16. Is the theory of evolution inconsistent with theism?
The Qur’an contains a concise discussion in connection with the creation of man which it has presented in a nutshell since its prime aim had been issues that were educative in essence. This topic has been presented in numerous places in the Qur’an such as Suratul Sajdah, Suratul Mu’minun, Surat Sad and some other chapters.
However, we do know that the Qur’an is not a book of natural sciences but rather, a book for human development, and hence it should not be expected that details of these sciences such as issues relating to evolution, anatomy, embryology, botany and the like should be contained within it; nevertheless, it is quite acceptable that in relevance to educative discussions, brief allusions are made to different aspects of these sciences in the Qur’an.
Having taking this into consideration, there are two discussions which we consider essential to present before you:
1. Evolution of species from the scientific point of view.
2. Evolution of species from the Qur’anic point of view.
At the outset, we shall pursue the first topic and discuss the issue without reference to the verses and the traditions, only taking into consideration the criteria associated with the natural sciences:
We know that amongst scholars in this field there are two theories that are prevalent in connection with the creation of the living entities, irrespective of whether they are plants or animals:
The theory of evolution, which states that in the beginning, the various living entities did not possess the form that they presently possess, rather, the beginning of entities started with a single cell, which came into being as a result of mutation amid mud and slime, in the depths of the oceans; some non-living entities found themselves in special conditions and from them came into existence the first living cells.
These microscopic entities gradually underwent evolution - changing forms from one species to another, and shifting from the seas to the wild and from there to the air - and in this fashion, various species of plants, land and sea animals, and birds came into existence.
The most perfect and complete link in this process of evolution are the humans of today, who have manifested themselves in this present form - (evolving) initially from entities that resembled the monkeys and then from monkeys that resembled humans.
The theory of constancy of species, which states that every species of animal, from the very onset, manifested separately in the same form that they presently possess and there has occurred no transformation of any species into another. And hence, quite naturally, man too possessed an independent creation and from the very beginning had been created in this form.
Scholars of both the groups have written numerous books trying to establish their viewpoint, and this issue has been a subject of great dispute in scholastic circles.
These battles intensified from the time of Lamarck (the renowned French zoologist, who lived in the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century) and later Darwin - the English zoologist who, in the 19th century, presented his views in connection with the evolution of species with fresh proofs and arguments.
However, there is no doubt that in circles of natural sciences, most of the scholars today support the theory of evolution.
Their arguments can be summarized into three kinds:
The first of their claims is related to paleontology - the study of fossils of erstwhile living animals. They are of the opinion that studies conducted in connection with the various layers of earth reveal that living entities changed their forms from simple to more intricate and perfect forms, and there is only one way to explain these variations in the fossils - and that is the theory of evolution.
Their second argument is a clue which they have collected from comparative anatomy. In the course of lengthy discussions, they state: When the frame-work of various dissected animals are placed for comparison, great resemblances are seen to exist between them, which indicates that all of them have been derived from one origin and source.
And finally, their third argument is based upon a finding that they have procured from embryology. They are of the opinion that if the animals, while they are still embryos within the mother or inside the egg and have not seen the necessary development stages, are placed alongside each other, they shall be observed to possess great resemblances amongst themselves. This fact also emphasizes that in the beginning all of them come from one source and origin.
However, the supporters of the theory of 'constancy of species' state one general answer for all the above statements and that is:
None of the above arguments are convincing. Of course, it cannot be denied the each of the above three claims do justify the probability of evolution as a conjectural probability, however, they can never induce certainty and conviction within us with respect to this issue.
To put it clearly, proving the theory of evolution and converting it from a mere theory into an indisputable scientific law should either take place by means of rational proof or by means of sense, tests and experiments - there exists no third alternative.
However, on the one hand we do know that there is no room for rational proofs with respect to such issues, while on the other, experimenting in connection with issues, whose roots exist millions of years in the past, is something that is not feasible!
What we perceive by means of sense and experiments is that with the passage of time, as a result of mutation, superficial changes do take place within animals and plants. For example, from one breed of ordinary sheep suddenly a breed of sheep is born whose wool, in terms of softness and delicacy, varies greatly from that of ordinary sheep - this being the origin of a new breed of sheep by the name of merino, possessing these exceptional characteristics in their wool.
Or animals, as a result of mutation, develop a change in the colour of the eyes, nails or the structure of their skin - and other such changes.
However, as yet, no one has ever witnessed a mutation that has caused an important alteration in the essential organs of the body of an animal, or transformed one species into another.
Thus, we can only speculate that successive mutations could, one day, possibly cause a change in the species of animals and, for example, transform a reptile into a bird. Nevertheless, this speculation is not a conclusive supposition but only one conjectural issue. This is because we have never encountered - neither by our sense nor by experiments - mutations that alter the essential organs of the body.
From what has been stated above we conclude that the triple arguments propounded by the advocates of evolution cannot carry this theory beyond its theoretical concept, and it is for this reason that those who discuss these issues always refer to it as 'theory' of evolution of species, and never refer to it as a law or a rule.
Many people claim that this theory is inconsistent with theism and God-worship, and probably, from one angle, there might be some truth in what they claim. This is because, with the advent of Darwinism, there commenced an intense battle between the Church on the one hand and the supporters of this theory on the other, and due to political and social reasons a wide-spread propaganda was initiated stating that Darwinism was not consistent with theism.
However, today, it is clear for us that there exists no inconsistency between them, i.e. irrespective of whether we accept the theory of evolution or reject it due to lack of proof, we can still be believers in God.
Even if we assume that the Theory of Evolution of Species is established, all it would do is to take the form of a scientific rule that has manifested for us a natural cause and effect phenomenon - one, which shall be no different from the cause-effect relationship existing in the animal world and between other entities. Are the discoveries of natural causes that lead to rainfall, the tides of the seas, or the earthquakes an impediment in acquiring awareness of God? Surely not! Similarly, the discovery of an evolutionary relationship between the various species does not create any obstacle in the way of developing the cognizance of God.
Only those, who imagined that the discovery of natural causes does not run in harmony with the belief in the existence of God, can state such things. Today, however, we comprehend that not only do the discoveries of these causes not harm monotheism and Unity (of Allah (s.w.t.) ), but instead, they provide us with fresh proofs (related to the system of creation), regarding the existence of God.
Interestingly, Darwin himself, in the face of allegations of heresy, explicitly expresses in his book On The Origin of Species that 'As I accept the (theory of) evolution of species, I also believe in God; fundamentally, justifying and explaining evolution is not possible without (first) acknowledging the existence of God.'
Reflect on this statement: Despite acknowledging the influence of natural causes for the manifestation of various species of animals, he continued to believe in the One God, and gradually, as he grew older, the intensity of a special internal feeling that perceived the presence of a superhuman Power increased to such an extent within him that he realized that the conundrum of creation would remain unfathomable for man.1
Essentially, he was of the opinion that the manner in which the species are guided and led through the strange twists of evolution and the transformation of an extremely simple living entity into all these various and different species of animals, without the existence of a calculated plan, and without the means of a Universal Intelligence, is impossible!
And truly, it is exactly so! Is it possible to bring forth from one single, extremely primitive substance all these strange and mind-boggling derivatives - each of which portray extensive organization - without resorting to a source of infinite Knowledge and Power?
In conclusion: The uproar that the Theory of Evolution is in disagreement with the issue of theism and God-worship is one which is baseless and unsubstantiated (irrespective of whether we accept the Theory of Evolution or not).
The only question that remains to be answered is: Is the theory of Evolution of Species in conflict with the history that the Noble Qur’an presents in connection with the creation of Adam (a.s.)? The answer to this shall be discussed in the next question.2