Some Thoughts on Evolution from an Islamic Perspective
In his Origin of Species, Charles Darwin proposed in 1859 that species were not created independently, but evolved from one another, primarily by natural selection. Many religious scholars, from many religions, have declared this to be heretical, as life on earth did not just happen and evolve accidentally, but was created by God. In this editorial, I will argue that the concept of evolution is not heretical, nor antithetical to the concept of divine creation.
Let's leave Darwin aside for the moment, and consider physics theory. Physicists have proposed over the centuries various theories, some of which we still believe today, and some which are no longer accepted. For example, scientists now believe that it is not chemically feasible to change lead into gold, or to build a perpetual motion machine that produces more energy than it consumes (too bad, huh?).
For example, Newton's Law of Gravity states that any two object exert a gravitational force on each other; this force is what keeps you glued to the earth, and what keeps the earth revolving around the sun. (Legend has it that Newton thought of this when an apple fell on his head: "Ow! My head! Hey maybe it's because any two objects exert a gravitational force of attraction on each other, and the direction of the force is along the line joining the objects, and the magnitude of the force is proportional to the product of the gravitational masses of the objects, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them!") The amount of this force is dictated not only by the masses of the objects and the distance between them, but also by a gravitational constant, specifically, 6.67x10-11 NM2/Kg2. If this value were bigger, like 10, we'd all be crushed against the surface of the earth, and the earth would immediately go crashing into the sun. Scientists believe that this value, as well as the law of gravity, have been the same pretty much forever; it's just the way the universe is. Scientists who believe in God say that God in his wisdom created the universe with these laws and constants; scientists who don't believe in God say that it all just happened.
Newton's law helped to explain one of the theories of his predecessor, Galileo, who stated that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun. When Galileo said this, the Catholic Church disagreed. Actually, during the trail of Galileo for heresy in 1615, Cardinal Bellarmine claimed that "To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin." But Galileo was just stating how the planets moved, not who created them and set them in motion. (The Vatican eventually reversed its decision, and decided to agree that the earth indeed revolves around the sun, in 1992). Today it is generally accepted that Galileo was right about the earth and the sun. Some physicists believe that our solar system was created and set in motion by God, some say it just happened by accident; we won the cosmic lottery, so to speak.
The point is that physicists and other scientists have been proposing theories for a while, sometimes they right, sometimes they are way off. The same is true for chemists and biologists. Now Darwin has proposed that species variated through evolution: that is, random mutation and natural selection. Many religionists have declared this heresy, they say because God created life on this earth, in less than a week. I'm not saying that Darwin is correct in the his theory, he might be proven wrong someday by future scientific efforts, but from the scientific knowledge we have today, the idea of evolution seems plausible. I believe that if in fact life evolved out of single-celled creatures in the ocean, then you can believe that it was by accident, or due to God's design. I don't believe that the universe was necessarily created in six 24-hour periods. Maybe it was, and God could certainly do it if He wanted to, but I believe that in arguing whether the universe, the earth, and life on earth took billions of years to happen, or if it all happened in a single lightning bolt from a divine finger, is just arguing over the mechanism by which God created them.
In the Qur'an, the reader is encouraged to reflect on the universe and its creation, and as the Islamic world grew, a scientific and cultural renaissance flourished, among Arabs, Turks, Persians, and others. In fact, much of Europe's renaissance later relied on the Muslims' scientific achievements in physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy. Muslims investigated their known universe as a means of worship, to understand God's wisdom and power in his ability to design and produce such things as the solar system and the human body. In my opinion, and God knows best, Darwin's theory of evolution is simply another theory to describe a natural phenomenon, just like the law of gravity. To a Muslim scientist, it points to a simple and graceful design that has tremendous consequences.
I believe that God created our universe and fashioned it according to his design. I disagree with the religionists that claim that The Origin of Species is heresy, because it neither asserts nor negates the participation of God in our creation. However, I also disagree with others who assert evolution like it's some irrevocable dogma. It's just a theory
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