Evolution and Islam
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Traditional and modern academic scholars understand the Quranic accounts of the creation of man, and of his sustenance growing from the earth, as special acts of creation, in line with the Judeo-Christian worldview prevalent in its late antique millieu (such as the very ancient belief that the first man was created from clay). In modern times, such interpretations of the Quran are widely regarded to be in conflict with the scientific theory of evolution. A common trend among modern Islamic scholars is to deny evolution as a scientific fact, at least with regard to the origins of mankind, even if evolution may be accepted as an explanation for the diversity of plants and other animals on Earth. A further, modernist approach, is to not only partially or fully embrace the theory of evolution as compatible with the Quran, but even to interpret its verses as alluding to the process. This article describes the verses and arguments that are sometimes employed for such purposes, as well as those cited by critics to challenge these interpretations.
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 Soul
Major translators write the Arabic phrase nafsin wāḥidatin as "single being", "soul" or "person". Other translators use "self" or "cell". Any claim of this verse referring to earliest unicellular lifeforms is contradictory both to the rest of the verse ("many men and women") as well as another verse, 7:189, in which this soul and its mate have sex, a pregnancy and invoke Allah about their child:
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.
Regarding 7:189, all the classical exegetes state that this “single being” (نَّفْسٍ وَٰحِدَةٍ ) refers to Adam. Both classical Sunni and Shia Tafsirs confirm this.
All Mankind are the Offspring of AdamAllah states that He has created all mankind from Adam, peace be upon him, and from Adam, He created his wife, Hawwa' and from them, people started to spread.
قال أبو جعفر: يقول تعالى ذكره: ﴿هو الذي خلقكم من نفس واحدة﴾ ، يعني بالنفس الواحدة: آدم
Abu Ja'afar said: "Allah the Most High mentioned it: "He who created you from one soul" meaning by means of one soul: Adam.
المَسْألَةُ الأُولى: المَرْوِيُّ عَنِ ابْنِ عَبّاسٍ ﴿هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكم مِن نَفْسٍ واحِدَةٍ﴾ وهي نَفْسُ آدَمَ
The first issue: Almarwi from ibn 'Abaas: "He who created you from one soul" and this soul is the soul of Adam.
The saying of Allah the Most High: "he who created you from one soule"--the community of mufassirun has said: the intended meaning is by means of one soul, Adam.
See also: The Tafsirs of Qurtubi, Uthaymeen, Qummi (Shia), Tusi (Shia), Tabrisi (Shia)
Additionally, there are even Mutawatir hadith narrations (mass transmitted reports) direct from Muhammad which alludes to the fact prophet Adam is theologically the first human in existence. One such narration can be found here:
Ibn Kathir classified this Hadith as Mutawatir in his book Al Bidayaah wan Niyaah.
Another verse describes the literal descent of humanity from one man with reference to the sexual means by which it was achieved ("despised fluid" i.e. semen) after Allah had created that first man out of clay.
The word translated “seed” in the Pickthall translation is nasl نسل, which means progeny (i.e. descendants).
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.
More importantly, the very next verse clarifies that this refers to the first man, since his descendents are created from conventional sexual reproduction (see the note on this verse in the previous section above):
Even more explicitly, a few verses state that Adam was made from clay:
Verse 7:27 - All people are descended from Adam and Eve
The Quran is explicit that every person alive is descended from Adam and his spouse.
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)
- Lane's Lexicon p. 3032 نسل
- Quran Tafsir Ibn Kathir