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
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.