The Creationism vs. Evolution debate has been raging for over a century, and has had an enormous impact on public perceptions of religion. On the one hand, many committed Christians see evolution as an attempt by scientists to try and undermine the stability of religious societies. On the other hand, Christian creationism is seen as emblematic of religious scripture holding people back from science.
Who is right? Can a compromise ever be reached? To examine this, we need to explore the concept of evolution, and see how it is covered in the Bible. We will then examine the Quran in some depth, and see how it compares.
This article, of course, is part of our ongoing ‘Bible vs. Quran on Science‘ series. We have already covered how the Quran does not follow the Bible in saying that the universe is just a few thousand years old; nor does it agree that Adam was literally the first man, treating him as the first prophet instead.
Evolution as an idea may be familiar, but pinning down its exact meaning is a little trickier. People conflate the idea of evolution with its Darwinian interpretation. For this reason, we need to parse these ideas carefully.
Evolution as Change Over Time
The basic idea of the word ‘evolution’ is of something ‘changing over time.’ People evolve over time, as do societies. Organisms do the same. For instance, bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and Covid-19 changes slightly as time passes. This is termed micro-evolution.
But the term ‘evolution’ really means something different to these small-scale changes. It signifies members of a species changing over the generations to such an extent that they ‘outgrow’ their original species. Over time, they become something fundamentally new, fundamentally different. This is called macro-evolution. Thus, the biological sense of evolution is really that of revolution — a total transformation in the nature of a species’ members over the ages.
Evolution therefore is simply a paradigm for how organisms transformed in their ‘essential nature’ over time. Evolution necessitates some original organisms that ‘appeared’ without a direct precursor — no mother or father, so to speak. This process is called ‘abiogenesis.’ But evolution tells us that after the original precursors, organisms appeared via the reproduction of previous organisms. This is called ‘descent’ — where one living organism gives birth to another. During the course of this descent, changes occur over generations that fundamentally shift the nature of the organisms being born. What is left is not what was given.
How quickly do these changes happen? The concept of evolution is silent on this question. As a paradigm, it is agnostic to the rate or mechanisms of change. The change could be slow, or rapid. One generation could be enough to fundamentally produce something new; or it could take 20,000 generations.
The idea of evolution is also agnostic to whether those changes were guided by a deity or not — God could influence the process, or it could just be down to blind ‘natural law’. (Whatever that means).
While descent with modification via reproduction is the major understanding of evolution, technically the term can bear stranger interpretations. For instance, if one organism gives birth to another type of organism, but not via reproduction, this too seems to fall under the rubric of evolution. For instance, imagine if one organism is infected with another’s DNA, then remixes it with its own, eventually expressing it via some kind of appendage — like a cocoon in which an insect emerges. Even this would be termed evolution, as the ‘new’ organism originated from precursors rather than falling out of the sky; however, it would be evolution of a more radical sort.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace presented a prototype of modern evolutionary theory in 1858. Darwin’s ideas in particular have predominated ever since. Darwinian evolution is therefore a sub-type of evolutionary theory, and refers to a few related ideas that still hold sway in modern biology.
The first is a very slow version of descent with modification — the idea that as new generations are born through reproduction, they are modified slightly. This happens through random variation, the kind of thing we all see in children, with eye colour, height, etc… As time passes, the environment causes some of these qualities to be preferred over others, so that individuals with those qualities reproduce more successfully — this is natural selection. Over the ages, enough small-scale modifications occur, enough tinkering over enough time that something fundamentally new is born. Generation-to-generation the change is imperceptible; looking back over eons it becomes undeniable.
Thus Darwinian evolution mechanistically comprises of variation and selection producing descent with modification. It paints evolution as one big blur of changing colours, with apparent inflections merely a function of our inability to see the canvas as a whole. This viewpoint implies that species don’t really exist, we just draw arbitrary lines on the canvas and call the contained hues a species. (Species of course do exist in a real sense, but that’s beside the point).
The second major idea of Darwin is metaphysical — that descent with modification happened without the guiding hand of God. There was ‘no need to think a personal hand ever guided that brush’ as protein scientist Doug Axe has written in his coinage of the canvas analogy. Instead, that variation and selection employed is random variation and natural selection. It therefore posits natural mechanisms without supernatural guidance. This distinguishes it from the later ideas of Alfred Russel Wallace, who went on to say that evolution was real but guided by God — ‘intelligent evolution’, supernaturally directed.
The third major idea of Darwin is that all life on Earth came from a single, simple organism. This was the root which begat the Tree of Life. So if we believe that there were multiple simple organisms, which evolved along separate lines, then this would also not be strict Darwinian evolution.
We can therefore distinguish between the idea of biological evolution more broadly, which predates Darwin, and Darwinian Evolution. The latter specifies a single origin, a low rate of change, and specific mechanisms unguided by supernatural forces.
As opposed to evolution, in all its forms, stands Creationism. This is a religiously-inspired theory of biological origins which says that members of all species were directly created by God. Therefore it’s not just simple organisms that appeared without precursors — everything was created without precursors. After that, species may change and drift a bit in their characteristics, but they remain within the four walls of their original species plan.
Creationism is therefore a theory of biological origins, and a metaphysical theory, all in one. It tells us a) there is no species that has an evolutionary history. But rather than dropping out of an alternate dimension, or being 3D-printed by time-traveling aliens, it says that b) such novel species appeared via God’s direct creation here on Earth. Thus it requires spontaneous creation directed by God, not via natural law.
While everyone accepts the (more or less) spontaneous appearence of the very first organisms, only committed religious people tend to believe in the spontaneous origin of all organisms. Such creationists reject any descent with evolutionary modification in the history of life.
The Bible & Evolution
Everyone says that the Bible rejects evolution. Let’s see if that’s true.
In Genesis 1, there is no mention of any kind of evolutionary process. Instead, it seems that God makes living things directly:
“Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.” Genesis 1:11
“And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.” Genesis 1:20
“And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.” Genesis 1:24
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’” Genesis 1:26
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:5Genesis 1 & 2, NIV
Genesis 1 keeps mentioning created kinds, or baramin in the creationist literature, which can be roughly understood as species, or perhaps groups of similar species. Either way, God commands the environment to produce these living beings, and they do so. There is no sense given that the environment produces one kind of species which transforms over time, with or without God, into something else.
Thus, the Bible does not mention evolution, and its descriptions seem anti-evolutionary. God seems to be making different types of organisms separately. Not only this, but God is making fairly advanced organisms de novo. He is not just producing their original cellular precursors, but seems to be producing plants and animals in their full form, such that they can fly and swim.
Finally, God creates Adam and Eve directly. Genesis 1 describes the original man and woman as being created in the image of God. There is nothing about a prior evolutionary history. Genesis 2 refers to Adam being made of dust and divine breath, then Eve being cut from his rib. This is particularly jarring for evolution-supporters, as it precludes any biological precursors. Genesis 2 also describes man being created before plants and animals, while the order is inverted in Genesis 1.
Aside from such internal contradictions, there is clearly no evidence for evolution in Genesis, and there is good evidence against it. This is why many Christians have felt they need to abandon either the Bible or evolution — no compromise can be reached.
We can understand now where the angst comes from. Christians feel that evolution is forced down their throats while it contradicts their religion. Atheists believe that Darwinian evolution is gospel and must be accepted by all.
The Quran on Evolution
What’s the Quran’s take? Well, as we shall see, it’s something of a middle way.
- The Quran proposes the principle of evolution, and applies it explicitly to biology.
- The Quran tells us that evolutionary mechanisms were guided by God.
- The Quran does not give any support for the Darwinian ideas of a Tree of Life or a Universal Common Ancestor.
(In the following verses, we will assume the verse ‘Bismillah…’ at the beginning of (almost) every chapter is enumerated, following this authentic tradition. However, many modern Qurans do not follow this convention, and therefore 1 will need to be subtracted from the verse number. 15:10 would thus become 15:9 in many Qurans).
Evolution in Principle
The principle of God developing His creation over time is laid out several times. In only the second verse of the Quran, it describes God as ‘Rabb-ul-Aalameen’, the Creator, Sustainer and Developer of every realm. This idea of developing and nurturing is inherent in the word ‘Rabb’. Thus, God is termed the Evolver of every realm from the very beginning of the Quran.
We also find the principle mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 87:
سَبِّحِ ٱسۡمَ رَبِّكَ ٱلۡأَعۡلَى
ٱلَّذِی خَلَقَ فَسَوَّىٰ
وَٱلَّذِی قَدَّرَ فَهَدَىٰ
“Glorify the name of thy Lord, the Most High,Quran, 87:2-4
Who creates and perfects
Who designs and guides.”
In these verses, God says that He not only creates and designs, but perfects and guides His creation to His intended outcome. Being the Most High, He can see the beginning and endpoint of all things.
Thus, the Quran is describing an inherent evolutionary principle at play universally. Things may be created in a certain way, but they still need guiding for God to fulfil His purpose.
Grown From the Earth in Stages
The Quran then goes on to specifically mention biological evolution in Chapter 71:
مَّا لَكُمۡ لَا تَرۡجُونَ لِلَّهِ وَقَارࣰا
وَقَدۡ خَلَقَكُمۡ أَطۡوَارًا
أَلَمۡ تَرَوۡا۟ كَیۡفَ خَلَقَ ٱللَّهُ سَبۡعَ سَمَـٰوَ ٰتࣲ طِبَاقࣰا
وَجَعَلَ ٱلۡقَمَرَ فِیهِنَّ نُورࣰا وَجَعَلَ ٱلشَّمۡسَ سِرَاجࣰا
وَٱللَّهُ أَنۢبَتَكُم مِّنَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِ نَبَاتࣰا
“What is the matter with you that you expect not wisdom and staidness from Allah?Quran, 71:14-19
And he has created you through different stages of existence/in different forms and conditions (atwaar)…
Have you not seen how Allah has created seven heavens in perfect harmony,
And has placed the moon therein as a light, and made the sun a lamp?
And he has raised you from the Earth like the growing of vegetation.”
These verses are saying that God is one who is dignified and patient. He does not do things all at once. It then cites the physical world as testimony for this, saying that God has created us in ‘atwaaran’ (أَطۡوَارًا). This comes from the root t-w-r, the dictionary definition of which means ‘state; condition; quality, mode, or manner; form, or appearance‘ (Lane).
From this we can see that its essential meaning is a condition, form, or stage. One interpretation that jumps out from the words is that man was ‘created in stages.’ This has an obvious evolutionary purport. Perhaps the Quran is saying that man went through diverse precursors on his journey to becoming ‘man’?
However, other interpretations are possible. For instance, it could imply that man has been created in different races or varieties, and thus has different ‘forms.’ But the context belies this — the Quran is telling us that God is patient, and does things over time rather than all at once. Saying that mankind was spontaneously created into different races is completely irrelevant, and does not relate to the conclusion of the passage, which speaks of our growth from the Earth.
Another possible interpretation is that the overall process of creation had multiple stages, some of which were entirely before the creation of man, and related to the arrangement of the universe around us. Then the final state was the ‘creationist’ production of mankind.
Another, related interpretation is that the ‘stages’ spoken of are simply those seen in embryonic development.
Thus, we have two categories of interpretation — evolutionary, and non-evolutionary. Of course, both could be meant simultaneously, but a sceptic could aver that there is no reason to infer the evolutionary meaning in light of the non-evolutionary interpretations; that this is an unjustified interpretation, based more on modern prejudices than the Quran itself.
Is this right? To answer the meaning of ‘stages of man’, the next few verses are illuminating.
أَلَمۡ تَرَوۡا۟ كَیۡفَ خَلَقَ ٱللَّهُ سَبۡعَ سَمَـٰوَ ٰتࣲ طِبَاقࣰا
وَجَعَلَ ٱلۡقَمَرَ فِیهِنَّ نُورࣰا وَجَعَلَ ٱلشَّمۡسَ سِرَاجࣰا
وَٱللَّهُ أَنۢبَتَكُم مِّنَ ٱلۡأَرۡضِ نَبَاتࣰا
“Have you not seen how Allah has created seven heavens in perfect harmony,Quran, 71:16-19
And has placed the moon therein as a light, and made the sun a lamp?
And he has raised you from the Earth like the growing of vegetation.”
Elaborating on our creation in ‘stages’ and ‘forms’, the Quran refers first to our celestial environment, and then to our solar and lunar system. The influence of these factors is well-documented. We know how our atmosphere has been finely-tuned to permit life to form; how the sun provides the essential energy needed for all life on Earth, and is neither too far to turn our planet to ice, nor too close to burn away the water. Meanwhile, the stabilisation of the Earth’s rotation by the moon’s exact size and distance reduces surface temperature to a life-permitting range. There are numerous other such influences documented in Hugh Ross’ excellent ‘Improbable Planet’ (2016).
So far, we can start to understand how the earth’s environment was needed to produce humans. But when it comes to humans, the Quran tells us that we ‘grew’ from the Earth like vegetation. What does this mean?
We know that humans are not literally plants. The Quran doesn’t think this either; the image is given as a simile as the infinitive form ‘nabatan’ (نَبَاتࣰا) indicates, implying that the growth was like that of vegetation, or as a type of growth from the earth. Vegetation grows through developmental stages. A seed sprouts and unfurls, produces a stem, branches and flowers. The Quran is thus likening our development to this process of unravelling majesty.
Can this endorse an evolutionary interpretation specifically? If the image is taken as an elaboration of our creation in stages, then it seems so. A seed is planted in the Earth, and it slowly grows out from it, producing new characteristics as it does so. This is a fairly exact image of evolution — an original precursor in the Earth, slowly rising from it, and becoming a mighty oak that towers over the Earth, despite its humble origins. And just as seeds need to be in the right soil at the right time, God had to tailor humanity’s environment to allow the flowering of humanity.
Meanwhile, non-evolutionary interpretations pose difficulties. The whole passage is supposed to be justifying God taking a long period of time to manifest his punishment, and thus references the prolonged creation of man. Now, if the Quran is actually talking about the creationist production of man, how does this fit? Such creation is instantaneous. There is essentially just one stage — ‘make man.’
And while the words superficially fit embryonic development too, where man comes from a seed and stays buried in the womb, this can’t really be referring to the production of the first human, because an embryo needs a pre-existing human womb. The first human on a creationist theory must suddenly appear, fully formed. A creationist-embryological interpretation thus fails due to a problem of regression.
All of this indicates that the evolutionary interpretation of ‘atwaar’ isn’t ad-hoc. It’s the most natural inference of the words, and can only be denied through a prejudice against evolution. In fact, the Arabic word for evolution, ‘tatawwur’ (تَطَوُّر) comes from exactly the same root. Indeed, the evolutionary model is the only one which explains man’s creation in stages and the raising from the earth like vegetation. This is why the 2nd Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Bashirudin Mahmud Ahmadra commented on these verses in the mid-20th Century thus:
“Man was born after [going through] various periods. First, a small animal came into being, then a larger one, followed by an even larger one than that; and in the end man was brought into being. Therefore, Allah, the Exalted, says in the Holy Qur’an: What is the matter with you that you do not like Allah to show seriousness? And you say: “God, make it happen quickly.” Take a look at your initial origin, and observe over how long a period it [your development] took place.
Thus, man came into being after passing through different eras. And the animals [described above] come from these very same eras. Thus, all these animals are in fact steps leading to the rank of the human being, otherwise in and of themselves, they have no purpose. Now, whatever is led up ladders is liable to fall by the wayside. Therefore, all things which needed to be created for the progress of Man were also to be found in those animals. However, it is a confirmed fact that sexual urges are far more developed in Man than in animals. And it is a proven fact that sexual urges are deeply linked to mental faculties.”Fada’il al-Qur’an, pt. 3, Anwar al-‘Ulum, vol. 11 p. 598 – 599
And it was perhaps this set of verses that inspired Rumi’s famous meditation, many centuries ago:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
He further elaborated in one of his sermons:
“What is a true miracle is this: that God should bring you from a lowly estate to a high estate, that you should travel from there to here, from ignorance to reason, from the inanimate to life. Just as at first you were earth and you were mineral, He brought you to the vegetable world; then you journeyed from the vegetable world to the world of clotted sperm and foetus, from the clotted sperm and the foetus to the animal world, from the animal world to the world of man. These are the true miracles. God most High brought near to you such a journey. In these stations and ways that you came it never entered your thoughts and imagination that you would come, by which road you came, and how you came and were brought; yet you see most definitely that you have come. Even so you will be brought to a hundred other various worlds.”Pg. 129, Discourses of Rumi, Arthur Arberry. (Source).
We have previously discussed pre-modern Muslim discussions of evolution in the video below, and have argued that the Muslims were the first to seriously propose biological evolution. For now however, we will turn to other verses that support evolutionary readings.
Creation After Creation
Chapter 82 gives us another plausible reference to biological evolution:
یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنُ مَا غَرَّكَ بِرَبِّكَ ٱلۡكَرِیمِ
ٱلَّذِی خَلَقَكَ فَسَوَّىٰكَ فَعَدَلَكَ
فِیۤ أَیِّ صُورَةࣲ مَّا شَاۤءَ رَكَّبَكَ
“O man, what has emboldened thee against thy Gracious Lord,Quran, 82:7-9
Who created thee, then perfected thee, then proportioned thee aright?
In whatever form He pleased, He fashioned thee.”
Again the Quran makes a distinction between the creation of man, and subsequent ‘perfecting’ and ‘proportioning.’ The words here used are ‘fasaw-waaka’ (فَسَوَّىٰك) and ‘fa’adalak’ ( فَعَدَلَكَ). Saw-waa (سَوّٰی) means proportioning or balancing. ‘Adalak (عَدَلَ) has much the same connotation — here indicating balancing and proportioning with due regard to intended purpose.
The fact that the Quran mentions stages of perfection after initial creation, goes against the special creationism of the Bible. In the Bible, creation is a one-stop shop. Not so with the Quran. It constantly references multiple steps of development after creation. In other words — evolution. This set of verses goes on to say that God fashioned us in ‘whatever form He pleased.’ The word used is suratin (صُوۡرَۃٍ) meaning the essence or blueprint of something. If this is given an evolutionary interpretation, it seems to support the idea that species have fixed essences. This is not contradictory to evolution, as individuals with one fixed essence may evolve in a step-wise manner into an individual with another fixed essence.
A similar import to the Chapter 82 verse can be found in Chapter 7, which states:
وَلَقَدۡ خَلَقۡنَـٰكُمۡ ثُمَّ صَوَّرۡنَـٰكُمۡ ثُمَّ قُلۡنَا لِلۡمَلَـٰۤىِٕكَةِ ٱسۡجُدُوا۟ لِـَٔادَمَ فَسَجَدُوۤا۟ إِلَّاۤ إِبۡلِیسَ لَمۡ یَكُن مِّنَ ٱلسَّـٰجِدِینَ
“And We did create you and then We gave you shape; then said We to the angels, ‘Submit to Adam;’ and they all submitted but Iblis did not; he would not be of those who submit.”Quran, 7:12
In this verse too, the Quran describes the creation then shaping of man, before describing the arrival of Adam.
The Quran therefore seems to be saying in multiple verses that man has undergone different forms in the process of his overall creation. While one could interpret this too as connoting the development in the womb, an evolutionary interpretation also jumps out from the words. A creationist interpretation seems incorrect in light of the process of creation after creation. Of course, it may be that both evolutionary and embryonic meanings were intended by the Quran’s Author, in addition to hidden spiritual meanings too.
Creation after creation is not a theme that is isolated to these kinds of verses. The principle itself is made explicit in the Quran:
أَوَلَمۡ یَرَوۡا۟ كَیۡفَ یُبۡدِئُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡخَلۡقَ ثُمَّ یُعِیدُهُۥۤۚ إِنَّ ذَ ٰلِكَ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ یَسِیرࣱ
“See they not how Allah originates creation, then repeats it? That surely is easy for Allah.”Quran, 29:20
ٱللَّهُ یَبۡدَؤُا۟ ٱلۡخَلۡقَ ثُمَّ یُعِیدُهُۥ ثُمَّ إِلَیۡهِ تُرۡجَعُونَ
“Allah originates creation; then He repeats it; then to Him shall you be brought back.”Quran, 30:12
These verses are consistent with evolution, where repeated creation would refer to new transformations in existing biological structures. In isolation of course, these last few verses do not act as decisive proof of Quranic evolution.
In fact, some sceptics may say that none of these verses are enough; that the proportioning/perfecting after initial creation is just a way of talking about different phases of the same creative process, and will seek to explain away the ‘atwaaran‘ passage. To those, the next verses will be instructive.
Man’s Creation Began in Clay
ذَ ٰلِكَ عَـٰلِمُ ٱلۡغَیۡبِ وَٱلشَّهَـٰدَةِ ٱلۡعَزِیزُ ٱلرَّحِیمُ
ٱلَّذِیۤ أَحۡسَنَ كُلَّ شَیۡءٍ خَلَقَهُۥۖ وَبَدَأَ خَلۡقَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنِ مِن طِینࣲ
ثُمَّ جَعَلَ نَسۡلَهُۥ مِن سُلَـٰلَةࣲ مِّن مَّاۤءࣲ مَّهِینࣲ
ثُمَّ سَوَّىٰهُ وَنَفَخَ فِیهِ مِن رُّوحِهِۦۖ وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡأَبۡصَـٰرَ وَٱلۡأَفۡـِٔدَةَۚ قَلِیلࣰا مَّا تَشۡكُرُونَ
“Such is the Knower of the unseen and the seen, the Mighty, the Merciful, Who has made perfect everything He has created. And he began the creation of man from clay. Then he made progeny from an extract of an insignificant fluid, Then he fashioned him and breathed into him of his spirit. And He has given you ears, and eyes, and hearts. But little thanks do you give!”32:7-10
In these verses, the Quran explicitly says that God perfects everything that He creates. In case it wasn’t clear that this refers to an evolutionary process, God immediately follows it up by saying that the creation of man ‘began’ (وَبَدَاَ) with clay, before saying that it or his progeny came from an extract of insignificant fluid, which was fashioned into something with sensory capabilities. The passage ends with a rebuke of man’s ingratitude.
While some will think that man’s creation from clay is some kind of creationist hangover, nothing could be further from the truth. The explanation lies in the origin of life itself. We know today that this production of a single cell is an incredibly unlikely occurrence, and yet it happened at least once.
To unravel this conundrum of abiogenesis, biologists have looked into what were the necessary conditions for life to form. Sure enough, clay materials in the Earth are deemed by many to have been essential in this process, because they have rare and unique qualities that help early organic reactions when interacting with water. Water is of course mentioned several times in the Quran as being a source of life several times too (21:31, 24:46, 25:55).
The Quran goes on to specify different types of clay needed in man’s creation process:
خَلَقَ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مِن صَلۡصَـٰلࣲ كَٱلۡفَخَّارِ
“He created man from dry ringing clay which is like baked pottery.”Quran, 55:15
وَلَقَدۡ خَلَقۡنَا ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ مِن صَلۡصَـٰلࣲ مِّنۡ حَمَإࣲ مَّسۡنُونࣲ
“And, surely, We created man from dry ringing clay (salsaalin), from black mud wrought into shape (hamaim masnuun).”Quran,5:27
Thus two major types come forth — dry ‘ringing’ clay and black mud. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, the 4th Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, discussed their roles in depth in his analysis of the subject. Since the Khalifa’s seminal work was written, the role of alternating wet/dry clay cycles in facilitating abiogenesis has seen a renaissance, being covered in Scientific American in 2017 and several publications. The Khalifa’s review of prokaryotic evolution is also very much worthy of research, but we will leave further discussion of abiogenesis alone for now. Our purpose has been demonstrated — that major models for the origin of life have a pivotal role for clay materials. Thus the Quran is justified even from a secular position in saying that the origin of the evolutionary process began in clay.
Let us return to the Chapter 32 passage. Specifying the beginning of man’s creation in clay makes the evolutionary interpretation the default interpretation, because a creationist model is one in which man comes to be in one process. Thus, saying that clay was the beginning of this quick, one-time process seems redundant. It makes much more sense to recognise that this is discussing abiogenesis, especially in light of other verses which give different stages of clay being used, with scientific models supporting this.
Now if abiogenesis occurred in clay, then the progeny from insignificant fluid mentioned is not necessarily the seminal fluid of homo sapiens. Instead, it could be the progeny of the clay-born organism destined to become human. The arabic ( نَسْلَهُ naslahu) permits this, and would be rendered as ‘its progeny came from an insignificant extract of fluid.’ This may refer to an early primordial life of proto-human cells in water. It could also refer to the seminal fluid of more animalistic human precursors.
After this stage, the Quran mentions that humans were fashioned, a translation of سوّٰهُ (saw-waahu). The essential meaning of this word is ‘balancing’ or ‘proportioning’ something — in this case perhaps a more developed, human-like body plan. The passage then describes God breathing into man of his spirit, and giving him sensory and emotional faculties (hearing, seeing and the heart).
Taken together, the passage may be describing the evolution of a higher-order organism with a more developed nervous system, capable of sensing and feeling more than before. Indeed, the evolution of the nervous system seems to be the defining arc of evolution, as Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh pointed out. Such an advanced organism would need a more developed soul to be complete, hence explaining the reference to the birth of the soul in the ‘divine breath’.
We have therefore in this passage a further description of an evolutionary process. While an embryological interpretation is possible for part of the passage, a creationist interpretation struggles to explain man’s origin in clay; an evolutionary framework is needed. But what guides these evolutionary processes at the most fundamental level?
Guided Variation, Guided Selection
وَرَبُّكَ یَخۡلُقُ مَا یَشَاۤءُ وَیَخۡتَارُۗ مَا كَانَ لَهُمُ ٱلۡخِیَرَةُۚ سُبۡحَـٰنَ ٱللَّهِ وَتَعَـٰلَىٰ عَمَّا یُشۡرِكُونَ
“And thy Lord creates whatever He pleases and selects. It is not for them to select. Glorified be Allah, and far is He above all that they associate.”Quran, 28:69
Darwinian evolution, in both its original and modern form, requires variation and selection to be led by blind forces of nature — random mutation, and natural selection. These two separate processes are said to give rise to the extended arc of evolution towards humans. The question we have raised before is how natural selection could ever select for the progressive evolution of consciousness and intelligence, as this would require the successive fine-tuning of particular environments. We have also pointed out, following Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, that selection can only take place after mutation, thus putting the creative burden of all biological functions on a purely random process. But the idea that random mutation can produce significant biological complexity has no empirical support, and is refuted by the available evidence.
Thus when the question of evolution is how did we get here, this verse points out that creation and selection must be performed by the same intelligent mind; a mind which both shapes biological structures and their surrounding environments to facilitate the emergence of higher, sentient life forms, ones that can develop a spiritual relationship with God. Commenting on this verse, Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh writes:
“The main thrust of this verse is that the task of selection is primarily the prerogative of the Creator and the two cannot be separated.
God proclaims Himself to be that Creator Who selects from His own creation. This is how it should be and this is exactly what it is. No naturalist can alter this and replace Him with a mindless Creator of his own choice. In a desperate attempt to do so, they try to combine in natural selection the additional role of a creator. Thus they would much rather believe in a know-nothing mindless principle both as a selector and a creator—lacking consciousness either way. They prefer to be fathered by a mere nothingness.
All they are left with is a mindless, non-personal, deaf, dumb and blind principle which they believe must have created them. Incidentally, this brings to mind the saying: like father, like son. They may take pride in this, but we beg to strongly differ. We much rather prefer to be the work of a Creator Who possesses a supreme mind and the power to implement what He designs. We have to believe in Him or we must deny ourselves the faculties of head and heart which we seem to own. If the non-believers have any option to select, it is here they must exercise that option. Which of the two creators will they select for themselves, is a matter for them to decide.”The ‘Blind Watchmaker’ Who is Also Deaf and Dumb
Mirza Bashirudin Mahmud Ahmadra, the second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, also discussed this subject while commenting on Chapter 15, verse 10, which speaks of the origin of man from clay. He writes:
“What clearly emerges from this subject matter is that the Qur’an supports the opinion that Man was born through an evolutionary process, but not one that occurred by chance. In fact, it speaks of the birth of Man through stages without, however, approving of the idea that the particle destined to become human was at any point in time anything other than human. Rather, according to the Qur’an, at every point in time and in whichever form it took, the capacity to become human and to accept revelation was present. In all the periods it went through, it was marching forward towards a special objective and it wasn’t according to the theory of Darwin, in that some of its imperfect versions continuously branched off whilst other good versions continued to advance forward separately.”Tafsir-ul-Kabir Vol. 4, 15:10
In this passage, the Khalifa is saying that the road of evolution to produce humanity, along with a supporting ecosystem, was not a product of chance but of design. The entire system was designed, and the plants and animals had their role too in producing a world fit for humans to sustainably exploit. It is for this reason that the Quran warns of a unique way that God could destroy humanity — by destroying the ecosystem around him:
وَلَوۡ یُؤَاخِذُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلنَّاسَ بِظُلۡمِهِم مَّا تَرَكَ عَلَیۡهَا مِن دَاۤبَّةࣲ وَلَـٰكِن یُؤَخِّرُهُمۡ إِلَىٰۤ أَجَلࣲ مُّسَمࣰّىۖ فَإِذَا جَاۤءَ أَجَلُهُمۡ
لَا یَسۡتَـٔۡخِرُونَ سَاعَةࣰ وَلَا یَسۡتَقۡدِمُونَ
“And if Allah were to punish men for their wrongdoing, He would not leave thereon any animal, but He gives them respite till an appointed term; and when their term is come, they cannot remain behind a single hour, nor can they go ahead of it.”Quran, 16:62 (Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh translation)
Quranic Mechanisms of Guided Evolution
The Curious Case of Mother Mary
We now can see that the Quran discussed evolution quite explicitly, and also discusses the underlying metaphysical background — one of theistic control over natural forces. We also know that man came from clay and water originally, and slowly developed emotional and sensory faculties. We know that evolution is likened to a plant being raised from the ground, perhaps hinting at a significant role of plants in the wider evolutionary picture. But does the Quran tell us anything else about how new species come to be?
The following set of verses may well do that, though in a most unconventional way.
إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِیسَىٰ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ ءَادَمَۖ خَلَقَهُۥ مِن تُرَابࣲ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُۥ كُن فَیَكُونُ
“Surely, the case of Jesus with Allah is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then He said to him, ‘Be!,’ and he was.”Quran 3:60
There are a few possible interpretations of this. The traditional one is that this was a refutation of the Christian argument that Jesus was special because he was born without a mother and father. Some commentaries record that the Prophet (sa) was revealed this verse in a debate with Christians, with the argument being a rhetorical powerhouse — if Christians believe Jesus was divine because he was born without a father, then why is not Adam even more divine, being born without mother or father? The verse is thus a powerful retort to Christians on their own terms.
However, the reported circumstances of its revelation do not exhaust its meanings. The interesting thing is that the verse doesn’t say that Adam was born without a mother or father. In fact, it indicates that Adam did have a mother, since it draws a similarity between his origin and Jesus’s virgin birth.
The verse then concludes by saying that Adam was created from dust after God’s command came upon it. The overall message from the verse seems to be that God has unique creative power, and that his decree will always manifest, despite seemingly impossible circumstances. Be and it is does not signify the whole of the creative process, but the decree that begins it, and which guides the origin to the inevitable conclusion. As it was with Jesus, so it is with Adam.
Who is Adam in this verse? Is it literally the Prophet Adam, who as we established in a previous article, was not the first man literally but the first prophet? Or is Adam taken here to signify the first in a class, man in general, and thus symbolic of the human species?
The answer may well be both, as the Prophet Adam is the end of the long evolutionary process to reach spiritual man. But it also seems reasonable to take Adam to signify man as such. If so, then the Quran is telling us to draw a parallel between Jesus’ virgin birth and the creation of the first human.
Let us now remind ourselves of what the Quran tells us about the first human:
یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱتَّقُوا۟ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِی خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفۡسࣲ وَ ٰحِدَةࣲ وَخَلَقَ مِنۡهَا زَوۡجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنۡهُمَا رِجَالࣰا
كَثِیرࣰا وَنِسَاۤءࣰۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ٱلَّذِی تَسَاۤءَلُونَ بِهِۦ وَٱلۡأَرۡحَامَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَیۡكُمۡ رَقِیبࣰا
“O ye people! fear your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and created therefrom its mate, and from them twain spread many men and women…”Quran 4:2
The single soul mentioned here is in the feminine, ie: is a female. From this female comes a mate, from which humanity was spread. Thus, the obvious interpretation is that the first human was a female who gave birth to a child, and then reproduced with it. (Muslims who claim the first man was the Prophet Adam should reflect on whether Prophets can have sexual relations with their mothers).
The question of course arises, how did that female bear the child of something fundamentally new? Presumably they must have both been the ultimate originators of the human race. Maybe the female was the last vestige of the old species, and the child something new, with the female able to give birth to more children of the new race. Or, (and this is the more natural interpretation of the text), the female was the first of a new race, her child the second of the new race, and their children the third, fourth, fifth, etc…
Regardless, the female in the Quranic account must be something special. She must be able to produce a mate without the agency of a male interloper. It is here where the analogy to the virgin birth of Jesus is made clearer. It may be the key to open this most intricate of locks.
The virgin birth of Jesus is understood in both the Quran and the Bible as a miracle. However, the view of miracles in the Ahmadiyya tradition of Islam is rather different to that in most of Christian thought. Explicating the Islamic view, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas wrote:
“The truth of the matter is that God Almighty does not do anything against the laws of nature. What He does is that He creates the causes, whether we know of them or not, and these are always present. Hence, miracles, such as splitting of the moon and the fire [not burning Abraham, peace be upon him] are also no exceptions. Rather, they too resulted from some very subtle and hidden means, and were based on true and factual science. Short-sighted people and those who are enamoured of dark philosophy cannot comprehend these things.”Essence of Islam, Vol. 5, page 28
The Quran supports this interpretation by giving delicious hints as to what really happened in the virgin birth. It does this not by discussing the nature of Jesus as such, but by discussing the nature of Mary — a woman who was to be capable of virgin birth, and in a sense, something fundamentally new.
Chapter 3 describes how Hanna, the mother of Mary, had vowed to dedicate her next child to God while pregnant. Such a child would have to be male, as it was males who were dedicated to the Essene Order, the spiritual practices of which the family seem to have followed. The prayer of dedication is implied to have been accepted, thus requiring a male to be born. But then, something unexpected occurred:
فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتۡهَا قَالَتۡ رَبِّ إِنِّی وَضَعۡتُهَاۤ أُنثَىٰ وَٱللَّهُ أَعۡلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتۡ وَلَیۡسَ ٱلذَّكَرُ كَٱلۡأُنثَىٰۖ وَإِنِّی سَمَّیۡتُهَا مَرۡیَمَ وَإِنِّیۤ أُعِیذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّیَّتَهَا مِنَ ٱلشَّیۡطَـٰنِ ٱلرَّجِیمِ
“But when she was delivered of it, she said, ‘My Lord, I am delivered of a female’ — and Allah knew best what she had brought forth, and the male was not like the female — ‘and I have named her Mary, and I commit her and her offspring to Thy protection from Satan, the rejected.’”Quran 3:36
Hanna begins by saying that Mary was a female, but the Quran seems to contradict this, saying that ‘Allah knew best what she had brought forth.’ This is then expounded by the even more mysterious statement, that ‘the male was not like the female.’ This can also be understood as ‘the boy was not like the girl.’ It seems to indicate that Hanna was wrong — Mary was not simply a girl though she evidently appeared to be so externally. Rather, the Quran hints at a male nature — the boy (she brought forth) is not like female (she perceived).
Another interpretation is possible. The Quran could be saying that the boy (she imagined she would have) was not like the girl (she delivered). However, contextually, this doesn’t seem to work. After all, the clause is prefaced by God saying He knew better what Mary was when Hanna described her as a girl. And perhaps the clincher is that the same duality is employed in another verse describing Mary:
وَمَرۡيَمَ ٱبۡنَتَ عِمۡرَٲنَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَحۡصَنَتۡ فَرۡجَهَا فَنَفَخۡنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتۡ بِكَلِمَـٰتِ رَبِّہَا وَكُتُبِهِۦ وَكَانَتۡ مِنَ ٱلۡقَـٰنِتِينَ
And (the example of) Mary, the daughter of ‘Imran, who guarded her private parts — so We breathed into him of Our Spirit — and she fulfilled (in her person) the words of her Lord and His Books and was one of the obedient.Quran, 66:13
In this verse, the Quran again describes Mary initially as female. However, without switching the object of the verse, the Quran then describes God breathing into ‘him’ of His spirit, before switching back to describing Mary as feminine. This dual usage of gender is clearly deliberate, even for a sceptic, as it is utilised twice for Mary in the Quran, and for Mary alone. In this verse, the ‘masculine’ object of divine breath was mentioned immediately after describing Mary’s private parts, perhaps indicating a masculine object here, though evidently one invisible externally.
The only conclusion to be reached is that while Mary was outwardly feminine, she had inward masculine qualities, and thus had some level of duality in her reproductive characteristics, despite outward appearances.
The passage in Chapter 3 which was describing Mary’s birth continues in a most intriguing fashion:
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنࣲ وَأَنۢبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنࣰا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِیَّاۖ
“So her Lord accepted her with a gracious acceptance and caused her to grow an excellent growth and made Zachariah her guardian.”Quran 3:38
What is most curious here is that the words ‘he caused her to grow an excellent growth’ are near-identical to the words used in Chapter 71, discussed earlier. In that passage, man is described as being created in stages, and being ‘grown’ as a ‘growth from the earth.’ The same words are used. The only substantial difference is the addition of the word hassana ( حَسَنࣰا), good, perhaps indicating that while mankind would produce both good and evil, Mary and her son were to be forces of good only.
While a sceptic may call the cross-appearance of this phrase a mere coincidence, a believer here may legitimately infer that the Quran is sign-posting that these two phenomena are linked — that macro-evolution and Mary’s virgin birth are intertwined — that the case of Jesus is like the case of Adam.
The Quran goes on to describe how Mary stays chaste, but after seeing an angel in the appearance of a beautiful (‘well-proportioned’) man, she conceives. This may indicate that the angel’s appearance in a vision caused some kind of physical event within Mary that caused her to self-impregnate. How would this be possible?
Well the Quran has already indicated that Mary is not just a female, and that she may have had some kind of male reproductive facility. However, this must have been entirely internal, and thus not in the traditional ‘intersex’ way, where people are born with visibly ambiguous genitalia, but with neither well-developed. We know this can’t be the case because Mary appeared to Hanna as a girl — it was only God who knew her nature better.
Is this at all plausible? Hazra Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh believed so. Indeed, he outlined two known biological phenomena — parthogenesis, and hermaphroditism — as templates of what was happening within Mary. On hermaphroditism he commented:
This term applies when organs of both sexes are present within a single female and the chromosomes show both male and female characters aligned side by side.
With his review of both mechanisms he went on to say:
[T]he miraculous birth of Jesus, to Mary, can be understood to belong to some similar natural but very rare phenomenon, the peripheries of which are not yet fully fathomed by man.Christianity: A Journey From Facts to Fiction, Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, (1994)
Research in this area from the Islamic perspective has been continued mainly be Dr Jalil Bhatti. In an extensive review, he covered virgin births that have occurred in other species, via parthenogenesis and hermaphroditism, and how it could happen in humans too. He discussed several possible mechanisms, including the idea that different parts of Mary’s body stemmed from separate cell lines —both male and female — a phenomenon called mosaicism. Another possibility was that Mary was initially a twin after fertilisation, but subsumed the twin into herself, producing some of its characteristics in itself. Many other potential mechanisms were reviewed, with the case being made that it is scientifically plausible for Mary to have had a masculine aspect, and be capable of self-fertilisation and virgin birth. Even if the case would be exceptionally rare, when God decrees a thing, He simply says Be, and it is.
We are left then with an intriguing possibility. If the case of Adam is like the case of Jesus, were the first humans produced through a similar process? Did a proto-human give birth to a single novel human female, somehow a genetic mix of male and female, who produced a child and mated with it?
If so — this would act as a significant line of research into how macro-evolutionary events can happen, and could be applied to other mammals. Perhaps analogous mechanisms could be found in lower orders of life. Relevantly, a controversial two-parent model for human origins was recently produced by Hossjer and Gauger (2019), though whether this can survive the above genetic constraints needs to be explored.
Finally, it is worthy of note that the original reference to the case of Jesus being like that of Adam said that Adam was made from ‘dust.’ While the primary meaning of this simply means the basic material of the earth needed as a platform for the origin of life, secondary meanings may be inferred. The Arabic word used is تُرَابٍ. The root of this has a series of meanings apart from dust, meanings that may be significant. One meaning, curiously, is the rib! Another set of meanings is the following: “one born at the same time with another; a contemporary in birth; an equal in age; an equal; a match; a peer or compeer.” Indeed, Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas has written that the Prophet Adam was born in the manner of a twin, appearing along with Eve, and this may also apply to the progenitor of the human race. Putting this together with Mary’s chimaera-like nature may bear fruit in further investigation.
Regardless of what details such research uncovers, the Quran’s analogy between Adam and Jesus, its fascinating description of Mary as both feminine and masculine, and its description of Mary’s growth with the same words used to describe evolution, bear the mark of Divine Authorship rather than the musings of a human poet.
We have now seen that the Quran gives surprising detail into both the metaphysics underpinning evolution, as well as some of the key stages involved in man’s evolution. One question that remains is whether evolution as a whole originated from a single organism — the root of the great tree of life. Though this has been Darwinian dogma for over 150 years, it has been challenged by heretics such as maverick geneticist Craig Venter, who called for a ‘bush of life’, and iconoclast Carl Woese, who felt the tree was much more tangled than originally considered.
The Quran’s parallel discussion of man’s origin from clay, and the jinn’s (bacterial) evolution from ‘blasts of fire’ may indicate two separate tracts of evolution for eukaryotes and prokaryotes. But is there anything else the Quran says on this?
Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra (1889-1965), the 2nd Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, writes on this topic in his book on the existence of God:
“Whatever the Holy Qur’an states about this development can be likened to the example of the mountains. Wherever one sees the mountains they appear to be arranged in the form of a series. First there are smaller hills, then higher ones and then mountains which are even higher. When altitudes reach their highest point, the summits begin to gradually decrease thereafter to such an extent that heights reach a low level. After this, they begin to rise and then begin to fall. A similar sort of evolution also took place in the case of animal species, that is to say, there has definitely been contraction and expansion in chains of evolution. Every species was not created in one day, nor were individual species created one day at a time. In fact, every species underwent evolution and even individual species progressed to their own [evolutionary] completion.
Hence, it is true that different chains of life have progressed; first elementary ones, then ones of greater complexity and so on and so forth. However, all of these chains were independent from one another. A single chain did not evolve into multiple life forms. As such, initially very primitive forms of life came into existence and then more complex ones were followed by even higher life forms. However, this advancement took place separately and independently. It is not true that a single lower animal species evolved until it branched off into all the species that exist today.”Hasti Bari Ta’ala p. 34-35
The 2nd Khalifarh seems to be saying that there was no single tree of life. Instead, there was something more like an ‘orchard of life’, with multiple origins evolving down separate lines of evolution. This contradicts Darwinian logic, which tells us that similarity in biological features must evidence shared ancestry.
Darwinian logic is of course circular. Design held in common may simply indicate a Common Designer rather than a common ancestor. A Common Designer may well reprise the same design themes in different environments, as philosopher Paul Nelson spoke about here. This ‘Common Designer’ rather than ‘Common Ancestry’ perspective helps to explain the inconvenient phenomena of convergent evolution and Orphan Genes.
The 2nd Khalifa’srh inspiration for the mountain analogy is not readily accessible. However, two avenues seem possible (though there may be many others). Firstly, the word ‘atwaaran‘ used to describe Man’s evolution in through different forms has the same root used for ‘mountain’: tur (طُور). Moreover, the Quran’s concurrently mentions the appearance of species and mountains numerous times. Indeed, the repetition is quite striking:
وَٱلۡأَرۡضَ مَدَدۡنَـٰهَا وَأَلۡقَیۡنَا فِیهَا رَوَ ٰسِیَ وَأَنۢبَتۡنَا فِیهَا مِن كُلِّ زَوۡجِۭ بَهِیجࣲ
تَبۡصِرَةࣰ وَذِكۡرَىٰ لِكُلِّ عَبۡدࣲ مُّنِیبࣲ
“And the earth — We have spread it out, and placed therein firm mountains; and We have made to grow therein every kind of beautiful species, as a means of enlightenment and as a reminder to every servant that turns to God.” (50:8-9)
خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰتِ بِغَیۡرِ عَمَدࣲ تَرَوۡنَهَاۖ وَأَلۡقَىٰ فِی ٱلۡأَرۡضِ رَوَ ٰسِیَ أَن تَمِیدَ بِكُمۡ وَبَثَّ فِیهَا مِن كُلِّ دَاۤبَّةࣲۚ وَأَنزَلۡنَا مِنَ ٱلسَّمَاۤءِ مَاۤءࣰ فَأَنۢبَتۡنَا فِیهَا مِن كُلِّ زَوۡجࣲ كَرِیمٍ
“He has created the heavens without any pillars that you can see, and He has placed in the earth firm mountains that it may not quake with you, and He has scattered therein all kinds of creatures; and We have sent down water from the clouds, and caused to grow therein every noble species.” (31:11)
وَٱلۡأَرۡضَ مَدَدۡنَـٰهَا وَأَلۡقَیۡنَا فِیهَا رَوَ ٰسِیَ وَأَنۢبَتۡنَا فِیهَا مِن كُلِّ شَیۡءࣲ مَّوۡزُونࣲ
“And the earth have We spread out, and set therein firm mountains and caused everything to grow therein in proper proportion.” (15:20)
Apart for their symbolic bearing on common ancestry, the relationship between mountains and seamounts as a birthplace for species must be further explored.
As for evolutionary history, it makes sense that a truly theistic conception of evolution would forsake the idea of a universal common ancestor. This idea is really born of the atheistic premise of Darwinism, as one is constantly trying to ‘minimise miracles’, i.e.: highly unlikely events. Thus abiogenesis, an unbelievably unlikely event by any measure, should be kept to being a single isolated incident. The rest of evolution must then be passed off as a happy accident with no inherent destiny; the result of natural forces blowing the tree of life here and there.
For the believer however, the universe is not so constrained. It is directed by God, who is able to overcome any apparent improbability barriers. As such, the most rational design will be used, and if that requires multiple origins of life with multiple separate lines of evolution, then there is nothing to stop God doing so.
Questions for Muslim Scientists
Far from being a creationist text, the Quran endorses the broad principle of biological evolution, but advises that it was guided by God, and gives no support for a single evolutionary tree. It also gives many other hints and curious avenues for scientists to follow. I will list a few below. Some of them are mere recapitulations of what has already been said, while others are fresh. Many rely upon the idea that the Arabic used in the Quran is highly significant, and indeed, that the lexicon of Arabic was intelligently designed by God to reveal the essential order of nature.
- Why does the Quran describe the history of human evolution as the ‘raising from the earth like the raising of (vegetative) growth.’ Is this simply a simile for illustrative purposes, or is there a deeper truth within? Do plants have a much more significant role to play in animal and human evolution than previously realised? Many plants do have unreasonably large genomes; could they be acting as genetic factories and mixing grounds for other organisms?
- What would the idea of multiple separate evolutionary chains look like as a developed evolutionary theory? How would an Orchard of Life substantially differ from the current Neo-Darwinian Tree of Life, and what separate predictions would it make? As stated above, does it better explain Orphan Genes and convergent evolution than current phylogenetic trees?
- How can humans have been ‘destined to be humans’ even when they were basic life forms? Were they humans simply in the mind of God, and this is just a temporal relationship in the divine plan, with no biological instantiation in the early stages? Or is there some way in which a basic amoeba can have a substantial biological similarity with its final species form? To speculate, might organisms be front-loaded with all the DNA that will serve them throughout their intended evolutionary future? Is such DNA epigenetically silenced at first, being activated and expressed by later environmental interactions? Or does evolution happen purely through God producing, via mutation-like processes, new genetic information in the DNA code at every evolutionary step, like the ‘word’ of Jesus (3:46) that was born within Mary?
- Does the similarity drawn between the birth of Jesus and the case of Adam have a bearing on macro-evolutionary events, as discussed above? Can mammalian speciation occur through the progenitors of a new species being a kind of chimaera which mates with its own offspring? If so, can a similar principle find echoes in lower orders of life?
- Why does the Arabic language use the word زوج (zawj) as the word for species? The word is generally used to mean a pair, or a couple, but is generalised to mean a class or kind. Can we infer some kind of wisdom in the use of a word used to mean complementarity to denote a species? Does it hint at the essential characteristic of a species being its ability for a male and female to procreate, or to successfully duplicate itself in the lower orders of life? Are there any other insights therein?
- What more can be gained from verses discussing the origin of life from dust, clay and water? In particular, does a verse (25:55) describing ‘marriage by descent’ and ‘marriage by kindred’ refer to two different streams of evolution — one vertical (through descent), and the other horizontal (through symbiosis/lateral gene transfer)?
These questions should just be seen as a starting point. More should be generated based on the Quranic accounts. Good answers can only follow good questions. The Muslim scientist, and others following the hints of the Quran, must not be constrained by a modern evolutionary culture that is based fundamentally on atheistic premises. The evolution discussed by the Quran is more Wallacean than Darwinian — and that is no bad thing. For as this co-founder of modern evolutionary theory said:
“My contribution is made as a man of science, as a naturalist, as a man who studies his surroundings to see where he is. And the conclusion I reach in my book is this: That everywhere, not here and there, but everywhere, and in the very smallest operations of nature to which human observation has penetrated, there is Purpose and a continual Guidance and Control.”Alfred Russel Wallace, interview by Harold Begbie, published by The Daily Chronicle (1910), collected in Michael Flannery, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (2011)
In the Bible, creation is a one-stop shop. Animals and man alike are described as being directly ‘made’ by God, with little elaboration. In Genesis 1, man comes after the plants and animals. In Genesis 2, man comes before the plants and animals. Adam is made directly out of the earth, without any evolutionary history. The second human is Eve, born from his rib.
The Quran paints a completely different picture. It endorses the principle of evolution multiple times in multiple verses, and applies it to everything in the physical and spiritual realm, including the biological sphere. However, the Quran disagrees with modern Darwinian evolution by stating that the evolution of man was guided by God. In the metaphysical realm, this falls in line with the modern day Intelligent Design paradigm, but is squarely opposed to the atheistic ideas prevalent in today’s scientific parlance.
The Quran goes further than metaphysics, discussing the role of clay, bacteria, plants and the celestial realm in the evolution of life. No doubt many other secrets lie hidden in its divine words, waiting to be uncovered by the faithful.