The reason that the religious have so far fought evolution is that, stuck in the Aristotelian paradigm of a God that is chained by the universe, they fail to truly appreciate God’s limitless and transcendent greatness and power. Thanks to al-Ghazali’s simulation theory, we can credit God with creating all the creatures on earth while also supporting a 100% scientific theory of evolution that makes no claims about the necessity of divine intervention. So far most people think you either have to choose between creationism and science. This essay shows that we can believe both at the same time if we can “think outside the box” of our universe as al-Ghazali did.
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As a lover of science and rationalism, and a very religious person, the issue of God and evolution has been on the back of my mind for years. I grew up hearing many refutations of the theory of evolution from everyone around me; scientifically-minded relatives, Islamic preachers and science teachers, all of whom considered evolution a challenge to religion that had to be defeated to protect our faith.
While I eventually came to consider the evolution of non-human creatures plausible, the evolution of humans continued to be a challenge. In 2010 I read Darwinian Fairytales by the Australian atheist philosopher David Stove and considered it a good a challenge to the theory of evolution.
Since then I have read many more books on the topic. Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is one of my favorite scientific books, in which he shows an unusual level of intelligence and intellectual humility in pointing out the deficiencies he saw in his own thinking.
What I have sought all of these years is something that perfectly satisfies both science and religion, because if a religion is entirely true, it wouldn’t conflict with science. One of the things I’ve said in the past is this:
A religion must make as much sense as mathematics, and if it doesn't, it is not worth believing in.
If something in our religion is proven false beyond doubt, then that proves the entire religion false. The Quran claims to contain the unadulterated words of God, and claims to contain no errors. It logically follows that the presence of a single error proves the entire book false, because it either means that God isn’t so great as all that after all, since He made a mistake, or that He was incapable of protecting His book from adulteration, which is an equally fatal flaw in an all-powerful God.
It is a common misconception that all religions require their followers to curtail their skepticism when it comes to some matters, that they would have to believe certain things even if these things clearly contradict reality. The great science fiction writer Frank Herbert writes in his 1985 novel Chapterhouse: Dune:
Religion (emulation of adults by the child) encysts past mythologies: guesses, hidden assumptions of trust in the universe, pronouncements made in search of personal power, all mingled with shreds of enlightenment. And always an unspoken commandment: Thou shalt not question!
In multiple places he repeats his principle that an essential commandment of religion is “Thou shalt not question!” This is a common mistake made by both the religious and atheists, and if it were true, then the existence of a conflict between evolution and Islam would not be a special thing, it would be yet another conflict between rationalistic, atheistic science and backward and superstitious religion.
While the above might be true of some religions, and of some misguided versions of Islam, it is not true of the Quran. The religion of the Quran is founded upon the commandment “Thou shalt question!” The Quran constantly refers to evidence and proof, mocks various sections of humanity for not thinking clearly or for believing in superstition, and constantly calls its readers to think, to reason, to observe, to analyze, to question.
It is from two directions, both as a lover of rationalism and a lover of the Quran, that I have approached the theory of evolution. After years of coming up with various approximate solutions then discarding them, in 2014 I reached the “mold” theory of evolution, which I later renamed to the “topological theory”, that has stood the test of time and that fully satisfies both the Quran and everything we know about evolution.
While I could have waited on publishing this theory until I could turn it into a book (with detailed references), the theory is simple and straightforward enough to be shared in its present form, and I believe this will best serve the interests of both Muslim and non-Muslim seekers of knowledge.
Explaining the Winds and Rain
Muslims who have a problem with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection due to the fact that it takes God out of the picture have a greater problem to solve, one that usually goes neglected, and solving that problem opens the way to solving the problem of evolution.
The problem is that in the Quran, God takes credit for various natural phenomena which all have scientific explanations. Among such instances are:
God is He who sends the winds. They stir up clouds. Then He spreads them in the sky as He wills. And He breaks them apart. Then you see rain drops issuing from their midst. Then, when He makes it fall upon whom He wills of His servants, behold, they rejoice. 1
It is He who sends the wind ahead of His mercy. Then, when they have gathered up heavy clouds, We drive them to a dead land, where We make water come down, and with it We bring out all kinds of fruits. Thus We bring out the dead—perhaps you will reflect.2
Have you not seen how God propels the clouds, then brings them together, then piles them into a heap, and you see rain drops emerging from its midst? How He brings down loads of hail from the sky, striking with it whomever He wills, and diverting it from whomever He wills? The flash of its lightning almost snatches the sight away.3
We, as rational human beings, are supposed to believe that God is responsible for the things described above, even though we never see God taking care of these things. This leads one to think that perhaps the universe would go on functioning like normal even if there was no God. What is the point of saying that God is responsible for making it rain when, from observation, it appears that it would probably rain anyway even if no God existed? We can carry out physics experiments inside sealed chambers where we can make it rain or snow, what does God have to do with any of this?
Imagine a king giving a speech in a newly conquered city, telling the listeners “I bring you food and water, so be thankful!” A skeptical person may go to the gates of the city early in the morning to see who actually brings food and water. Since he never sees the king himself carrying sacks of flour into the city, he concludes that the king lied, it is not the king who brings food and water to the city, it is people who do that.
His mistake is that he fails to realize that it is by the king’s order that people are bringing food and water to his city, so when the king says he is doing it, he is right. If it wasn’t for the king, it wouldn’t be happening.
When God claims to make it rain, the fact the His hand can’t be detected in the process doesn’t necessarily mean He is lying.
If the pharaoh of Egypt claims he makes the sun rise, I would be skeptical and ask him to provide some pretty convincing evidence before I take him seriously. In all likelihood the sun would rise regardless of the pharaoh. So what is so special about a 14-century-old book out of the deserts of Arabia that I should take it seriously when it says its writer makes it rain?
Atheists demand hard evidence before they believe in scripture like the Quran. But such evidence is not forthcoming. The Quran itself promises that it will not be forthcoming, because it says that once the existence of God has been proven by hard evidence, that would be the end of the world:
Are they waiting for anything but for the angels to come to them, or for your Lord to arrive, or for some of your Lord’s signs to come? On the Day when some of your Lord’s signs come (i.e. hard evidence for God's existence), no soul will benefit from its faith unless it had believed previously, or had earned goodness through its faith. Say, “Wait, we too are waiting.”4
The above concept is repeated in multiple places in the Quran; that once a person has seen irrefutable evidence of God’s existence, their faith will no longer be of any worth, since faith will no longer be necessary.
The purpose of this universe is to create free-willed creatures who have the option of rejecting God’s existence, so that an act of will and a submission of the heart is needed for them to become believers in Him, and for this act of will, which they have to repeat every day of their faithful lives, they will be rewarded with Paradise5.
This situation leads to the conclusion that if God’s existence is ever proven, and the world doesn’t end, then this would prove the Quran false, since the Quran claims that hard evidence of God’s existence will only be shown to humanity when the world ends.
Are they waiting for God Himself to come to them in the shadows of the clouds, together with the angels, when the matter has been settled? All things are returned to God.6
As a Muslim, I obviously take God’s claim seriously when He says that He makes it rain. As a lover of science, a rationalist and an empiricist, I reject everything that’s not backed by evidence as superstition and ideology. And yet, although there is never any hard evidence, I am capable of believing the Quran when its Writer claims responsibility for various natural phenomena. How?
A verse of the Quran is called an ayah in Arabic, which literally means “sign”, something on the road that points toward a direction. As for its figurative meaning, the scholar al-Faraahhi says in his definition of ayah:
ما تستدِلُّ به على أمر. وليست هي تمام الدليل، بل يُنَبِّهُك على الدليلِ.
That which is used as evidence toward (proving) some matter. It is not the whole of the proof, but it directs you toward the proof.7
While a single verse or even chapter of the Quran cannot be used as “proof” of God’s existence, the book in its totality and its historical context is a powerful piece of evidence that cannot be discarded out of hand in good faith, and it is for this reason that a person like me can believe in it.
The reason I believe in the Quran is the same reason I believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. They both get too many things right, which makes it impossible for me to dismiss them in good conscience. For the Quran, among such things are:
- Its zero-tolerance policy toward usury. The evils of usury are long-term and requires deep and lengthy analysis to bring them to the surface, so much so that one among a thousand economists today cannot be found who appreciate how it creates immense wealth inequality, creating a form of legalized stealing that constantly causes wealth to “trickle up” into the coffers of the upper class.
- The zakat system, in which the poor charge an annual 2.5% interest on the uninvested and speculatively invested wealth of the rich. This system would be completely useless without banning usury, it takes a genius to plug that loophole, and the Quran does it.
- The fact that in 600 pages written in the 7th century CE, it doesn’t contain a single statement that’s provably false, or that contradicts another part of itself.
- The moral philosophy of the Quran, where moral integrity and justice are always paramount. Killing a single innocent human is similar to killing all of humanity, which means that there can never be such a thing as a utilitarian murder, the type of murder that’s practiced on a daily basis by the CIA and probably every other intelligence organization in the world, where innocent people can be murdered if there is a great enough prize to be gained by it.
- The concept of the Straight Path, where humanity’s long-term survival is ensured while humanity’s short-term moral integrity is also ensured. The Quran never asks you to do evil for the sake of the greater good. The end never justifies the means. The Quran teaches that God ensures a good end, so that our job is to stay on the Straight Path, serving His interests while behaving in the best manner possible, being kind and forgiving to all, and never, ever doing any evil toward anyone even if it ensures great good. That’s the only type of moral philosophy I can believe in.
- The beauty of the Quran. The Quran is the only book that I can read over and over again and continue to be surprised by how intelligent, beautiful and sensitive the mind of its writer is. The writer is always superior to me. I’ve never had a similar experience with any other writer. I used to think Terry Pratchett was incredible, and I continue to enjoy his books, having read some of his books 20 or more times, but every reading brings up further flaws in his thinking, to the point that I can no longer stand some of his books that I used to think were so clever and intelligent in the past.
- The Quran’s non-Arabian character and the unusual restraint of the writer in not engaging in the typical rhetoric of the time. This is perhaps the greatest clue to its truth. Anyone who studies Arabic poetry from that period, and the fabricated words of revelation of Musailamah and other false prophets, will see that while all of the literary speech from that era has a distinctly Arabian character, full of hyperbole, self-aggrandizement and bad logic, the Quran does not. The Quran was brought to us by an Arab from the heart of Arabia, yet it does not have an Arabian character. It feels like it was written by an alien civilization who were far more intelligent than any human of the time, and who translated their thinking into Arabic and used some Arabic idioms to make it easier for Arabs to understand. It does not feel like a book written by an Arab for Arabs. It feels like a book written by an unbelievably intelligent being who made use of Arabic. Something else we can compare the Quran to is hadith (narrations from or regarding the Prophet, ). These narrations are clearly by an Arab and for an Arab audience, because the words are by the Prophet himself, , and clearly show the same character as the rest of the Arabic literature of the time.
A fair-minded comparison between the Quran the rest of the Arabic literature of the time will conclude that the Quran is more unusual, extraordinary and miraculous than a 1500-year-old laptop computer buried under a rock in Arabia. Once examined deeply, one concludes that it does not belong to Arabian civilization, then one concludes that it couldn’t have been made by any human civilization of the time. And unlike the 1500-year-old laptop, for the Quran, one concludes that it couldn’t be made by any human civilization of the present either.
That is just a short illustration of what makes the Quran the best guide in life that I have found. I continue to read the Quran with skepticism, assuming Prophet Muhammad wrote it himself, as a way of ensuring that I’m being honest to myself, that I am not following it merely out of habit, but out of recognition for its virtue, and all it takes is 3 to 4 pages before the sheer amount of beauty, intelligence and sensitivity dispels any doubt I have that it could have been written by a human.
How could God claim credit for making it rain when we cannot detect His hand in the process? In three ways:
- Purposeful invention. God invented rain. He designed and built a universe in which rain happens, for the very purpose of having it be a help toward the evolution and sustenance of the creatures that would one day come about on Earth.
- Operating the universe. This universe would be a big blob of inert, unmoving matter without God’s involvement. An atom has no power or will to move. It is God who has to move every single thing that moves in this world. That means God has to cause steam to raise, He has to make it go where it is supposed to go in the sky, He has to bring it together into clouds, and then He has to take it to where it will eventually become rain, where He condenses the water atoms into droplets of water, and where He causes these drops to fall using gravity, a energy field that He has to maintain. He does all of these things so reliably for us that we start to think of them as simply phenomena, saying “things just happen”, refusing to admit that there could be a power doing all of these things for us.
This entire universe is like an image shown on a TV screen. Turn off the TV, and the image would disappear like it never existed. In the same way, this universe, if God decided to “let it go”, would disappear as if it had never existed: “God upholds the heavens and the earth, lest they cease (to exist). And were they to cease, there is none to uphold them except He. He is Most Clement, Most Forgiving.” (The Quran, verse 35:41) If God decided to stop moving the frames of this universe, the universe would be like a frozen video on a TV screen, not moving. It is God who has to move everything, and in this way He animates the universe, and claims responsibility for doing so. (Related essay: Islam’s theory of free will versus physical determinism: Why humans are responsible for their actions even though God operates the universe.)
- Intervention. While the above two ways admit for the possibility of God being responsible for the phenomenon of rain in general, we need something more. God seems to claim that He purposefully sends rain here and there (especially in verse 24:43 quoted above), in directions He wants at this moment, meaning not directions that only obey the laws of nature that He sustains. God seems to claim that His agency goes into deciding when and where rain happens, that it is not mere chance caused by the laws of nature. The way that God could make this happen is by making it happen regardless of the laws of nature, because He has the power to do that. This, of course, would be impossible to detect, according to His plan, since God does not want His existence known by hard evidence. Even if we could build a machine that perfectly predicted rain around the world, so that any aberrations caused by God’s decisions could be seen, God could change what the machine shows. While this explanation is not scientifically satisfactory, since it requires undetectable supernatural agency (which sounds like any other old superstition), the reason it can be taken seriously is that the Quran says it. Once you believe in an all-powerful God, it doesn’t require any stretch of imagination to think that He can do whatever He wants.
Saying that God intentionally makes it rain here and there is to claim a miracle happens, since you are saying this rain is happening due to a supernatural phenomenon (God’s decision), not due to a natural phenomenon. To prove a miracle, an equally miraculous piece of evidence is needed, and the Quran is that miracle.
Personally I’m disinclined to believe that God would change the readings of a machine just so that His hand would be hidden. It seems more likely that in the things where He intervenes, He will do it so gracefully that no further intervention would be needed to hide Himself. For example, when it comes to weather, His interventions are so subtle that they are all easily explained as “randomness” by scientists. A Muslim scientist can study the weather as a purely natural system, while also believing in God’s power to direct it as He wills, so that they can thank God when a tornado avoids their neighborhood.
Some Muslims and Christians try to re-interpret the relevant verses regarding weather and other phenomena to say that God is merely explaining how the laws of nature work. But I cannot support such interpretations in good conscience, because verse 24:43 in particular seems to claim direct agency. While a Muslim scientist may feel ashamed to admit that rain could ever happen for supernatural reasons, we Muslims aren’t actually asking non-Muslims to believe in it. We fully support scientific explanations, and we will not bother non-Muslims with anything supernatural, since that requires that they believe in God and the Quran in the first place, since they don’t, there is no point in telling them about God’s potential role in undetectably making it rain in certain times and places.
In other words, we fully believe in science. But we also believe that God is its inventor, that science is nothing more than the human effort to find out how God designed the universe, and we believe that God has the power to bypass it when He wants, in a fully undetectable way, because His own laws require that His existence should be undetectable.
An atheist could say this is like saying invisible magical fairies make it rain, and the reply is that yes, it is exactly like saying that. But in our case, we have extraordinary evidence to support our thinking; the Quran, while a person who claims that invisible magical fairies make it rain has no evidence.
Atheists will go on to say that the only reason highly intelligent and educated people believe in the Quran is cultural conditioning, that if we were really, truly intelligent and open-minded, we couldn’t possibly believe in it, that there is some invisible, magical force that is preventing people like me from opening my eyes even after years of exposure to scientific books and enjoying books by atheists. There is no evidence for this, it is an atheist superstition that helps them feel smugly snug in their comfort zones.
Another phenomenon for which God claims direct agency is the forming of the genetic makeup of humans during conception:
It is He who forms you in the wombs as He wills. There is no god except He, the Almighty, the Wise.8
When a father and a mother’s genes unite, there are 64 trillion different possible combinations that could be created. God claims to have a hand in choosing which combination ends up actually taking place. Again, God can claim responsibility for forming our genes in the womb through the three methods mentioned above: Purposeful invention, operating the universe and intervening when He wants. Similar to weather events, the process of genetic recombination is so immensely complex and affected by randomness that God does not need to do anything to hide His hand in the matter, His interventions would be easily explainable as merely randomness, which is as it should be.
Yet another place where God claims direct responsibility for physical phenomena is in His providing sustenance for humans:
Or, who originates the creation and then repeats it, and who gives you livelihood from the sky and the earth? Is there another god with God? Say, “Produce your evidence, if you are truthful.”9
And whosoever fears God, He will create for him a way out. And He will provide him with sustenance from where he does not expect.10
The second verse implies that God has a direct hand in providing sustenance, because He says that if we fear Him, then He will provide. This is a central concept of the God-human relationship, repeated often in the Bible and the Quran,
[Moses said,] "And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed: 'If you give thanks, I will grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.'"11
If God did not intervene directly in the affairs of humans, there would be no way for this contractual relationship to be maintained. If we fear God, God will provide for us. We act, God reacts. For God to react, He has to intervene directly in our universe.12
God, Evolution and Topology
The problem that many of the religious have with evolution is that it seems to claim that the creatures on Earth could have come about regardless of whether God exists or not. They mistakenly think it is a God versus nature problem, and this mistake is also made by atheist scientists on the other end, who think that finding a scientific explanation for natural phenomena disproves God’s role. They do not see that God’s agency and the existence of perfectly explainable natural phenomena are not mutually exclusive.
Topology refers to the physical design of the universe; the physical constants that govern the universe (such as the speed of light), the placement of the galaxies, stars and planets, and the placement of mountains, rivers and oceans on Earth.
Topology is critical to evolution. Very minor differences in the universe’s topology would have made life impossible to exist. And very minor differences in the topology of Earth would have lead to the evolution of extremely different creatures than the ones we have now, and could have made the existence of humans impossible.
This is a fact of evolution that rarely goes examined even by scientists (I say this as someone who has enjoyed numerous books on evolution). Imagine if Earth was entirely an ocean planet, with the bottom of the sea a flat, featureless plain of sand. What type of creatures would evolve on such an Earth?
Ones that would be very different from the ones that we currently have. To begin with, there would be no way for land animals to evolve. The only types of bird that could evolve would be ones that could survive by sleeping on water without being eaten by the fish underneath, if such a thing is possible.
Since the bottom of this imaginary sea is flat and featureless, the type of aquatic life would be far less diverse, because diversity requires differences in conditions, the presence of unique evolutionary niches where an organism can find food and shelter and reproduce. Having an Earth that is exactly the same all the way round would lead to far less biodiversity. Perhaps the number of all species that would evolve on such an Earth would be less than a few thousand, instead of the 8.7 million species we have on Earth.
It might even be impossible for such an earth to support any type of organism beyond microscopic ones.
What this is meant to show is that the design of a planet is crucial to the type of creatures that evolve on it. And if you could design a planet with the right topology, you could create any type of creature you want.
It follows that you can create any living thing you want just by designing the right topology for it to exist.
And perhaps it is for this reason that God says:
Certainly the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of humanity, but most people do not know.13
27. Are you more difficult to create, or the sky? He constructed it. 28. He raised its masses, and proportioned it. 29. And He dimmed its night, and brought out its daylight. 30. And the earth after that He spread. 31. And from it, He produced its water and its pasture. 32. And the mountains, He anchored. 33. A source of enjoyment for you and for your animals.14
God is saying that the fact the He designed our universe’s topology is a greater accomplishment than the fact that He created humans. This would make a lot of sense if the existence of humanity was nothing more than a byproduct of the universe’s topology. When God created the universe, He didn’t merely create a lifeless system of stars and planets. He created a universe in whose topology was embedded the program that would ultimately lead to the existence of 8.7 million species, including humans.
Imagine if Earth lacked mountains and rivers. Could humans or human-like creatures have evolved on such a planet? It is unlikely, perhaps impossible. The design of the planet and the universe in which it exists decides what type of creature can evolve on that planet, meaning that the designer of the universe can be fully credited with the creation of all the creatures that exist inside that universe, if the designer had the creation of those creatures in mind to begin with.
Through the Quran’s consistent references to mountains, rivers, seas and the design of the earth and the sky, God acts as a topological designer explaining His methods. God explains the topological design of the universe in detail, and says that this is of greater importance than the creation of humans, because He is in effect describing the template, the code, that led to the existence of humans.
This universe can be thought of as nothing more or less than a factory for creating and sustaining humans. When God describes the various design elements of the universe, He is explaining His greatness as the designer of such an immensely complex factory that led to the existence of not just one species, but millions, and all done in a way that hides Him from our view.
Reversing Entropy for a Time
How can non-living matter lead to the complex biological machines that exist in all kinds of creatures? Doesn’t this go against the idea of entropy, that the universe continues to break down and become simpler over time?
It is possible if you provide 1. energy sources and 2. complexity-inducing topologies.
Both of these conditions come true on Earth, where energy is available in the form of sunlight, geothermal energy and tides, and where the topology of Earth and the universe in which it is contained create an environment in which life can not only originate, but diversify by finding niche after niche in which it can survive.
The origination of life requires that dead matter somehow join together and increase in complexity. This is somewhat like expecting a bunch of rocks to join together and walk up a hill. The difference is that in the world of atoms and molecules, things join together and increase in complexity all the time. All that’s needed is the right mixture, and usually a source of energy, and from this, extremely complex molecules can evolve. This is a fact of chemistry. The question is just how complex can these natural structures become? Someone who denies abiogenesis (the origination of life from non-living matter) would say that there is no way that the complexity can increase to the degree seen in living things, meaning that life could never evolve from non-living matter.
While someone with sufficient imagination would see that it might be possible given a large enough test chamber, ample building blocks of life, water, energy and hundreds of millions of years, and most importantly, a Designer who put all of these together in just the right way to create life.
Physicists say that if the Big Bang (the explosion of the blob of matter that lead to the creation of our universe) had happened the merest fraction of a second slower or faster, the galaxies couldn’t have formed, and humanity wouldn’t have existed.
To create humanity, what God had to do was get the conditions of the Big Bang right, and 13.8 billion years later human-like creatures came into existence on one of the planets inside the universe created by the Big Bang.
The timescales involved in this, and the amount of intelligent design necessary, make it very difficult for people to imagine this actually taking place, that is, imagining God creating humans in such a complex and roundabout way.
But if you imagine the whole process taking just one second, it becomes easier to believe. Imagine a god who is holding a blob of matter in his hands. He parts his hands, the blob expands with it, and in just that second, you see a planet inside that blob of matter on which certain creatures live. Shouldn’t a god have such power? And can’t such a god claim responsibility for the existence of those creatures, if the nature of the blob of matter and the way he expanded it is all that lead to the existence of those creatures, and if the way he did was perfectly intentional, with the aim of creating those creatures?
Do the disbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were one mass, and We tore them apart? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not believe?15
We constructed the universe with [our] capability, and We are expanding it.16
The Islamic version of intelligent design (the phrase Christians use to refer to God designing humans and other creatures) can therefore be also called topological programming. When you want to create a creature or group of creatures, all that you need to do is design a universe with the right topology. In this topology is programmed the existence of those creatures you want to create, and after millions or billions of years, which, if you are God, could be no length of time at all, those creatures will evolve on the planet or planets of your choice, according to the design you put into the topology you created.
Think of a computer program that lets you design creatures, but instead of letting you design the creatures directly, it asks you to design a universe that would lead to the type of creature you want. On the screen it shows you a box where a picture of the creature would be, but currently it is blank. And it gives you various boxes where you can input various numbers. It asks you for the size of the universe, the speed of its expansion, the external shape of it, and the various physical constants that go into that universe, such as the speed of light. By making the tiniest changes to any of these variables which the program lets you change, the creatures it shows you on the screen change immensely. Get the numbers just right, and you will get humans, among the trillions upon trillions of other possible creatures you could create.
This is what topological programming means; designing universes with the specific aim of seeing creatures originate and evolve upon it after billions of years. A topological programmer is a designer of universes, and that is what the Creator is.
If you think about it, there is no difference between God creating all the creatures on earth by a single command that turns a large puff of smoke into all of them, which is the way our ancestors used to think how creation should work, and creating them by designing and sustaining a universe that would lead to their existence after billions of years. The end result is exactly the same, it is just that the second method is harder for the human brain to understand and appreciate.
In this way there is no clash between Darwin’s theory of evolution and intelligent design (except when it comes to humans, which will be dealt with below). The theory of evolution is merely telling us God’s means of designing creatures, which is far cleverer than anything one would usually imagine.
To design an elephant, God doesn’t need to create an elephant from a puff of smoke. He instead brings a blob of matter and expands it, and billions of years later elephants will exist on a planet or many planets inside that blob of matter. God has the power to create a new universe full of millions of planets all of which are inhabited by elephants, merely by designing a universe with the right topology to lead to such planets and creatures.
Topological programming doesn’t only explain evolution, but the origin of life as well. The same way that God can program evolution into the universe’s topology, He can also program the origination of life into it, and take credit for it.
Muslims mustn’t challenge atheists to create life from scratch, saying that if they do that we will stop believing in God. There is no suggestion in the Quran that artificial life cannot be created, and creating artificial life does not take away from God’s greatness. We are merely copying Him, from inside a universe that He designed and that He sustains.
The following verse seems to suggest that humans cannot create artificial life:
O people! A parable is presented, so listen to it: Those you invoke besides God will never create a fly, even if they banded together for that purpose. And if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it from it. Weak are the pursuer and the pursued. 17
However, this verse can actually be used as an argument for the possibility of humans creating artificial life. The second part of the verse says, “And if the fly steals anything from them, they cannot recover it from it.”
Is it impossible to recover things stolen by flies? As a general rule, it is not impossible to catch flies and take back whatever they have stolen. What the verse is actually saying, which is a point repeated many times throughout the Quran, is that we have no inherent power of our own, that we have zero power over this universe, and that it is ultimately God who operates it. This means that we have no power to recover something a fly steals except when God enables us, by moving the relevant atoms, photons and energy fields for us so that we can carry out our intention of recovering something the fly stole.
By the same reasoning, we have no power to create artificial life, except when God enables us, by maintaining and operating the universe. Both of these things might be possible for us to do, if God makes them possible, and both would be impossible, if God makes them impossible.
In this way, creating artificial life might be as possible as recovering something stolen by a fly.
It is possible that humans will never be able to manufacture life. Perhaps there really is something special about life, and perhaps at some point God had to breathe life into Earth to jump start the process of evolution that would eventually lead to the rest of all of the creatures we see on Earth. We do not know, and it is best that we do not issue definitive statements on matters we know little about.
Personally I lean towards abiogenesis, I believe God is great enough to program the origination of life into the universe’s topology, meaning that He can create a universe that leads to the origination of life without Him having to intervene afterwards to plant life on it. Questioning the possibility of this happening is questioning God’s greatness and creativity. Just because we cannot imagine how we ourselves would accomplish this does not mean that it is impossible for God.
The Rarest Species
Why would God create life in such a roundabout way instead of creating it directly? Because this allows for the creation of the rarest species of all. No, not humans.
God wants His existence to be impossible to prove. He wants there to be the possibility of disbelieving in Him, and that requires that His own hand should be invisible from direct measurement. If you think about it, evolution is just the right way of achieving this. It provides a perfectly scientific explanation for the evolution of all the creatures we see, which makes God unnecessary, which makes it possible to disbelieve in God if we want to.
God wants us to have a choice, and creating life in a way that makes scientific sense is what God wants to do, so that we will not have any knowledge of the Unseen except through His scriptures.
Making it possible for atheists to exist might perhaps be God’s greatest accomplishment in this universe. Who else is there who can create such an immensely complex, well-functioning and logical universe that can lead to the existence of creatures who can doubt the Creator’s existence?
God describes the creation of humans in detail, which causes many Muslims to automatically reject evolution, thinking that evolution goes against the Quran, or that the Quran goes against evolution:
26. We created the human being from clay, from molded mud.
27. And the jinn We created before, from piercing fire.
28. Your Lord said to the angels, “I am creating a human being from clay, from molded mud.”
29. “When I have formed him, and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down prostrating before him.”
30. So the angels prostrated themselves, all together.18
We know that humans share many of their genes with chimpanzees, rats, yeast and even some viruses. So are the above verses false, or is evolution false?
The answer is in the Quran, in this verse:
The likeness of Jesus in God’s sight is that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be,” and he was.19
We know that Jesus, , was a human. Yet the Quran says his creation was similar to that of Adam.
How did God create Jesus? He used some clay to create a human whose genetic code was like any other human, and at a time when other humans were around.
In the same way, God could have created Adam at a time when humans or human-like creatures already existed on earth (and existing, of course, by God’s design, who designed the topology that lead to the existence of such creatures). God took genetic code from these humans, or more likely, God already had the genetic code before the creation of the universe. He embedded that code into the universe’s topology. For example, a minimum number of rivers may be necessary on a planet for humans to exist on it. For humans to evolve on a particular planet, their genetic code has to be translated into topological features of that planet and the universe in which it is contained.
The evolution of humans or human-like creatures on earth, and the creation of Adam from scratch (rather than from another human), are not mutually exclusive. God created Adam from dust, and He created Jesus from dust, and in the first instance, humanoids may have already existed on earth, similar to the second instance.
What, then, was special about Adam? He had free will, while the human-like creatures that had evolved on Earth lacked it, they were merely animals, like Richard Dawkins thinks he is. The fact of God breathing “His spirit” into Adam may have been the critical differentiator that turned Adam into something more than yet another animal, perhaps it is this spirit which gives us free will.
Before Adam, the earth lacked any creature that could be held responsible for its actions. Adam’s introduction into Earth was the start of the existence of responsibility. It is for this reason that the angels complained about Adam being placed on Earth:
“Will You place in it (i.e. on Earth) someone who will cause corruption in it and shed blood, while we declare Your praises and sanctify You?”20
The angels do not like the idea of ruining the fact that Earth was free from all evil, since everything on it (including the humanoids) acted according to instincts placed inside them by God’s topological programming, meaning that everything on it perfectly obeyed God’s design as accurately as the planets do in their orbits.
Bears probably still ate deer, but that was according to God’s design, so it wasn’t an evil thing. Placing Adam on Earth, on the other hand, meant that there would be a creature on Earth who could defy God’s design, in this way creating evil.
The reason humans could do evil on Earth, when no other creature could do it, is that by having free will, they could do “artificial” things, things that did not directly follow from the rules and the wisdom that went into the creation of the universe. They could defy the program embedded in the universe’s topology, in this way bringing about corruption.
Some atheist writers make a great deal of the simple line of reasoning that if the universe is entirely ruled by physical laws, then there would be no place for free will or responsibility, because every action on it would be a derivation of the system itself. In a sealed chamber, if an atom moves faster than another, we do not say it decided to move fast. It moved fast because of the way it interacted with the rest of the atoms (and other forces) present in the sealed chamber. If we think of the whole universe as one big sealed chamber, then naturally, there would be no responsibility or free will, every action and reaction on it would be nothing more than particles and forces interacting. When someone decides to steal something, it is because all the different factors in the universe led them to make that decision at that time, similar to the different factors inside a sealed chamber causing a particular atom to move faster.
They do not realize that there is a big “if” at the beginning of that whole train of thought. The Quran says that humans have free will, therefore there is some special ingredient in humans that makes them an exception to the physical laws, and therefore none of the above actually applies to humans. Based on what evidence? The Quran. Therefore the above line of reasoning is irrelevant and does not prove anything, since it relies on an unproven premise. The question is whether we accept the Quran’s evidence or reject it, if we accept it, then we believe human actions are free-willed, and there is no scientific opposition to this, since there is no scientific proof that free will does not exist. All that atheists have is a line of reasoning that starts with an unproven premise, they believe in the superstition that there is no free will without having any evidence, while we believe in the Quran-and-conscience-backed, but scientifically unproven, fact that there is free will.
The Quran refers to the atheist desire to believe in unproven superstitions that help them disbelieve in God:
That is because when God alone was called upon, you disbelieved; but when others were associated with Him, you believed. Judgment rests with God the Sublime, the Majestic.21
Many irreligious people somewhat admit the truth of free will by acting as if human creations are artificial, while saying animal creations are not. They say that it is a bad thing if a city expands and destroys the uninhabited ecology in which various animals exist. But if we are simply yet another species, our destruction of the habitat of other creatures is as natural as the destruction of habitats that has gone on for millions of years as one species acquired mutations that enabled it to destroy other species, and as natural processes turned forests into deserts.
Why should our actions be artificial and the actions of animals natural? Why should humans not act greedily and destructively when animals can do it?
The reason why human creations are artificial, rather than natural, is because our free spirit is not controlled by the universe’s topological programming (by the laws God laid down for the universe), rather, we can defy it and do as we please. This makes us responsible for our actions, and it makes our creations artificial. Human creations are artificial because we are from outside this universe. We are only here for a short time. Once humanoids were given free will, from then on they stopped being partakers in nature, equal to other animals, and became something more, something that could sidestep nature, sidestep their own genetic programming, to do new things, sometimes good, sometimes evil.
Some will use the evidence-free theory of emergence to say that a piece of biological tissue (the brain) can acquire self-awareness and responsibility, and in this way do things that are artificial, that are not mere derivations of the system’s design and function. There is no proof for this, therefore it cannot be used to prove any point.
There is much debate on what consciousness is, what this thing is behind our eyes that enables us to think about thinking, to philosophize, to choose and be responsible for our choices. Consciousness is probably nothing more or less than our God-given spirit experiencing life inside a human body. This means that even if we manage to create life, it will probably be impossible to create a free-willed creature from scratch, since unlike God, we cannot breath a spirit into something to make it self-aware. This seems like a power that only God has.
We do not know the exact moment in the history of Earth that Adam was placed on it. It is possible that it was in the past 10,000 years, or it could have been 100,000 years ago. We do not know how Adam interacted with the existing humanoids, whether there was any interbreeding.
Even if Adam and his children (humanity) share genes with various humanoid creatures that have existed, that doesn’t mean we are directly descended from them, just that God used some of their genetic code to create Adam, the same way He used the genetic code of existing humans to create Jesus from dust.
God probably already had the full genetic code of humans before the creation of the universe, and it is for this reason that He can take full credit for the creation of humans (and all other creatures) despite the fact that they evolved naturally. This universe is simply a seemingly automated factory that follows a program placed inside it (embedded in its topological features) by God that is designed to lead to the origination of life and ultimately humanoids. Therefore it is not that God “took” genetic code from other humanoids to place them in Adam. He already had all of the genetic code to begin with, even before the universe was created. He placed some of the code in those humanoids indirectly (using evolution), and some in Adam directly. The code in both cases comes from God’s “library”, so to speak, one travels indirectly, hiding in the universe’s topology until, after billions of years, it is brought to life through evolution, and one travels directly, with God creating Adam from dust based on that code.
It is a case of starting with the recipe and building a massive universe in which the recipe can come into existence, without leaving any trace of one’s direct involvement in the process. God did not have to come look on Earth 10,000 or however many years ago to find genetic code to use for Adam. The code was already in His library.
The Self-Destructive Fight Against Science
Religious people, both Christian and Muslim, have done a great deal of work to discredit religion in their short-sighted and badly advised defense of it. The Christian speaker Bill O’Reilly has been the laughing stock of the internet multiple times in his ridiculous statements in support of religion.
O’Reilly makes the same mistake that many Muslims make. He supports atheists by making the exact same mistake they make; he thinks that once a natural phenomenon has been explained by science, it automatically proves God’s involvement false.
You can’t come up with a better weapon to hand to atheists to help them win their war on religion. By buying into their way of thinking, religious people enter an arena where they are guaranteed to be crushed over and over again by scientific findings.
The scientific functioning of our universe is a principle of the Quran. God’s existence must be impossible to prove, therefore there must always be scientific reasons that explain things without a need for God.
The world of the Unseen, the supernatural, is by God’s design beyond human knowledge or measurement. Everything we see around us must have a logical explanation, or seem to, or there should be the hope of finding a logical explanation for it one day. There should never be anything provably supernatural.
Provable miracles must never happen, because a miracle, by definition, is a sign of God’s direct involvement in our universe, which means it is a direct measurement of God, which means it is hard evidence for God’s existence. God, as He repeats over and over again in the Quran, intends to hide Himself from us until the end of the world, when clear signs of His existence will be shown to us:
Do they mean to wait until the angels come to them, or for your Lord to arrive, or for some of your Lord’s signs to come? On the Day when some of your Lord’s signs come, no soul will benefit from its faith unless it had believed previously, or had earned goodness through its faith. Say, “Wait, we too are waiting.” 22
Atheists say they want to wait for hard evidence for God’s existence before they believe in the fairy tales present in scripture. The Quran tells religious people to say the same thing, that we too are waiting. The above verse can be considered a pointer to the proper religious mindset toward science. We too acknowledge, with atheists, that there is no hard evidence for God’s existence. They say they will wait for hard evidence before believing, we say we believe in scripture and wait for hard evidence, and for this humble submission and patient waiting for proof, we will be rewarded.
The mistake they make is that they reject the possibility that scripture might be true, that what their consciences tell them might be true, that there is a God and that there is a purpose built into this universe, while we do not neglect our consciences and read scripture with an open heart, until the soft evidence of it proves to us that faith is better than disbelief, while acknowledging that we would never have direct proof for our beliefs until the Day of Judgment.
There is no shame in admitting that God’s existence is impossible to prove. That is what the Quran teaches. If God’s existence was possible to prove (with hard evidence), that would make faith unnecessary, and that would turn this world into a farce.
There is certainly ample proof in this universe and in the Quran for any fair-minded person to be guided to God, as the Quran says:
In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the ships that sail the oceans for the benefit of mankind; in the water that God sends down from the sky, and revives the earth with it after it had died, and scatters in it all kinds of creatures; in the changing of the winds, and the clouds disposed between the sky and the earth; are signs for people who understand.23
But these signs are not hard evidence, in that it is always necessary for the conscience to be involved before the evidence is accepted. Rational thought is not sufficient by itself.
One can argue that there is nothing besides rational thought to think with. Religion says that there is also the conscience, a power that probably comes with the unproven spirit of God that’s inside all of us, and which was given to us through Adam. This is the part of a human that is involved in faith, involved in making the final judgment to believe in God and obey His commandments without having direct proof of His existence. The recognition of the soft evidence in scripture and the universe’s design is sufficient to prove the existence of God, even if our rational brains continue to recognize that there is room for doubt and disbelief.
A Clarification on Kufr (Disbelief / Infidelity) and God’s Justice
In Islam, merely not believing in God doesn’t necessarily mean one will go into the Hellfire. The Quran’s word for someone who deserves eternal punishment is kafir. Misinterpretation and misunderstanding of this word among Muslims and non-Muslims has led to a great deal of confusion, and has turned many away from religion.
Kafir comes from kufr, which literally means “one who conceals”. For this reason kafir is actually also used to mean “farmer”, because a farmer covers up seeds with soil. A kafir is the evil mirror image of a faithful person; one who has seen the soft evidence for God’s existence and has accepted it in their heart, but who intentionally rejects this faith out of arrogance and desire. A kafir is someone who acquires faith and then disbelieves:
On the Day when some faces will be whitened, and some faces will be blackened. As for those whose faces are blackened: “Did you disbelieve after your belief?” Then taste the punishment for having disbelieved. 24
That’s what a kafir, a disbeliever, is. Someone who acquires faith but intentionally rejects it. In Islam, people who do not believe in God, or who believe in the wrong god because they do not know any better, are not automatically disbelievers. The Quran says:
God does not hold a soul responsible except for what is in its power.25
God does not hold a soul responsible except for that which He has already given it. 26
Therefore a person who never has a chance to believe in God, for example because they have only seen negative things about religion and have never had it clearly explained to them, will not be held responsible for not believing in God.
There is some disagreement among theologians on this matter. Some say that humans are endowed with sufficient capacity to believe in God even without scripture. While we cannot rule this out, I find it questionable, although I cannot think of any definite proof either way. It seems possible that perfectly good and kind people can be driven away from religion due to particular circumstances, or simply because they never learn enough about God to believe in Him, but again, we cannot make any definitive statements about what goes in inside people’s hearts throughout their long lifetimes.
Ultimately, what matters is that God is just. Many irreligious folk say that it is unjust for someone to be punished if they truly do not have sufficient knowledge to believe in God, and use this to say that religion is unjust. But religion says the same thing these people say. God is just and He will not needlessly punish anyone. God will not do anything unjust, therefore if we ever think or imagine that something He does is unjust, then we have thought wrongly about Him, and have not appreciated His kindness, generosity and justice. It is utter madness to think that the One who created humans, with all of their complexity and sensitivity, should be less just and sensitive than humans.
The God of the Old Testament is certainly that way, because of the corruptions that the rabbis introduced into the book. The God of the Quran is not. I have not found a single unjust thing in the Quran despite all of the times I have read it.
Conclusion: Time to Join in Origin of Life Research
It is time for Muslim individuals, organizations and nations to proudly adopt the theories of evolution and abiogenesis as nothing more than new fields of the sciences. The same way that we do not fight the atmospheric sciences even if they explain how rain happens, we must not fight the science of evolution just because it explains how creatures are made.
We must abandon the centuries-old superstition that discovering rational explanations for natural phenomena proves that God is not involved with them. We must eagerly endorse the effort to find out explanations for all phenomena, explanations that completely take God out of the picture, because we and the atheists have the same beliefs when it comes to this. We both believe that there can never be anything supernatural that can be measured, meaning that when doing science, we and atheists have everything in common, seeking to find rational and logical explanations for everything around us.
It is foolishness to attack a scientist for explaining how it rains, and similarly, it is foolishness to attack a scientist for explaining how creatures come into existence. In both cases, scientists try to find out how God designs and operates the universe.
- The Quran, verse 30:48.
- The Quran, verse 7:57.
- The Quran, verse 24:43.
- The Quran, verse 6:158.
- Some academics mock the Islamic Paradise, acting as if there is something wrong with God providing a person with all the physical enjoyment they could possibly desire. God says that in Paradise is everything we could possibly desire, and peace, and freedom, and the presence of loved ones. In effect, all the infrastructure for a pleasurable life are provided in Paradise. But the world doesn’t end there. People would be free to go beyond these to do what they wish. For one thing, since they have eternity, they can read every single good book ever written. And since there would be billions upon billions of people in Paradise, there would be good new books coming out every day. Paradise will be like enjoying a good and healthy middle class or upper class existence in one of the world’s better cities. Personally I look forward to playing a city simulator video game like Banished that doesn’t become unplayably slow after you get to a few thousand citizens, and having resealable plastic bags that reseal properly.
- The Quran, verse 2:210.
- Mufradaat al-Qur'aan by al-Faraahhi (d. 1930 CE), entry for "ayah".
- The Quran, verse 3:6.
- The Quran, verse 27:64.
- The Quran, from the verses 65:2-3.
- The Quran, verse 14:7.
- Unless one believes that everything a human thinks and does is already known and written somewhere, so that God never has to react, since He already knows every single thing that humans will ever do, meaning that He could have programmed His reactions into the system right from its initiation. This is an unproven theological theory which I will deal with in another essay.
- The Quran, verse 40:57.
- The Quran, verses 79:27-33.
- The Quran, verse 21:30.
- The Quran, verse 51:47.
- The Quran, verse 22:73.
- The Quran, verses 15:26-30.
- The Quran, verse 3:59.
- From verse 2:30 of the Quran.
- The Quran, verse 40:12.
- The Quran, verse 6:158.
- The Quran, verse 2:164.
- The Quran, verse 3:106.
- The Quran, verse 2:286.
- The Quran, verse 65:7.