An untold story in biology: the historical continuity of evolutionary ideas of Muslim scholars from the 8th century to Darwin’s time

Source: Taylor Francis Online

By Aamina H. Malik, Janine M. Ziermann & Rui Diogo


Textbooks on the history of biology and evolutionary thought do not mention the evolutionary ideas of Muslim scholars before Darwin’s time. This is part of a trend in the West to minimise the contributions of non-Western scientists to biology, human anatomy and evolutionary biology. Therefore, this paper focuses on the contributions of pre-Darwinian Muslim scholars to the history of evolutionary thought. Our review of texts from a wide range of historical times, and written in various languages, reveals that there were in fact several Muslim scholars who postulated evolutionary ideas, some with remarkable similarities to Darwin’s theory. These ideas included the adaptation and survival of the fittest, a specific origin of humans from apes/monkeys, the notion of evolutionary constraints, the occurrence of extinctions within taxa and hereditary variability. Moreover, while both the scientific community and the broader public generally base their knowledge on Western textbooks, several parts of the Muslim world have indicated an overall rejection of biological–including human–evolution. Therefore, to improve historical accuracy and create a better understanding of scientific history, the world’s diverse civilisations and their philosophies, this untold story should be widely disseminated to the scientific community and the general public.

Keywords: Evolutionary thought, Arabic texts, Persian texts, Islamic Golden Age, history of science, scientific biases


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