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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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