Claims of Evolution in the Qur'an

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This article analyses the claim by apologists that the Qur'an and Darwin's theory of evolution are compatible. The scope of this article also includes the claim that the Qur'an predicted evolution centuries before Charles Darwin put forward his theory. For this, we will consider several claims the Qur'an makes about itself. It calls itself a book in which there is no doubt,[1] in which everything is explained clearly,[2] and whose verses have details.[3] It claims that it is the word of Allah, who is an all-knowing god.

As we will see in this article, the Qur'an does not give any details or clear descriptions of evolution, be it of humans, animals or plants. There is not even any indication that the author of the Qur'an was aware of how complex evolution is or how long it takes. Below, we have listed the verses that are allegedly about evolution, each followed by an analysis.

Verse 21:30 - All Living Things Made From Water[edit]

Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?

It is widely believed that life originated in water. However, there is no standard model of the origin of life that is accepted among scientists. Some of the models without water (or having important substances other than water) are listed below.

The "deep-hot biosphere" model says that life first developed not on the surface of the Earth, but several kilometers below the surface. The discovery in the late 1990s of nanobes in deep rock might be seen as evidence. It is now well established that microbial life is plentiful up to 5km below the surface of the Earth.[4]

The "Zn-World" model postulates that zinc salts have the unique ability to store radiation energy, e.g. provided by UV light which was 10 to 100 times more intense in the distant past than now and provided the ideal energy conditions for the synthesis of informational and metabolic molecules. The primordial atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide and the chemistry of water condensates and exhalations near geothermal fields would resemble that of modern cells. Ionic composition conducive to the origin of cells is shown to be more compatible with emissions of zones that have today become inland geothermal systems than with marine settings. The precellular stages of evolution may have taken place in shallow "Darwin-ponds" lined with porous silicates, metal sulfides, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus compounds.[5][6]

There is also a "Primitive extraterrestrial organisms" model, which finds support in the studies of Martian meteorites found in Antarctica and in studies of some microbes' survival in outer space.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13] Studies which apply the equivalent of Moore's Law to evolution have proposed that life began 9.7 billion years ago, billions of years before the Earth was formed. Life may have started "from systems with single heritable elements."[14][15]

Different forms of life with variable origin processes may have appeared simultaneously in the early history of Earth.[16]

Scientists have discovered petroleum-degrading bacteria that can live without water.[17]

Furthermore, there is no proof or clear indication that this Qur'anic verse is about the role of water in evolution. Probably, it is only about water as a constituent compound of all living things. Tafsir Ibn Abbas says that this verse refers only to the dependence of all living things on water.[18] There is nothing miraculous about the claim that water is a constituent of living things or that it is important for their survival. In fact, the Greek philosopher Empedocles had already proposed that all living things are made from water among other substances, hundreds of years before the Qur'an was revealed.[19]

Lastly, even though water is a necessity for land animals and plants to thrive, it would be a stretch of imagination to say that it played an important role in their evolution.

Verse 4:1 - Creation from a Single Entity[edit]

O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.

Major translators write "single being", "soul" or "person". Other translators use "self" or "cell". Any claim of this verse referring to earliest unicellular lifeforms is contradictory to Ibn Kathir's explanations which strongly advocate the story of Adam and Eve:

He also reminds to them of His ability, in that He created them all from a single person, Adam, peace be unto him.

(And from him He created his wife) Hawwa' (Eve), who was created from Adam's left rib, from his back while he was sleeping. When Adam woke up and saw Hawwa', he liked her and had affection for her, and she felt the same toward him.

(And from them both He created many men and women;) means, Allah created from Adam and Hawwa' many men and women and distributed them throughout the world in various shapes, characteristics, colors and languages. In the end, their gathering and return will be to Allah.

If this verse is about the unicellular organism, then the claim of it having a mate must also be true. But the earliest organisms were prokaryotes whose reproduction is overwhelmingly asexual; they do not have any mates. Also we must ask why an all-Knowing deity says that men and women emerged from this "being" but does not mention that millions of plants and animals (most of them now extinct) also did, and in fact, existed on earth for much longer timespans than humans.

The word-by-word translation says that Allah created us from a single being and created from it its mate.[21] Again, this is in keeping with the story of creation of Eve after Adam, from his rib.

Verse 32:7 - Creation from Clay[edit]

Who made all things good which He created, and He began the creation of man from clay;

Apologists stress on the word "began" in order to reject clay as a constituent of man, instead claiming that it refers to the earliest pools of water and soil where life began (and eventually humans evolved). But there is no major model of abiogenesis which considers soil (or clay, to be more specific) essential for life.

Verse 71:13-14 - Creation in Stages[edit]

"What is the matter with you, that ye place not your hope for kindness and long-suffering in Allah,- Seeing that it is He that has created you in diverse stages?"

After this verse, the topic abruptly changes to seven heavens. There is no evidence given anywhere to indicate that these stages refer to evolution. The intended topic may have been embryology as those are also referred to as stages of man.

Verse 71:17-18 - Growth from the Earth[edit]

And Allah hath caused you to grow as a growth from the earth, And afterward He maketh you return thereto, and He will bring you forth again, a (new) forthbringing.

There is only an inkling of evolution from the simplest lifeforms to humans in this verse. It is rather consistent with the story of creation of Adam from dust.

Verse 29:19-20 and 10:4 - Repeating Creation[edit]

See they not how Allah originates creation, then repeats it: truly that is easy for Allah. Say: "Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.
To Him will be your return- of all of you. The promise of Allah is true and sure. It is He Who beginneth the process of creation, and repeateth it, that He may reward with justice those who believe and work righteousness; but those who reject Him will have draughts of boiling fluids, and a penalty grievous, because they did reject Him.

In Middle Eastern antiquity, the Great Flood (not evolution) was accepted as the reversal of creation, and the survival of Noah was the new creation. Since the Qur'an supports this story, it is the more likely meaning of repeating creation. Then Allah dispensing justice, humans returning to him and punishments with boiling fluids are phrases incongruous to evolution.

Verse 6:2 - Allah stayed away from us to let us evolve[edit]

He is Who has created you from clay, then he spent a term of time (away from you), and (it is) a specific term he determined. Yet, you doubt (his ability)!
Qur'an 6:2

This is an outright mistranslation and Muslim apologists even insert some words of their own liking in parentheses. You can see the valid translations here.

Verse 6:133 - Destruction of Humans[edit]

Thy Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy: if it were His will, He could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom He will as your successors, even as He raised you up from the posterity of other people.

This verse has been claimed to describe the hominid ancestors of man. Then it also sounds as if evolution is ongoing and humans can be replaced by a better species. This is an ad hoc hypothesis; the verse is rather in keeping with several descriptions of destroyed cities elsewhere in the Qur'an, all of which are attributed to Allah.

The phrase "raised you up from the posterity of other people" cannot be taken as a definite reference to apes. It may have simply referred to other tribes from whom the audience of the Qur'an descended. It would also be strange of Allah to call apes "people".

Verse 56:60-62 - Transformation of Humans[edit]

We mete out death among you, and We are not to be outrun, That We may transfigure you and make you what ye know not. And verily ye know the first creation. Why, then, do ye not reflect?

This verse has only a vague resemblance to evolution. It is an ad hoc hypothesis to claim that death being inevitable and humans getting transfigured means evolution. It also contradicts Tafsir Ibn Kathir which says that death and transformation pertain to the Day of Judgement.[22]

Conclusion[edit]

As we have seen, there is no verse which clearly proves that the Qur'an predicted the theory of evolution or is compatible with it. A lot of conjectures or assumptions are made about the verses in order to claim that evolution is described in this book. Islamic websites often quote many more verses that the ones explained above, but a simple glance at them reveals that they are not relevant to evolution and their intended meaning is something else.

References[edit]

  1. http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/quran/verses/002-qmt.php#002.002
  2. http://islamawakened.com/quran/16/89/default.htm
  3. http://islamawakened.com/quran/41/3/default.htm
  4. "Nanobes–Intro", microscopy-uk.org, http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/index.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/nanobes/nanobes.html. 
  5. "Origin of first cells at terrestrial, anoxic geothermal fields" (2012). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (14): E821–30. doi:10.1073/pnas.1117774109. PMID 22331915. Bibcode2012PNAS..109E.821M. 
  6. For a deeper integrative version of this hypothesis see Egel, R.. Lankenau, D.-H.; Mulkidjanian,, A. Y.. eds,. Origins of Life: The Primal Self-Organization. Springer. ISBN 978-3-642-21625-1, 2011. , in particular Lankenau, D.-H.. "Two RNA Worlds: Toward the Origin of Replication, Genes, Recombination and Repair". Origins of Life: The Primal Self-Organization. Springer. pp. 225–286. ISBN 978-3-642-21625-1, 2011. , interconnecting the "Two RNA worlds" concept and other detailed aspects; and "The evolving ribosome: from non-coded peptide bond formation to sophisticated translation machinery" (2009). Res Microbiol 160 (7): 487–492. doi:10.1016/j.resmic.2009.07.004. 
  7. "Tough Earth bug may be from Mars", New Scientist, 25 September 2002, http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/evolution/dn2844. 
  8. "Exobiology and Radiation Assembly (ERA)", ESA, NASA, 1992, http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/experimentDisplay.do?id=1992-049B-03. 
  9. "Space Microbiology" (2010). Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 74 (1): 121–56. doi:10.1128/MMBR.00016-09. PMID 20197502. 
  10. Paul Clancy. Looking for Life, Searching the Solar System. Cambridge University Press, 23 June 2005. Template:Page needed
  11. Rabbow, Elke (9 July 2009). "EXPOSE, an Astrobiological Exposure Facility on the International Space Station – from Proposal to Flight". Orig Life Evol Biosph 39 (6): 581–98. doi:10.1007/s11084-009-9173-6. PMID 19629743. Bibcode2009OLEB...39..581R. 
  12. Onofri, Silvano (May 2012). "Survival of Rock-Colonizing Organisms After 1.5 Years in Outer Space". Astrobiology 12 (5): 508–516. doi:10.1089/ast.2011.0736. PMID 22680696. Bibcode2012AsBio..12..508O. 
  13. Amos, Jonathan. "Beer microbes live 553 days outside ISS", Science and Technology, BBC News, 23 August 2010. 
  14. "Life Before Earth" (PDF) (28 March 2013). arXiv. 
  15. Sharov, Alexei A. (12 June 2006). "Genome increase as a clock for the origin and evolution of life". Biology Direct 1: 1–17. doi:10.1186/1745-6150-1-17. 
  16. Davies, P (19 November 2007). "Are Aliens Among Us?". Scientific American. 
  17. http://www.astrobio.net/topic/origins/extreme-life/life-in-asphalt/
  18. Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas p.361-362
  19. Frag. B17, (Simplicius, Physics, 157-159)
  20. Ibn Kathir, "The Command to have Taqwa, a Reminder about Creation, and Being Kind to Relatives", http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=721&Itemid=59. 
  21. "Qur'an 4:1", http://islamawakened.com/quran/4/1/default.htm. 
  22. Quran Tafsir Ibn Kathir