New Muslim Evolutionists

After one hundred and seventy years of sound and fury surrounding “Darwin’s dangerous idea”,[1] one would expect everything has been said by all sides and there is no further need to write on the subject. Yet, what Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once said seems to hold true: “Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.”[2] “Such people”, for Samuel Johnson, were the skeptics of his time, but in our protean world, “such people” are people of faith who are keeping the Darwin industry afloat.

This time around, the new milking project involves a small group of Muslim evolutionists who are driven by the same old existential necessity that drove their precursors in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries: having accepted evolution as received, they need to save their faith from the crushing weight of a Godless universe where life has been evolving on its own for millions of years by inserting the Majestic Hand of Allah Most High in the impregnable schema of evolution. Muslim evolutionists of the previous two centuries invented ingenious ways to do the impossible, they also sought solace in precursorism and brought Muslim scholars like al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868 or 869), al-Bīrūnī (d. ca. 1050)—even Rūmī (d. 1273)—to their aid, claiming they had postulated evolutionism much before Darwin.[3]

The task of the new converts is, however, harder than their forerunners because now there are battle-hardened guards securing the house of evolution—guards who have already crushed similar Christian attempts to “smuggle God in by the back door”.[4] This, however, has not deterred the new adherents; here is how a recent attempt tries to open one such back door. First, there is a clear admission that

in the case of the story of human origins, we have such an explicit narrative, one that is deeply rooted in countless passages throughout the entire Qur’an and numerous Prophetic statements, that there is no choice other than to accept that this is what Allah intended for us to believe. The sheer quantity and diversity of nouns, adjectives, and verbs used simply makes any linguistic re-interpretation (or taʾwīl) implausible. Meanwhile, attempts to describe the entire account as symbolic or allegorical (takhyīl) may be tempting for some contemporary Muslim scientists, but it leads to logically incoherent theological ramifications and contradicts the Qur’an’s own emphasis that these accounts are literally true narratives (3:62). Developing an epistemologically sound foundation upon which both scriptural and scientific truths work in concert is a far more fruitful endeavor.[5]

And then an attempt is made to install a fancy door in the brick wall of evolution through verbal gymnastics:

Setting aside debates about their rational plausibility or probability, there is nothing in Islamic scripture that explicitly negates the concepts of abiogenesis, genetic mutation and diversification, natural selection, the existence of hominid species, or a common ancestor for all biological life on earth, excluding only the descendants of Adam. Moreover, one can certainly imagine a scenario wherein hominid species were gradually evolving on earth, and right at the point when evolutionists would predict the emergence of modern humans, God miraculously inserted the children of Adam. Let us suppose that these ‘Adamic species’ are biologically, anatomically, physiologically, and genetically indistinguishable from the would-be species one would have predicted to have emerged based on the preceding population of species in evolutionary history. They appear to occupy the exact same position on the phylogenetic tree.[6]

Just imagine, and right at the point… What a trick God played with humanity!

Let us note that their Adamic (or human) exceptionalism is no different from what certain Christian groups have already attempted.[7] Recent Muslim attempts, therefore, do not even produce a new category of theistic evolution; all that these new Muslim evolutionists are trying to do is to “Islamize” evolution, just as Christians had attempted to baptize it.

Yet, this is how it had to be; it was foretold:

Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī, Allah be pleased with him, said, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said,

“You will most certainly follow the ways of those who came before you, handspan by handspan, arm’s length by arm’s length, so much so that if they entered a lizard’s hole, you would follow them.”
We said, “O Messenger of Allah, [Do you mean] the Jews and the Christians?”
He said, “Who else?”

Bukhārī, al-Iʿtiṣām bi-l-kitāb wa-l-Sunnah (3456)
Muslim, K. al-ʿIlm, Itibāʿ sunan al-yahūd wa-l-naṣāra (2669)

The recent converts to evolution have more tools at their disposal, but no matter how sophisticated the verbal acrobatics become, “when boiled down to its scientific content…theistic evolution is no different from atheistic evolution, treating only undirected natural processes in the origin and development of life.”[8] Furthermore, such an attempt creates the same theological problems for Muslim evolutionists as it did for the Christians, because “if God purposefully created life through Darwinian means, then God’s purpose was to make it seem as though life was created without purpose. Within theistic evolution, God is a master of stealth who constantly eludes our best efforts to detect him empirically.”[9]

The claim that “there is nothing in Islamic scripture that explicitly negates the concepts of abiogenesis, genetic mutation and diversification, natural selection” is absurd, because every term in this mouthful (“abiogenesis, genetic mutation and diversification, natural selection”)—coming as it does from within the evolutionary narrative that does not leave any room for God—contradicts central teachings of the Qur’an on the origin and creation of all forms of life on earth. Would a creature arising from random natural selection know how to pray and glorify the Creator? Do you not see that Allah is glorified by whosoever is in the heavens and on the earth, and by the birds spreading their wings? Each indeed knows its prayer and its glorification, and God knows that which they do (Q 24:41). Indeed, there is no choice other than to accept that all “species” were created complete, with specific purposes and functions, within a grand scheme of creation of life on earth—a scheme that has a high degree of interrelation between all that exists: Do they not look at the camels, how they are created? (Q 88:17) Have they not seen the birds above them spreading out and folding their wings? No one holds them except the Most Merciful; Indeed, He watches over all things (Q 67:19).

Certain commonality among living beings is no argument for evolution, such commonality is necessary because all existing entities share a common living space (planet earth). But this commonality cannot be reduced to a common soup from which life evolved randomly. This cannot be done without eliminating the Creator Who fashioned, apportioned, and created all that exists and Who continues to sustain all that exists.

Theistic evolution is an oxymoron; all versions of Darwinian evolution are evolution by other names and they do not admit God. On the other hand, belief in a Creator does not admit an ad hoc universal common ancestor and random natural selection and hence “never the twain shall meet.”

II

Perhaps the new Muslim evolutionists can learn a thing or two from the bee. Writing at the dawn of the sixth Islamic century, Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī drew attention to the hexagonal structure of the beehive in a short treatise on the Qur’ān, Jawāhir al-Qurʾān (The Jewels of the Qurʾān). In the twelfth chapter, entitle “The Secrets of the Sūra of the Opening and how it comprises eight of the ten valuables of the Qur’ān” he invites the reader to

Look at the bee and the innumerable wonders of its gathering of honey and [producing] beeswax. We would like to make you cognizant of the geometry of its hive. It is built on the figure of the hexagon (al-musadass) in order that space may not be narrow for its inhabitants who crowd in one place in great numbers. Had [the individual beehive cell] been built as a circle, [these cells would not be contiguous], and there would remain space between individual cells. [Had they been built as] squares, they would be contiguous to one another, [but squares are not compatible with] the shape of the bee [itself], which is inclined to roundness, so there would remain empty space inside the hive cell. Likewise for all other shapes.

The hexagonal shape is the only geometrical shape that allows the bees to gather the maximum amount of honey inside the individual hive cells, using the least amount of bees’ wax; it is also the strongest possible structure, because individual hexagons can be contiguously added to the hive. “So consider, then, how Allah has guided the bee to the properties of this [hexagonal] shape. This is [merely one] example [from the countless examples] of the wonders of Allah’s creation and His Kindness and Mercy to His creation, for the lowest constitutes an evidence of the highest.”

By the time al-Ghazālī wrote The Jewels, which would be cherished by generations of scholars for centuries to come, the wisdom of the bee was already well-known to Muslim scientists—for whom the Qur’an was neither a Book wrapped in fine cloth and placed on the highest shelf of the home, nor a Book in which they sought to discover scientific theories of Greek scientists and philosophers; rather it was for them a Book of guidance, drawing their attention from the manifest to the hidden and from the observable signs (āyāt) to the Creator of the signs. They knew the bee had been guided through Divine revelation by the One who created it in its complete form: And thy Sustainer revealed to the bee: make for thyself dwellings in mountains and in trees, and in what [men] construct and then eat of all manner of fruit, and follow humbly the paths ordained for thee by thy Sustainer; and lo, there comes from within these [bees] a drink of many hues in which there is cure for people; verily, in this is a sign for those who reflect (Q 16: 68-69).

The new Muslim evolutionists can easily find out that hive populations range from thirty to sixty thousand bees. Of these the vast majority are worker bees, who do virtually all the work of the hive—from building the honeycomb and nursing the infant brood, to foraging for nectar, water and pollen, and storing honey. Normally, a worker bee travels eight hundred kilometers over the course of her life, wearing out her wings in a mere six weeks at the height of her frenzied nectar gathering during spring, summer, and early autumn when plants are in full nectar-laden bloom, and producing less than half a ml of honey. If a worker bee is born toward the end of summer, however, it can survive for a whole year, even over the winter months, spending most of its time inside the hive, clustered in a heat-conserving ball around the queen where the temperature is steadied by the metabolization of the bees themselves at between 33.33 and 35o C. Muslim scientists of the pre-modern era had a rough estimate, though not the exact figure, of how many kilometers bees must fly back and forth from flowers to the hive to produce a kilogram of honey—a figure that we now know to be approximately 1,075,000 kilometers.

Computer-aided models for determining optimal structures for storing the maximum amount of honey using the least amount of beeswax lead one to none other than those actually constructed by bees. Furthermore, we calculate that, for maximum strength, these hexagonal structures should connect to each other at a very precise apex angle of 70.529o—and all species of bees construct their beehives to this exact specification, all over the world.

We now know many aspects of the remarkable chemistry involved in the making of the honey—the delicious syrup in which there is cure for humanity, as the creator of the bees tells us in the Qur’an. The tiny drop of nectar sucked by the bee contains sucrose, fructose, and water. While foraging, the bee secrets invertase, a digestive enzyme, that breaks down the sucrose in the nectar into two simpler sugars, fructose and glucose. When she arrives at the hive, she is met by a younger hive bee who begs the nectar off her, accepting it into her own mouth. Relieved, the foraging bee returns to the field to seek new flowers, and if she finds a particularly rich source of nectar, she gives directions to other bees of the hive by means of a dance wherein are signals and signs telling fellow foraging bees the direction, the distance, and the angle of the sun in relation to the location of the nectar-bearing flowers. A round dance indicates a nearby food source, a waggle dance means the food is further away, the duration of the dance precisely marks the distance and the direction indicates the orientation toward the sun.

While the foraging bees are going back and forth between the hive and the flowers, the hive bee inside the hive is squeezing the nectar from her mouth into her own honey stomach and back again, adding enzymes. In the process she also exposes the nectar to air in order to evaporate its excess water, eventually reducing its water content from 80 to less than 20 percent so that airborne yeasts do not sour the nectar through fermentation.

As the hexagonal cells of the comb fill with drops of nectar, the bees inside the hive split into groups. One group fans fresh air into the hive by flapping their double sets of wings 11,400 times a minute, the other directs damp, moisture-laden air out. This coordinated fanning—the buzz of the hive—is low and mild when the bees are busy and content, higher and louder when they are threatened or agitated.

After a few days, the bees cap the fully ripened honey with a thin layer of beeswax. Perfectly sealed, it remains there until needed by the bees for food or harvested by the apiarist.

All of these details have become common scientific knowledge in our time, yet, instead of drawing attention to the marvelous creation of the bee, this knowledge obscures—even renders His existence superfluous for the evolutionists who claim that the bee is a product of random natural selection, without being able to account for the knowledge bees have about their dwelling place. Perhaps a clever evolutionist can postulate that the bees held a global conference on the geometry of beehives! But then such a claim would necessitate proof, such as fossil record of a square or a circular beehive; no one has ever produced such a record to prove that the bees had learned the economy of their hexagonal hives after an evolutionary exploration of other shapes.

A priori commitment to evolution leads new Muslim converts to the same old blind alleys that have been traversed by previous theistic evolutionists. No matter how hard they try, evolution remains evolution by any name and it does not admit God: there is no such thing as theistic evolution; it is simply a play on words. While both sides make statements of belief, the custodians of the house of evolution do not admit that their basic claim is a statement of belief; rather, they claim it to be a scientific fact. Yet, it is a claim underwritten by science itself through an invalid syllogism:

Evolution is a scientific explanation of life forms on earth.
Science provides true explanations.
Evolution is a true explanation.

Modern science has assumed magisterial power. Believers face an uphill task. They have done everything that is reasonably possible to deflate evolutionism, but Darwin’s black box[10] has failed to blast the house of evolution because it sits on a foundation that supports all other houses of worship of a Godless modernity; those who live in this house will never allow it to fall, because thereafter they will be homeless. It is this existential struggle that does not let them believe that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their science!

Tired of arguing ad nauseam, the two sides have only one choice: walk away gracefully. Yet, they continue to engage in previously unimaginable spaces.


[1] The title of the 1995 book by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon & Schuster.

[2] James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, Project Gutenberg’s Life of Johnson, Vol. 1, by Boswell, ed. Birkbeck Hill, https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/8918/pg8918.txt, p. 444.

[3] See, for instance, Muzaffar Iqbal, “Darwin’s Shadow: Context and Reception in the Muslim World”, Islamic Sciences Vol. 7 (Summer 2009), No. 1, pp. 9-50; https://jis.cis-ca.org/origins.html (accessed January 25, 2022).

[4] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Longman, 1986), p. 316.

[5] Yasir Qadhi and Nazir Khan, “Human Origins-Theological Conclusions and Empirical Limitations”, Yaqeen Institute paper in two parts (https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/read/paper/human-origins-part-1-theological-conclusions-and-empirical-limitations) and (https://yaqeeninstitute.ca/read/paper/human-origins-part-2-evolution-and-the-failures-of-naturalism), p. 11, accessed November 24, 2021, emphasis added.

[6] Ibid, p. 12; emphasis added.

[7] See the extensive 2014 survey of Christian positions on historical Adam vs. evolution at https://cdn.ymaws.com/network.asa3.org/resource/dynamic/forums/20150829_143039_10526.pdf, accessed January 25, 2022. Also see S. Joshua Swamidass, The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021); and Gerald L. Hiestand (Gen. Ed.), Bulletin of Ecclesial Theology, Essays on the Historical Adam, Vol. 5.2 (2018).

[8] William Dembski, “What Every Theologian Should Know About Creation, Evolution & Design”, in Unapologetic Apologetics, eds. William Dembski & Jay Wesley Richards (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 228.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cf. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, New York: Free Press, 1996.