Does Islam confirm or deny the scientific theory of evolution?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Islam encourages the use of reason and observing the creation as a means to promote the welfare of humanity and earth’s creatures. As such, any sound scientific discoveries that achieve these goals are accepted within Islam.
However, due to the controversial nature of evolution, it is important to distinguish between what Muslims must accept as matters of religion and what can be accepted as matters of science.
Islam teaches us that Allah created Adam and Eve in a miraculous event, and from them both the human race has descended.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً
O mankind, fear your Lord who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women.
Surah An-Nisa 4:1
This is an essential belief for Muslims as it confirms the oneness of humanity and eliminates all forms of racism. The knowledge of this miraculous event comes to us through revelation and cannot be subject to scientific inquiry. Therefore, science cannot confirm or deny it.
Sheikh Abdul Wahhab Al-Turayri writes:
The direct creation of Adam, peace be upon him, can neither be confirmed nor denied by science in any way. This is because the creation of Adam was a unique and singular historical event. It is a matter of the Unseen and something that science does not have the power to confirm or deny. As a matter of the Unseen, we believe it because Allah informs us about it. We say the same for the miracles mentioned in the Quran. Miraculous events, by their very nature, do not conform to scientific laws and their occurrence can neither be confirmed nor denied by science.
The theory of evolution does not disprove the existence of the Creator. It merely proposes an explanation for the variety of different species based upon observations in nature. Charles Darwin entitled his book On the Origin of Species and not the origin of life, because his theory does not attempt to explain how life originated or was created. In fact, the existence of a mechanism at work in the development of life is actually further evidence that the Creator initiated the creation according to His design.
Muslims can accept the theory that organisms may change over many generations. We know that Allah is the Lord (Ar-Rabb) which means that He rears and brings His creation into maturity (tarbiyyah).
لَتَرْكَبُنَّ طَبَقًا عَن طَبَقٍ
You will surely travel from stage to stage.
Surah Al-Inshiqaq 84:19
This verse refers to the many states of being a human experiences in his or her life: birth, childhood, adulthood, old age, health, sickness, prosperity, poverty, knowledge, ignorance, etc. But there is no theological reason to think that species do not similarly change into different states over many generations. In fact, Allah informs us that He has created many things we do not know about.
وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
He creates what you do not know.
Surah An-Nahl 16:8
We will continue to learn more and more about the creation and such discoveries in no way contradict our faith in Allah.
Unlike some creationists, Islam does not require us to believe in the “fixity” of species or the idea that life forms today are exactly as they were at the beginning of creation. It is not necessary for Muslims to affirm a strict timeline of creation, unlike some Christians who adhere to the belief that the earth is 6,000 years old. No such timeline is mentioned in the Quran or authentic traditions.
However, what Muslims cannot accept is the denial of the unity of humanity through Adam and Eve. Some evolutionary theorists believe humanity evolved from one or a number of lower species and this, along with denying the revelation from the Creator, has dangerous philosophical implications.
First, it leads to racism and the belief that some races are more “evolved” than others, such as the claims of those in the extremist eugenics movement. Islam opposes all forms of racism and upholds the dignity of all people.
Second, it leads to the philosophy of Social Darwinism which encourages the “strong” classes in society to eradicate the “weak” classes. Islam encourages care and protection for the weak and vulnerable in society.
وَيُطْعِمُونَ الطَّعَامَ عَلَىٰ حُبِّهِ مِسْكِينًا وَيَتِيمًا وَأَسِيرًا
They give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive.
Surah Al-Insan 76:8
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أُحَرِّجُ حَقَّ الضَّعِيفَيْنِ الْيَتِيمِ وَالْمَرْأَةِ
O Allah, I have issued a warning concerning the rights of two weak groups: orphans and women.
Source: Sunan Ibn Majah 3678, Grade: Sahih
The philosophy of Social Darwinism and related atheistic philosophies are the most threatening consequences of the theory of evolution, rather than any scientific ideas by themselves. Even so, such philosophies misuse science by interpreting natural selection as a concrete prescription for society rather than a theoretical description of history.
We should understand that evolution is a matter of science that is limited to experimental observation. It cannot prove or disprove matters of the unseen that have been revealed to us by the prophets. Due to the limitations of science, biologists have not agreed upon the details of evolution and they propose competing theories, new evidence emerges, and the general theory is constantly being revised. In this sense, evolution will always remain a “theory,” that is an idea that attempts to explain observable facts, rather than being a concrete fact itself, since we are limited to studying and interpreting fossil records. These evolutionary theories do not contradict Islamic beliefs as long as we avoid erroneous interpretations and philosophies derived from them.
Sheikh Abdul Wahhab Al-Turayri writes:
The question of evolution remains purely a matter of scientific inquiry. The theory of evolution must stand or fall on its own scientific merits, and that means the physical evidence that either confirms the theory or conflicts with it. The role of science is only to observe and describe the patterns that Allah places in His creation. If scientific observation shows a pattern in the evolution of species over time that can be described as natural selection, this is not in itself unbelief. It is only unbelief for a person to think that this evolution took place on its own, and not as a creation of Allah. A Muslim who accepts evolution or natural selection as a valid scientific theory must know that the theory is merely an explanation of one of the many observed patterns in Allah’s creation.
Therefore, Muslims can and should accept the validity of sound scientific knowledge, including the theory of evolution, but we cannot accept any interpretation of science that contradicts the theological and spiritual truths we have received from revelation.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.