In this piece, the otherwise well respected Usama Hasan, founder of the City Circle, argues that Muslims should move on from their “children's madrasa-level understanding” of creation and wholeheartedly adopt the evolutionary theory that man evolved from apes. He believes that there is no conflict between the Quran’s version of creation and this controversial and oft-contested part of the evolutionary theory. He also says that an obstacle in making this theory palatable to the Muslim community, is the publications produced by 'fundamentalist' Muslims like Harun Yahya. Fundamentalist? Why the use of this loaded term? At most, the likes of Usama Hassan can only claim that Harun Yahya's engagement with the scientific discourse was simplistic and unsuccessful at forwarding a case against the theory of evolution. He is hardly worthy of the 'extremist' label so easily metted out these days.
As a Muslim, I don’t see any conflict between science and my Islamic faith, and in this I agree with Usama's objective of reconciling the two. In particular, evolution in its general sense is not problematic for Muslims to accept. However, the contention is that of macro evolution, that species evolved from altogether different species, and that man evolved from Apes. With respect to the somewhat pompous tone of the piece, I felt it was unfounded. Dawkins is hardly the most respected scientist even though he may be amongst the most famous. Not all scientists accept that there is undeniable conclusive evidence for the evolutionary theory.
David Raup of the Field Museum of Natural History said
"We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time".
(Raup D.M., "Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, Field Museum of Natural History: Chicago IL, January 1979, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp.22-29, pp.24-25)
Further muddying the waters on this issue is Richard Dawkins’ very own evolutionist disciple at Oxford University, Mark Ridley, who writes:
" However, the gradual change of fossil species has never been part of the evidence for evolution. In the chapters on the fossil record in the Origin of Species Darwin showed that the record was useless for testing between evolution and special creation because it has great gaps in it. The same argument still applies. ... In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation".
Mark Ridley (zoologist, Oxford University), Who doubts evolution? New Scientist, 90:830–1, 25 June 1981
There is also dispute internally amongst scientists about the theory itself. The late Professor S J Gould, from Harvard University, argued that the degree of gradualism championed by Charles Darwin was virtually nonexistent in the fossil record, and that stasis dominates the history of most fossil species. He proposed Punctuated equilibrium, morphological stability and rare bursts of evolutionary change as an alternative.
According to John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler in the book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. If man did evolve from apes, J.D. Barrow and F.J Tipler suggest that there would have to be ten steps in this evolution of Homosapiens. However, the process would take so long that before the process could even come close to what we look like now, the Sun would have disintegrated. Also, they calculated the odds of assembling a single gene are between and 4-180 to 4-360. The implications of this are that there simply has not been sufficient time since the formation of the earth to try a number of nucleotide base combinations that can even remotely compare to these numbers.
Given these few examples, of which many more exist, to present the case for macro evolution as a closed case is rather disingenuous on the part of Usama Hasan.
A consistent quranic evolutionary model has to incorporate the information Allah provides us, namely that Adam was made from clay and that Allah breathed into him his spirit to make him into man. One could argue that when Allah mentions these facts, he is condensing the whole evolutionary process within the verse, i.e. mentioning the start of the evolutionary stage and the end. This then leaves open the possibility of accepting the verses mentioned about creation and the contention that man evolved from apes, as both being true. For example, the clay mentioned could be the substance that brought about simple organisms, then after many years of random mutation and natural selection, apes evolved and further evolution produced homo sapiens. Then, at this evolutionary stage, Allah breathed his spirit creating the final article Adam, the first man as we know it.
However when we explore further evidences closely, we find that there are problems with this model. If we look at the verses
15:28 And lo! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to create mortal man out of sounding clay, out of dark slime transmuted.
15:29 and when I have formed him fully and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down before him in prostration!
I find it hard to conceive that when Allah says “Behold, I am about to create mortal man out of sounding clay...” to the Angels and Iblis, that at this moment, the entire evolutionary process started for man. The verse itself suggests that the events are happening sequentially.
A further indication is given by Allah about the process in which he created man, in the verse
55:14 He created man from sounding clay like unto pottery.
Allah provides an analogy of pottery so that we can grasp the idea in question. To inject now the theory of evolution for mankind would seem rather contrived.
Usama criticises the idea that God created Adam from clay, much as a potter makes a statue, and then breathed into him to make him a living human. Problem he is that this is not some baseless view; it is described in the Quran. Either Usama rejects the inerrancy of the Quran or he rejects the idea that man evolved from common ancestry or he has the bigger task of finding good reasons to interpret the texts concerning creation in allegorical form. Its not enough to just sideline those verses. He has to put forward an argument to support the verses pertaining to creation.
I’m all for Muslims engaging with scientific discourse and developing arguments to reconcile alleged scientific theory with Quranic verses, but the arguments need to hold their ground not only with the editor of the Guardian, but also within the Muslim community whose traditions Usama is meant to be drawing on. It is evidence of either an uninformed individual, or a defeated mentality, that Usama chose to focus on the opinion of polemical scientist Dawkins, rather than address the real wealth of theist and non-theist scientists, from top institutions, who find fault with macro-evolution. To lambast the Muslim community with anything else is to add to the confusion, not clarify it.