Can A Muslim Believe in Evolution? – Part 2

Mohsin Allarakhia – (Dubai, UAE)

Of course, this question is not new, and is something that has concerned and intrigued Muslim philosophers for over a thousand years.  Essentially, it all boils down to taking one of two opposing viewpoints: either there is only One Cause, i.e. Allah (SWT) in the universe, and everything else is, well, just because that’s the way it appears to us; or there is One Primary Cause — again, Allah (SWT) – but, in addition, there are what we may call “secondary causes” in the universe.  For the followers of the first viewpoint, there is no cause and effect in the world, even though this may seem strange from the viewpoint of our everyday experience.  Everything happens just because Allah (SWT) Wills it to be so, and that is the beginning and end of it.  On the other hand, for the followers of the second viewpoint, these secondary causes are real, and they are Allah’s creations, just as the rest of the universe is.  These secondary causes would be the equivalent of what a scientist would call natural laws, except that, unlike the scientist, we would regard these laws as having been created and sustained (or maintained) by Allah, Who would be able to change these laws anytime He Wills – when such a thing happens, we would see it as a miracle.

Both viewpoints would therefore see no contradiction between the Qur’an and our everyday experience, except that they would explain away the apparent contradiction in very different ways.  The first viewpoint would reject the validity of our observations, and in fact reject all ideas of secondary causality or causes, while the second viewpoint would interpret the verse in the Qur’an as referring to Allah (SWT) as the Primary Cause, while still accepting the validity of (created) secondary causes.

Now all this may seem highly theoretical, and of interest only to philosophers who have nothing better to do, but consider where the logic takes you.  If there is no secondary causality in the universe, then there can also be no free will.  Otherwise, every time you as a human “decide” to do something, you are (Nauzubillah) “making” Allah do that thing for you.  This is obviously very difficult to accept – why would Allah (SWT) be compelled in any way to follow what a human mind has decided?  Not surprisingly, influential Muslim philosophers such as Al Ghazzali (who died in 1111 AD) and Ibn Taymiyyah (who died in 1328 AD), who both rejected the idea of secondary causality, also had to reject, in one form or another, the idea of human free will, i.e. the idea that we are responsible for our own actions.  Now if you think about it, the reverse is also true – you cannot believe in free will unless you also believe in secondary causes, since now you can argue that you as a human are only controlling the secondary causes, and never the Primary Cause.

In any event, if you accept the idea of secondary causes, and therefore view plate tectonics and the water cycle as secondary causes, it doesn’t require much thought to come up with many more examples like these.  For example, when a baby is born, what do the parents do?  Thank Allah (SWT).  But, at the same time, don’t we accept, quite happily, that the parents must have had something to do with it too, and that the whole thing happened through a “natural” process?  Or take an example at the other end of the scale, the formation of stars such as our sun.  The life and death of stars should be a great mystery to us, because we are talking about things that can last for billions of years.  And yet, because we live in a galaxy with hundreds of billions of stars, it is possible to find stars at virtually any stage of “life” – from new stars that are just being formed out of interstellar dust, to old stars whose light was extinguished a long time ago, and whose presence can only be detected by their gravitational effects.  Thus, surprisingly, the physics that explains the formation of stars is one of the most well understood areas of science.

In conclusion, everywhere we look, whether on our planet or outside of it, we see two recurring facts about creation: it happen through a process that we see as natural, and it is a continuous process.  Looking now at life on our planet, the fossil record shows that literally millions of species have come into being, at vastly different times, and then disappeared.  In a world, and indeed a universe, that is filled with natural and continuous processes, why should we insist that one thing only, which is the formation of a new species, happen through an “unnatural” or supernatural process?  If we believe that many things can happen naturally, why should evolution alone be considered a rejection of Allah (SWT)?  If we can accept so many secondary processes and causes in our world, why should we only have a problem with evolution?

Of course, all this does not mean that evolution is correct; it could be that it is a completely senseless theory.  But the question of whether it is right or wrong should be answered by thinking of it as a secondary cause, to be studied purely as a theory in its own right, and without worrying whether it is compatible with our beliefs.

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