Evolution and Islam
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This article analyses the idea that the theory of evolution is found in the Qur'an. For this, we will consider several claims the Qur'an makes about itself. It calls itself a book in which, due to its being the word of an all-knowing God, there is no doubt, in which everything is explained clearly, and whose verses have details.
Verse 21:30 - All Living Things Made From Water
It is widely believed that life originated in water. However, there is no standard model of the origin of life that is accepted among scientists. Some of the models without water (or having important substances other than water) are listed below.
The "deep-hot biosphere" model says that life first developed not on the surface of the Earth, but several kilometers below the surface. The discovery in the late 1990s of nanobes in deep rock might be seen as evidence. It is now well established that microbial life is plentiful up to 5km below the surface of the Earth.
The "Zn-World" model postulates that zinc salts have the unique ability to store radiation energy, e.g. provided by UV light which was 10 to 100 times more intense in the distant past than now and provided the ideal energy conditions for the synthesis of informational and metabolic molecules. The primordial atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide and the chemistry of water condensates and exhalations near geothermal fields would resemble that of modern cells. Ionic composition conducive to the origin of cells is shown to be more compatible with emissions of zones that have today become inland geothermal systems than with marine settings. The precellular stages of evolution may have taken place in shallow "Darwin-ponds" lined with porous silicates, metal sulfides, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus compounds.
There is also a "Primitive extraterrestrial organisms" model, which finds support in the studies of Martian meteorites found in Antarctica and in studies of some microbes' survival in outer space. Studies which apply the equivalent of Moore's Law to evolution have proposed that life began 9.7 billion years ago, billions of years before the Earth was formed. Life may have started "from systems with single heritable elements."
Different forms of life with variable origin processes may have appeared simultaneously in the early history of Earth.
Scientists have discovered petroleum-degrading bacteria that can live without water.
Furthermore, there is no proof or clear indication that this Qur'anic verse is about the role of water in evolution. Probably, it is only about water as a constituent compound of all living things. Tafsir Ibn Abbas says that this verse refers only to the dependence of all living things on water. There is nothing miraculous about the claim that water is a constituent of living things or that it is important for their survival. In fact, the Greek philosopher Empedocles had already proposed that all living things are made from water among other substances, hundreds of years before the Qur'an was revealed.
Lastly, even though water is a necessity for land animals and plants to thrive, it would be a stretch of imagination to say that it played an important role in their evolution.
Verse 4:1 - Creation from a Single Entity
Major translators write "single being", "soul" or "person". Other translators use "self" or "cell". Any claim of this verse referring to earliest unicellular lifeforms is contradictory to Ibn Kathir's explanations which strongly advocate the story of Adam and Eve:
(And from him He created his wife) Hawwa' (Eve), who was created from Adam's left rib, from his back while he was sleeping. When Adam woke up and saw Hawwa', he liked her and had affection for her, and she felt the same toward him.(And from them both He created many men and women;) means, Allah created from Adam and Hawwa' many men and women and distributed them throughout the world in various shapes, characteristics, colors and languages. In the end, their gathering and return will be to Allah.
If this verse is about the unicellular organism, then the claim of it having a mate must also be true. But the earliest organisms were prokaryotes whose reproduction is overwhelmingly asexual; they do not have any mates. Also this verse seems ignorant of the fact that millions of plants and animals (most of them now extinct) also did, and in fact, exist on earth for much longer timespans than humans.
The word-by-word translation says that Allah created us from a single being and created from it its mate. Again, this is in keeping with the story of creation of Eve after Adam, from his rib.
Verse 32:7 - Creation from Clay
Apologists stress on the word "began" in order to reject clay as a constituent of man, instead claiming that it refers to the earliest pools of water and soil where life began (and eventually humans evolved). But there is no major model of abiogenesis which considers soil (or clay, to be more specific) essential for life.
Verse 71:13-14 - Creation in Stages
After this verse, the topic abruptly changes to seven heavens. There is no evidence given anywhere to indicate that these stages refer to evolution. The intended topic may have been embryology as those are also referred to as stages of man.
Verse 71:17-18 - Growth from the Earth
There is only an inkling of evolution from the simplest lifeforms to humans in this verse. It is rather consistent with the story of creation of Adam from dust.
Verse 29:19-20 and 10:4 - Repeating Creation
In Middle Eastern antiquity, the Great Flood (not evolution) was accepted as the reversal of creation, and the survival of Noah was the new creation. Since the Qur'an supports this story, it is the more likely meaning of repeating creation. Then Allah dispensing justice, humans returning to him and punishments with boiling fluids are phrases incongruous to evolution.
Verse 6:2 - Allah stayed away from us to let us evolve
This is an outright mistranslation and Muslim apologists even insert some words of their own liking in parentheses. You can see the valid translations here.
Verse 6:133 - Destruction of Humans
This verse has been claimed to describe the hominid ancestors of man. Then it also sounds as if evolution is ongoing and humans can be replaced by a better species. This is an ad hoc hypothesis; the verse is rather in keeping with several descriptions of destroyed cities elsewhere in the Qur'an, all of which are attributed to Allah.
The phrase "raised you up from the posterity of other people" cannot be taken as a definite reference to apes. It may have simply referred to other tribes from whom the audience of the Qur'an descended. It would also be strange of Allah to call apes "people".
Verse 56:60-62 - Transformation of Humans
This verse has only a vague resemblance to evolution. It is an ad hoc hypothesis to claim that death being inevitable and humans getting transfigured means evolution. It also contradicts Tafsir Ibn Kathir which says that death and transformation here pertain to the Day of Judgement.
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- Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas p.361-362
- Frag. B17, (Simplicius, Physics, 157-159)
- Ibn Kathir, "The Command to have Taqwa, a Reminder about Creation, and Being Kind to Relatives", http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=721&Itemid=59.
- "Qur'an 4:1", http://islamawakened.com/quran/4/1/default.htm.
- Quran Tafsir Ibn Kathir