Category Archives: Dialogue

Humorous, Tumorous and Numerous

If you have recently watched a video which you found so funny mainly because you are Nigerian and it was made for Nigerians, then you might want to keep on reading.
Sometimes the worst jokes are the funniest jokes translated into a language other than which they were forged. Sometimes even between “dialects” of a languages. Having an appreciation for Humor, I have had to switch languages (or dialects) in order to pass on a joke so that the joke is not lost in translation.  Some have theorized that humor comes from proper combination of incongruity and surprise (shattering of expectations). This is mostly true for American and British humor. Nigerians may miss out on many of their jokes, not for the political and cultural references but for the non universality of humor across cultures. In any case, humor is tied to culture, and if this escapes us, it is because of the hegemony of global entertainment culture.
That is why it is admirable to have a “Nigerian Humor”, ignoring the inadequacy of that term for now. One only need to be familiar with American and British stand-up comedy, then watch one of Night-of-a-thousand-laughs series to notice the contrast. Gordons is certainly different from Jimmy Carr. It seems comics (comedians) are linguistically sensitive to their environment. Since stand-up comedy is generally spoken, it is a given that different regions would use language differently to pass on their jokes. However there is also the content of these jokes. This is where my interest is.
I have utmost respect for comedians who don’t give into the pressure of stereotypes. My hats off to the female comedian who doesn’t do a sex joke (sex object stereotype), and the black american who doesn’t curse in every utterance just so they can be “def” (black american stereotype). I have more tolerance for black-vs-white joke from blacks, or a even Warri joke from “Nigerian” comics, though they play on stereotypes. The result of giving into pressure is that comedy becomes less and less creative, then more and more “populist”. By populist I mean consumerist. Why should it matter if comedy is populist, shouldn’t it simply be funny with no other purpose? Well, like it or not, humor is a powerful cultural and political tool. From stand-ups, to cartoon strips on newspapers, to “funny vids” on the internet, to the more relevant genre of satire… humor is pervasive, but how invasive?
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The First Thin Line
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Satire: the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. – According to Google
Primarily, satire is a tool of political and cultural awareness so that contradictions are exposed, with the implicit aim of triggering corrective measures from the target of the satire. Since satire often involves ridicule, there is often a lot of humor in it, and humor is a game played by two. Therefore, proper satire requires a part to be played by the artist and by the audience; the former making sure their message is passed, while the latter acknowledges and deciphers the message, amidst the hunor. In satire, humour is informative and even aims to be corrective to some extent. In its most debase form, humour is merely used for teasing and insult… in other words mockery. Mockery is built on a feeling of superiority over the subject being mocked.
Mockery: teasing and contemptuous language or behaviour directed at a particular person or thing. – According to Google
Humor has probably succeeded in more subversion of authority and power than even committed Marxists and Feminists. Subversion is easy for humor, but is it simply mockery, or is it satirical? In my opinion, and keeping the above definitions in mind, mockery and satire do not overlap typically. When Humor becomes subservient to the consumer market, its purpose becomes lost, and artists of humor simply seek to please their consumers regardless of the implication. The demarcation between mockery and satire is crumbled by the number of “hits” a content gets on the Internet; consumerism of humour. The capitalist artist takes advantage of this fallen barrier to maximize “likes” (or hits) by skillfully utilizing the mask of satire to make acceptable what mockery cannot. That is not to say the audience, aka consumers, particularly care but perhaps the artists need to live a sweet lie.
Due to the far extent mockery could go, its misuse is easily detected within the shards of morality still recognizable; for instance it would be considered foul to mock a person for being attacked by armed robbers. However it seems easier to make humour out of the same situation if a celebrity or public official was the victim. That is because satire works for the capitalist artist, where mockery comes short. Mockery in the latter case hides behind the mask of satire because it is assumed that the formula <famous person + funny mockery = satire aka acceptable humour> is true. It is a collusion between the capitalist artist and the consumerist audience for ethical bypass where the artist assumes they are not simply mocking, and the consumer assumes there is something non negative meaning behind the mockery. What is achieved actually is that the famous person has been de-humanized just for fun.
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The Second Thin Line
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On a related matter, there is a thin line between cruelty and “funny”. We like youtube fail videos like these not only for the failed expectation (which is mildly cruel) but also for the extent to which the events turned around, even when that extent is violent. The ethical cushion is that we assume (as is the norm) that any such videos did not lead to dire consequences after the event. Thus, the man who gets flinged by a tornado in his underwear is only funny if we know that the person survived the fling. Closer to home is the reason why the dubbed “Underwear Bomber” can be funny because his attack failed and even backfired. Had he succeeded, it may not be as open to funny comments. Keep in mind the presence of cruelty in all the examples above. There is also a healthy amount of cruelty when people in power are reported or recorded (or on camera) doing the most ridiculous things, or saying the most unintelligible things. It is funny because we discover that they are that dumb after all their apparent success; especially in a culture where fame is equated to success. Need I mention Chai! There is God Woo, and its remixes, or all the interviews with the Nigerian President exposing his lack of charisma and inability to understand the questions, etc.
On the surface, it may seem all well to derive humour out of activities of the famous. But as these type of content become popular with the consumer, we enter the humorous vicious cycle of demand and supply for funny content, which is two dimensional graph missing the ethical dimension. Consumers don’t care to differentiate between mockery and satire, they just want what is funny! This is capitalism without the ethics that Adam Smith intended.
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Two Thin Lines don’t Make a Thick One
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So far we have seen two lines drawn across the vast ocean of humor. Two battle lines where it seems unethical capitalism of humour is winning. The first line between satire and mockery, which is systematically blurred further for consumerist profits. The second line is the thin line between cruelty and “funny”, which is also further thinned for consumerist ends.
Now I come to the new trend of viral funny videos for Nigerians. These are not simply clips of “fails” from real events anymore because animation and youtube has enabled easy creation of scenes. I am particularly interested in the “funny” political videos. There are popular youtube channels, with quite creative producers, like this one. It has produced viral videos like “Shekau vs Goodluck“. There is also this one where Obasanjo is the protagonist of an action filled animation, in which Obasanjo goes to kill Bankole (former Speaker of the House), David Mark (Current Senate President) and Goodluck Jonathan (Current President)… and he succeeds! While watching some of these, I could see why some think of it as funny, but I was disturbed by it. In the first video, the serious issue of the Chibok Girls was being trivialized to a game of slaps between Shekau (the Militant Leader) and Goodluck (the Nigerian President). In the second video, a powerful politician killing other powerful politicians is taken for a joke in a country where this is very much within possibilities.
As much as I am glad there is a “Nigerian” humor, and as much as I praise Nigerians for relentless use of humor to deal with dire situations, I find some of these consumerist driven jokes distasteful! It is escapism, funny and tragic. It is mass psychosis, sustained by a consumerist demand for humor.
My wish is not to abandon humor completely for all its microscopic implications. It is to be aware of the power humor has, to heal as much as to trivialize, then be sensitive in the way it is mould into arts, and how we consume it. In fact humor is a weapon for ideological frontier as history has shown and we still continue to witness. The touring American/Mid-Eastern comics, The Axis of Evil for instance, succeeded in subverting some of the stereotypes of the American dominated news outlets portrayal of Mid-Easterners by un-dehumanizing them and spinning the political “Axis of Terror” on its funny axis. Take this blog for instance(The Dark Corner) which has a lot of good Nigerian satire (even on the Nigerian God!) which are clearly ideological but the author chose to make fun of the Ekiti Election but not Chibok Girls… at least I haven’t come across one of such.
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What is the Fuss about Anyway?
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Aren’t these videos I claim to be foul simply animating what newspaper cartoons have been doing all along? To me, the two are different in effect on the consumer. However even if one does not accept that, it is surely evident that the medium of transmission for the two is completely different. These videos are shared on phones, today when most people have video enabled phones, whereas newspaper cartoons has a limited and cadre of consumers (readership). After all newspaper cartoons are placed in the midst of “serious” news which puts the cartoon in context of seriousness. On the other hand, these videos are saved on the memory cards next to other funny videos that are non-political and the ever more distasteful Music videos. So in the case of the videos, it is all fun, funny, and “very funny”. Simply put pleasure and a bit of decadence, whereas newspapers are assumed to be serious.
The subversive power of humor has been recognized through out history. English (and perhaps European) Kings opted to tame them in the form of the King’s Fool and Play Performers who are often commissioned by those in power. In Muslim tradition, satire has been held with suspicion especially because that was one of the tools used against the Prophet early in his mission, just as poetry was. Eventually poetry is being reclaimed, which began when the Prophet was alive, but satire may have not. On closer inspection, early Muslims were more victims of mockery than subjects of satire. The recent explosive mockeries on Muslim religious symbols has brought back the historical repulsion to mockery, which is yet to be distinguished from satire. In the future perhaps.
In summary, the new culture of Nigerian funny media needs to be saved from the consumerism of humor which is ethically impoverished. It requires us to play the part of a critical ethicist when we consume these funny media content, and to desist from sharing, “like-ing” and clicking if we find it distasteful, because we actually help the cause when we click and download. This piece hopes to underline the potency of humor so that there can be conversation, or at least consideration, on how to make use of it. To simply use it driven by consumer demand for humor, and producer demand for likes on Youtube and Facebook, is an unjustified use of such political tool. This is valid as long as we claim to have an ethical framework guiding our lives, unlike those who claim such frameworks don’t exist.
Popular funny videos in Nigeria are indeed Humorous, Tumorous and Numerous!
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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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