Creationism vs. Evolution: Where Does Islam Stand?

dinosaur fossil

A few weeks ago the long-fought argument over creationism versus evolution was once again propelled into the spotlight with the live debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, the Christian founder of the Creation Museum.

I have to admit that I didn’t actually watch the debate, but have only read summaries and reports of the discussion. I don’t really think I needed to watch it. As several journalists have pointed out, such a debate is unlikely to change anyone’s mind. There is no way that either side can definitively prove the origin of humanity. Personally, I know where I stand; and it’s in between the two extremes showcased in that debate.

So rather than use this as an opportunity to argue something that I know I cannot convince certain people of, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to simply inform people. Many may be wondering, where does Islam stand on the questions of evolution?

Many people may assume there is a pretty simple answer to this question: against evolution, of course! But actually it’s not so clear. On one hand, it is very clear: Muslims believe in a Creator, God, who created the universe. But on the other hand, most Muslim scholars do not throw out the entire theory of evolution, but do clearly discard the well-known piece that claims humans have evolved from apes (or ape-like creatures), as well as ideas that one species can evolve into another.

Before I get into Islamic beliefs on the subject, I do want to comment about Christian beliefs, since as someone who used to be Christian I feel I have something worth saying on the subject. When I was Christian, I remember being told that dinosaurs never really existed, and that the earth was not as old as it seems — that God made the earth to appear old by planting dinosaur fossils. It was so strange for me that honestly, I just kind of pushed it to the back of my mind and tried not to think about such a discord with modern science. As the issue has been brought to the spotlight, I have now realized that this view of creationism is referred to as “young-earth creationism” and is the belief held by Ken Ham. It is not held by all Christians. I believe the primary point of debate among Christians on this subject is whether or not Genesis’ account of God creating the earth in “6 days” literally means 6 24-hour earth days, or refers to 6 eras or time periods (young-earth creationists claiming it is literally 6 earth days).  However, another note is that Ken Ham’s form of young-earth creationism is actually different from what I was taught; his belief is that dinosaurs did in fact once roam the earth, but did so along with Adam, and that the earth is only about 6,000 years old.

So back to Islamic beliefs on the subject, first of all I think Muslims are not often highlighted in this debate because many feel it is unimportant. Unlike Christianity, which has a long history of fighting against the scientific community, and denying scientific claims, Islam has a much friendlier relationship with science. Many in the scientific community believe that religion and science are contradictory– that religion is nonsensical, emotion, and therefore has nothing to do with science. Muslims, however, believe this is far from the truth. Muslims believe that God, as the creator of the ‘laws of nature,’ is the ultimate expert on science. Many scientific facts were in revealed in the Quran, in a time when they were impossible for people to know them. Such revelations encouraged thought and scientific intrigue in the Islamic community at the same time that it was being suppressed by the church in Medieval Europe.

In the Golden Age of Islam, when Christian Europe was in the dark ages, Islam was flourishing in scientific discoveries, the implications of which are still being felt in today’s modern world. Muslims believe that since God created the universe, all of creation points to this fact, including true scientific discoveries. This excludes theories that have not or cannot be proven. So Islam’s place in the scientific world is this: that as long as it does not contradict the Quran or hadith, scientific thought is encouraged and celebrated as humanity’s recognition of the awesome world that our creator has made for us. In fact, throughout the Quran humankind is encouraged to learn about and reflect on the wonders of the universe. Muslim scholars argue that the only ‘science’ that contradicts the Quran is that which has not/ cannot be proven, i.e. that which uses false logic.

So Islam generally does not get involved in the creation debate, except that to say that God created the universe, and that if there are fossils on earth then those animals (i.e. dinosaurs) must have existed in the past. Regarding evolution, there is some variation among Muslims, but most agree that evolution in general is not true since it cannot be proven (missing links), although speciation, at least to some degree, is a reality (the idea that species can evolve within their own species– this does not mean they can evolve into a completely different species i.e. reptiles can evolve into different types of reptiles or to have different features that help them adapt to their environment, but reptiles cannot evolve into birds).

Regarding dinosaurs, Muslims generally believe that if science and fossil records prove that the earth is billions of years old, then it must be true. This is not a contradiction to Islamic belief, because Muslims believe that when God created the universe in “6 days,” this mention of time does not mean 6 earth days. God cannot be restricted to time as we on earth know it. In fact, the Quran specifically states that sometimes God’s “days” does not mean earth days, but can mean other periods of time such as thousands or tens of thousands of years. So we don’t know what actual unit of time it took, but 6 days most likely refers to 6 distinct phases of creation. In this view, it is permissible to believe that the dinosaurs were created along with other animals, and may or may not have gone extinct before humans were created.

To conclude, since certain scientific claims have not yet been proven and are not specified in the Quran or hadith, it is better for Muslims to stay out of debates that will cause us to choose a side that might be wrong. Only God knows the answers to many of the mysteries of the world. There are some who claim, like Ken Ham, that dinosaurs roamed alongside humans. There are others, like Bill Nye, who claim that they lived and went extinct millions of years ago. While Muslims may have a tendency to side with one claim or the other, it is better for us not to, unless that claim is scientifically proven without a shadow of a doubt (some believe there is doubt as to the methods used in dating fossils). In the big scheme of things, does it really matter when dinosaurs roamed the earth? Many feel it is unimportant, as such a question does not hinder belief in Islam or in God.

In the realm of scientific thought, Islam should learn from the lessons of Christianity. The Christian church once refuted and even persecuted scientists who disagreed with their narrow framework of beliefs about the world (i.e. Galileo), only later to realize that they were wrong. So if it does not contradict Islamic truths, who is to say it is not true? Only God knows the real truth, and rather than us debating on things we do not know and cannot really prove, it is better for us to focus on bettering ourselves and strengthening our faith.

For those who are more interested in Islamic perspective on the dinosaurs and creation, I found this short video which is very interesting and puts things very simply, including discussing what ‘days’ means in terms of God’s creation: Islam on Dinosaurs

To read more about what the “young-earth creationism” is, you can visit the website connected to Ken Ham, anwersingenesis.org and to read specifically about their view of dinosaurs, the age of earth, and more see the Get Answers page.

For an Islamic argument against Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, you can read Fethullah Gulen’s article here: Questions & Answers – Darwinism

To watch the debate mentioned here, you can visit NPR: Watch the Creationism vs. Evolution Debate: Ken Ham and Bill Nye

Photo credit: subarcticmike / Foter / CC BY

Please note: Like I said above, I am not trying to start a debate that cannot be won by any side. Therefore I will not be allowing comments trying to start a debate, or comments that are derogatory or rude in nature.

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About Meditating Muslimah

Sharing my experiences as a new Muslimah, thoughts on religion, things that inspire me, foods I love to make and eat, Islamic fashion, travel, and life in general!
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10 Responses to Creationism vs. Evolution: Where Does Islam Stand?

  1. Tasneem says:

    I rarely get into discussions concerning this topic because it always leads to an argument. And arguing about it wont change anyone’s mind, I find there are [too many] strong opinions on the matter when no one knows for sure. So why should we speculate on it so harshly, you know?

    This was an interesting post to read though, thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Tim says:

    Hi! First, I don’t know of any serious creationist organizations that promote that dinosaurs never existed. Wow, that’s pretty incredible. Sorry you were taught that. Next, I was wonder IF you believe the creation days were phases instead: how did the plants (day 3) live for millions of years before the sun was created (day 4)? Well, I’m a Christian – so I accept Genesis 1 as the correct creation account, and believe it says not only the number of the day but also “evening, then morning” – thus giving a VERY contextual reason to believe these were ordinary days. I also find it interesting that we don’t question days anywhere else in the Bible?? Hmmm. I also find it especially problematic that God himself says he created in six days while writing in stone on the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:11.

    • Okay, first of all, I think you missed my point, which was that I don’t really care to argue the details of exactly when and how everything happened. And in the big scheme of important things in this life, it doesn’t really matter, except the fact of whether or not you believe God was behind it all. I will point out, however, that there is a problem with your perspective in asking such a question. In case you didn’t catch it, I am Muslim. That means I DON’T believe in the infallibility of the Bible. You are trying to prove your point based on your belief that the Bible is correct; my perspective on creation does not involve the Bible, but rather the Quran. The Quran does not assign specific creations to specific ‘days’ (i.e. plants on day 3). It does however state the ‘heavens and earth’ (the universe, planets, stars, etc) were the first thing created simultaneously, and humans were created last. So therefore, your question is of no concern to me, it has no relevance in Islam.

  3. Marcus Ampe says:

    Please, do not consider that all Christians would have learned such things as your conservative Christian denomination brought onto you. It might be one of those typical American teachings which ignore the facts of what we can find in nature.
    The same wrong thinking exist about the beliefs in a three-une God for Christians, which is not true for all Christians. There are enough Christians who do not believe in the Holy Trinity. You probably were brought up with such a false teaching and now have found a teaching where they believe what is also written in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, that there exist only One Divine Creator God, Allah, whose name is Jehovah.

    • Yes, as I stated in the post, I am very aware that most Christians do not believe that about the dinosaurs. To my understanding, there are actually very few Christians who don’t believe in the Trinity. It is a very small minority, unfortunately. And yes, as a Muslim I believe that the Torah and Bible in addition to the Quran are all holy books in the original form. However, I do not believe that the original form of the Torah and Bible still exist today, and therefore we can not be sure about what in them is from God and what is not.

  4. Marcus Ampe says:

    About the creation of the universe in “6 days,” you are right this mention of time does not mean 6 earth days like we understand it now. God Himself in the Bible gives clarification over those time units, where one day is about one thousand years.
    We do want to see everything in human restricted time elements, but when you look in the Old Writings you shall be able to find there was not such a restriction for the Creator God. The People of God used also another timetable than our Gregorian calendar. Not only in “the Quran specifically states that sometimes God’s “days” does not mean earth days, but can mean other periods of time such as thousands or tens of thousands of years.” Please look into your Bible and you will find similar indications.

    • I think your reply is more suited to answering Tim’s comment above. As I noted in the post, the question of what ‘day’ means in Genesis in the creation story is something Christians debate amongst themselves, with some — i.e. the “young-earth creationists” — believing it to be a literal interpretation and claiming other verses in the Bible support that. As was implied, I am also aware that other Christians disagree with this.

  5. Marcus Ampe says:

    The order mentioned in the Bible of things created do not contradict what scientists have found until now.
    The big problem most people do seem to have is that they expect everything to have looked like they can see the things when they themselves live. They forget that t is been spoken of a long time past, and that God let the world to continue to evolve, what it still does today and shall do in the years to come.

  6. myninjanaan says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! I feel like people take things to either extreme; i.e., religion and science are separate and neither can coexist in the other.
    Islam is the middle path, and I honestly feel like that is what makes it so inviting and sensible. Religion and science can and should coexist; in fact, science should make your faith even stronger!
    Lovely post and lovely style of writing 🙂

  7. Pingback: Science, 2013 word of the year, and Scepticism | Stepping Toes

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