This article covers the relationship between the theory of evolution and biological change.
One argument advanced by those who accept (or, rather, who believe) the theory of evolution against those who believe in creation is this: ‘We put forward certain concepts related to evolution, right or wrong, for the sake of enabling and informing scientific understanding. But you merely refuse and refute this effort. You ignore a lot of biological facts, such as adaptation and natural selection, in order to deny evolution, but you can neither interpret those facts, nor offer any alternative ideas in a persuasively scientific manner.’
By answering this argument we shall show that we do indeed accept the same biological facts, but do not agree about the ‘laws’ which try to explain them, nor about the limits and qualifications for the operation of those ‘laws’.
Unlike other Scriptures which claim Divine authority, there is no proposition in the Qur’an which can be contradicted by established scientific knowledge as untrue. The Qur’an does not underestimate the importance of reflection and argument, but it does indicate that our suppositions about the origin of creation cannot explain the reality of it: we simply were not present there.
I called them not to witness the creation of the heavens and the earth, nor their own creation: Nor is it for Me to take as helpers such as lead (men) astray (al-Kahf 18.51).
This verse should not be interpreted to mean ‘Do not ask questions or do not research’, for the Qur’an encourages scientific research explicitly. It is, rather, a warning about those who vainly claim to explain the phenomena which happen outside the normal course of events and cannot be described in terms of material causes and effects. Since the creation is the great, inclusive miracle, human beings can neither imitate it (that is, they cannot create out of nothing) nor explain it. To attribute the creation to God makes everything plausible and saves scientific inquiry from fruitless uncertainties and insecure speculations. Understanding the basic principles of the reality of creation is most important. If they are properly understood, useful and worthwhile aspects of the theory of evolution can be sifted out from pretentious and false interpretations of it. For, in every idea, even if it is against common sense in general, there are some elements of truth. The biological facts, rightly so called, such as variation, adaptation, natural selection and mutation, in evolution theory, should be differentiated from the ideological and metaphysical baggage they have accumulated.
In our approach, evolution may be described as the changes and variations in the form of creatures, especially in living beings, and the genetic and environmental factors associated with those changes. We do not assert that living beings are fixed and unchangeable in their forms. To claim that would imply a limitation upon the knowledge and power of God which is contradictory to His Names, the All-Knowing and the All-Powerful. The creation reflects His Names through its novelty within renewal, its prolific variety amid abundance. Individual diversity is programmed into the genetic mechanisms which, as they unfold and evolve under the prompting of environmental factors, display (for our admiration and understanding) the action in the world of Divine grace and power. The many hundreds of apples on a single tree are not identical, nor are they identical over different seasons-they are only similar. Thus, the first emphasis in our definition of the concept of evolution is change which is vital for the maintenance of ecological diversity and balance.
To paraphrase the Qur’an: God imposes the law of change and evolution as a basic principle in the universe. In the enforcement of this law, He creates pairs and opposites which, interacting according to subtle purposes, are placed in the core of every being. Thus, the change-dependent evolution and the dynamic balance in the universe, have been realized through the intersection of the opposites continually since the outset of creation. There are many verses in the Qur’an (for example in Chapter 55, al-Rahman) which indicate change and balance.
The ideologues of evolution theory, however, ignore the Divine wisdom, measure and purpose in the universe, claiming that the change they observe is an effect of coincidences-random variations, aimless mutations.
In the light of recent findings, we know the apparent causes of change to be mutations, which are the hereditary alternations in the genetic information; the differentiation of an isolated population from its ancestor through multiplying inside the population; adaptation and so-called ‘natural selection’, that is the decrease or extinction of generations which are weak and unable to reproduce in their immediate environment.
Believers in the One God affirm that everything, from subatomic particles to galaxies, is created by Him, that He is Omniscient and Omnipotent, and everything acts under His will and command. Causes are created by God in the appropriate time and space and the appropriate order and combination as a sort of veil for His dignity and might. He only says ‘Be!’, and all the material causes, such as heat, moisture, air, chemical elements, radiation, etc., are. If such causes are seen in this way, if their being brought together into an order is understood to be a response to their need (their prayer) to participate in a collaborative universe-and if their being causes is confirmed by observations and experiments-then, we may regard causes as a useful way to explain biological phenomena.
We know that diversity in a species is realized through mutations in the genetic program, arranged by Divine wisdom, not by coincidence. The evolutionist idea that the mutations are arbitrary, that useful changes can occur by sheer chance and lead to the development of a living being, or that a lot of random mutations can accumulate to enable a sudden leap from one species to another, has not been confirmed by experiments and observations. To accept that the mutations are arbitrary interferences in the genetic order is like accepting that a rocket can be generated out of a sound aircraft by raking it randomly with machine-gun fire. Certainly, computer-aided probability calculations show that it is impossible for thousands of random mutations to accumulate on a living being and change it into another species. Any such change is manifestly against that organism’s survival and would have to overwhelm it suddenly, not gradually.
Some bacteria can be given the ability to synthesize insulin by means of genetic engineering. This is a kind of planned mutation. Such a transfer of ability is, though remarkable, a relatively small change: it is, in any case, only possible because of the relevant ability being present in the genetic material being transferred. It is sheer arrogance to claim that living beings having millions of such able genes have evolved from each other by arbitrary, random mutations.
Adaptation is a biological manifestation of the flexibility coded into the genetic programs of living organisms; it carries the potential, within the limits of the species, for the organism to survive in changing conditions and to sustain that survival through reproduction.
When environmental conditions change, responsive adaptations occur- e.g. change of colour or density of hair, size of ears-in proportion to the flexibility of the organism’s genetic potential. If the organism cannot adapt adequately, the species does not mutate into some new species, it goes extinct. That is what happened, we presume, to dinosaurs and dodos.
The diversity of various human races can also be explained by the flexibility of their genetic potentials in response to different geographical, climatic and environmental conditions, provided, as before, that the changes are contained within species boundaries. Intermarriages between the various races add to the diversity within the species boundaries, they do not yield another species. The working of genetic potential can also be seen in the way that insects adapt to pesticides, and certain bacteria acquire a nearly invincible resistance to particular antibiotics. Insects or bacteria become more resistant, but they do not become different species. Their potential for adaptation is understood, by believers, as a power to survive given to them by Divine Wisdom.
We do not wholly reject the concept of natural selection. However, it is necessary to criticize the extreme interpretation evolutionists make of it. First of all, there is not an absolute ‘cruel competition’ in nature which the strong dominate absolutely, nor a pitiless ‘selection’ process of exterminating rivals in the struggle for food (survival). Rather, there is a dynamic balance among the great variety of creatures which is characterized, overall, by mutual collaboration and solidarity. The killing of weak creatures by the stronger ones is not random, nor characterized by a drive to exterminate and monopolize resources for survival. On the contrary, it is, overall, purposive and beneficial. Predators prey, generally, on weak and sick animals, and this ‘selects’ the fit and healthy for survival and, quite probably, prevents epidemics within and between species. Also, it is manifestly obvious that the apparent ‘competition’ in nature is the outward face of a subtle and complex feeding chain which is vital for the overall balance of the ecosystem, providing niches for great numbers of species, not least those which feed on the left-overs of others thus cleansing and purifying the food-chain.
Another factor affecting natural selection is the difference in rates of breeding. One bacterium multiplies by millions in one day, a fly by thousands in two days. Vertebrates, except fish and amphibians on the other hand, breed far more slowly. From the base of the food pyramid to the top, the production of food increases in quality but decreases in mass, and consequently a lot of tiny living organisms are the food of larger ones. The difference in breeding rates among members of the same species causes rapid multiplying of a certain group, but not the change of its species. An organism with many young has more opportunity to survive in changing environmental conditions, because when the number of its young increases, so too do the combinations of genetic characters. Even after drastic environmental changes, a few may survive.
The concepts used by evolutionists used to explain biological realities have a merely nominal reality, they are far from being ultimate causes. Attributing reality or, worse, Divine power to concepts which can be useful only for building mental models, and ignoring the knowledge, might and eternal wisdom of the Creator, means binding our hearts and minds to nature, like nature-worshippers and polytheists generally.
By Dr. Irfan Yilmaz
This article is borrowed from The Fountain Magazine.