Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution – Part 4

Recap

So far so good. Arguments have been put forward and rebuttals have ensued. This is the final post of four on this issue. What follows are rebuttals and a bit of crossfire questions and answers. This rebuttal session is 5 minutes for each speaker so it may appear a bit rushed as if arguments are not defended properly; it is due to time limitation.

Usama

Yasir claims I make an argumentative fallacy by appeal to authority, but he does exactly the same by quoting Ibn Taymiyya and others. This actually illustrates my point which is that there are many scholars with varying oppinions on different matters over the history of Islam. Various examples have been given on how a once accepted interpretation was completely abandoned.

I am glad Yasir responded to the issue of Jannah in the Qur’an. I think Muslims ought to understand this interesting discussion. Yasir has already quoted the verses that are used typically to support the argument that Jannah of Adam is heavenly (refer to previous post on Yasir’s arguments). However there are opposing arguments to support the claim that Adam’s Jannah is on Earth. For instance: the fact that there was temptation in the Jannah which is supposed to be an earthly emotion, and that Shaitan was present in the Jannah etc. It is not acceptable for us to sit in a box of Theology and claim this is what I believe, ignoring what the scientists say.

It is a well accepted Muslim teaching that humans are partly animal and partly angelic. Evolution Theory explains that animal part of us, doesn’t it? We need to remind ourselves of our angelic qualities.

Yasir 

Due to the vividness of texts on the story of Adam, it is my humble opinion there CANNOT be more than one “Islamic” position on this matter. That is not to say that Muslims have not believed so in the past. However to believe in this Evolution Theory is academically weak, textually inaccurate, and Islamically sacrilegious to claim this is the Qur’an’s message. Muslims are free to believe as they wish but they should not speak on behalf of Islam without knowledge. Usama is not the first to propose that Qur’an preaches an evolution theory close to Darwinism, in history or in the modern era. In fact there are so many “scholars” these days with many varying opinions that it is possible to find a justification for any position one choses to take. When people cherrypick from these varying positions and piece them together, the result is to reach conclusions that have been unprecedented in Islam’s history. Concerning this Evolution Theory, we have to frankly ask ourselves if God really intended for us to understand this theory of Evolution from the Qur’an.

At the heart of this debate is a fundamental difference between my position and that of Usama, beyond the issue of Darwinism (Evolution). It is about defending orthodox Islam in the modern world without compromising Islam’s traditions while remaining faithful to the spirit and texts of Islam in all aspects of the religion not only Evolution. Usama has not explained why the texts portray the account of creation in such an incorrect manner, if the theory he claims is true, and why the interpretations of Science should be favoured over the clear texts. I agree that Muslims need to keep their religion modern and relevant, but this can be done without compromising Muslim values. As Muslims we cannot endorse creationism e.g. both Christian and Muslim (like Babuna), who deny Evolution. Muslims should accept Evolution Theory for what it is, a Scientific model not a Theological doctrine. As a scientific model it explains to us how the world came about and how it functions, in the physical realm. Theology on the other hand provides insight beyond the physical realm to the ultimate reality of the unseen. The attempt to alter/interprete fundamental Muslim texts to conform with Science and values which are constantly changing is logically fallacious because it fails to understand basic facts about Islam, and also about the philosophy (role) of Science and the humanities.

My Comments

At this point (fourth post) I have very little to say since the interlocutors have been replying. Yasir holds that there cannot be more than one Islamic positions on this matter. His reason is the vividness and clarity of the verses on creation. I think Yasir should be entitled to his conclusion but it seems to me a little weak to say it is only because of the clarity of the verse. Yasir could have added that it is also because he sees it as a Theological/Belief issue not an issue of Exegesis/Interpretations. It could have made Yasir’s argument stronger.

There was a crossfire session which I shall adjoin below:

Yasir to Usama > Do you believe in miracles; Virgin birth of Jesus, Moses parting the sea, and the Prophet splitting the moon? If you do, why is it problematic to believe that the creation of man is a miracle?
Usama to Yasir > I believe in miracles, the discussion we need to have is on the nature of miracles. However I contest the medieval interpretation of Miracle. The Qur’an never refers to miracles with the word “Mu’jizah” (literally miracles) instead it uses the word “Ayah” (literally signs). Also the Qur’an uses the word “Ayah” to refer to everyday things like sunrise and sunset. Everything in a sense is a Miracle.

Usama to Yasir > Do you not think your attitude is responsible for keeping the Muslims behind in modernity?
Yasir to Usama > You have given me way to much power! I don’t think my attitude is responsible for keeping the Muslims behind technologically, there are many factors that lead to that. However I don’t think the Muslims are theologically or morally behind; I am happy about this. And I don’t think my attitude is affecting it adversely and God willing, orthodoxy can flourish in modernity; we don’t need to compromise our core values to flourish.

I like Usama’s response with regards to miracles. It encourages us to seek the miracles in everyday things, which by paying close attention and study, we can’t help but say MaShaAllah! This is the contemplation the Qur’an challenges us to engage in. Unfortunately, after a beautiful response like that, Yasir somehow felt his question was not answered. I feel contrary.

I think it was a little unfair (cheap shot) for Usama to ask Yasir if his views are responsible to keeping the Muslims backward. Keep in mind, I have censored some other cheap shots from my report. I actually find Yasir’s view on this matter very liberal and accommodating, perhaps because I was expecting much worse (something like creationist Babuna). I also think Yasir’s view is one many Muslims will find easier to adopt without risking too much.

On the whole I think both Usama and Yasir had excellent closing remarks and ended really well. God bless them and the organizers for their efforts.

Conclusion

I am glad to have watched this conference. It started out with one of the interlocutors preaching the ettiquettes of good debate. Etiquettes were adequately observed but there were some slight violations which one only sees in the video. Perhaps I am over reacting. But it should be expected since debates can get even the best of us fired up. My ideal debate is one where one of the interlocutors admits their opponent has a better point than them when it happens. Although this conference has not lived up to my ideal expectations, it came close to it. I wonder if any of the interlocutors left with a slightly different view? Certainly the crowd must have.

This is what I said in the first post:

The video lasts more than four hours (longer than a Hindi movie!), therefore mind focus is required to sustain that concentration. While watching I found the information exciting and I wanted to make comments. At the same time I couldn’t stop thinking that their interesting points are sometimes not conveyed as clearly as possible. And I want to recommend it to people, but would people pay it mind or even have the bandwidth to watch it online? Eventually I thought it is worthwhile to present the entire conference in a series of posts, not as a transcript, but capturing the arguments clearly, filtering the unnecessary, and even commenting at some point. At the end of each post, the reader should have some interesting points to take away, probably to the next post in the series.

To avoid a dreary report of the event, the arguments shall be presented in first person of the interlocutors, according to my understanding, with a minimal literary embellishments that do not alter their core positions. In a sense it is me explaining their arguments through them… hope that makes sense. I shall also try to use the same examples used by the interlocutors as much as possible. Then I shall comment. I also noticed that the conference was a little fast paced and so we might need a slower “for dummies” version. Sometimes I make additions, other times omissions, but (I hope) the arguments are not misrepresented.

I must admit that writing and presenting the conference as these posts helped me understand the arguments better as well; especially with regards to Usama and Yasir. Yasir was more eloquent, with clearer (American) accent, and easier to follow. He seemed to have planned his arguments better as well. Usama was not as clear but paying attention, one realizes that he had some really good points even though it is difficult to see how it supports his argument simply by listening. However by writing them down as posts, I think they are equally clear now.

Did I treat the two fairly? I hope I did. I tried to be objective when presenting their arguments, then I give my opinion in the comment section. For me watching this conference and then writing about it has been a journey. About 8 years ago, I had similar views with the creationist Babuna. 5 years ago I started thinking like Yasir. Three years ago I was thinking like Usama. Then after watching this conference some days ago I was more inclined towards the views of Yasir. In fact one of the main reasons I wanted to write it down was to defend the position of Yasir in a way because I feared he may have been misunderstood. On paying closer attention I realized I am back to being more with Usama than with Yasir; but I have no problem at all with the position of Yasir. I was probably more drawn to Yasir because his arguments were clearer when spoken. But paying more attention aligned me more with Usama. This may show in my comments which are meant to be about what I think.

Yasir’s position is easier to present to people who don’t want to take a big leap, but want to embrace Evolutionary Science. Its the safest anyway. It would be very gladening if majority of Muslims would think like Yasir, rather than how many believe like the creationist Babuna. Contrary to Usama’s views, Yasir’s views are probably what we need in the world right now. Usama’s views, although makes more sense to me, may challenge too many beliefs of Muslims that it would be rejected immediately. Regardless of which position is taken I maintain that this issue of Evolution is a difference in Exegesis/Interpretation, not a difference in Theology/Belief.

I hope you the reader has broaden your perspective on Evolution and Islam reading these four posts. Peace Out!

 

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Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution – Part 3

Recap of Previous Posts

Welcome to Part 3 of this series. Usama and Yasir have already made their presentations and now it is time to come back for rebuttal.

Usama argued the following:

  1. Evolution Theory was actually developed by Muslims
  2. Qur’anic accounts of creation is not in conflict with Evolution Theory

Yasir argued counter to Usama using the following points:

  1. Scriptural evidences
  2. Role and Philosophy of Science
  3. Argument from history

I pointed that the two positions both argued well but they are not dealing with the same issues even though it is the same topic. Now they come back for the rebuttals. This post shall contain the first (10 min) rebuttals.

Usama

I am glad that Yasir believes Muslims can accept every aspect of Evolution, even though with the exception of Human evolution. To accept Evolution Theory may imply having more than one Adam. Here are examples of Islamic traditions showing that there may have been many Adams. The first is from the Qur’an Tafsir Ruh al Ma’ani (by Muhammad al Alusi). It is narrated that a great great grandson of the Prophet said “before the Adam who is our father, a million Adams have passed from existence”. Then Ja’afar as Sadik said “perhaps you think that God never created humans but yourself. neigh but God created a million Adams and you are the last of those Adams” (from a Prof Jalaluddeens book on Evolution). Again Ibn Arabi (The Famous Exegete or the Sufi Master) says “God created 100,000 Adams”, he also said “… at the Ka’bah, I met and spoke to man who was not from the descendants of Adam… “.

More recently, a well qualified Sheikh Dr Shahin, from Egypt wrote a book on the creation of humanity, where it analysed the 35 verses on the creation of man; using two nouns Al Bashar (a prominent creation) and Insan (humanity) in chronological order of revelation. One of the insights derived from this is that use of the noun Adam only occurs in the later (Madinan) verses whereas the earlier verses used Al Bashar and Insan. Therefore the earlier verses are more open to Evolution Theory. Dr Shahin even mentions that the process of creation took millions of years, and that it is not far fetched to believe that Adam an Eve were both born of two parents. The Council of Al Azhar (The world renown university of Islamic studies) disagreed with the conclusions of Sheikh Dr Shahin admittedly but they did not label him an apostate/disbeliever, because they agreed that he is entitled to his Exgesis/Interpretation since he is a qualified scholar of Exegesis. The point is there have been other interpretations that support Evolution Theory, unlike Yasir asserts. Actually this is because belief in Evolution is not a matter of Theology/Belief, it is a matter of difference of opinion about the Exgesis/Interpretations of Texts and of Science. Clearly, the Fatwa from the Council of Al Azhar also shows (and says) that it is not a matter of Theology or belief.

Al Azhar Committee Fatwa

Al Azhar Committee Fatwa

As for the quoting of Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh, I agree with what Yasir said on Scala Naturae, however my point is that these were precursors to Darwin’s Evolution Theory.

Yasir provided three categories of responses in responding to apparent conflict between Science and Text, which I agree with. However Yasir placed evolution in the Category 3 (where text is not open to interpretation from outside the Text), but I believe Evolution belongs in Category 2 (where Science is definite, and Text is open to interpretation). Yasir has not given the basis of why he puts it in the Category 3 in stead of the Category 2. Another book “Islam, Science and the Challenge of History” by Ahmad Dallal captures the persistent conflict between “Scientists” and Scholars of Text. In this book it shows many of those issues that are actually placed in the Category 3 by the scholars of the Text, are placed in the Category 2 by scholars of Context (“Scientists”).

To say that there is only one possible interpretation for those verses on creation is simply not true. No one should impose their interpretations on others. For instance I know a great exegete who spends dozens of pages arguing that the earth was created before the heavens, which he considers as definite/clear/final, even though there are to be verses that say otherwise. Should we then believe that? Another great exegete maintains that the earth is flat based on his interpretation; should we accept that as well? There are other examples where Scientific questions have been answered wrongly for centuries by Textual interpretation. These are scientific questions so they ought to be informed by Science. And the Science will fall or stand on its own.

Concerning one of the reports of the Prophet on the detailed creation of man (by Yasir), a scholar has confirmed to me that the sources of these hadith is from Jewish and Christian sources, fabricated into Islamic corpus. So those details have not been specified in Muslim Texts.

Yasir pointed out that I quote authorities who are not experts in the fields of Theology and Science. The scholars I quoted are indeed authorities in their fields!

As to the question whether God created man and placed him perfectly to fit perfectly on earth… Apes have 48 chromosomes while Humans have 46. If we have the same ancestors then at some point apes and humans should have had the same chromosomes, and these chromosomes would change if some merge with each other; in the case of humans we would expect to see two sets of chromosomes merge thereby making 48 into the 46 for humans. Recent evidence using recent technology confirms this hypothesis that some chromosomes have merged to lead to the 46 found in humans. If we are to accept the hypothetical Evolution Theory by Yasir that God placed man to fit in perfectly into chain of Evolution such that Science would lead us to one conclusion whereas Text leads us to another, we must then ask: did God place man in the right place to confuse us, or is this what a miracle looks like?! There are more interesting questions. (See the book Finding Darwin’s God by Richard Miller, a Catholic)

Yasir

Usama has not answered the important questions I raised. In stead he committed two logical falasies: the first is appeal to authority; and the second is to show that there have been different interpretations (favouring Evolution Theory) in the past. The burden of the proof is upon Usama to provide an acceptable argument in light of the Revelation and Science. Like I said, I am willing to accept all the other interpretations with regards to heliocentricity and others mentioned but I cannot accept the Evolution Theory on the origin of man because the verses on creation cannot be reinterpreted due to its vividness and clarity. It is true that historically some of the scholars in the past misunderstood some verses such as heliocentricity and birth, moon-sighting etc. In light of modern science we can correct those interpretations but only based on that which is linguistically possible, and that which science of Exegesis (Tafsir) allows. I repeat that it is hermenutical gymnastics to accept Evolution Theory in light of the clarity and unity of verses talking about creation of Man. The bottom line is this: do you think God and His messenger intended for us to extract the meaning of Evolution Theory from these verses?!

Usama comes back saying that by quoting Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh, he didn’t mean a causal relationship between the stages, only that these were the people who influenced Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Since we have confirmed that they were actually referring to the Greek Scala Naturae, and did not mean causation, then they couldn’t have been the influence on Darwin. Rather Darwin was himself influenced by the Greek Scala Naturae, not an idea based on Muslim tradition.

As to the interpretation that Jannah is on earth, it is true that there is a minority view on this. But let us be fair to the Text and not cherry-pick interpretations to fit our model of the world. Can anyone fairly say that the message of the Qur’an is in anyway trying to get us to believe that Jannah is on earth?! See Surah Taha (“There is therein (enough provision) for thee not to go hungry nor to go naked” [Q20:118] Yusuf Ali Translation) that has got to be up there. Surah Baqarah, when He instructed Adam and Iblis (… We said: “Get ye down all (ye people) with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time.” [Q2:36] Yusuf Ali Translation) earth meaning their destination. It is possible to be fanciful with interpretations of Text to make them fit a certain understanding but after getting the result of this “bending”, can we sincerely say this is what God intended for us to derive from the text? We cannot treat the textual account of creation, as we can do to other verses.

Usama believes that the progeny of man is from a SINGLE man, Adam. What about Eve? Surah Nisa (O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from them both He created many men and women… [Q4:1] Mohsin Khan Translation) emphasizes that Eve was created FROM Adam; not that she existed along side Adam. There is also a Sahih Hadith to support this. Even if we accept that Eve existed alongside Adam, then the Evolution Theory does not (correct me if incorrect) hold this as the most accepted view, instead it holds that groups of hominids interacted with one another until homo-sapiens were developed. My question is if Usama is able to challenge one of the most established component of Evolution Theory, which does not support a single Adam and Eve, by accepting there was a single Adam and Eve, then why not demonstrate the same level of critical skepticism for other areas of the theory?!

Therefore Usama’s theory of a single Adam neither conforms to the Qur’an, nor does it conform to the most accepted modern theory of Evolution!

As to the claim that Muslims are losing faith when confronted with clear Texts and Science, this has been the same excuse that every group through the history of Islam has claimed when they try to reform the Qur’an. Ibn Sina is known for trying to impose Greek cosmology on the Qur’an. When one reads Ibn Sina’s theology, one is amazed that this person is called a Muslim. In fact Al Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyya do not consider him a Muslim; but this is not my judgement of him, I only quote others.

As to the verse quoted by Usama comparing Jesus to Adam (This similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be” and he was. [Q3:59] Yusuf Ali Translation), demonstrating that Adam evolved like Jesus, we must understand the circumstance of revelation (Asbab an Nuzul) of that verse in order to understand it correctly. It was at a time when Christians claimed that Jesus is divine because he had no father, then this verse is challenging them that if you say that about Jesus, what about Adam who had no father nor mother; Adam should then be equally or more divine. Also, the mention of clay/dust (turab) and the command “Be” (kun fa ya kun) shows that there is something similar and different between Adam and Jesus. The similarity is that they both came to existence after God issued the command “Be”, and the difference is that while Adam was made from clay, Jesus was not.

Now imagine (it may sound sacrilegious) an ultrasound machine was used to scan Mary when pregnant with Jesus. It would have appeared for all practical purposes that the baby would appear natural and the DNA might even point to a hypothetical father. Keep this in mind. Note that I am not a biologist. The maximum theology can accept in this matter is that Man was created and inserted unto earth to fit in so perfectly with existing creatures such that an observing scientist would conclude that man evolved like all the other creatures; with all the 46 chromosomes etc. This is because there is no flaw in the creation of God. Another analogy. Imagine a domino that falls in your eyes, and behind it is a series of dominos which you cannot see from your perspective. The logical (Scientific) conclusion is that other dominos caused it to fall. It is Theology that tells us that the domino was caused to fall by God, not by other dominos. The result is that those who believe in God know this truth whereas those who don’t believe would have to believe in the causal explanation that other dominos caused it to fall.

My Comments

Usama accused Yasir of not justifying why Yaisr put Evolution Theory in Category 3 (where Text must be accepted and Science rejected in humility) not any other category. Yasir did not answer this but I think it comes down to the fact that Yasir sees Evolution Theory as a Theological issue, and Theology needs to be based on Text not Science.

On the issue of 48 chromosomes of apes turning into 46 of humans, Usama actually showed a picture of the evidence at the conference’s projector but it wasn’t captured on the video recording. Those from Genetics background have probably seen it anyway.

Usama raised an interesting question which Yasir did not answer completely. If God placed Adam to fit in perfectly among creatures such that Science would point us to even claim that man descended from other creatures, then we must ask: does God wish to confuse us by placing Man in that position especially since we all accept that Science should not contradict Text? It is an interesting question.

Yasir claims that it is false to say there have been different interpretations on the creation of man in the past, but Usama actually provided evidences, so the claim of Yasir seems misplaced. It is one thing to claim that there SHOULD NOT be varying interpretations on certain topics, and it is another to claim that there WERE NO varying interpretations in the past.

Yasir points out accurately that Usama retracted his claim of showing causal relationship between the different stages of the Scala Naturae, saying that he meant it as a source of idea for Darwin. In my understanding, Usama really may have changed his mind at that moment because he actually implied causal relationship. And as I mentioned in my earlier comment, I think the figures (especially Ibn Khaldun) may have really meant a form of transformation between the stages owing to Sufi ideas even though it may have been influenced by the Greek Scala Naturae. So Usama could have maintained his ground.

The verse in Surah Nisa’ that Yasir quoted to deduce that Eve was created from Adam is actually a controversial verse. The translation I included was one from The Noble Qur’an by Dr. Mohsin Khan which supports Yasir’s point. But when we look at other translations e.g. Yusuf Ali we find that Eve is meant to have been created from the SAME SOUL as Adam, not from Adam. This is the interpretation I espouse. “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women” [Q4:1] Pickthal Translation. So Yasir’s argument is not a strong argument.

Usama was accused of holding a Theory of Evolution that was neither supported by the Qur’an nor by modern science since his version includes a single Adam. As far as I can recall, I think this to be a misunderstanding from Yasir because Usama actually took time to quote scholars who have claimed that there were many Adams. See Usama’s arguments above.

Let us look at the counter argument by Yasir on the interpretation of the verse comparing creation of Adam to creation of Jesus; (This similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be” and he was. [Q3:59] Yusuf Ali Translation). Yasir shed light on the circumstance of revelation (Asbab an Nuzul) for the verse being a response to a challenge by Christians. Yasir further extrapolates concerning Adam and Jesus that “The similarity is that they both come to existence after God issued the command “Be”, and the difference is that while Adam is made from clay, Jesus is not.” Although I can’t disagree with the circumstance of revelation, I can easily disagree with Yasir’s extrapolation and instead put forward a more plausible extrapolation: The similarity is that they are both made from clay, and the difference is the way the command “Be” was effected. Or I could say the verse doesn’t indicate any difference actually. The extrapolation is a bad argument from Yasir.

This is the end of the first round of their rebuttal. Next is the final part of this series which will begin with the second round of rebuttals. See you there InShaAllah.

 

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Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution – Part 2

In the first part of this series, misconceptions about Evolution was pointed out, and Evolution was put in perspective by scientists who are experts in the field; Ehab and Fatima Jackson. Then a creationist, Babuna, presented his case but it was based on the same misconceptions pointed out. This post builds on the misconceptions highlighted and the debate goes into Theology and Belief.

Theology and Belief Discussions

Here are the backgrounds of the interlocutors that would be debating the different sides of this discussion:

  • Usama Hasan is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, He has a PhD, an MSc and an MA in Physics and Artificial Intelligence from the Universities of Cambridge & London. He followed the family tradition of Islamic scholarship, becoming an Imam at the Masjid al-Tawhid mosque in Leyton. He is a certified transmitter of the Qur’an and Hadith and has translated a number of Islamic texts into English, including The Islamic Foundation’s “Way of the Prophet” (2009). He fought in Afghanistan against the Russian occupation.
  • Yasir Qadhi graduated with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston, after which he was accepted as a student at the Islamic University of Madinah. After completing a diploma in Arabic, he graduated with a B.A. from the College of Hadith and Islamic Sciences, and completed a M.A. in Islamic Theology from the College of Dawah. He is in the final stages of completing his PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University. His dissertation revolves around the methodology of Ibn Taymiyya in reconciling Reason with Revelation in Islam. He has appeared on the BBC’s Doha Debates, and his work has been profiled by a cover-story in The New York Times. Shaykh Yasir Qadhi is a resident Scholar of Memphis Islamic Center. He is also a lecturer at Rhodes College, in the Department of Religious Studies.

Usama presented his position first. It was gladdening that he started with quote from Imam Shafi’i on the etiquettes of debate.

“I think my view is right, but it may be wrong. I think opponent’s view is wrong, but it may be right”
“Whenever I debated someone, I would hope that God would manifest the truth upon my opponent’s tongue” – Imam Shafi’i

I hope the debate ended with each of the interlocutors being more informed (or realigning their positions even if slightly). Interestingly about 15 years ago, Usama was defending the same position of creationists as Babuna, using similar sources. Now his position is that Evolution is a fact. In a way I see it like Malcom X’s transition to orthodoxy via Nation of Islam; championing each of the positions. Yasir Qadhi follows immediately with well structured arguments. Both presented their positions for 20 mins, then come back for 10mins, then come back for 5 mins to conclude. Only the first 20 minutes is covered in this post.

Usama 

Evolution is a fact! In addition to the misconceptions (raised in the Science Discussion by Ehab), a major point of conflict is between scholars of text (Exegetes, Theologians) and scholars of context (Scientists). The aim is to bridge this gap. Theory of Evolution shall be defended by arguing two points:

  1. Evolution Theory was actually developed by Muslims
  2. Qur’anic accounts of creation is not in conflict with Evolution Theory

1. Evolution Theory was actually developed by Muslims.

According to Draper, who was a contemporary of Darwin, the Evolution Theory proposed by Darwin is nothing new because Muslims had already articulated it in the past; especially Ibn Khaldun (Muslim philosopher and Historian) and Ibn Miskawayh (Muslim Philosopher). Also, Al Jahiz (medieval Muslim writer) understood the concept of common descent in his Book of Animals (Kitab al Hayawan). Also refer to the book Darwin’s Ghosts by Rebecca Scott in which the development of Darwin’s Evolution Theory is traced to others before Darwin; others including Muslims. Then there is also the Bretheren of Purity (Ikhwan as Saffa), in their Rasa’il (Encyclopedia), talk about the different worlds (of Mineral, Plant, Animal, Monkey, Human) one going into the other.

Similarly these worlds were referred to by Ibn Khaldun. This is what Ibn Khaldun says about says about these stages/worlds:

“… the last stage of minerals is connected with first of plants… The last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the stage of the next group”. – Ibn Khaldun

These stages are connected according to Ibn Khaldun. This can be seen today in the most advanced plants that we know can count and eat insects. Another Muslim that expressed understanding of Evoltion Theory is Rumi the poet. Therefore Muslims that came before Darwin actually developed Evolution Theory.

2. Qur’anic accounts of creation is not in conflict with Evolution Theory
The issue of the alignment of Qur’anic accounts of creation and Evolution is more an issue of Exegesis than Theology. The basic teachings of Qur’an on creation does not contradict Science, which means that it possible to interpret the following basic teachings of the Qur’an as follows:

  • Adam was created from earth and water => Life evolved from earth and water
  • God breathed His spirit into Adam’s body => According to Ibn Arabi, this means that man reached intellectual and spiritual maurity. The maturity was gradual, not instantaneous
  • God taught Adam all (God’s?) names => Man became receptive to receiving devine knowledge
  • God taught eloquent speech to man => Adam was a “Perfect Man”

Through out history, there has been difference of opinion between Exegetes and “Scientists” of the time, each uncompromising on their positions. So having objections to the above interpretations is a persistent issue. What follows are some of the common objections today we find in the Qur’an, presented as objections to the Evolution theory:

This similitude of Jesus before Allah is as that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be” and he was. [Q3:59] Yusuf Ali Translation

Objection 1: God said “Be” and it was; therefore creation of Adam was instantaneous.
Counter Objection 1: The Qur’an here is comparing Adam and Jesus in the same verse. We can understand that the command from God “Be” is applicable to both Adam and Jesus. If the Qur’an affirms a gradual and natural process for the (virgin) birth of Jesus, so why not a natural processes for Adam? “Be and he was” doesn’t mean things can’t take time, especially to God who is beyond time.

Objection 2: Surely the greatest men (Prophets) and women mentioned in the Qur’an could not have had common ancestors with apes. That is derogatory!
Counter Objection 2: Having a common ancestor with apes is not derogatory, it is humbling. In fact, the Qur’an repeatedly reminds us of this need for humility when it says man is created from “ma’in mahin” (detestable fluid, semen). That does not derogate great men and women.

Objection 3: The Qur’an’s account of creation is that Adam and Eve were expelled from the heavenly garden (Jannah) and sent down to earth. Therefore Adam could not have evolved on earth.
Counter Objection 3: The word “Jannah” in the Qur’an refers to both heavenly and earthly gardens. Exegetes like Tabari and Ibn Kathir refer to this opinion of Jannah as earthly; noted as a minority view. The interpretation of “Jannah” as heavenly maintains that the appearance of Adam and Even on earth is “Miraculous” (instantaneous), out of nowhere. This makes it clearer that the issue of Evolution Theory with Islam is an Exegesis (Tafsir) issue, not a Theological (Belief) issue.

Objection 4: Theory of Evolution leads to Atheism, denial of God.
Counter Objection 4: No! Science tells us HOW we were created, and revelation tells us WHY.

In conclusion, failure to reconcile interpretation of (religious) text in light of modern science has led many young Muslims to lose their faith after studying Science and unable to reconcile with popular interpretations. Exposure to different interpretations has led many to rediscover their faith.

Yasir Qadhi

It must be acknowledged that Evolution Theory is accepted as well established among scientists in the field. This debate is relevant for a fundamental topic as this which is very much misunderstood, and which needs more scholarhisp. This is a theological debate; by Muslims, for Muslims and based on Muslim sources. So this may not make sense to non Muslims.

The question of the debate is: Is the idea that humans evolved from non-human ancestors a valid theological position in light of Qur’an and Hadith?

Before answering this question, some background should be set. We know that any established fact in science CANNOT contradict the Qur’an. There may be a perceived conflict but not an actual conflict. In the case of a perceived conflict, a Muslim has one of three logical options based on the three categories of perceived conflicts:

Category 1: When neither Science nor religious Texts asserts a position e.g. the existence of aliens. Muslims can choose to believe in aliens, or not, as they like.

Category 2: When Science has achieved indubitable certainty while religious texts are ambiguous e.g. a few verses have been interpreted in the past to support geocentricity (the universe revolve around earth) while more verses in light of Science support heliocentricity (the universe revolves around the sun). So Muslims can choose heliocentric interpretation.

Category 3: Where Religious Texts present a position that is clear beyond dispute while Science presents “interpretation of data” that conflicts with that position e.g. The Theory of Evolution. The solution for a Muslim is to accept the Texts, and then be humble about our their ability to understand God and His methods through Sciences or any other way. We must adopt teachings from “Authoritative religious texts rather than speculative interpretation of scientific data”. The following have been established in authoritative religious texts:

  • Humankind descended from Adam and Eve
  • First humans were directly created by God
  • Adam and Eve did not have parents, and were not products of evolution from previous life forms

To contradict any of these teachings of the texts would be “scripturally indefensible, historically flawed, and methodologically shallow”. Here are three arguments to support these established truths:

  1. Scriptural evidences
  2. Role and Philosophy of Science
  3. Argument from history

1. Scriptural evidences

There are numerous explicit and clear evidences that humans are from only two parents; so many that time will not allow it in this conference. There are also Text that clearly indicate the stages of creation which cannot follow from Evolution Theory. For instance where the Qur’an mentions “… bayna ruhi wat turab”, meaning man was in a state between being a soul and being clay; this is not consistent with Evolution Theory which claims that Man came about through natural phenomenon.

Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay; Then He made his seed from a draught of despised fluid [Q32:7-8] Pickthall Translation

In Q32:7-8, we understand that man was created “first from clay (dust)… then from despised (semenal) fluids”; that the first man was created from dust, then his progeny was created through natural methods. Remember we said Evolution Theory falls under Category 3 (above), where textual meaning must be adopted over scientific conclusions. Had Evolution Theory fell under Category 2, then the scientific conclusion could be given weight in the interpretation. But it falls under Category 3 as far as rules of language and exegesis allow. Given the frequency and sheer diversity of nouns and ajdectives in these verses makes the meaning so clear and explicit without room for other interpretations. Unless by twisting and imagining meanings (hermeneutical gymnastics), or by claiming that the whole story is allegorical but that would be blasphemous. In conclusion, Islamic texts cannot be faithfully interpreted as modern day Evolution Theory.

2. Role and Philosophy of Science

Science works by collecting Emperical data and using that to find the best explanation to understand and predict the world. Therefore anything beyond the realm of the physical cannot be grasped by Science. Therefore, by default Science disqualifies any supernatural account of the creation of man. “Science has a function, a scope and a role, let us keep science within that scope”

3. Argument from history

During the Muslim Civilisaion, scientist were not persecuted for presenting scientific conclusions. Therefore it is a big mistake to lump Muslims who question only one aspect of Evolution Theory with religious creationists of other faith traditions (and Islam) who deny the entire Theory of Evolution. In times of challanges, When there is attempt to “reconcile” what is considered “indubitable Scientific evidences” with the Qur’an, history has shown that the Scientists are wrong; science remains changing (through Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm Shift). It is actually religious arrogance to interprete the devine with changing paradigms.

Usama committed a falasy by appeal to authorities who are neither “authorities” in Theology or Biology, which are the fields of concern for this debate. He claimed that historical Muslims articulated a Theory of Evolution (before Darwin). This is an error of the highest magnitude because what Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh were referring to was a Muslim adaptation of the Greek concept of Scala Naturae (Scale of being) NOT Evolution Theory. Scala Naturae is a static and linear scale useful in assigning legal and moral weight to those higer on the scale than those lower; there is no suggestion of progression. Both Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh have those quoted passages in their section on Prophecy (or Prophethood); which is not to imply that men become prophets or that prophets become angels, but to instead it is to establish a hierarchy. In addition, Ibn Miskwayh actually quotes a hadith about the creation of Adam from clay in the same page where he referred to the Scala Naturae, showing he does not intend to mean Evolution Theory. Moreover, and I hesitate to say this, both Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh have used this scala natural to defend racism and allow for subjugation and slavery of other races there were placed on lower stages of the Scala Naturae. After all an expert T.J. Boer (1903) has pointed out that it is wrong to read Evolution Theory into the works of Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Miskawayh.

In conclusion, It is a mistake for Muslims to say they don’t believe in Evolution. Most of the principles of Evolution Theory are not in conflict with Theology (dinosaurs, mutation, hominids etc). In fact, I could even accept that there is a common ancestor for all life on earth WITH THE EXCEPTION of humans. Evolutionary Science is not bad science; it is well researched and fits criteria of proper Science, therefore also having limitations that any Science has. Be reminded that it is within the realm of religion to believe in miracles. For those who believe in virgin birth of Jesus, red sea parting by Moses, splitting of the moon by the Prophet and other miracles clear in the Quran, why is it so difficult to believe that the unnatural creation of the man was even a greater miracle. Here is a possible alternative to Evolution Theory by a hypothetical Muslim biologist which Theology could accept: Evolution Theory is applicable to all life on earth with Adam being the only exception, however Adam (DNA) was made to fit perfectly among other creations such that barely looking at scientific evidence, the conclusion follows that man may have evolved like other creatures. (see Q18:51).

I called them not to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth, nor (even) their own creation: nor is it for Me to take as helpers such as lead (men) astray! [Q18:51] Yusuf Ali Translation

My Comments

Usama provided good reasons for why he thinks Muslims helped developed Darwin’s Evolution Theory. In spite of the good counter challenge presented by Yasir concerning the claims of Usama, I still find that Usama has a point to his claim. After all reading these texts of Ibn Khaldun especially (as translated into English), it is seems to me they actually mean progression between the different states. I agree with Yasir that the source of the scale is probably from the Greek Scala Naturae, but it seems the historical Muslims have taken it a step further to imply there is a progression. Progression through different states from a Sufi perspective is nothing new, and I suppose all the quoted Muslim’s were exposed to some level of Sufi ideas. That is why it is not surprising to find a Sufi (Rumi) among those quoted.

As to the opinions of (literature) experts concerning this matter, both sides quoted authorities to support their claim which may mean these are simply scholarly differences that both have followership. So I see Usama’s claim that Darwin’s Evolution Theory may have been developed by Muslims as plausible.

Usama also claimed that the Qur’an’s account of creation is not incompatible with Evolution Theory, whereas Yasir maintains that the two are not compatible. While this looks like a major point of disagreement I think this just an extension of a more fundamental difference which is that Usama sees this issue of Evolution as an issue of Exegesis and Interpretation, while Yasir sees it as an issue of Theology and belief. It is no surprise then that the two could not agree because they are dealing with different problems and so their approaches will differ. Actually both of them mentioned how they see the problem. If this is an issue of Exegesis/Interpretation, then certainty is not paramount, only plausibility is important. That is why it is understandable that those who see it as a matter of Exegesis/Interpreation refer to Science for a proper grounding which provides them with plausibility almost to the point of certainty. On the other hand those who see this as a matter of Theology/Belief must seek certainty in the Texts themselves because these are the most authoritative sources for the religion. I must say, both did a good job defending their positions but their positions are not really on the same plane.

Personally I find Evolution Theory to be a matter of Exegesis/Interpretation (like Usama), not Theology/Belief (Yasir), provided it accepts the origin of Man is from God. How God realized His creation is subject to interpretation as long as it is plausible. Issues of Theology/Belief should be more fundamental and therefore I don’t find contradiction between the Theological positions of the two sides. Referring to the three categories of conflicts put forward by Yasir, one who sees Evolution Theory as an issue of Theology/Belief (like Yasir) is bound to place it in Category 3 (where Texts supercede), whereas those who see it as an issue of Exegesis/Interpretation (Usama) are bound to place it in Category 2 (where Science clarifies).

Like I said, I find all their arguments very interesting and informative, but I don’t really see a conflict based on how I see the issue.

The next post covers their 10 minute rebuttals. See you there InShaAllah!

 

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Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution – Part 1

Evolution Conference Poster

Evolution Conference Poster

What Do We Have Here…
Have Muslims Misunderstood Evolution? Don’t be quick to answer! Think about it, have an open mind, and read this post at least. That is a big question. Personally I have been interested in this particular question for a while. Just over a year ago, it was brought to my attention that a conference seeking the same answers had just taken place. I settled for articles written about the conference and I was glad to find out that a video recording would be uploaded. I waited…. until I forgot, then recently I was reminded and luckily found it was uploaded. Even though I was familiar with the discussions around the topic, I found interesting new information.

The conference was organized by The Deen Institute which has interesting stuff. There are more and more dialogue these days between Islam and the world, The Deen Institute provides a platform for dialogues within Islam. God knows there’s a lot of areas that need dialogue within due to varying opinions. The important thing is that these opinions are often misunderstood by other Muslims which perhaps make it easy for one group of Muslims to see the other as though they were evil, knowingly!

The video lasts more than four hours (longer than a Hindi movie!), therefore mind focus is required to sustain that concentration. While watching I found the information exciting and I wanted to make comments. At the same time I couldn’t stop thinking that their interesting points are sometimes not conveyed as clearly as possible. And I want to recommend it to people, but would people pay it mind or even have the bandwidth to watch it online? Eventually I thought it is worthwhile to present the entire conference in a series of posts, not as a transcript, but capturing the arguments clearly, filtering the unnecessary, and even commenting at some point. At the end of each post, the reader should have some interesting points to take away, probably to the next post in the series.

To avoid a dreary report of the event, the arguments shall be presented in first person of the interlocutors, according to my understanding, with a minimal literary embellishments that do not alter their core positions. In a sense it is me explaining their arguments through them… hope that makes sense. I shall also try to use the same examples used by the interlocutors as much as possible. Then I shall comment. I also noticed that the conference was a little fast paced and so we might need a slower “for dummies” version. Sometimes I make additions, other times omissions, but (I hope) the arguments are not misrepresented.

By additions, I make the arguments clearer by sometimes uncovering assumptions of the speakers; writing is always clearer than speech in presenting clear arguments, speech is better if one wishes to mislead! Sometimes, adding a phrase which logically precedes their statements based on something they might have said already. Some other times, adding a phrase which is implied but not stated, but which does not alter the argument in form or conclusion.

By omissions, these include statements that have been judged to obstruct the clarity of some of the main arguments. Unfortunately, some jokes were omitted as well because they are funny when spoken. Also omitted are what I considered “cheap shots” among the interlocutors because these frankly make the debate messy, and could even make one see the interlocutor in a bad light such that their argument is discredited simply based on their personality.

There are two major discussion/debates in this conference. The first is the Science Discussion which discusses Evolution from Science perspective. The second is the Theological  Discussion which examines Evolution Theory in light of revealed Texts. The Science Discussion is only covered in the first post because it simply sets the background in perspective. Then the Theological Discussion is covered in the rest of the posts because it was richer in content. After all when dealing with Science we are dealing with facts which are decisive but “facts” in Theology can be contested.

Note that one could simply watch the video from the internet to avoid reading all this, but I suggest you read this nonetheless perchance some arguments are clearer when written, or at least I could be corrected if I misunderstood an argument. This is only my understanding.

Science Discussion

Here are the interlocutors for the Science Discussion, have a feel of their background according to The Deen Institute.

  • Ehab Abouheif is Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). He uses ants as a model to study the origins and evolution of complex social systems. His research has been published in top ranking scientific journals, including Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, and has been featured by several international news agencies. He received his PhD at Duke University, USA and was a postdoctoral fellow at University of Chicago, USA and the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Oktar Babuna is a leading scientist at Harun Yahya Conferences. He was born in 1963 in Istanbul, Turkey. He is a medical doctor graduated from Istanbul University Medical School in 1988. He then studied at Istanbul Medical School Department of Neosurgery. He has many publications in major international medical and scientific journals. He has coauthored Divine Action and Natural Selection: Science, Faith and Evolution. He has done research since more than 10 years into the theory of evolution and Creation. Dr. Babuna has lectured at more than 1,000 conferences on “The Collapse of the Theory of Evolution and the Fact of Creation” in major universities and academic places, including those in USA, Germany, Great Britain, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Israel.

Ehab

Biological evolution is one of the most misunderstood concepts from within and without Islam. But like any established Science, definitions must be clear, rigid and unshakable.

Definition: Biological Evolution is descent with modification of all organisms from common ancestors.

Secondly Biological Evolution is a fact! yes it is. What about “Theory of Evolution”? Certainly fact is different from theory. There is the theory aspect of Biological Evolution, which tries to explain how these facts come about. There are numerous debates going on among scientists on plausible theories that explain the facts. Some areas of debates are: Natural selection, genetic drifting, group selection, classificaiton of organisms, how to reconstruct progression of history, etc. In addition to fossils, the facts of Biological Evolution are observations that are possible with the use of modern technology of genetics.

If all this doesn’t sound like what you thought you knew about Biological Evolution, it is because of the misconceptions abounding this topic which are probably more spread than the correct position. There are six major misconceptions that must be cleared before further discussions, keeping in mind the correct definition of Evolution above:

  1. Evolution = Darwinism: Darwinism is one of the possible theories of Evolution according to Charles Darwin which is based on natural selection. However Darwinism has been extended to domains it didn’t originally cover such as origin of life, cosmology, political philosophy and economics. However we are interested in how it applies strictly as a Theory of Evolution. What Darwin proposed is a Theory of Evolution, based on data (facts) available in the 17th century. There is no doubt that Darwin’s work on Evolution was seminal, but the Theory of Evolution doesn’t have to be as Darwin described, or even as slow or gradual, because Evolution can happen in a variety of ways. Note that, at the time of Darwin, DNA was not even discovered, but now geneticists understand the fields of Epigenetics, and technologies like genome sequencing and genome editing of genetic code.

    Evolution Misconception #2

    Evolution Misconception #2 – Crossed out in Red

  2. There should be transitional fossils: If we say that humans were once apes, then transitional fossils refers to a fossil record of a creature in between: that is a creature that is half ape and half human. A more appropriate example is transition between hominids like Neanderthals to Homo-sapiens (Humans). However, this popular idea of creatures transforming into another is a misunderstanding of evolution, and it does not follow from the definition above. So it is wrong to say that man evolved (or transformed) from apes (or monkeys). What Evolution says is that man and apes have a common ancestor, but the two have taken different paths to be where they are today. This is like how you and your cousins share a grandparent, but it would be absurd to say that you transformed from being your cousin simply because you are more sophisticated than your cousin. Therefore Evolution is a branch/tree structure, not linear jumps.
  3. Traits are irreducibly complex: This misconception goes like this: if the eye organ developed gradually from nothing to a fully developed eye, then at some point it must have been a half-developed eye, and a half-developed eye is no eye at all. Therefore in the process of evolution of the eye, they eye was a useless organ for most of the time. Although this sounds like a convincing argument, it is false because it lacks facts to support it. However there are facts showing organisms that have “half-developed” eyes; which are functional. To understand this, it should be known that the eye is not irreducibly complex; meaning the eye is made of several components with their separate functions. There are only few fundamental components, and the rest are functionally enhancing components. These enhancing components are what makes the sight of a fly better than the snail; flies may see in colour because they have the colour component, whereas snails only see “shadows” of light because their colour-detecting component is not developed. Similarly, this is why cats have better (night) vision than humans. Therefore to say that there can’t be “half an eye”, is to be factually wrong, and perhaps to have misunderstood how the eye components operate.
  4. Evolution is completely random: This is also wrong. Although variations in genes may be random, selection is not random. That is to say, although humans may not control how crops adapt to their exposed environment by variation in their genes, humans can decide which of the crops to replant for the future; thereby ensuring the survival of that variation of the crop.
  5. Evolution = Racism, Classicism and Eugenics: The three are intricately related because either could lead to the other two. To accept this misconception is like saying that discovery in nuclear technology necessarily leads to nuclear wars and death of the innocent. That is a possibility, but so much good could come out of the technology as well. Therefore it depends on how the knowledge/technology is used; be it Evolution or nuclear.
  6. Evolution = Atheism: It is often believed the Evolution leads to Atheism because Atheists tend to use it to support their argument that there is no Creator. This is certainly not true! There are many who see no contradiction between their faith and Evolution, many at this conference fall into this category. If anything, understanding of Evolution should confirm faith in a single creator.

Oktar 

Evolution is Darwinism. Since it is Darwinism, there should be transitional fossils to support the claims. There is a 5 Million British Pounds reward to all who can provide this evidence. Evolution is completely random. This is false because we know based on fossils that living organisms all exploded at the same time. Darwinism is racism, atheism, fascism, materialism, and communism.

My Comments

Ehab’s presentation basically covered Evolution as far as Science and pop culture is concerned. If the average person would know simply about these misconceptions, that would definitely put a lot of sanity into discussions about Evolution, or references to evolution to “prove” arguments outside the domain of Science. Ehab provides a lot of helpful images in his slides as evidence. He succeeded in putting the topic in perspective.

Babuna basically reiterated ALL that Ehab identified as misconceptions. However Babuna may not have been aware of the misconceptions as outlined by Ehab because he connected remotely over the internet. All that he said was based on a misunderstanding of Evolution itself, so everything that followed was necessarily flawed. This is perhaps why I don’t see the need of putting in effort to present his points, but instead I summarized the simple points. What he could have done is to show that his understanding is not a misconception first, then he could go on with his points and they may have merit. To be fair Babuna provided fossils and images to support his claims but it was still a disaster because he misunderstood Evolution.

At the end of the Science Discussions, Prof Fatima Jackson gave a wonderful presentation on Facts of evolution with emphasis on how it leads to humility. Microevolution, which is change within species, is not disputed. If one understands the mechanism that leads to Microevolution, then Macroevolution, which is change at least between species, is expected over a long period of time given how similar all creations are. She provided an interesting insight on this verse Let him beware! If he desist not, We will drag him by the forelock― A lying sinful forelock! ” [Q96:15-16] and how the forelocks could mean the brain’s frontal lobe which is considered the emotional control centers and home to our personality. Interesting.
Even though Ehab and Fatima Jackson succeeded in providing clarity to the matter especially in everyday conversations, the tricky and sensitive bit is yet to be discussed. That bit is how it relates to belief of a Muslim. This shall follow in the next post InShaAllah!

Read the Next Post here

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Plato’s Republic… of Nigeria

Simply Amazing! that Plato guy… Another amazing thing, how people get away with absurd claims with contradictions unchecked. It is worth paying attention when these claims turn into beliefs and then into a way of life. Plato (or Socrates) could easily be attributed with the gift of foresight (clairvoyance) because this guy has predicted so many things; well, not by prophecies but by creating literature works where our fundamental issues of today are explored. Isn’t that the role of a Philosopher to investigate our most fundamental concepts? Or could it be that history is simply repeating itself? In any case, I have heard Plato being commended for his insight but only now have I heard him talking about my Nigeria. Didn’t I say he is amazing? Reading The Republic Book 1 could be read as Plato diagnosing the attitude of Nigerians to questionable/corrupt leaders…

Plato looking a little African

In The Republic Book 1, Socrates (the main character) investigates what Justice is. He takes three perspectives: Older Generation, Midlife Generation and Sophists. Our interest is on the Sophists. Who are the Sophists? Sophists were people in ancient Greece who claimed to know what it means to succeed in life but nevertheless had little or no concrete idea of what success means. This is not a problem for Sophists because to a Sophist, having concrete ideas is not important, however making an idea look concrete is very important. One could say they don’t even teach success, but they teach one how to appear to be successful, and how to convince oneself that one is successful. Today, the closest examples to Sophists are those motivational speakers that sell the formulas to success in life. There are religious Sophists as well. Caution, I am not saying these people are all sophists, I am saying that if there are Sophists today, they would blend in right within these groups perfectly not because of any fault of these groups, but because of the way other people consume information that comes from these groups uncritically! In The Republic, Socrates engages Thrasymachus who is a sophist (at least in training) concerning the definition of Justice and Injustice. By Justice they don’t mean it in the sense of reprimand to balance an injustice committed, but in the sense of what is good, and what is not.

Thrasymachus thinks good guys finish last and that justice is simply to finish first with the most personal advantage. What?! He thinks any other way of looking at it is just naive/idealistic. Doesn’t that ring a Nigerian bell? This is what he says to Socrates:

… You must look at the matter, my extraordinarily simple-minded friend, in the following way: the just man is always a loser compared to the unjust man. First, he loses when it comes to private contracts: when a just man has an unjust partner, and the partnership is at an end, you will find that the unjust man walks away with more and the just man gets less. Second, in dealings with the state: when it’s time to pay taxes, the just man pays more and the unjust man less on estates of equal value. Likewise, when there is anything to be gotten the one gains nothing, the other much. Look also at what happens when it comes to serving in public office: apart from any other loss, the just man can count on his personal affairs suffering from his neglect, while he, because of his justice, makes no profit from the state. To make matters still worse, he is hated by his friends and associates because he refuses to help them bend and break the law. Reason & Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato – John Holbo and Belle Waring

How typically Nigerian is that? The exception is that Thrasymachus is actually bold about this position. Many others behave consistent with this idea but are not bold enough to say it.

It has always appalled me how Nigerians talk about questionable/corrupt leaders as heroes! Many (traditional) musicians even make loads of praise songs on them; of course they get well compensated even if no royalties. A melodic sycophancy. This extends to their staffs, family and friends who basically make them believe that they are heroes for getting rich at the expense of the people they serve, as long as family and friends “benefit”. This is all sycophancy and opportunism. On the other hand there is the average person who does not fall under the circles of family and friends of these corrupt leaders, yet they sing the praises of the leaders. This group has nothing to gain (at least immediately), they appear to believe at a fundamental level that what the leaders do is justified. Sometimes they out-rightly praise the scheming abilities of these leaders with an eye towards emulating them if they were to be in that position. Other times they justify the bad of the leaders as necessary evil to be in a position to do good; good sometimes meaning personally doing a fraction of what they ought to be doing officially; e.g. they loot part of a budget for social amenities, then go back to their communities and personally erect structures.

Yet Nigerians are very sensitive to crimes, very sensitive. Nigerians are quick to carry out jungle justice on petty criminals like petty thieves, while celebrating the big-time criminals. This is exactly what Thrasymachus, our sophist, says to defend his claim. Thrasymachus continues:

… But the tables are turned in the case of the unjust man. I am speaking, as I have been from the very start, of the man with the power to commit excesses on a massive scale. Consider such a man, then, if you wish to judge can judge for yourself how much more he personally profits by being unjust, rather than just. You’ll see what I mean most easily if we turn to that highest form of injustice—the case in which the criminal is the happiest man on earth, and his victims, and those who refuse to commit crimes are the most miserable. In a word, I speak of tyranny, when, by force or fraud, property is stolen from its owners not little by little but wholesale. Everything goes into one bag: sacred things as well as profane—private and public. Were someone to commit these acts on a petty scale and fail to get away with it, he would be severely punished and regarded with the worst kind of contempt. Those who commit such partial forms of injustice are called temple robbers, kidnappers, burglars, conmen and thieves. But if men will go to the additional trouble of relieving their victims of their freedom as well as their property—enslaving the citizens—why, then, far from being called these insulting names they are deemed happy and blessed, not only by their fellow-citizens, but by all who hear that they have ascended to the very pinnacle of perfect injustice. For it is not the fear of doing wrong, but of being a victim of it, that calls forth people’s denunciations of injustice. Thus, Socrates, injustice, committed on a grand scale, is a stronger, freer, more masterful thing than justice, and—as I declared from the very start—justice is the advantage of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man’s own profit and interest. Reason & Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato – John Holbo and Belle Waring

This claim is disturbing to the average person. And trust me this argument is not as easy to dismantle as it appears. It is relief to know that Socrates succeeded in arguing that justice is actually NOT the advantage of the stronger, to which Thrasymachus eventually concedes, reluctantly. Plato’s The Republic is basically a blueprint to a Utopia; the ideal human society. By dealing with Justice in Book 1, Plato underlies the centrality of Justice in a good society. Also, by attempting to clear wrong ideas about Justice, Plato is showing how there can’t be a good society built on a bad conception of Justice. Thrasymachus gave Plato a tough time in Book 1, which means it may be a little difficult to deal with those that think along Thrasymachus’ ideas. What does it mean when you have many Thrasymachus leading you, and even among the followers? You have Nigeria as it is!

Certainly these issues are not limited to Nigeria but it is interesting to see it through the Nigerian lens. The word “Republic” may have originated from the latin translation of The Republic. Isn’t it ironic that Nigeria, which is a “Republic” represents what is wrong with the idea of a Republic?

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Military Order… of Things – Part 1

Right now, at a junction in Abuja. Mr A’s car hit Mr B’s car from behind. Mr A comes out of his car yelling at Mr B, at the top of his voice. Mr B, remained calm and did not even protest, despite the crash not being his fault. Mr A persisted on yelling. Mr B made a simple phone call and 10 minutes later, a truck full of army soldiers come. The rest is well… a valuable lesson in pain and humiliation for Mr A. 
 
Another story…
 
Last week, at a parking lot in Abuja. A woman (you know women can’t drive) reversed into a man’s car. The man’s car is a Peugeot 406. On coming out she started yelling at the victim of her bad driving. He pointed out that it was actually her fault and that she should be the one apologizing. Being that she comes from a well off middle class family, and her husband is well off enough to buy her a Honda CRV, she felt that was an insult. Infuriated at the man’s lack of concern which made her look like a mad woman, she slapped the man. Then she said: wait until my husband comes. She called her husband, while the slapped man made a phone call too (perhaps to his wife). Her husband arrived at the scene to save the day by further putting that man in his place; the husband started yelling at the man. The man said nothing. Soon enough guess what appeared… yes a truck full of army soldiers came. So the man didn’t call his wife after all! The first thing one of the soldiers did was to “sweep” the husband off his feet, reducing his height as if to put him in place where a civilian ought to be before a general. Then the lessons began. The next day the battered husband leaves the guard-room of a nearby army barrack thinking about what to do to his wife for getting him into this humiliating (and hurtful) experience.  
 
Ohh did you hear about this one…  
 
Last month, at a road-side paid parking space in Abuja. A man parked but could not find the ticket seller around, so he parked without paying. He came back and his car was clamped. He told the parking officials that their actions were unjustified but they refused to listen. He brought out his phone to make a phone call… I’m sure you get how the story goes at this point.
 
All these stories, true or not, have a pattern. To avoid debating about its authenticity, I refer to them as parables because they are all about lessons and morals. So what is the lesson common to all these parables? It may be tempting to say the lesson is that the army officer is always right, or the army officer is calm and level headed until he (not she) gets pushed. All these are lessons derived from these stories but two other lessons are of interest to this post. The first lessons is that one should treat every other person with respect because you don’t know WHO they are. The second lesson is that it is permissible for the army to behave like gangsters. I hope, like me, you think these lessons if accepted result in a dysfunctional society. 
 
The main worry is that these dysfunctional lessons have been accepted and imbibed by us. In fact, we are purveyors of these lessons over time, like religious traditions passed through generations. This is “scientifically” proven because I designed and conducted an experiment. I created a fictional story with the pattern of the above parables; so it became a parable. My version was more dramatic because someone gets slapped and beaten on the scene before the main “lessons” begin. What follows is my experiment. I created two versions of the same story. In the first version of story, I tell my experiment targets the story where a citizen makes a phone call to his buddies to serve as his muscles in “dealing” with the situation. Then I tell the second version of the story (which changes in inconsequential detail) where it is an army officer calling a truck of soldiers to do his bidding. Then I ask for the legal and moral analysis of the situation, in a casual way of course. The general response from my targets is that what the citizen did is unlawful, gangsterly, and wrong. However in the case of the army officer, they are not unanimous if it is unlawful, certainly not gangsterly, and not wrong. Amazing! We have a different set of morality for military and for other citizens. Is military above the law? Theoretically we say no to this question. In practice, we believe and act like so.
 

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Military Order… of Things – Part 2

 
In light of the recent insurgencies, and especially the attacks on civilians, I had an intense discussion on HOW the army could solve this problem. To summarize the two sides of the argument, my counterpart argued that army should be given the authority to do a “sweep” and flush the combatants from the citizens using tried and proven military tactics. I argued that it should not be so because the military tactics in question could only be possible if the army is subjected to a different set of morality. My counterpart agreed but ultimately supports that the army have a different set of morality from other citizens because they need to be “effective”. This is how we believe and act like so. The army is a therefore a different specie of animal. This is not scientific, but it is a potent myth. A myth we ought to revisit and assess if it’s usefulness outstrips its harms. Generally, I believe myths could be useful, as much as harmful… so where does this myth of an army lies? 
 
 
Personally I see nothing respectable or impressive about the army; certainly not. I see nothing disrespectable about the army in itself either. Instead I subject them to the same standards as other citizens; even other citizens come across situations or moral decisions in their daily line of work. However given the pervasive myth that enables the army to do as it likes in terms of Human Rights abuse, I am more likely to disrespect the army. Aside from abuse of law and Human Rights, what virtue is there in being a robot who is good at executing orders and not “commanded” to think morally?      
 
To put the issue of modern state army in context, which provides the blue print for most modern states, it may be insightful to visit the history of its formation. This history would be most justly presented by a Marxist account but I shall say it in brief. The army is essentially a well funded, well trained, full time mercenaries of the government used as the element of coercion for and defence of private/capitalist/mercantile interests. Prior to this modern “invention”, many soldiers were “ordinary folk” drafted on demand, and what they did was considered service even if compensated because they were expected to BELIEVE in what they fight/stand for. Even then there were mercenaries, but they were not considered as respectable or honourable. This picture may not have applied to all pre-modern societies but it is general enough. At the core of army, the duty of the modern soldier is to do the bidding of the Almighty Nation via its priests who are those in higher ranks.
 
In a similar vein I have issues with Nationalism. For non military citizens, what does it even mean to be patriotic if patriotism is built on the idea of a modern nation state? (Any ideas?)
 
Such a burden… such a commitment to the military… I wondered how soldiers do it. The military is an ideology as potent as Marxism. It is often said that “true” Marxists cannot reconcile their Marxism with their religion, so by inference they can’t be “true” practitioners of a deistic religion. These allegations are possible on Marxism because the fundamentals of the philosophy have been eloquently expressed and found incompatible with such religions. However in the case of the military I don’t know about an expressed philosophy, but the military relies on indoctrination on certain virtues like loyalty. Loyalty! Ahh what a virtue! The military is not a party of philosophers (like Marxists), it is a cult, and cults have initiation rituals for indoctrination. For instance I have heard there is an initiation tradition (fancy word for a ritual) where newly recruited officers into Nigerian Military “confess” their sins for being “bloody civilians” until then. “Bloody civilian” is one of those terms we have accepted without pondering on the ontological relevance of these claims; we “bloody civilians” even use it in jest.
 

Army Ritual… a little extreme. US Marine

   
Fact: In the hierarchy of the military order of the world (especially Nigeria), the Military is superior to the policeman. Interestingly, the Police, like us believe so… the military order of the world also posits that the police man is superior than the bloody civilian.
 
I was motivated to write about this because of a short video I came across. It captures some of what I have been trying highlight on this post namely: the tension between Nationalistic Values and Morality (as defined by other belief systems). This is the case of Orthodox Jews (religious scholars) protesting against the decision of Israeli state to draft them into military service. The state of Israel was built on Zionism, which defines a nationalistic morality not a Jewish morality. Also the State of Israel understands the potent function of modern military as an indoctrination ground. Find the video (8 mins) below to appreciate the situation.
 

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