Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
The National Museum of Natural History, located on the National Mall just across from the Smithsonian castle, is America’s most visited museum for good reason, it has an elephant in the room. Its 126 million specimens and cultural artifacts are a treasure trove for anyone interested in nature, science or anthropology, and kids absolutely love the place. The visitors begin their visit in the domed rotunda marveling at the museum’s official greeter — an 8-ton African elephant named Henry.
These 126 million specimens and cultural artifacts in the Smithsonian museum and many more in other museums of natural history, are a strong reason for the open minded, to look at achievements of Charles Darwin with respect, if not awe.
The proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ for the two billion Christians and a billion and a half Muslims is, what bearing the theory of Charles Darwin has on their religion, how they understand the central tenets of their religion and how they interpret their respective scriptures.
On cursory evaluation, it is easy to find many a Christian and many a Muslim, denying the theory and many of the facts of evolution. One may think that both religions are equally challenged by the new discoveries in various fields of biology.
But, if Charles Darwin be true, in linking all life forms to each other, it turns out to be an epiphany for the Muslims, but, a catastrophe for the Christians.
In the words of Sir Francis Bacon’s advice, please, “Read not to contradict … but to weigh and consider.”
One may actually find more learned Christians accepting the theory of evolution than well informed Muslims, who understand the merits of the theory of evolution.
As a matter of fact, Pope John Paul II acknowledged the truth of Darwinian evolution in 1996 and for a two third majority of the Catholic Christians, the conflict between evolution and their religion was apparently resolved. But not so fast! As you will see in this article this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end of the real conflict, it is only the beginning of the final end of the Christian dogma.
I believe that the theory of evolution should be understood as three different issues. Firstly, the common ancestry of all animals and plants, secondly, the mechanisms for evolution and thirdly whether evolution is completely blind or guided in some sense. The truth of some facts in evolution do not imply the truth of every thing under the umbrella of evolution.
Many a “Muslim Scholars,” offer superficial explanations to their devout and naive followers, like saying that Darwin’s formulation is only a “theory,” not a “fact,” whereas whatever the Holy Quran says about human beings is a “fact.”
So, first of all, let me lay a few undeniable facts about common lineage of all life forms on our planet earth from molecular biology.
Encyclopedia Britannica states on this issue:
The field of molecular biology provides the most detailed and convincing evidence available for biological evolution. In its unveiling of the nature of DNA and the workings of organisms at the level of enzymes and other protein molecules, it has shown that these molecules hold information about an organism’s ancestry. This has made it possible to reconstruct evolutionary events that were previously unknown and to confirm and adjust the view of events already known. The precision with which these events can be reconstructed is one reason the evidence from molecular biology is so compelling. Another reason is that molecular evolution has shown all living organisms, from bacteria to humans, to be related by descent from common ancestors.
A remarkable uniformity exists in the molecular components of organisms—in the nature of the components as well as in the ways in which they are assembled and used. In all bacteria, plants, animals, and humans, the DNA comprises a different sequence of the same four component nucleotides, and all the various proteins are synthesized from different combinations and sequences of the same 20 amino acids, although several hundred other amino acids do exist.
Please watch a short video before reading ahead:
Now that we have learnt some details about molecular biology, let us review a few words about the Christian theology.
According to a Christian theological doctrine, Original Sin, also called ancestral sin, is humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.
The concept of Original Sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine, seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.8] Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that humanity shares in Adam’s sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine’s formulation of Original Sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence, affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom.
If all humans inhabiting the planet earth today are not direct descendants of Adam and Eve, who lived approximately 6000 years ago, then suddenly the very basic doctrines of Christianity, Original Sin and vicarious Atonement, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, change into fiction. All of us do not have the genes of “Original Sin” and are not in need of Jesus’ atonement.
According to the theory of evolution humans have existed for at least more than 150,000 years, in other words Adam and Eve, who were merely 6000 years ago, are not the great grand parents of all the humans inhabiting planet earth today.
I had originally written about this issue, in the Religion and Science section of the Summer 2008 volume of Muslim Sunrise, the oldest Muslim publication of North America, in an article titled, Original Sin.
Neanderthals went extinct no earlier than about 33,000 years ago, and probably more recently than that. No Neanderthal fossils more recent than 30,000 years ago have been found; among the most recent are those found in the Vindija Cave in Croatia, which are between 33,000 and 32,000 years old. However, evidence at a site in Gibraltar suggestive of fire use by Neanderthals raises the possibility that they might have survived there until as recently as 24,000 years ago. Cro-Magnon (early-modern-human) skeletal remains showing certain “Neanderthal traits” have been found in Lagar Velho (Portugal) and dated to 24,500 years ago, suggesting that there was an extensive admixture of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal populations in that region.
Here is a documentary from Nova regarding Neanderthals, which you can watch at your leisure:
Even if the sin of Adam and Eve was passed onto their off springs, it has no bearing for all of humanity as we do not all come from them. Many of us are coming from Neanderthals and other proto-human species, without Adam and Eve of 6000 years ago being part of our genealogy.
If humans have come from apes and Neanderthals, Christianity dies a sudden death and Islam only has to reinterpret some of the verses of the Holy Quran, which were not well understood by the past commentators, given the constraints of their times, no fault of the All-Knowing God.
Adam and Eve being the first human couple, is not a pillar of Islamic faith, by any stretch of imagination. But, it is an essential for the Christian faith.
In this sense, Charles Darwin, was God-sent to guide people away from the Christian dogma, to rationality and the Truth and show the Muslims that you have no choice but to read the Quran and interpret it in the light of modern science, where ever the scientific method has given us useful insights. We, as Muslims, will need to reinterpret the Adam and Eve story, which is mentioned several times in the holy Quran, metaphorically rather than literally as almost all the past scholars have done.
If you are a staunch Christian and I am not making good sense to you, then may be, just may be, you are strongly indoctrinated in the Christian dogma. You may need to work a little harder on the issues and do some more reading. May I take the liberty, to suggest to you a book, by the Founder President of Cornell University, one of the top eight universities in USA, Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918), A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published in 1896. It is available in Archive.org.
By this presentation, I believe, I have brought the weight of the whole field of biology, of all the natural history museums in the world, to bear on the dogma of Christianity, not on the message of compassion and One God, brought by Jesus, may peace be on him, but on the Pauline version of Christianity, which drifted away from the original message.
Reference of my original article about Original Sin from 2008: Muslim Sunrise 2008 summer volume
Additional readings to consolidate the above claims
— Zia H Shah (@ZiahShah1) September 2, 2015