[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]
We are all products of evolution. Whether to a theist, or to an atheist, this is an undeniable fact. To ‘evolve’ means ‘to change over time’. We all change over time, always: both physically, and in terms of our non-physical qualities, such as personality traits.
As the Qur’an states, after the conception process, we begin, in our mothers’ wombs, as ‘Alaqas – as clinging substances. There is no life within these clinging substances; the cells that they consist of do not simply ‘know what to do’. They are clearly drawn towards doing what they do by some kind of force (although atheists maintain that this information – this process they must follow to achieve the perfect end product of a human foetus – comes ‘naturally’ to them) and, ultimately, via an evolutionary process, we end up with a human baby. This baby, whose heart begins to beat, at some point, while it is in a state of uterine obliviousness and bliss, will go on and evolve to become a petulant toddler, and then a curious child, and then a moody preteen, and then a hormonal teenager, and so on, and so forth.
The concept of evolution is not one that is antithetical to the Islamic tradition. There may be some intellectual disputes on the topic of macro-evolution, but ultimately, even if it is true that certain processes can lead one species to branch off into a completely different one, this does not disprove God. Moreover, with further regard to the atheistic notion that such evolutionary processes – whether on a macro- (e.g. concerning an entire species) or more micro- (e.g. within the womb) level – occur based on unguided principles [every cell, every atom, involved, simply ‘knows what to do and when to do it’], the proponents of this view would appear to disprove themselves when they claim that an external creative force is not behind these creative processes: things like genes are. Genes are, essentially, ‘bio-historical documents’; they contain information. Do they write themselves? Or is it an external force that writes them? Once again, as with many atheistic ideas and ideals, we enter into a cyclical argument.
How do these genes know what to ‘pass on’, and what to filter out? Are genes what we should come to see as the supremely intelligent creative force? Are they our creators? Such considerations bring into my mind the following Qur’anic verse:
“Were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?”
– Qur’an, (52:35)
Indeed, the Qur’an covers, in its topics of discussion, practically every academic pursuit known to man. [Fascinatingly, Ibn Khaldun, the father of the social sciences, based much of his book – which went on to inspire the modern discipline of Sociology – on Qur’anic statements]. This particular verse, from Surah Toor, adeptly addresses the topic at hand – a topic that combines philosophical considerations with more biological ones.
According to popular atheistic discourse, we did indeed come from “nothing”. And then, by consequence of some unguided evolutionary process, we were ultimately the “creators [of ourselves]”. Physical beings are beings that are a) finite, and b) constructed of parts. We adhere to both criteria. So do our genes – which are some of the ‘parts’ that we are constructed from. According to this view, we are, in response to the Qur’anic existential challenge, both products of nothing, and products of ourselves.
When I first read Yuval Noah Harari’s infamous book Sapiens two years ago, I was absolutely mesmerised. I thought the book was wonderful, in particular in how it took ideas from a broad range of disciplines, and wove them together into one eloquently-constructed storyline. It was simple and comprehensive; I consumed its content more or less uncritically. But eloquence can be deceiving: both Noah Harari and Richard Dawkins are clear testament to this fact. It has been strange but enlightening – reading such staunchly atheistic works a first time, without thinking to deeply question their premises, and then, again, for a second time, after having actually done my own broad research.
Harari’s book is widely recommended among world leaders, renowned university lecturers, fellow train commuters, and more. But neither its eloquent style of construction, nor its popularity, satisfactorily remedy the fact that there are many flawed assumptions that are presented as concrete fact, within this book. The authors of such books must recognise that they have a huge scholarly responsibility: their central role lies in bringing often esoteric academic knowledge to the generally book-loving masses. So why on earth has Harari omitted the reams of anthropological theories and their corresponding evidence, which threatens to wholly undermine what he is trying to say? I understand that a book consists of a finite number of pages (and, it is a physical object since it consists of parts. But did the book create itself? Or did it have an author? But, alas, I digress.) and so it would have been more or less impossible for him to have included every alternative view. But a simple statement in which the author acknowledges that what he is theorising may just be at least partially incorrect (just as Charles Darwin included an entire chapter, in his first book on evolution, on why his theories may be incorrect or flawed) would do much to prevent people from blindly consuming such ideas.
It is more than possible for a person to be a theist and to also subscribe to a notion of evolution, at the same time. But it is also possible to question such notions as the only possible purpose of human life being to procreate; that ‘natural selection’ has an agenda and an end goal [according to the atheistic view, it is a blind process, and yet one that is somehow very heavily goal-orientated]; that religion is just an unfortunate by-product of this biological process, which branched out – evolved, even – into becoming a social one, too.
The universe itself has been in a constant state of evolution, since the dawn of time. The concept of evolution involves both the dimensions of space, and of time: it comprises changing physically (thus, the changing of an object’s relationship with space) over time. But, upon what information did this massive process occur? The Big Bang was undoubtedly triggered by something. But was this something self-aware and intelligent? Theists and deists say: yes. God. Atheists, essentially, say: no. Every atom that acted towards the culmination of this universe somehow just knew exactly what to do… Are atoms the ultimate creative, intelligent objects? But we consist of atoms – they are components of our physical being. Did we, in line with this view, give birth to ourselves?
To better understand this all, I would strongly recommend watching lectures delivered by Subboor Ahmad, who is a speaker for iERA (the Islamic Education and Research Academy). What I like about his academic work is that a) he does not outright reject all notions of evolution. But he explains, rather well, that these notions do not, at all, disprove God; b) his theories concerning the Fitrah and, within this paradigm, why there exist myriad religions today, as opposed to a singular one; c) he speaks, at great length, on the topic of the non-contradictory relationships between science and Islam, and d) his claims are well-researched and well-balanced. His eloquence clearly does not disguise beneath it a stark weakness of argument.
Sadia Ahmed, 2020