Our planet earth is teeming with life. There are millions of species of plants and animals that inhabit the earth. Some are found in thick forests and jungles. Others can be found in extreme environments that exist in glaciers and hot deserts. The airborne birds make beautiful formations as they traverse from one place to another. The oceans and rivers are filled with aquatic forms of life. Even a single drop of water is filled with numerous microscopic creatures existing in a universe of their own, and it is in this water, that life is thought to have originated several billion years ago:
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنَ الْمَاءِ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ حَيٍّ ۖ أَفَلَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
…And it is from water that We created all life. Will they not believe (in the face of all this). (Qur’an, Surah al-Anbiya’, 21:30).
Billions of years ago, certain gases like methane, ammonia and hydrogen were thought to have existed in the earth’s atmosphere. Under optimal conditions of temperature and pressure, these gases in combination with water were transformed into organic (carbon based) compounds. These compounds then later formed a primitive molecule called the ribonucleic acid (RNA) which is considered to be the first genetic material. RNA then gave rise to another compound which forms the primary genetic material called the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This process further evolved until the first independent existing units called the cells came into existence, which form the basis of all life as we understand it.1
Individual cells display the properties of life such as obtaining nutrients and energy from the environment, responding to external stimuli, having a demarcating boundary called the cell membrane and the ability to make offspring through reproduction. These properties make living cells distinct from other objects like a stone or a mountain which lack them.
The earliest cells called the prokaryotes, e.g. bacteria, emerged approximately 3.5 billion years ago. They contain a single strand of DNA and lack a central nucleus and other intracellular organelles.
About 1.5 billion years ago, a much more advanced cellular form called the eukaryotes emerged. The DNA of eukaryotes is double stranded, organized in distinct structures called the chromosomes which are housed in a central nucleus. They also possess distinct intracellular organelles like the mitochondria which are used to generate energy.2
There are two distinct types of eukaryotes. One is photosynthetic, meaning that it can capture the sun’s energy and convert it into carbohydrates (sugars) through chemical reactions using a green colored molecule called the chlorophyll. The green colored photosynthetic eukaryotes make up grass, trees, and flowering plants. They also act as the lungs of our planet in the sense that they absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and in return generate oxygen. This oxygen is vital for the second type of non-photosynthetic eukaryote cells which the animals are made up of.
Though individual cells are very small and microscopic, they are remarkably complex and incredibly sophisticated structures. Their outer cell membrane regulates what molecules go in and out of the cells. The cells have an elaborate transport system moving molecules within the cell. Mitochondria act as power generating areas, and ribosomes are used to manufacture protein molecules. There are complex biochemical reactions taking place inside the cell which are tightly regulated. The entire cell machinery is controlled by genetic material housed in the central nucleus. The complexity of operation within each individual cell far exceeds that of a large metropolitan city. Each individual plant and animal is made up of trillions of such cells specialized to give rise to different organs and systems, such as the respiratory (breathing) or cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) systems. An individual plant or animal is remarkably complex, and has a well-organized system working efficiently to maintain life in that organism.
There is also tremendous diversity of life on the earth, which contains several million species of plants and animals. Each member of a specie has the ability to exchange genetic material with the other members of the same species.
When reviewing everything on Earth, scientists have divided all of the living things into five distinct categories called kingdoms.3
The first kingdom is called Monera, which includes mostly bacteria which are prokaryotes. Bacteria are the most diverse and abundant organisms on earth.
The next kingdom is called Protista, which includes organisms with eukaryotic cells. They include algae and molds, and are mostly unicellular, some of them undergo photosynthesis, and others obtain nutrients from the environment.
The next kingdom is called Fungi and they include yeasts and molds; mushrooms also belong to this kingdom.
The fourth kingdom is known as Plantae, and this includes common plants and trees. They have the distinct property of photosynthesis and release oxygen into the earth’s atmosphere.
The fifth kingdom is called Animalia, and includes all of the different kinds of animals. They are distinct from plants in the sense that they demonstrate locomotion and have sensory appendages for sight and hearing.
The Animalia kingdom is then sub-divided into different groups called the Phyla. Some phyla lack a backbone such as the flatworms, insects and starfish. Others have a distinct backbone called the vertebral column and they include many types of fish, amphibians (e.g. frogs), reptiles (e.g. lizard), birds and mammals (e.g. cows and humans).
These tremendous varieties of life forms exist on the planet earth in their unique habitats that are suitable for their survival (e.g. fish inside water). The various species of plants and animals co-exist in tightly regulated and interdependent environments which make up their own unique ecosystems.
The question that comes to mind is how did life change from very early primitive microscopic cells to millions of distinct and unique species including intelligent beings like us who are trying to understand all of this? The most likely explanation given by scientists is known as the Theory of Evolution through natural selection which was first proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859.4
According to this explanation, life started several billion years ago in the form of simple cells like bacteria. It then slowly evolved or changed into more complex forms accompanied by a gradual change in their genome. New species appeared from pre-existing species. Members of one species can interbreed, but they are unable to breed with members of other species. The millions of species of plants and animals that exist today have descended from common ancestors who no longer exist. This entire process which spans billions of years is thought to have happened through what is known as natural selection.
Natural selection means that a within a particular specie there are genetic differences between various members of that specie, e.g some are taller or faster than others. Some of these differences affect an individual’s ability to survive. Therefore, those traits or genes which give survival advantage will be passed on to the next generation, whereas those traits or genes which give survival disadvantage will be gradually eliminated. Certain traits will slowly become more prominent among the members of a species than other ones. As the process goes on for millions of years and species adapt to the changing environment, they will evolve and look a lot different from their ancestors. This process eventually leads to generations of entirely new species distinct from their ancestors.
For example, certain members of a specie have more hair on their body than others. Having more hair is helpful during colder temperatures as hair provides insulation and keeps the body warm. If in a particular habitat, the temperature becomes colder than usual, then those animals with more hair on their body surface will have a higher chance of withstanding the cold and thus surviving. Over many generations all members of this species will have more body hair than their ancestors.5
Similarly, female peacocks prefer to mate with those male peacocks that have a larger and brighter tail. Gradually only those male peacocks will survive that have larger, and brighter tails and those with smaller tails will be eliminated.
Now when we combine Theory of Evolution by natural selection with the fossil records of animals and plants, we can trace how life might have appeared on earth.
Billions of years ago, there were simple unicellular and multi-cellular organisms on the earth. Many were prokaryotes and some were eukaryotes. Around 570 million years ago, the Cambrian era started during which we see the appearance of marine invertebrates (sea animals without a backbone). Then marine vertebrates (such as fish) appeared along with mollusks (snails, octopus) and arthropods (shrimps and crab). We also see the appearance of land plants. This was followed by the appearance of amphibians who could live on both land and water (such as frogs).
Then we see the appearance of insects on the land as well as reptiles (e.g. lizards) which live mostly on the land.
This is followed by the Jurassic era in which dinosaurs dominated the earth, and we also see the appearance of some mammals (which give birth to babies instead of laying eggs).
Then there was an emergence of more land plants and trees.
During this time, birds also appeared which were thought to have evolved from reptiles. Then some 65 million years ago dinosaurs suddenly disappeared, and mammals began to flourish on the earth.6
وَاللّٰهُ خَلَقَ كُلَّ دَابَّةٍ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَىٰ بَطْنِهِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَىٰ رِجْلَيْنِ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَمْشِي عَلَىٰ أَرْبَعٍ يَخْلُقُ اللّٰهُ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
And God has created every animal from water. Some of them move upon their bellies and some move upon two feet and some among them move upon four. God creates what He please. Verily, God is the Possessor of every power to do whatever He wills. (Qur’an, Surah al-Nur, 24:45).
Around four million years ago some mammals appeared which, like us, walked upright on two feet. One such species was called Australopithecus afarensis.
Around 1.8 million years ago another species called Homo erectus appeared who possessed large brains, knew the use of fire, and built complex tools.
Some 300,000 years ago another species called Homo neanderthalensis appeared which were the closest to modern humans. They lived all over Europe and the Middle East. Like us, they are thought to have buried their dead.
Some 28,000 years ago they suddenly disappeared. Based on the “out of Africa” theory Homo sapiens (modern humans) are thought to have appeared in Africa 100,000 years ago and they spread to the rest of the world out competing both Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis.7
Today Homo sapiens dominate the earth with an estimated population exceeding seven billion individuals.
Evolution through natural selection is the dominant scientific theory which explains how life evolved on earth and how millions of plant and animal species including us have come into existence. This theory is used by atheists to reject the idea that life exists on earth through an act of creation from God. Let us examine the evidence to support this theory.
It is well known that through carefully selecting animal and plant pairs for reproduction we can enhance certain traits in their offsprings. This has been done for thousands of years to rear cows which give more milk or meat, or horses with better speed and endurance such as the Arabian horses. There are hundreds of different kinds of dogs of various sizes, shapes and characteristics and all descend from a common ancestor, likely wolves. Similarly from wild cabbage, different vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower have evolved.8 This shows that by choosing breeding pairs, future generations of offsprings can have traits which can be very different from their ancestors.
Fossils are well preserved remnants of animals and plants which can be accurately dated due to the presence of radioactive carbon or potassium found in the rocks discovered along with the fossils. Fossils give us a history of which animals or plants came first and which came later. Fossil records clearly show us that life started with simple organisms billions of years ago. Then gradually more complex forms including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals appeared. There are also transitional forms between two different types of animals having common features of both, implying that animals evolved from a common ancestor, e.g. an extinct animal archaeopteryx is thought to be the common ancestor of reptiles and birds having the features of both.
There is a remarkable similarity in the anatomy and embryology of different animals. The upper limbs of humans and the forelimbs of dogs and birds are quite similar in their bony structures. Similarly, the early stage embryos of fish, tortoise, chicken and even humans look very similar to each other. As the embryos grow and become fetuses, they start to look different from each other. Moreover, during embryonic development the changes seem to follow an evolutionary sequence, for example our circulatory system during early development looks fish like and then changes to something similar to embryonic amphibians, and then embryonic reptiles and finally true mammalian circulatory system develops.9
Similar changes are observed during the development of kidneys as well. Developing embryos seem to follow an evolutionary sequence. If we were not derived from common ancestors then why do we need to follow such a sequence?
The similarity between different animals is not only apparent in their embryos and anatomy, but also in their genetic material. There is a remarkable similarity in the genetic code and the resulting proteins between various animals, plants and even bacteria. Such similarity points towards having a common ancestor between different species.
One of the arguments in favor of evolution by natural selection is the presence of vestigial organs which seemingly have no role, such as the appendix. This points towards our evolutionary past and it represents organs which are no longer needed. Similarly, there are instances of bad design such as the fact that there is a blind spot in our visual field due to the presence of an area called the optic disc on our retina from where the optic nerve passes. Most of us do not even notice it, but if we get our eyes tested there is a small area in our visual field from which we are unable to see. Another example of bad design is the long course of recurrent laryngeal nerve through the chest, especially on the left side. This nerve controls our voice box which is located in the neck and there is apparently no reason for the nerve to go through the chest and then come back to the neck. If God created us, why are there certain features which do not make sense and appear as a case of bad design and can only be explained in the context of our evolutionary history?
Oceanic islands like Hawaii in the Pacific and St. Helena in the Atlantic have many species of birds, plants and insects but they lack freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles and land mammals. These islands arose from the seafloor and were never connected to a continent. It is thought that birds, plants and insects reached these oceanic islands through long distance dispersal, e.g. flying or floating in sea water from the nearest continent, whereas freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals lack this ability, thus we do not find them in oceanic islands. The question is why did God not create fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals in these oceanic islands? Why are there only certain kinds of animals and plants on these oceanic islands but not on the other?
As I mentioned earlier that the scientific Theory of Evolution is used by atheists as an argument against the existence of God. Their argument goes something like this: Since life on this earth started on its own and gradually evolved into higher forms through natural selection, thus, God has no role to play in the existence of life on earth, and therefore, God does not exist.
Just paying a little attention to this line of thinking makes it clear that it is a very weak argument for the non-existence of God.
A monotheist can argue that what if God initiated life on earth and then gradually evolved it into higher forms through the process of natural selection? Natural selection is His way of creating higher forms. So it is quite obvious that this theory cannot be used to argue against the existence of God, though it does go against those who believe that life started only several thousand years ago as reported in certain religious texts.
Again, to rephrase, the Theory of Evolution as accepted by the scientific community is not a convincing argument against the existence of God, though it does gives a different account of the origins of life on earth as opposed to those who believe that life started only a few thousand years ago.
Like any scientific theory, the Theory of Evolution by natural selection and the social and religious implications of it are open to criticism. As mentioned in the first chapter of this book, the beauty of scientific knowledge is that it is based on experimental evidence. We can perform experiments under certain conditions to prove or disprove a hypothesis. Others can repeat the same experiment under the same circumstances and should reach the same conclusion.
Within scientific knowledge there are various grades of evidence. Some scientific evidence is based on observational studies only which are considered a lower level of evidence – for example, we observe that those who are obese are more likely to develop diabetes. From this, we can draw a conclusion that obesity causes diabetes or is a risk factor for diabetes. In order to prove this point, further experimentation is needed. As we know, doing such experiments in humans is not practical and so in order to study the link between obesity and diabetes, scientists have developed certain mouse and rat models in which genetically modified or high calorie diet fed animals are facilitated to develop obesity and they eventually develop diabetes as well. Thus, through experimentations, we can prove that obesity leads to diabetes or is a risk factor for diabetes.
With this brief background let us analyze the scientific evidence for the Theory of Evolution by natural selection.
Evolution is a self-evident reality. We live in a material world in which things are constantly changing and this is one of the reason why the future is unpredictable. Everything around us evolves. An individual, a family, a society, a company, a country all go through evolution. An individual evolves during his life time - from a baby and toddler to an adult and then an old person. We also evolve over successive generations - in inter-racial marriages, the children have features which are a mix of the parent’s different races. If we look at successive models of a car, such as a Honda Civic, we can see how it has evolved from 1970’s when it was first introduced to the latest 2017 model.
We also observe the phenomenon of evolution in biological sciences. A common example is bacterial resistance to anti-biotics. After repeated exposure to anti-biotics certain strains of bacteria evolve and develop resistance to the anti-biotic.
Similarly, there is a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma, which is often seen in non-smokers. Some lung adenocarcinomas, especially amongst non-smokers, carry a specific genetic mutation called the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) mutation (exon 19 deletion or exon 21 L858R mutation). The lung cancer patients with EGFR mutation respond very well to a drug called Erlotinib, which is a once a day oral pill with minimal side effects. It is even better than chemotherapy in terms of its efficacy to treat this particular type of lung cancer. Typically, the drug works for 9-12 months after which it stops working. The reason for this is that the cancer, once exposed to Erlotinib, evolves and acquires an additional mutation called the T790M mutation which makes it resistant to the drug.10
So, through these example, it is clear that evolution is a self-evident reality and in the field of biology it is an undeniable scientific fact at the microlevel. Let us now dissect the evidence in favor of evolution further.
The first big claim or premise of the Theory of Evolution is that life started spontaneously many billions of years ago - presumably in water, through some organic chemicals. For life to exist, as we understand it in the simplest form, there must be a self-replicating single cell. Now do we have any experiments which shows that if we add certain organic molecules like ammonia or methane into water they will transform into a living cell? The answer is no. We do not have any experimental evidence to back this claim. How about if we add RNA, DNA, ribosomes, amino acids and lipids in water, will they self-assemble into a living cell? The answer again is no. There is no experiment like this that I know of that has shown spontaneous emergence of self-replicating living cells.11 I am not sure why abiogenesis is promoted as a scientific fact when there is absolutely no experimental evidence to back this claim! It is scientific speculation not a scientific fact.
The two basic cell types in biology as explained above are the prokaryotes, as represented by bacteria, and the eukaryotes which make up all other living organisms. If life started as simple prokaryotes, at some stage it must have evolved into the more complex cell type i.e. the eukaryotes. Now if we let bacteria replicate for thousands of generations will they change into eukaryotes?
A biologist named Richard Lenski took commonly found bacteria called E.Coli bacteria, separated them into twelve flasks and observed their replication for two decades. There were some genetic changes observed in the later generations of bacteria over a period of two decades but all of them remained bacteria.12 They did not evolve into algae or fungi. A period of two decades may be a small amount of time in the history of life on earth but at present we do not have any experimental evidence that shows prokaryotes can evolve into eukaryotes spontaneously or through natural or artificial selection. There is major gap in scientific evidence for this premise that prokaryotes have evolved into eukaryotes.
Another central claim of the Theory of Evolution is that entire new phyla and kingdoms of animals can evolve from earlier forms. Primitive animals can change into more advanced and sophisticated animals over a period of time stretching millions of years. Needless to say, that such macroevolution or what I term as meta-evolution in which a clearly distinct and more sophisticated and complex animal species has been observed to evolve from simpler predecessors either in nature or in a lab experiment has not been seen. Slight adaptations like shorter elephant tusks, bigger spots on the skin of a fish or larger heads of lizards due to change in environment is hardly a “proof” for major changes in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry of animals needed to transform them into animals belonging to a different phylum. I understand that there are technical and time limitations to demonstrate this in the lab, however let us say that fifty years from now when the technology is expected to be much more advanced, a group of scientists devise an elaborate experiment. The experiment lasts several decades and involves two or three generations of scientists. In this experiment they start from simple animals like earthworms or fruit flies and try to evolve them into more complex forms like a frog in the later generations. They use various techniques like changing the animal’s habitat, giving them growth hormones, use gene therapy and other such procedures to induce evolution in them and ultimately do succeed in producing a totally new species of animals clearly distinct from original fruit flies or earth worm. Will this prove the current Theory of Evolution? The answer is disappointingly no - as this experiment will prove that we need planning and intelligent operators with specific goal directed efforts to transform simple animals into more complex type, checkmate!
There is tremendous homology between different animals. From basic DNA code for protein synthesis, to fundamental biochemical processes like glycolysis. Animals share very similar organ systems like respiratory, circulatory and digestive system and so evolutionary biologists have concluded that homology between animals represent evolution from a common ancestor. Well, one can argue that homology between animals can also represent a common Creator, with His trademark design which repeats itself in all the organisms with different degree of complexity from simple organisms to more advanced forms. Let’s look at an analogy.
In a bakery there are a variety of products like small shortbread cookies, larger cookies with almonds on top, donuts with different icing on them, eclairs, muffins, pound cakes, large cakes with decorative icing and then very large wedding cakes. They all have same basic ingredients like, flour, sugar, milk and eggs. Did the basic ingredients like flour and sugar get mixed somehow by chance and enter into oven and come out as small shortbread cookies? Did the small cookies evolve into larger ones with almonds on top as somehow, they learned that having almonds will give them a survival advantage as people with an almond allergy will not buy them? I know this may not be a perfect analogy, but the conclusion is no less ludicrous.
Through breeding, we can change certain characteristics of a particular organism. Hundreds of different kinds of dogs have been produced via artificial selection/breeding. But through this process they all still remain dogs. They do not change into leopards or elephants or some other form of animal. One exception I should mention here is that if we mate a male donkey with a female horse a distinct kind of animal called a mule is produced which has features of both the donkey and the horse. A donkey has 62 chromosomes and horse has 64 whereas a mule has 63 chromosomes. However most mules are sterile and are unable to breed specially with other mules. So, if a new species were to arise spontaneously in nature by interbreeding of species, at least through this example we learn that most such species will not be very successful at producing successive generations making this process an evolutionary dead end.
One more frivolous argument given in favor of evolution by natural selection as opposed to creation by a wise and knowledgeable God are the examples of how poorly designed some of the organs and structures are.
As mentioned above, the presence of a blind spot in our visual field due to the passage of the optic nerve and blood vessels through the optic disc in the retina is cited as one such example. What the evolutionary biologists do not realize is that a big part of the field of ophthalmology centers on the ability of physicians to examine the optic disc to diagnose conditions like glaucoma, raised intracranial pressure and optic neuritis to name a few medical issues. If the optic disc was positioned somewhere else, it would have been very difficult to examine it. So, though a small unnoticeable blind spot may appear as a case of bad design to some narrow minded evolutionary biologists, it is actually very helpful to the field of ophthalmology.
Similarly, the long course of recurrent laryngeal nerve through the chest wall is cited as a case for bad design. It is well-known to physicians that many lung cancer patients seek medical care for the first time due to a hoarseness of voice. They suddenly notice a change in their voice and often go to see an ear, nose and throat doctor who, on examination, finds their voice box is not working properly. The doctor then orders a chest x-ray which shows that the patient’s hoarseness in the voice is actually due to lung cancer which is pushing against the recurrent laryngeal nerve and reveals the disease before the patient has symptoms from a more advance disease.
But what I want to point out is that the ultimate “bad design” is what all of us experience - the process of ageing. After passing through childhood and growing to become young, strong and healthy we all - without exception - become old and weak and develop many physical limitations – that is, if we remain alive long enough to see old age. Isn’t ageing the ultimate case of bad design?
Similarly, our bodies are very weak, prone to many injuries and trauma. There are thousands of ailments and diseases which can afflict the human body. Are these all cases of bad design? Or perhaps the bodies are designed to get old, get injured and suffer from disease and ailments and ultimately die.
Thus, the argument of bad design is produced by those who lack the depth of vision about our existence on earth and are looking at reality through their narrow scientific pinhole, unable to see and grasp the big picture.
Why do oceanic islands have only a few types of animals like birds, plants and insects and lack freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals? It is likely that life came to these islands from a nearby continental land mass and due to geographical distance, only certain types of animals reached there. There is however no reason for every class of animals to exist in every habitat. Animals exist in habitats that are suitable for their existence as well as the existence of other species of animals in that habitat. When mammals are introduced in these habitats they are often detrimental to the local population of existing animals.
Another counter argument can be that if evolution is true, then the birds and insects found in these habitats should have evolved into mammals or some other distinct unique class of animals which are not found elsewhere – being distinct from reptiles and mammals. We should expect to see new phlya of animals not found elsewhere. Why is it that we see evolutionary block in these habitats?
Fossil evidence tells us that life appeared on earth slowly. It was primitive and then became more complex. There is clear succession of generations of animals, one type getting extinct before the emergence of another type. However, fossil evidence does not prove that one type evolved from the preceding type - it just shows that one type appeared before the other, Thus, dinosaurs appeared before mammals, but fossil evidence does not prove that dinosaurs or other earlier forms evolved into birds or mammals. This conclusion is based on speculation and not on hard scientific facts.
So, in summary, evolution is an undeniable reality of life on earth in almost every aspect of existence. Mirco-evolution is a well-established scientific fact in the field of biology. We observe changes in the form or a particular trait of a species of plants and animals. There are clearly adaptations in animals just as we see in the anti-biotic resistance in bacteria. However at present, there is no scientific evidence that spontaneous abiogenesis took place. We also lack experimental evidence which shows that protakryotes can change into eukaryotes or a complete new phyla or kingdom of animals can evolve from earlier forms. There is definitely lack of good experimental as well as observational evidence that simpler types of animals have evolved into complex types. It is possible that it may have happened but currently we don’t have convincing scientific evidence. There is more scientific speculation in this theory than scientific facts.
One may ask that if micro-evolution is true then why isn’t macro-evolution also true? One reason is that mutations do not always lead to a gain of function or improvement in the organism’s ability to survive. On the contrary, it can lead to development of fatal conditions like cancer which can be detrimental to the organism as well as the species. The complexity required for major transformation or the upgrade of an organ system in a particular species has never been observed and at present cannot be considered a scientific fact.
The fossil evidence or the evidence of geographic distribution of animals tells us the temporal sequence of emergence of animals and plants but it does not prove that one type of animal transformed into another type. Macroevolution or meta-evolution based on available scientific evidence remains a case of speculation and is certainly not a scientific fact as promoted by some.
In this chapter so far, I have discussed the scientific understanding of life and how it originated on earth. Now let us take a philosophical and spiritual approach to life.
One of the Divine names is al-hayy (The Ever-Living). God is the one Who is actually alive and He is the source of all life in its various forms and manifestations:
In biology, we describe living beings as those who take nutrients and energy from the environment, respond to stimuli and produce off spring. None of these apply to God. He neither takes nutrients nor produces off springs and so therefore, we need a different description for what being “alive” means.
One definintion of living is: A living being is something which exists and is conscious of its existence. So, with this description will we consider plants to be alive? What about rocks and mountains? The spiritual and philosophical understanding is that everything that exists is conscious of its existence, and hence alive. The Arabic term for existence is “wujud” and its root word is “wajada” which means ‘to find something’. In other words, the one that exists has found itself or is conscious of itself.14 Thus, whatever is in the heavens and earth is alive:
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ السَّمَاوَاتُ السَّبْعُ وَالْأَرْضُ وَمَنْ فِيهِنَّ ۚ وَإِنْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَلَٰكِنْ لَا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
The seven heavens, the earth and all those inhabiting them extol His glory. Infact, there is not even a single thing but glorifies Him with His true and perfect praise, but you do not understand their glorification. Verily, Most Forbearing is He, Great Protector. (Qur’an, Surah al-Isra’, 17:44).
According to the biological sciences, human beings are made up of trillions of cells organized into different organs and system, which when work in unison, create life. We are physical bodies only and our beings cease to exist once our bodies die. In the bio-spiritual model of life, as learned through revelation, human beings are not just a physical body but exist as a body and soul unit. The best description of the relationship between the body and the soul has been given by Sadr al-Din Muhammad (S) al-Shirazi or Mulla Sadra, who is considered to be the most outstanding Muslim philosopher in the past 400 years.
According to Mulla Sadra:
The soul is corporeal in its advent and spiritual in its survival and perfection.15
According to this view, the soul is neither eternal nor a separate entity that existed prior to the creation of the body and later joined it, rather the soul is created along with the body but not in the body.
The soul is a being through which signs of life become apparent on matter, and it is also called the perfection of the body. By perfection we mean a thing by whose existence a species becomes a species. Therefore, the soul is something by which an animal becomes an animal, and a plant becomes a plant.
According to Mulla Sadra, human beings exist as a unit of a body and soul, two sides of the same coin, representing two grades of existence of a single entity, one more perfect than the other. There is no duality between the body and the soul, rather an amalgam, interdependence and mutual influence. The soul depends on the body for its development and the body depends on the soul for its perfection and survival. What happens to the body affects the soul and what happens to the soul affects the body.
The soul is generated from the material body and at its beginning, is primitive, which means it is more corporeal and less spiritual. As the soul matures and develops it becomes more spiritual and less material and it utilizes bodily tools for the development of its faculties.
The stimulus for production of the human soul is the “inblowing of the Divine Spirit” in the primitive but proportioned body.16 The Divine Spirit is a “Command” from God belonging to a higher “realm of Command” which is different from the “realm of Creation” in which physical entities exist. (See Chapter 5)
This interaction of the Divine spirit with the body leads to the development of the human soul which is an intermediate between the body and the spirit having features of both. Thus the soul represents a barrier or “barzakh” between the spiritual and the physical.17 The human soul after its generation becomes the maintainer of life and the governor of the human body.
إِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي خَالِقٌ بَشَرًا مِنْ طِينٍ فَإِذَا سَوَّيْتُهُ وَنَفَخْتُ فِيهِ مِنْ رُوحِي فَقَعُوا لَهُ سَاجِدِينَ
(Call to mind) when your Lord said to the angels: I am about to create a human being from clay, And when I have fashioned him in perfection and I have inspired into him of My spirit then fall down submitting to him. (Qur’an, Surah Sad, 38:71-72).
At another place, the Qur’an describes the stages of human development as follows:
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ سُلَالَةٍ مِنْ طِينٍ ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاهُ نُطْفَةً فِي قَرَارٍ مَكِينٍ ثُمَّ خَلَقْنَا النُّطْفَةَ عَلَقَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْعَلَقَةَ مُضْغَةً فَخَلَقْنَا الْمُضْغَةَ عِظَامًا فَكَسَوْنَا الْعِظَامَ لَحْمًا ثُمَّ أَنْشَأْنَاهُ خَلْقًا آخَرَ فَتَبَارَكَ اللّٰهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ
We create a human being from an extract of clay. Then We reduce him to a drop of sperm (and place him) in a safe depository. Then We form the sperm into a clot; then We develop the clot into a lump of flesh; then We fashion bones out of this lump of flesh, then We clothe the bones with flesh, thereafter We evolve him into another being. Therefore blessed be God the Best of Creators. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:12-14).
This development into another creature is considered to be the generation of the soul from the body.
The human soul exists in various degrees and grades with higher grades being more sophisticated than the lower ones. The most primitive form of the soul is called vegetal soul which has the faculties of nutrition, growth, development and reproduction. The intermediate form is the animal soul which in addition to the first one also has faculties of sensory perception and movement. The higher form is called the rational soul which in addition to the faculties of vegetal and animal soul, also has faculties of knowledge and the ability to discriminate between morally right and wrong.
The human soul, when it exists as a fetus in the womb, starts at the level of vegetal soul with its features. With continued development it becomes an animal soul and starts displaying features of movement and perception. As it acquires intellectual maturity, it becomes a rational soul. This rational soul continues to carry the features of the vegetal and animal soul. The rational maturity of the soul continues until around the age of forty when it becomes an actual human soul and potentially an angelic (virtuous) or satanic (immoral) form, depending on what it has done so morally in life.
The human body-soul unit can be envisioned as a continuous spectrum - on the one end of it is the physical body followed by the vegetal soul, then the animal soul and finally a rational soul. In a mature adult human being there is only one soul which is the rational soul having features of animal and vegetal souls also, but its degree of manifestation in various body parts is according to the preparedness of those body parts.
The vegetal soul maintains the body and its form and is responsible for nutrition, growth, development and reproduction. If it leaves, the body begins to disintegrate like what happens after death or the gangrene of limbs.
The animal soul is responsible for perception and movement, and if it leaves a person can no longer perceive nor move. The faculty of perception in the animal soul includes the perception of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. The physical body possesses corresponding organs like eyes, ears, tongue, nose and skin to manifest these faculties. There are also internal faculties of perception like imagination, estimation, etc.
The rational soul is responsible for reason and intellectual tasks. The rational soul also has knowledge, wisdom and reflection. If it is disabled due to the use of intoxicants like alcohol then a person can no longer use reason properly and one’s mental sharpness declines.
The human soul is connected to the body (it manifests in the body but is not inside the body) and is responsible for all the rational, animal and vegetal faculties, but the parts of the body differ in receiving and manifesting it. In the brain and heart it connects with more of its faculties, but in the case of nails, teeth and bones it connects with some of its faculties mostly vegetal with no part from the animal and rational soul. The soul uses the body to manifest its faculties, and if there is a defect in the body then the manifestation is limited or restricted.
To elaborate on this point further let us take the example of paralysis. In the case of a paralyzed limb, the vegetal soul continues to maintain the integrity of the limb so the limb appears intact and does not suffer from degradation, but the animal soul can no longer move it due to a physical defect present either at the level of the brain or at the level of the nerves, or the limb.
Another instance through which the body-soul interaction can be understood is during sleep and intoxication. In the state of sleep and strong intoxication, most of the faculties of the soul have receded from the body, the way the sun recedes at the horizon when its essence is hidden from the earth but some of its light can be seen. In the same way during sleep, the soul is limited in its manifestation on the body as compared to the awake state. If a human soul severs all of its connections from the body, then death occurs and the body will be destroyed.
This pre-programmed near complete departure of the soul from the body every night which happens during sleep, and complete departure which happens at death, are matters ordained which cannot be avoided by any human being.
The act of sleep is the single most important argument in favor of the existence of the human soul. There is no scientific explanation why we fall asleep, but the revelation sheds some light on this topic. The Qur’an says:
اللّٰهُ يَتَوَفَّى الْأَنْفُسَ حِينَ مَوْتِهَا وَالَّتِي لَمْ تَمُتْ فِي مَنَامِهَا فَيُمْسِكُ الَّتِي قَضَىٰ عَلَيْهَا الْمَوْتَ وَيُرْسِلُ الْأُخْرَىٰ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
God takes away the souls (of human being) at the time of their death and (also) of those who are not (yet) dead during their sleep. He detains (the souls of) those against whom He passes the verdict of death and sends (back those of) others till a fixed period of time. There are signs in this for a people who would reflect. (Qur’an, Surah al-Zumar, 39:42).
One of the most important original contributions of Mulla Sadra was his concept of transubstantial motion (this is different from the Catholic concept of transubstantiation).
The philosophy of transubstantial motion explains the creation of the world and post death existence. According to him, existence is a single gradational reality that includes different levels starting from the highest level of existence which is the Necessary Existence i.e. God, to the lowest levels of existence i.e. ordinary matter. In between, there are various levels or grades of existence. Within existence there is movement towards perfection, each being trying to reach its perfection. This movement results in the intensification of the degree of existence of a being from a lower level of existence to a higher level, while still maintaining its individual identity. This movement is like an addition of a form of a higher degree to a pre-existing form to make something new of a stronger degree which is like “wearing a coat on top of coat”.18 With transubstantial motion there is intensification of the very existence of a being.
Before Mulla Sadra, Aristotle attempted to classify existence in what are known as ‘categories’. He described ten categories. The first of these is about the substance of an object something which exists in itself e.g. a man or a tree. The other nine are called accidents which happen to a substance, e.g. quantity, quality, relation, position etc. like the color of skin of a person or the hardness of a stone. Hardness or color always belong to a substance and have no independent existence in themselves. For example, we cannot see the color white in itself, it only exists as an accident of an object such as a white cloth or white car.
Prior to Mulla Sadra, motion was thought to take place in only four categories that being: quantity, quality, position, and location of an object which were all accidents. But according to him, in a particular being, motion happens not only in the quantity, quality, place and position, but also in the very substance of that being. The inner nature of a being is fluid and its substance is subject to change and movement, such as from a seed to a plant and then to a mature tree. Therefore, a seed to a sapling and then a mature tree represents one reality in different degrees and there is motion in the very substance of the seed towards its perfection which is to become a mature tree.
From the viewpoint of transubstantial motion, the form and matter of a being becomes the matter for a new form, and this process goes on continuously. For example, organic matter and water from soil is absorbed by the plants in the form of nutrients to become a higher form of existence (i.e. a plant), which in turn is consumed by animals to become an even higher form (i.e. an animal), and then it is consumed by humans and becomes part of the human body. In this way, original matter is transformed from a pure elemental form into a higher form of existence which is the human body. But the process does not stop here as the emergence of the soul from the human body is a further refinement of human existence moving from a pure physical to a metaphysical existence which subsists in higher realms, until it becomes pure intellect.
Thus the human soul is generated by the process of transubstantial motion of the body initially forming as a totally corporeal entity, emerging along with the body and gradually becoming spiritual. Transubstantial motion connects the physical and meta-physical realities.
If we look at the life cycle of a person, we see that the sperm and egg combination develops into the fetus, then a baby, then an adult, then with the onset of old age, the body starts to get weaker, however the soul which was also developing along with the body, continues to grow stronger. With death, after separation from the body, the soul ceases to exist as a soul but exists as something higher than the soul such as the intellect. So the original elemental matter moved to become a body, then soul and then finally the intellect through its substantial perfection.
هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ نُطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ يُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ثُمَّ لِتَكُونُوا شُيُوخًا ۚ وَمِنْكُمْ مَنْ يُتَوَفَّىٰ مِنْ قَبْلُ ۖ وَلِتَبْلُغُوا أَجَلًا مُسَمًّى وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
It is He (God) Who created you from dust then from a sperm drop, then from a blood clot, then He brings you forth as an infant, (then He lets you live and grow,) with the result, that you attain to your young age of full strength. Afterwards it so happens that you become old. Though there are some of you who are called to death earlier. Indeed, He lets you live that you may reach (and complete your) appointed term and that you may refrain (from evil). (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’min, 40:67).
As the human soul transforms and ascends, and is resurrected from the world of Creation to the world of Command (see Chapter 5), its existence becomes a separate, intelligible existence and it no longer needs the body. Like a fetus which needs the womb at first for its existence, but becomes independent of it later on due to the transformation of its existence, similarly the soul needs the body initially for its existence, but it becomes independent of it later on.
According to the philosophy of transubstantial motion, the universe is constantly in motion and is in a state of change or flux, at every moment it revives and renews. There is an innate movement of existence towards perfection i.e. the Creator. When the soul reaches the station of intellect, it connects to the Divine world and become restful, it is annihilated from its essence and subsists by the subsistence of God:
لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ إِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ
There is no other, cannot be and will never be One worthy of worship but He. Towards Him is the eventual return. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’min, 40:3).
The soul is a meta-physical reality and as such cannot be observed by ordinary vision or radiological imaging like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT). Rather, we will need indirect rational arguments to show that it must have existence.
Traces of life are observed in certain bodily forms like plants, animals and humans, but are not typically seen in other things like rocks, mountains and other physical structures no matter how large or complex they may be like a car or a computer. If we look at the composition of plants, animals and humans we find that they are made up of carbon based organic compounds. The traces of life then could either be from the organic matter or from beyond it. Organic matter in itself does not show traces of life unless it is organized in a perfect bodily form. This organization of organic matter into a perfect body either happens due to inherent nature of the organic matter or something beyond it. We know that organic matter is incapable of organizing itself into a highly complex and sophisticated functional unit, therefore an outside agent is needed to bring about this change. This act of organization into a sophisticated functional unit and the observance of traces of life on it is through an outside agent which can be called the spirit or soul. The soul maintains the structural integrity of these units and beings, and manifests traces of life like nutrition, growth, perception, reproduction, movement and rationality in them. When the soul leaves the body these traces of life are lost and the body disintegrates.
Another strong argument in favor of a meta-physical aspect of our existence i.e. the soul is the act of sleep which has been briefly described previously. There is no scientific explanation of why we fall asleep. According to the Qur’an, it is a partial departure of the soul from the body and is like a state of mini-death in which there is a receding of human faculties. During sleep, we experience dreams in which we see and hear things, talk to people and visit places while our eyes are shut and our bodies are still. This perception and experience during sleep also points towards a meta-physical aspect of our existence and not just a replay of our memories and emotions.
Lastly, near-death experience (NDE) or out-of-body experience (OBE) is a very well documented phenomenon in scientific literature. According to a 2001 study published in The Lancet, nearly 18% of patients undergoing cardiac arrest described an out-of-body experience in which they reported being conscious during resuscitation. They reported awareness of being dead, witnessing their own bodies, seeing light or pleasant scenery, and meeting dead relatives, and this is something which seems to be more common among younger people and women. Patients who underwent an NDE in a longitudinal follow-up reported significant change in their social and religious attitude compared to those who did not have such an experience19 - meaning that their NDE had a lasting impact upon them.
The soul is the carrier of the body, not that the body is the carrier of the soul. The soul after a certain level of maturity separates from the body due to its gradual independence in being from it. It separates from natural modality of being to the next modality. As the soul gains strength and transforms in its essence from one level to another, the emanation of power from it on the body decreases due to its turning away to another direction. As a result, the body and its faculties become weaker, and the natural wasting and fading away occur as is seen in old age. When the soul reaches its utmost level in its substance and becomes independent, then its connection to the body is severed completely (like an apple disconnecting from the stalk once it is fully mature), as well as its management of it resulting in death of the body. This is a natural death, not the untimely or accidental death that occurs due to some catastrophic injury or illness of the body.
So the changes in an elderly body after its strength, its withering away and occurrence of death is the transformation of the soul in various degrees and its substantive movement to the next modality of its being.
The bodily states witnessed in an individual such as childhood, youth, adulthood, old age and death are actually different states of the soul.
Initially the body grows and matures with the soul, but as the soul continues in its maturity and transforms in its substance, its emanation on the body gets weaker resulting in the withering away of the body to old age until the soul reaches independence from the body and is separated from it resulting in the natural death witnessed in old age. This withering away of the body can be accelerated by an illness or injury to the body, which if catastrophic, can lead to instantaneous or premature death. When the soul gains strength, the body gains weakness and feebleness until the soul subsists by its essence independent of the body, and the body is destroyed by its departure.
Mulla Sadra gives a simile of the human body and the soul like that of the wind and its carrying of a sailing ship. The wind is the carrier of the ship, likewise the human soul is the carrier of the body but not vice versa. In the case of dissolution of composition of the sailing ship, water enters in it, submerges it and ultimately destroys it. In the same way, when the human body is permanently damaged or rendered defective due to an illness or injury, the soul can no longer command it and thus leaves it resulting in its further destruction and death. The parable of natural death is like a very strong wind or gale which a ship has no capacity to bear, its parts are unable to perform the tasks, resulting in its destruction - similar to a very strong mature soul which can subsist without a body if the body is incapable of maintaining it.
Thus, based on the bio-spiritual model, we exist as a body-soul unit, and our reality is the soul not the body. Earlier, I presented some of the scientific criticism of the Theory of Evolution. Now when we analyze this theory from a bio-spiritual model of life, i.e. the existence of the human soul in addition to the body, it becomes clear that the Theory of Evolution cannot be true. Based on the philosophy of trans-substantial motion and the spiritual aspect of our existence, it is impossible that human beings evolved from other animals as claimed by this theory. The Qur’an says:
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
We have surely created the human being in the finest make and the best proportions. (Qur’an, Surah al-Tin, 95:4).
Mulla Sadra’s theory can also help us understand some of the biological observations that are given in the support of evolution. Based on the philosophy of Mulla Sadra, we understand that existence is one reality in different degrees. We see this in the gradation of life forms on the earth starting from simple bacteria and advancing to more complex things including plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In this hierarchy of life forms, it is not surprising to find intermediate or transitional forms between the various sub-types, which are taken mistakenly by some as a “proof” for evolution.
The homology observed between different animals is perhaps also due to all of them having a basic primitive animal soul in them. The body manifests the faculties of the soul, and if all of them have an animal soul the there will be a degree of homology between them in their anatomy and physiology and bio-chemistry.
As mentioned above, in the beginning, the human embryo looks very similar to embryos of other animals. Perhaps the explanation of this is that the primitive soul that develops in all animals is similar or common between them, thus their bodies also look similar. As the soul matures and becomes more human like, the body also starts to look like a human body.
According to transubstantial motion from a seed to a sapling to a small plant and adult tree, they all represent one reality but in different degrees. We see a directional motion in the seed until it becomes an adult tree. The seed can become an adult tree because it has the potential to be so. An apple seed will only give rise to an apple tree and not an orange tree because an apple seed has the potential to become an apple tree, and not a walnut or orange tree. Things can become what they have the potential to become and not for which they don’t have the potential. Similarly, we can give to others what we already have, not what we do not have. One cannot give someone a million dollars unless one has a million dollars to give. A person cannot teach mathematics unless one knows mathematics themselves and the other person has the potential to learn it. Therefore, unless lifeless organic matter has the potential to give rise to life containing bacteria, it will not be able to do so. Unless organic matter has life itself, it cannot give rise to bacteria containing life.
Unless the primitive bacteria at inception has the potential to one day become an adult human with a higher form of consciousness, they will not be so even after millions of years of evolution. The path of evolution proposed by scientists demonstrates motion in a directional manner moving from simple forms to more complex forms. This potentiality in bacteria to one day evolve into adult humans with a high form of consciousness requires foresight and planning by an outside agent without which it can never happen. To argue that life-less organic molecules just by chance assembled into living cells and then the living cells, without having the potential or a strategy and pre-planning just kept on evolving in the direction of a more complex thing for billions of years until we reach the age of modern humans is irrational and absurd. Thus, based on a lack of scientific evidence, spiritual dimension of our existence and the philosophy of the Trans-Substantial Motion, the Theory of Evolution by natural selection cannot be true.
Fossil records tell us that many life forms such as dinosaurs previously dominated the earth’s landscape, but are now extinct. There was certainly a time period before modern humans came on the scene, and in this regards, the Qur’an says:
هَلْ أَتَىٰ عَلَى الْإِنْسَانِ حِينٌ مِنَ الدَّهْرِ لَمْ يَكُنْ شَيْئًا مَذْكُورًا
There did pass over mankind a period of time when he was not a thing worth mentioning. (Qur’an, Surah al-Insan, 76:1).
Based on fossil records and the above mentioned verse from the Qur’an, there certainly was a significant time period in the history of the earth when modern humans did not exist. So who inhabited the earth prior to modern humans? Were there other advanced life forms? And more importantly where did modern humans come from?
According to the Qur’an and the statements from the family of Prophet Muhammad (S), there existed two other intelligent life forms prior to modern humans - they are called the “jinns” and the “nusnas”.
For example, the existence of jinns has been mentioned in the Qur’an multiple times:
خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ مِنْ صَلْصَالٍ كَالْفَخَّارِ وَخَلَقَ الْجَانَّ مِنْ مَارِجٍ مِنْ نَارٍ
He (God) created human being from the essence extracted from dry ringing clay like a piece of baked pottery (with the faculty of speech and possessing pliant and submissive nature). And He created the jinn from a flame of fire (possessing fiery nature). (Qur’an, Surah al-Rahman, 55:14-15).
The jinns represent a distinct creation, different from mankind in the sense that their physical form is made up of “fire” as opposed to “clay”. Please refer to the last chapter (Chapter 16) of this book about a more detailed discussion on the Jinns.
The second life form that existed prior to us has been termed as nusnas, distinct from us, “insan”, which is the term used for mankind. They were hominoid creatures, but were not actually humans and likely represented earlier species like Homo habilis or Homo neanderthalensis. They became extinct prior to the advent of modern humans. Thus, humankind is one of God’s many creations, not the only one – though it is considered the best of them:
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا
And most surely We have made the Children of Adam greatly honoured and have carried them over land and sea, and We have provided them with good and pure things and have distinctly exalted them far above most of Our creation. (Qur’an, Surah al-Isra’, 17:70).
The fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir (‘a) has been quoted as saying:
It seems that you think God only created this world and He did not create other than you. Rather, by God! He created millions of worlds and millions of Adams, and you are simply in the last of those worlds, descended from last of those Adams.20
أَفَعَيِينَا بِالْخَلْقِ الْأَوَّلِ بَلْ هُمْ فِي لَبْسٍ مِنْ خَلْقٍ جَدِيدٍ
Are We wearied with the first creation (that We will not be able to create them the second time on the Day of Resurrection)? The fact is that they are in confusing doubt about a new creation. (Qur’an, Surah Qaf, 50:15).
Imam al-Baqir (‘a) is quoted to have said that when God will put an end to the universe, He will create a new creation, in which there will be no gender.
So then how did humans emerge? Did they evolve from the nusnas or do they have a separate origin? According to the Qur’an, the first human to be created was Adam (‘a) (In Arabic, the name of the first creation, Adam, comes from the phrase adim al-ardh which literally means dust from the surface of the earth, and this was them summarized into the one word, Adam) and then his wife Eve (‘a). The Qur’an clearly refutes any claim that Adam (‘a) evolved from earlier life forms as he had no father or mother:
إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِنْدَ اللّٰهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ خَلَقَهُ مِنْ تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ
Verily, the case of Jesus is as the case of Adam in the sight of God. He fashioned him out of dust, then He said to him: Be, and he came to be. (Qur’an, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:59).
Thus, the origin of Adam (‘a) is from “dust” or “adim al-ardh” and it means that the structural or material aspect of Adam’s existence is from dust originating from the earth. The other main ingredient of material aspect of our existence is water:
وَهُــوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ مِنَ الْمَاءِ بَشَرًا فَجَعَلَهُ نَسَبًا وَصِهْرًا وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ قَدِيرًا
And it is He (God) Who created the human being from water and has given him relations by descent and (kindred) by marriage (and thus sought to establish a civilization and social life based on oneness of humanity under oneness of God). And your Lord is All-Powerful. (Qur’an, Surah al-Furqan, 25:54).
Nearly two-thirds of the adult human body is made up of water molecules, and the other one-third contains oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and many trace elements including iron. These elements exist on the earth and the atmosphere surrounding the earth. The soul is in addition to the material aspect of our existence, as discussed previously in this chapter.
The next question that comes to mind is that if Adam (‘a) was a special creation without a father and a mother then how or where was he created? There are two possibilities - either Adam (‘a) was created on earth just like the other life forms are created through a combination of khalq and amr - Divine Creation and Command; or that Adam (‘a) was created somewhere else and then transported to the earth.
Although it is hard to definitely say, but based on the interpretation of the verses of the Qur’an and statements of Prophet Muhammad (S) and his family, in our understanding, Adam (‘a) was most likely created somewhere else and then moved to the earth. This is also the view of a leading contemporary Shi’a scholar, Ayatollah Jawadi Amoli.21 Again, this is based on our personal opinion of what we have studied and is subject to further investigation.
According to the Qur’an, after creation, Adam (‘a) and his wife were asked to dwell in a “garden” and to eat as they like but not to approach a certain tree:
وَقُلْنَا يَا آدَمُ اسْكُنْ أَنْتَ وَزَوْجُكَ الْجَنَّةَ وَكُلَا مِنْهَا رَغَدًا حَيْثُ شِئْتُمَا وَلَا تَقْرَبَا هَٰذِهِ الشَّجَرَةَ فَتَكُونَا مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
And We (God) said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in this garden and eat freely and plentifully from it as you will. But you shall not go near this tree lest you should be of the unjust. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:35).
However, due to satanic temptation, they did approach the tree and afterwards were asked to leave the garden and descend to earth:
فَأَزَلَّهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ عَنْهَا فَأَخْرَجَهُمَا مِمَّا كَانَا فِيهِ وَقُلْنَا اهْبِطُوا بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ وَلَكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَاعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ
After sometime the Satan caused them both to slip from this (order of not going near evil) and thus brought them out of (the happy state) which they were in. And We (God) said (to them): Go forth, some of you are enemies of others and for you there is a sojourn in the earth and a provision for a time. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:36).
This “garden” was not the paradise that is promised to the believers after death but rather, it was another garden. It was likely in a higher realm of existence, and afterwards they were asked ‘ihbitu’ which means to ‘go down,’ or ‘to float down,” or “come down gradually” towards earth and dwell on the earth for a period of time – until death takes them. After death, God promises that We will return you back to the higher realm of existence. This movement of objects between the material realm of existence and the higher realms has been discussed in detail in the previous chapter.
The same concept is repeated elsewhere in the Qur’an as well suggesting that we are in this world temporarily, and will be returning back to our origin:
قَالَ اهْبِطُوا بَعْضُكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ عَدُوٌّ وَلَكُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ مُسْتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَاعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ قَالَ فِيهَا تَحْيَوْنَ وَفِيهَا تَمُوتُونَ وَمِنْهَا تُخْرَجُونَ
(God) said: Get down. Some of you are (indeed) enemies of others, and there will be for you on this earth a habitation and (enjoyment of) provision for a while. And (He added): In this you shall live and therein you shall die and from it you shall be brought forth (in the Hereafter). (Qur’an, Surah al-Aʿraf, 7:24-25).
Satan, or as he is known by his Arabic and Qur’anic title of Iblis, came down to earth along with Adam (‘a) and his wife, Eve (‘a). Iblis is not a human being but rather, belongs to another type of creation known as the jinn:
وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ اسْجُدُوا لِآدَمَ فَسَجَدُوا إِلَّا إِبْلِيسَ كَانَ مِنَ الْجِنِّ فَفَسَقَ عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِ أَفَتَتَّخِذُونَهُ وَذُرِّيَّتَهُ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِنْ دُونِي وَهُمْ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ ۚ بِئْسَ لِلظَّالِمِينَ بَدَلًا
And (recall the time) when We (God) said to the angels: Submit to Adam. So they all submitted (bowing), but Iblis (did not); he was one of the jinn, he disobeyed the command of his Lord. (Mankind!) Would you (then) take him and his progeny (and cohorts) for friends rather than Me while they are your enemies? How evil is the substitute (of God) the unjust have chosen! (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf, 18:50).
Thus, Adam (‘a) and Eve (‘a) were the first couple created by special means. They were most likely made in an extra-terrestrial realm of existence and were then sent down for a specific period of time.
The progeny of Adam (‘a) continued through his son Seth (‘a) for whom a wife was sent from the higher realm of existence also.22 As the descendants of Adam (‘a), we can maintain consciousness in this realm of existence for only a certain number of hours at a stretch each day and after that our faculties start to fade and sleep overtakes us. During sleep we are disengaged from our earthly life to be returned to it once the period of sleep is over. This process repeats itself until our term on the earth is complete, and then death permanently separates us from this material realm of existence returning us back towards our origin:
إِلَى اللّٰهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
To God is the return of you all, then He will inform you as to that wherein you were at variance. (Qur’an, Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:48).
In this chapter I have discussed that evolution, change and adaptation is a self-evident reality in the physical realm of existence. The phenomenon of evolution also takes place in biology at microlevel resulting in adaptive changes in species e.g. (anti-biotic resistance or longer body hair due to colder temperature).
Right now there is insufficient scientific evidence to say that abiogenesis happened on it owns and that complex species have evolved from simpler forms by natural selection. There is no experimental evidence to back these claims.
When we analyze this issue from philosophical and spiritual aspects it becomes clear that origin of complex species by natural selection as described by evolutionary biologists is impossible to be true.
- 1. Alcamo, I. Edward, The Princeton Review: Biology Coloring Work Book, Penguin Random House, 2nd Edition, New York, 2017.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Coyne, Jerry A, Why Evolution is True, Penguin Books, New York, 2009.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. The Princeton Review: Biology Coloring Work Book.
- 7. Coyne, Why Evolution is True.
- 8. Dawkins, Richard, The Greatest Show on Earth, Free Press, New York 2009.
- 9. Coyne, Why Evolution is True.
- 10. Zhang K, Yuan Q. Current mechanisms of acquired resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitors and updated therapy strategies in human nonsmall cell lung cancer. J Cancer Res Ther. 2016 Dec. 12, Supplement: C131-C137, doi:10.4103/0973-1482.200613.
- 11. Pross, Addy and Pascal, Robertm The Origin of Life: What We Know, What We Can Know and What We Will Never Know). Open Biol). 2013 Mar; 3, 3.
- 12. The Greatest Show on Earth.
- 13. Mafatih al-Jinan, Duʿa al-Ahd.
- 14. Arabi, Ibn al-, The Meccan Revelations, vol. 1, Translation by William C. Chittick and James W. Morris, Pir Press, 2002.
- 15. Shirazi, Mulla Sadra, The Fourth Intellectual Journey in Transcendent Philosophy, volumes VIII and IX of The Asfar, Translated by Latimah-Parvin Peerwani, Spiritual Psychology, First Edition, London, ICAS Press.
- 16. Chittick, William C, The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-Arabi’s Cosmology, First Edition, New York, State University of New York Press.
- 17. Dakake, M. M., 2004, The Soul as Barzakh: ubstantial Motion and Mulla Sadra’s Theory of Human Becoming, The Muslim World, 94, pp. 107–130.
- 18. Shirazi, Mulla Sadra, The Fourth Intellectual Journey in Transcendent Philosophy, volume VIII and IX of The Asfar.
- 19. Van Lommel, Van Wees R, Meyers V, Elfferich I, Near-death Experience in Survivors of Cardiac arrest:A Prospective Study in the Netherlands, The Lancet, 2001 Dec 15; 358, 9298 :2039-45.
- 20. Tafsir Nur al-Thaqalayn; God’s Emissaries, Adam to Jesus, written by Shaykh Rizwan Arastu, Published by Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya, I.M.A.M, 2014, Dearbon, MI.
- 21. God’s Emissaries, Adam to Jesus.
- 22. God’s Emissaries, Adam to Jesus.