بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
A subject that has received significant attention and discussion is that of human evolution, and the consequences it has for our religious, philosophical, or metaphysical beliefs. I want to address this topic from a Muslim point of view. Of course, I do not claim to represent Islam or Muslims in any way; these views only represent one person and that’s me.
By human evolution I mean the idea that humans descended from another species. I’ll use human-chimp common ancestry as a synonym for this. There’s also the idea of changes that have happened in human biology in more recent history, such as the ability to digest non-human milk. Those we can refer to as human microevolution and I will address them briefly later in this article series.
Islam and human evolution are in contradiction. The Quran states that Adam was created in Heaven, and later came down to Earth. This is a different account of human origins from one that says humans originated on Earth itself, having evolved from a different species. There’s no way to sugarcoat or tap-dance around this.
Muslims have responded to this tension in different ways. Some have said we need to “revise” or “reform” Islamic beliefs, perhaps taking Adam to be a metaphorical concept rather than a real person, ignoring explicit texts and throwing out orthodox scholarship. Others have opposed the theory but in dumb, ignorant ways, saying things like “why are there still monkeys.” Both of these approaches are wrong.
Others have taken a philosophy of science approach, where they explain how science doesn’t lead to absolute truths, and the Qur’an is absolute truth, so we go with the latter. I like this idea. However, I think you also need to engage with the evidence being brought forward to support human-chimp common ancestry, otherwise you’re leaving a lot of confusion.
In this series of posts, I will show how Darwinian Evolution has failed to prove that humans have a common ancestor with apes. I will do a quick overview of the genetic, anatomical, and fossil evidence commonly cited for this claim, and demonstrate that it’s inadequate. I’ll explain that common descent is a possible interpretation of this evidence if you make various assumptions, but it’s not conclusive, and that those pieces of alleged evidence can have other explanations.
I will then show how there are several pieces of evidence which are strongly indicative of a direct, unique human origin, unconnected to the rest of the species. At the end I’ll list some common contentions against my claims and respond to them, and then I’ll give some practical tips and action items for the Muslim community for dealing with this topic. Overall, this series is quite long, so occasionally I’ll write key takeaways in block-quote format to help you understand the main points.
Clarification: This Series Is Not An Attempt To “Disprove” Common Ancestry
I’m not trying to disprove human-chimp common ancestry as it’s very, very difficult to disprove something. (Classic example: can you disprove that there’s a teapot orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars? You know there isn’t, but you can’t really disprove it.) The main point is to show that the various lines of evidence brought to support it can have other explanations, even if you concede that common ancestry is the “best” explanation under various assumptions. Thus, if someone doesn’t share those assumptions, and rejects human-chimp common ancestry for philosophical or theological reasons, they are justified in doing so and we can’t say they are irrational or are going against the evidence.
Also, it should be noted that I’m neither a scientist nor an Islamic scholar. Nothing in this series is a scientific theory or a religious fatwa. It’s just the opinions of a random guy on the internet; take from that what you will.
Resources for Human Evolution Evidence
The main resource I’m using is this website which was created by the Smithsonian, a US government run institution. The website is great for beginners who don’t have a formal background in biology. However, it leaves some more advanced topics in areas such as genetics or psychology out, so I’ll link directly to articles dealing with those as necessary. Honestly, none of this stuff is that difficult to understand, except perhaps some microbiology-related concepts. I’ll try to make things as clear as possible, but feel free to leave a comment if you’re confused by anything.
In terms of responses to and refutations of the evidence, my main resource is chapters 13-16 of the book Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique. It should be noted that this book was produced by people associated with Intelligent Design (ID), a movement of Christians who claim the idea of life being designed by God can be turned into a scientific theory. I do not support or endorse ID. That being said, I find their work on human evolution to be valuable, and these specific chapters in their book are dealing with human evolution. They do a good job understanding and engaging with the evidence, and many of them are qualified scholars in their fields. One can deal with this aspect of their work independently even if one disagrees with ID in general.