assign a soul something it can cope with (23:61).
So it is clear that the concept of RANDOMNESS is not only acceptable but also the fact according to the Qur’an.
9. We are going to present our strongest evidence. There is an allusion in the Qur’an to the event of some Jews turning into apes. Some people argue that, according this verse, we can say that apes have been devolved from humans. Here is the verse:
And you know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said to them: Be you apes, despised and hated! (2:65)
However, there is another verse in which God says that the accused in the hereafter will be given a punishment which is in a way similar to the one stated in the verse above. And there is more information about what will happen to them. Let us see it.
O you to whom the Scripture has been given! Believe in what We have revealed confirming that which you possess, before We destroy faces, and set them on backwards, or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers (of old time). The commandment of Allah is always executed. (4:47)
The verse above says that if humans went backwards along the line of evolution, then what state they would arrive at is what has been described in the verse no. (2:65).
10. However, now a question may crop up: How do we explain the fact that Adam (Peace be upon him), together with his wife, was ousted from the Paradise and sent to the Earth for Trial? In answer to this question we may argue that this statement of the Qur’an (in verses 7:19-26) is allegorical, since it alludes to a dimension of reality indescribable in worldly language except in terms of metaphors and symbols, the meaning of which is known only to God Himself:
He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive [in reference and meaning], they are the basis of the Book, and others are ALLEGORICAL ... but none knows their interpretation except God, and those who are firmly rooted in KNOWLEDGE [founded on empirical research, valid reasoning, and belief] say: We believe in it, it is all [both types of verses] from our Lord; and none do mind except those having UNDERSTANDING [ of the reality through the process of valid reasoning based on facts] (3:7).
Therefore, as far as science is placed vis-a-vis the factual statements provided in the Qur’an, we need not necessarily go beyond the interpretations that the scientific methods of reasoning and knowledge creation allow us. We had better not discard the decisive knowledge simply because we are not in a position to interpret everything that we are told about but cannot observe or deduce from observable facts in a logical manner. In other words, once we have known something that is valuable, we should not lose the opportunity of valuing it as such.
At this point we can make this comment that a discovery in science may be a serendipity or the result of a long, arduous process of research, but the central point of any discovery is the PRIMARY CLUE to the reality which can teach the mind the TWIST OF THOUGHT that is needed. The Qur’an, so far as we have seen, contains all clues to the discovery of the whole of evolution and genetics.