Source: Muslim Sunrise, September, 2014
By Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
To grasp the paramount importance of the issue, ‘Natural Selection or Divine Choice,’ we need to review Gallup polls on this issue, in USA, for the last three decades.
The graph below describes three groups in USA, with different shades of green and how they have varied in percentage of population, since 1982 till date. To appreciate the article better, you can choose to place yourself in one of these groups, if you so will. I will call these groups: Guided Evolution, Blind Evolution and Creationism:
The percentage of Americans, who take the Biblical account literally and believe that God created humans in the present form or Creationism, has remained constant in a narrow range, 40-47%, between 1982-2014.[i] Those Americans who are comfortable with atheistic point of view or Blind Evolution has increased in the last 3 decades from nine to nineteen percent.
The third camp that believes that God created through the process of evolution has ranged between 31-38%. This is the camp of Guided Evolution, where I belong and will explain this view from Islamic perspective, in this article.
These three camps exist in all regions and all religions, even though the proportions would differ. We can find these same groups among those coming from the Muslim tradition, even though I would guess that those agreeing with Blind Evolution would be in smaller numbers. But, certainly there are many among Muslims, who deny evolution completely, uphold Creationism and suggest a creationism story for Adam and Eve.
I have not known any religious person deny science of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Boyle or Robert Hooke. But, many feel comfortable in denying the discoveries of Charles Darwin and other biologists, who have followed him. How can otherwise rational and good people be so discriminatory between different scientists?
Human memory leads to the illusion-of-truth effect, meaning that we are more likely to rate those statements true that we are familiar with, regardless of their veracity. As such familiarity impairs judgment and prevents people from noticing let alone accepting the obvious limitations in their views.
Familiar seems true and unfamiliar, however logical and rational, seems fictional. The believers have all read the story of Adam and Eve in their scripture. The believers read the story literally, regardless of God’s intent and hence their hostility towards all things evolution and Charles Darwin.I will explain my position about Guided Evolution through explaining three concepts, naturalism, God of the gaps and Quantum indeterminacy or physics.
Naturalism and Al-Baatin God
The success of scientific enterprise in the last few centuries has shown humanity the power of trying to understand nature in a consistent and reproducible manner, excluding belief in supernatural, in likes of jinns and demons. Encyclopedia Britannica describes naturalism as:
Naturalism, in philosophy, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation. Although naturalism denies the existence of truly supernatural realities, it makes allowance for the supernatural, provided that knowledge of it can be had indirectly—that is, that natural objects be influenced by the so-called supernatural entities in a detectable way.
Naturalism presumes that nature is in principle completely knowable. There is in nature a regularity, unity, and wholeness that implies objective laws, without which the pursuit of scientific knowledge would be absurd. Man’s endless search for concrete proofs of his beliefs is seen as a confirmation of naturalistic methodology. Naturalists point out that even when one scientific theory is abandoned in favour of another, man does not despair of knowing nature, nor does he repudiate the “natural method” in his search for truth. Theories change; methodology does not.[ii]
Despite prevailing naturalism in science, the believing Christians have traditionally understood miracles to be violation of the natural law, as such they have much to fear from naturalism. For details of Christian vulnerability on this issue, read one of my previous article, in Alislam-eGazette, which was a commentary on a BBC documentary and is titled, A BBC Four Documentary: Is God Dead? (Metaphysics, Religion and Science).[iii] The Muslims, especially those belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have no such fear of naturalism, as we believe miracles to be within the scope of Natural Laws.
Nevertheless, I am not suggesting to embrace naturalism in its totality, as sometimes it even implies a negation of a Transcendent God or any revelation from Him. For example Wikipedia has to say:
Naturalism is ‘the idea or belief that only laws of nature (physical law) (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) and forces operate in the world; the idea or belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world.’ Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws.
Naturalism can intuitively be separated into a [metaphysical] and a methodological component.’ Metaphysical here refers to the philosophical study of the nature of reality. Some philosophers equate naturalism with materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no ‘purpose’ in nature. Such an absolute belief in naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism.
In contrast, assuming naturalism in working methods, without necessarily considering naturalism as an absolute truth with philosophical entailments, is called methodological naturalism. The subject matter here is a philosophy of acquiring knowledge.[iv]
I, like many other Muslims, am all for methodological naturalism, as God of Islam is Al-Baatin or hidden and we can never catch His hand or hands working in our material world, as He is not material and He is subtle and He has Himself told us:
He is the First and the Last, and the Manifest and the Hidden (Al Baatin), and He knows all things full well. (Al Quran 57:4)
Eyes cannot reach Him but He reaches the eyes. And He is the Incomprehensible, the All-Aware. (Al Quran 6:104)
And assuredly, We have created man and We know what his physical self whispers to him, and We are nearer to him than even his jugular vein. (Al Quran 50:17)
But, I do not believe in metaphysical naturalism, as I believe in some things, which are beyond the realm of the natural. Whereas, I do not believe in Jinns, demons and ghosts, I do believe in certain things that are not material and not explained by strict materialism. The Quran in countless places describes the Transcendent God, His creation of the universe and His continued Providence, His revelation to humans in dreams and otherwise, human conscience, human soul and our free will.
God of the gaps
God of the gaps is a theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence. The term was invented by Christian theologians not to discredit theism but rather to point out the fallacy of relying on teleological arguments for God’s existence. Some use the phrase to refer to a form of the argument from ignorance fallacy.
The concept, although not the exact wording, goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th-century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on The Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science cannot yet explain—”gaps which they will fill up with God”—and urges them to embrace all nature as God’s, as the work of “… an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.”[v] [vi]
We, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has no use for pushing and promoting God of the gaps, to enhance our theology, as the Founder of our community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote:
If God has created the universe, then one can be certain that in keeping with His infinite entity, He would have left innumerable ways to influence the universe so that His divinity is not suspended in any way at any time.[vii][viii]
In other words God influences our world through natural means only.
The question arises, what are those natural means within the Natural Law that provide for Providence of God, through which God could influence our material world. This leads to my next subject of Quantum physics.
Quantum indeterminacy or physics
It is said that Pierre Simon Laplace had presented Napoleon with a copy of his work, who had heard that the book contained no mention of God. Napoleon, who was fond of imposing embarrassment, received it with the remark, “Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace is said to have replied, “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.” And so it goes. The apparent so called self-sufficiency of our physical universe has caused many a scientist, since Laplace to move away from the idea of a Creator of the universe or the God Hypothesis.
Given his complete confidence in both methodological and metaphysical naturalism, Laplace claimed:
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.[ix]
Despite Laplace tall claims, in the three great Monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, God is viewed as a supreme, transcendent being, beyond matter space and time, and yet the foundation of all that meets our senses that is described in terms of matter, space, and time. That is the Al Baatin or the Hidden God of Monotheism. Furthermore, this God is not the god of deism, who created the world and then left it alone, or the god of pantheism, who is equated with all of existence. The Islamic and the Judeo-Christian God is a nanosecond-by-nanosecond participant in each event that takes place in every cubic nanometer of the universe. He has full knowledge of all things. God listens to every thought and participates in each action of his very special creation.
Quantum physics was a missing piece of information in physics that took away hard determinism and restored free will and Divine Providence. It became an interface between the material and the immaterial, the profane and the sacred, the tangible and the intangible and of course a meeting point of the knowable and the unknowable. The scientific aspect of Quantum physics can be best read in a scientific treatise but to appreciate the mystery and aura about it, one should bank on quotes of the leading experts in the field, until one becomes an expert in one’s own right. So, here I reproduce a few:
Werner Heisenberg: “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”
Niels Bohr: “Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not yet understood it.”
Pascual Jordan: “Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it.”
Eugene Wigner: “When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again. It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”
Bernard d’Espagnat: “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.”
Richard Feynman: “Nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
Albert Einstein: “I can’t accept quantum mechanics because I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”[x]
Professor Daniel Robinson: “The prospect has been raised that consciousness and quantum physics are in some bizarre way interdependent. One of the most influential schools of quantum physics, the so-called Copenhagen school, has argued that the results of experiments at the micro level can be understood only in terms of the influence of the act of observation itself.”[xi]
In other words, Quantum physics is the seat of consciousness, human soul, free will and Providence of God and by its very nature will remain unknowable to a significant degree, for all times to come.
What appears to be natural selection to the naturalist can be considered, with equal validity, to be Divine Providence, for one who is open to the possibility of Transcendent God of the Abrahmaic faiths, with Quantum physics serving as the interface, the buffer zone, the meeting point of the Infinite and the finite.
A proper understanding of limits of science and theology, provides a perfect resolution of science and religion conflict, a possible end to the debates since the publication of On the Origin of Species, in 1859.
Science is only study of nature and cannot give a verdict on supernatural as long as it does not contravene the Laws of Nature or naturalism. With this understanding, the Christian understanding of miracles is ruled out, but, the Islamic understanding of Providence succeeds, giving us an epiphany, a genuine understanding of Guided Evolution, which does not propose ‘God of the gaps.’ Neither in the past, not now and nor in the future. Never!
[v] Thomas Dixon Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction p. 45.
[vi] Henry Drummond (1904). The Ascent of Man. p. 333.
[viii] Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Barkat ud Dua (Urdu) as published in Roohani Khazain. Page 27. Urdu pdf file is available at Alislam.org.
[ix] Pierre-Simon Laplace. Essai philosophique sur les probabilités, 1814, in introduction.
[xi] Prof. Daniel N Robinson. Consciousness and Its Implications. The Teaching Company Course Guidebook, 2007. Page 31-32.
Read the article in the Muslim Sunrise: 2014 fall volume of the Muslim Sunrise