“It was this Islamic sense of unity in all forms of life which confirmed my father’s faith in a God-governed order.[Imam Sulṭān Muhammad Shāh] achieved a synthesis which enabled him to conciliate his faith in the Almighty as well as in Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species which swept across Europe in his youth and generated such heated debate.”
Prince Sadruddin Āgā Khān describing the beliefs of his father Imam Sulṭān Muhammad Shāh
The recent debate between the creationist museum and popular scientist raised the question of whether the monotheistic doctrine of creation is compatible with the scientific theory of evolution. This article reconciles the traditional doctrine of Creation found in monotheistic faiths with the theory of Evolution by refuting both creationism and naturalism (atheism) and integrating Ismā‘īlī Muslim metaphysics with modern science.
Over one thousand years ago, the Ismā‘īlī Muslim philosopher Sayyidnā Nāṣir-i Khusraw undertook the daunting task of reconciling and synthesizing the religious doctrines and science and philosophical views of his time in a great work called The Reconciliation of the Two Wisdoms (Jāmi‘ al-ḥikmatayn). Following the spirit of Sayyidnā Nāṣir, this article presents a reconciliation of the classical theistic doctrine of Creation and theory of Evolution in light of contemporary discussions of both theology and science.
The recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham only serves to perpetuate the misunderstandings between atheists, agnostics, scientists and people of faith. On one side, Ken Ham’s “creationism” amounts to total departure from the classical concepts of God and Creation found in most monotheistic faiths. On the other hand, most people interpret (sometimes tacitly) the theory of evolution within a purely materialist or naturalist worldview – in which physical reality is all that exists and where all aspects of living organisms are fully explained by Darwinian evolution. The proper reconciliation between a theistic worldview based on the reality of God’s creation and the scientifically grounded theory of evolution involve a return to the classical understanding of God and Creation found in the scholastic and philosophical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and an honest recognition of the limits of naturalism and the mechanistic concept of Nature.
The Pitfalls of Scriptural Literalism:
“…one would have to be rather simple to imagine that there could have been “days” before the creation of the sun, or that God literally planted an orchard with physical trees”
David Bentley Hart
Biblical literalism is a modern phenomenon that took hold among the Protestant Christians. Unlike the Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Protestants take the Bible alone as the sufficient authority in religious matters. In this context, certain groups of Protestants in the 18th century began to confine the interpretation of the Bible to its literal meaning. This happened because the interpretive mindsets of such people were conditioned and threatened by the scientific revolution – in which truth was recognized solely in terms of literal facts. However, Biblical literalism is inconsistent with both Christian tradition and human reason.
The Christian Church Fathers did not take the verses of Genesis literally. In fact, they emphasized that one must interpret the Bible with resource to philosophy in order to perceive the spiritual truths embedded within its allegories. As Hart explains:
“The greatest Church Fathers, for instance, took it for granted that the creation narratives of Genesis could not be treated literally, at least not in the sense we give to that word today, but must be read allegorically—which, incidentally, does not mean read as stories with codes to be decrypted but simply read as stories whose value lies in the spiritual truths to which they can be seen as pointing. Origen of Alexandria (185–254), in many ways the father of patristic exegesis, remarked that one would have to be rather simple to imagine that there could have been “days” before the creation of the sun, or that God literally planted an orchard with physical trees whose fruits conferred wisdom or eternal life, or that God liked to amble through his garden in the gloaming, or that Adam could have hidden from him behind a tree; no one could doubt, he said, that these are figural tales, communicating spiritual mysteries, and certainly not historical records.”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 25)
Secondly, the literal affirmation that God created the Universe in six days results in a contradiction. The simply reason being that if God is the creator of the universe, then He must also be the creator of time and space. Therefore, the divine creative act which originates time and space cannot itself be subject to time or take time to occur. St. Augustine recognized the contradiction in believing in a literal six day creation of the world when the word “day” means a twenty-four period. Augustine instead believed that God created time with the creation of the universe and that the mention of six days of creation is an allegorical expression for minds that are too weak to understand the concept of God’s instantaneous creation.
Biblical literalists such as Ken Ham are out of line with both science and Christian exegetical tradition. And yet, the view that God created the universe in six days continues to have a strong hold upon evangelical Christians all over the world. This belief is ultimately rooted in a theologically deficient concept of God. The only solution against scriptural literalism is a return to the concept of God found in Classical Theism.
Classical Creation vs. Modern Creationism:
“God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III
According to the classical theologians and philosophers of religions like Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, God is absolute, infinite, beyond space, time, and change. He is absolutely simple, and therefore transcends all duality or multiplicity. God is the uncaused and unconditioned reality that all things depend upon in order to exist. (For those who are doubtful, a philosophical proof of the Existence of God is given here). The classical concept of God as described here is common to Hindu, Greek, Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians and thinkers such as Plotinus, Augustine, Ramanuja, Shankara, al-Farabi, Avicenna, the Ismaili Muslim thinkers, Aquinas, and Maimonides. In the Ismā‘īlī Muslim tradition, this concept of God is conveyed by Imām Sulṭān Mūhammad Shāh in his Memoirs as follows:
“It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’an, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely… Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as monorealism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allāhu-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, (Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/
In the above passage, the Imām speaks of God as the Absolute Reality (Mono-Reality) “which contains and gives existence” to everything that exists and could exist – such as the infinite, space, time, the Universe, all that is imaginable, and the soul itself. Even things that appear to be self-existent such as abstract objects (i.e. mathematical truths) or the laws of physics, etc. depend upon God in order to exist. In this view – held by numerous world religions – God is not merely a “maximally great being”, a “supreme being”, a discrete thing, an object among others, or the “most perfect existent” among existents – since all of these notions contradict the infinite nature of God and restrict Him to finitude.
“God…is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is He the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from Him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in Whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense He is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means the totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense He is “being itself,” in that He is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the Absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things.”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of : Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 30)
The concept of creation that corresponds to this classical concept of God is not a temporal act of “designing” or “making” or “beginning” something – in the ordinary sense of these terms as with human acts of designing or making. God creates all existence from nothing and His creative act transcends time and space – since time comes into being with the physical Universe. Therefore, one cannot presume that God creates the Universe at such and such time. It is equally invalid to hold that God’s creative act took a period of time – such as six days. The Qur’an states that God creates simply by saying the word “Be” – an instantaneous order like the twinkle of an eye. This concept of creation is also explained by Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh in his Memoirs:
“The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allāh alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time), Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/
Creation is not an event in time – it is the eternal, timeless and continuous relationship between God and created beings – in which created beings are originated by God, dependent upon God, and supported by God at every single moment in which they have existence. A good metaphor for the relationship between the Creator and the act of Creation is that of a thinker and his thought, as opposed to a human being making an artefact. The appearance and continuation of a thought is directly dependent upon the thinker at all times:
“When you think, your thought becomes an idea. When God thinks, His thought becomes creation.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III, (Count Paroo, Subjects Discussed by the Religious Study Group of Mombasa, 1960, 21)
Another attractive notion was that of God creating the Universe and then letting it exist on its own, i.e. Deism. This philosophy was attractive in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But such a concept of God renders Him impotent and equates the mode of God’s existence with the mode of the existence of he Universe. If the Universe can exist without any involvement or relationship to the God who creates it, then such a Universe is also a god and one has effectively affirmed the existence of two gods. But in reality, the existence of the Universe is an existence that is entirely derivative and dependent upon God’s act of bestowing existence. This does not simply mean that God merely causes the Big Bang; it means that every temporal state of the Universe – in each moment of existence – is being granted its existence by God’s creative power. The Imām has articulated this very an idea in a newspaper article published in the British newspapers:
“I have, anyhow, met many persons nominally Christian who seem to think that in the beginning God created the world and then left it to its own devices. They seem to regard Him as a Being infinitely removed from them and their affairs. Whereas my Faith is, as you say yours is, that God is ever present, ever creative, and that His Providence sustains us in the smallest detail of our daily life.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“Is Religion something special?”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, ed. K.K. Aziz., Vol. II, 1410), Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10121/
A common believe today is the notion that God periodically intervenes with the Universe to tinker, adjust, or create new species or creatures. God is beyond space and time; there is no question of such Divine interventions occurring because created things already and always depend upon God to exist in the first place.
It was necessary to lay out the concept of God and Creation in the preceding section because the concept of God held by the Creationists, Deists, and many others in modern times is diametrically opposed to the God of classical theism. The god of Creationism is not theologically identical to the God of Classical Theism. Creationism’s deity is not the Unconditioned Reality, Necessary Being or Ultimate Reality which grounds the existence of all beings. Instead, the god of Creationism is an “object” among objects, a “person” among persons, a “designer” who constructs creatures out of material that exists alongside him, and a “supreme being” among other beings that is subject to time and space. This god’s creative activities take place within time and space. This is why Creationists have no problem believing that creation occurs in six days and that the world is merely six thousand years old. The god of Creationism is not absolutely simple; he has personal and anthropomorphic attributes in the same manner as human beings – except without certain limitations. Ken Ham and those who share his views subscribe to a deficient and illogical concept of God. It is ironic that most contemporary atheists and scientists – including Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Hawking – have only engaged with the demiurgic deity of the creationists and not the God of Classical Theism. And yet, many religious people in modern times confuse this demiurge deity with the true God:
“Somehow, even in the minds of some Christians, God has come to be understood not as the truly transcendent source and end of all contingent reality, who creates through “donating” being to a natural order that is complete in itself, but only as a kind of supreme mechanical cause located somewhere within the continuum of nature. Which is only to say that, here at the far end of modernity, the concept of God is often just as obscure to those who want to believe as to those who want not to.”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 28)
Some may think the distinction between the Creationist concept of God and the classical monotheistic concept of God is irrelevant to the issues of creation, science, and evolution. But nothing could be further from the truth. For the reconciliation of evolution and creation hinges upon how one envisions the relationship between God and Nature.
The Fallacy of Darwinian Naturalism:
“The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature.”
David Bentley Hart
“It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection… the usual view of evolution must be revised. It is not just a physical process.”
Thomas Nagel (A Prominent Atheist Philosopher)
What Creationists and many naturalists share in common today is a flawed conception of Nature. Beginning in the seventeenth century – accompanied by technological advancement – many scientists came to hold a mechanized view of Nature. This view entails that Nature merely consists of “matter in motion” subject to the laws of physics – bits of matter inert of meaning and purpose which can be dominated, used, and controlled by an external agent, i.e. human beings or God:
“A mechanical order of Nature is one purged of life and inherent forces or principles. In its place, the mechanistic conception offers a view of inert nature composed of interchangeable parts and subject to externally imposed order and power.”
(Meyer, Political Nature: Environmentalism and the Interpretation of Western Thought, 46)
“Western persons quickly acquired the habit of seeing the universe not simply as something that can be investigated according to a mechanistic paradigm, but as in fact a machine. They came to see nature not as a reality guided and unified from within by higher or more spiritual causes like formality and finality, but as something merely factitiously assembled and arranged from without by some combination of efficient forces, and perhaps by one supreme external efficient cause — a divine designer and maker, a demiurge, the god of the machine, whom even many pious Christians began to think of as God.”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God, 57-58)
It is within the context of a mechanistic view of nature – where the natural world is understood merely as “matter in motion” – that the theory of evolution was first introduced. Such a worldview, although completely arbitrary and not based on any actual evidence, led to the idea of God as an external designer or agent whose creative act is merely one of “interference” or “tinkering” with the natural order from outside of it as opposed to being the continuous source for its existence as in the classical conception. This worldview is already one of “semi-naturalism” where God is only invoked to a) initiate the beginning of the Universe while remaining outside of it or b) interfere in the Universe to produce complex life. The Intelligent Design movement led by Paley is based on this notion of God as demiurgic designer as opposed to God as the Ground of Being. But Darwin’s theory of evolution showed that a demiurge that intervenes and designs life in the manner of human design is not actually required. The problem then comes down to interpretation – either one returns to a richer classical concept of God and Nature or one eliminates God entirely, adopts atheism, and holds to a mechanistic view of nature in which Darwinian evolution explains the existence of everything. As it will be seen, the second option leads to irrational absurdities.
The biggest problem with Darwinian evolution is not its scientific truth but the fact that the theory of evolution tends to be developed and interpreted within an atheistic worldview called “naturalism” or “materialism” – the idea that the natural or physical world is all that exists. When this worldview is combined with the theory of evolution, it results in an overarching claim – called “Darwinian Naturalism” – that all the features of life on earth can be explained by Darwinian physical processes alone.
But Darwinian naturalism remains flawed for two reasons. The first is that naturalism or materialism patently false. Naturalism – the belief that reality only consists of material or physical things lacks both empirical and rational proof. By definition, empirical methods can only affirm or deny the reality of empirical things – but cannot make claims about anything beyond the natural world. One cannot use the physical world to explain the existence of the physical world. There are also no deductive or philosophical proofs for the reality of naturalism. The claim that things are only real if they can be observed by empirical testing methods is not demonstrable empirically. That is to say, one cannot prove that “things are only real if proven empirically” by resorting to empirical evidence. Therefore, naturalism’s claim is circular and lacks intellectual and empirical basis.
“The only fully consistent alternative to belief in God, properly understood, is some version of “materialism” or “physicalism” or (to use the term most widely preferred at present ) “naturalism”; and naturalism— the doctrine that there is nothing apart from the physical order, and certainly nothing supernatural— is an incorrigibly incoherent concept, and one that is ultimately indistinguishable from pure magical thinking. The very notion of nature as a closed system entirely sufficient to itself is plainly one that cannot be verified, deductively or empirically, from within the system of nature. It is a metaphysical (which is to say “extra-natural”) conclusion regarding the whole of reality, which neither reason nor experience legitimately warrants.”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God, 17)
Finally, if naturalism were true, it would then follow that it could not be true. This is simply because, in a naturalist worldview, a person’s thoughts and thought-content are strictly determined by the laws of physics, brain chemistry and neural activity – as opposed to the truth or logic of the thought-content. Therefore, the very concept or idea of naturalism – under a naturalist worldview – must have been physically determined by material brain events caused by external stimuli responses and not its efficacy. But there is absolutely no proof that neural events can produce true ideas – especially when one denies that logic or truth has any other basis except the laws of physics and chemistry.
“If, moreover, naturalism is correct (however implausible that is), and if consciousness is then an essentially material phenomenon, then there is no reason to believe that our minds, having evolved purely through natural selection, could possibly be capable of knowing what is or is not true about reality as a whole. Our brains may necessarily have equipped us to recognize certain sorts of physical objects around us and enabled us to react to them; but, beyond that, we can assume only that nature will have selected just those behaviors in us most conducive to our survival, along with whatever structures of thought and belief might be essentially or accidentally associated with them, and there is no reason to suppose that such structures—even those that provide us with our notions of what constitutes a sound rational argument— have access to any abstract “truth” about the totality of things. This yields the delightful paradox that, if naturalism is true as a picture of reality, it is necessarily false as a philosophical precept; for no one’s belief in the truth of naturalism could correspond to reality except through a shocking coincidence (or, better, a miracle).”
David Bentley Hart, (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 18)
Having shown the inadequacy of naturalism, where does this leave the theory of evolution? There is no reason to deny that organisms undergo change due to random mutations in their genetic code resulting from environmental factors. There is also no reason to deny that these changes are filtered by natural selection. However, this evolutionary picture of the world remains incomplete for two major reasons. The first is that the probability of conscious and rational human beings evolving from nothing based simply on random chance mutations is virtually non-existent. Even the generation of the first form of life on earth remains a mystery to scientists to this day. As a further example, Barrow and Tipler in their book The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the Sun would have burned up the earth. They estimate the probability of the evolution of the human genome to be on the order of 1 divided by 4-360 (110,000). This figure basically shows that the evolution of human beings by a purely physical Darwinian process is quite impossible. To date there are no mathematical probability models that verify the possibility of evolution propelled purely by natural selection and chance mutation. The following statements by Thomas Nagel – a well known atheist – also voice the sheer improbability that human life and other forms of life evolved due to purely physical processes.
“But for a long time I have found the materialist account of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how the evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes… But it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense. It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection… What is lacking, to my knowledge, is a credible argument that the story has a nonnegligible probability of being true.”
Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12)
“As I have said, doubts about the reductionist account of life go against the dominant scientific consensus, but that consensus faces problems of probability that I believe are not taken seriously enough, both with respect to the evolution of life forms through accidental mutation and natural selection and with respect to the formation from dead matter of physical systems capable of such evolution. The more we learn about the intricacy of the genetic code and its control of the chemical processes of life, the harder those problems seem.”
Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 12)
“No viable account, even a purely speculative one, seems to be available of how a system as staggeringly functionally complex and information-rich as a self-reproducing cell, controlled by DNA, RNA, or some predecessor, could have arisen by chemical evolution alone from a dead environment. Recognition of the problem is not limited to the defenders of intelligent design. Although scientists continue to seek a purely chemical explanation of the origin of life, there are also card-carrying scientific naturalists like Francis Crick who say that it seems almost a miracle.”
Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 268)
The second problem with the Darwinian evolution theory is that it fails to account for the appearance of consciousness within all living things and particularly the reflective self-consciousness of human beings. Despite the weak arguments brought forth by materialists, conscious states simply cannot be reduced to brain activity. There are a number of reasons for this. One argument is that thoughts possess intentionality (i.e. thoughts are about something, i.e. an object, a person, etc) while brain activity, being purely material, is not. One cannot simply observe a scan of a person’s brain activity in terms of neurons and chemicals and then ascertain what they are thinking about. Secondly, the content of particular thoughts in areas like mathematics and logic is determined by the content of the preceding thoughts in the sequence (i.e. the logical sequence) and not brain states. If it were other than this – and thoughts were determined by physical states of the brain, then the mathematical truth of 2+2=4 would not depend on the truth of 2+2 but instead would depend on material brain activity alone in which case it could not be logically correct. Thirdly, we can only observe the physical world through conscious states such as sensation. We can only model and describe these physical observations through abstract models found in in mathematics (which is not empirical). Therefore, from an epistemological point of view, what we know directly and immediately are our conscious states and not the matter as such. Therefore, to reduce our conscious states to material events is illogical – since those material entities have no existence for us except through consciousness. Darwinian evolutionary theory has no answer at all for the appearance of consciousness let alone its explanation. The following statements from the prominent atheist Thomas Nagel confirm these arguments:
“If evolutionary biology is a physical theory—as it is generally taken to be— then it cannot account for the appearance of consciousness and of other phenomena that are not physically reducible. So if mind is a product of biological evolution—if organisms with mental life are not miraculous anomalies but an integral part of nature—then biology cannot be a purely physical science.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 16)
“If one doubts the reducibility of the mental to the physical, and likewise of all those other things that go with the mental, such as value and meaning, then there is some reason to doubt that a reductive materialism can apply even in biology, and therefore reason to doubt that materialism can give an adequate account even of the physical world.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 16)
“Since the conscious character of these organisms is one of their most important features, the explanation of the coming into existence of such creatures must include an explanation of the appearance of consciousness. That cannot be a separate question. An account of their biological evolution must explain the appearance of conscious organisms as such. Since a purely materialist explanation cannot do this, the materialist version of evolutionary theory cannot be the whole truth. Organisms such as ourselves do not just happen to be conscious; therefore no explanation even of the physical character of those organisms can be adequate which is not also an explanation of their mental character. In other words, materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 31-32)
If naturalist evolution were true, and thought contents are reducible to or causedsolely by brain activity, then all human thought would be logically discontinuous. This is because our thoughts would be the result of purely physical evolutionary processes determined by the need to survive and not by the need to know things objectively or truthfully. There would be no reason to trust our cognitive faculties in providing an accurate picture of the world – since the Darwinian evolutionary process gives no guarantee of that. Instead, affirming that our thoughts are identical to our brain activity resulting from Darwinian evolution implies that our thought content is certainly false – since it is based on purely physical brain chemistry and not the truth or logic of that thought content. But if this is the case, then how could naturalist evolution be true in the first place – since people would only this worldview due to physio-chemical brain processes and not because it is true or logical. Thus Nagel reminds us that:
“Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself… Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 22-23)
The conclusion that follows from the above arguments is that the purely materialist and naturalist theory of evolution is incomplete due to its materialist underpinnings. The solution is not to deny biological evolution, but to revise by interpreting it according to a worldview that is not naturalist or materialist in its scope. In other words, there must be a dimension to evolution that transcends the physical world. This is the same conclusion reached by Thomas Nagel who writes:
“I conclude that something is missing from Darwinism, and from the standard biological conception of ourselves.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 63)
“Biological evolution is responsible for the existence of conscious mental phenomena, but that since those phenomena are not physically explainable, the usual view of evolution must be revised. It is not just a physical process.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 32)
If theory of naturalist Darwinian evolution is inadequate in explaining the appearance of life and conscious creatures like human beings, then it must be adjusted and modified rather than denied outright. This adjustment is as follows: instead of seeing emergence of life through evolution as purely the result of random chance, accidents, and “blind” processes, the evolutionary process must be seen as “purpose-driven” or “teleological.” The very fact that conscious creatures evolved – despite its sheer improbability – must mean that there are universal laws that are “built-in” or immanent in Nature that encourage and inevitably lead to the existence of life in general and conscious creatures in particular. Evolution must therefore include a non-physical dimension in addition to the laws of physics and chemistry and chance events in order to be rationally plausible. Consciousness – rather then being an accidental feature of living beings – is an essential feature of life and latently present in all things.
“It is trivially true that if there are organisms capable of reason, the possibility of such organisms must have been there from the beginning. But if we believe in a natural order, then something about the world that eventually gave rise to rational beings must explain this possibility. Moreover, to explain not merely the possibility but the actuality of rational beings, the world must have properties that make their appearance not a complete accident: in some way the likelihood must have been latent in the nature of things.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False,50)
This view of the Nature – where purpose, goals, and direction are inherent to the very substance of things in Nature – is actually a return to the pre-modern Aristotelian philosophy of Nature (this is not to deny modern science, but only certain philosophical ideas it gets interpreted within). This is not an absolute negation of the theory of evolution, but rather, a re-interpretation of evolution within a worldview that is neither naturalist/materialist nor mechanistic. Accordingly, Nature is no longer bits of moving matter subject to deterministic laws of physics or chemistry that needs to be given meaning from the outside, but a holistic system that contains inherent purpose and goal-directedness. This is what Aristotelians call “teleology” and it amounts not to a denial of the theory of evolution, but rather, its completion.
“This is a revision of the Darwinian picture rather than an outright denial of it. A teleological hypothesis will acknowledge that the details of that historical development are explained largely through natural selection among the available possibilities on the basis of reproductive fitness in changing environments. But even though natural selection partly determines the details of the forms of life and consciousness that exist, and the relations among them, the existence of the genetic material and the possible forms it makes available for selection have to be explained in some other way. The teleological hypothesis is that these things may be determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but also by something else, namely a cosmic predisposition to the formation of life, consciousness, and the value that is inseparable from them… The tendency for life to form may be a basic feature of the natural order, not explained by the nonteleological laws of physics and chemistry.”
Thomas Nagel, (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Concept of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 68-69)
There are also prominent biologists and scientists who affirm teleological principles in Nature that have propelled the direction of evolution toward the appearance of human beings (or rational creatures like human beings). Stuart Kaufman has written about how reductionist natural selection alone is inadequate in explaining the order found in living things and that such order is due to “underlying ordering principles in biology.” Simon Conway Morris has stated about Darwinian evolution that “it is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles.” Thus, a good number of scientists have argued for purpose, direction and teleology within Nature on empirical grounds just as Nagel has argued for this position on philosophical grounds.
Having refuted the dubious thesis of naturalism, shown the inadequacy of naturalist Darwinian evolution, and concluded that a mechanistic conception of Nature must give way to a teleological conception, we can now proceed to how a worldview based on Creation (and not Creationism) is reconciled with the teleological vision of the natural world.
“If ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.”
Stewart Kaufman, (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (1996), 112)
Nature as Divine Manifestation: The Confluence of Creation and Evolution
“Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Qur’ān God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III
“Since the purpose of the natural kingdoms was the human species, the order of existence necessitated that first minerals, then plants, then animals and then human beings come into being.”
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī
Having argued for a teleological view of Nature according to which the physical Universe is naturally predisposed towards the production of life, sentience and rational animals, i.e. human beings, we will now lay out the conception of Nature and evolution according to classical theism.
At the outset, let us clearly reject all attempts to infer that the purpose and intelligence manifest in Nature should be construed as evidence of a “Divine Designer” who has intervened in order to construct the complexity in living organisms. There is a great difference between the “design arguments” of Paley and the “teleological arguments” of Nāṣir-i Khusraw and Thomas Aquinas. The latter argument simply observes that things in the natural world move toward certain ends i.e. the production of life, order, consciousness, etc. and concludes that such intelligent activity within the natural world must be directed by the Divine Intellect. Meanwhile, the design argument infers that an external designer is required to construct complex organisms from bits of inert matter – in the manner that human beings design and construct machines. If the mechanistic picture of Nature is to be rejected, what would be the proper conception of Nature within a monotheistic framework?
At this point, it is perhaps best to illustrate in greater clarity the metaphysical relation between God and the Universe. Let us recall that the relationship between the Creator and the created reality is one of ontological dependence: all created reality is continuously receiving existence from God upon whom it always depends. God is the Ground of Being or the Unconditional Reality; He is neither “outside” the Universe nor is He dwelling or embodied “inside” it. But rather, God is at once transcendent and immanent. His Reality, being absolutely simple and unlimited, transcends all descriptions and likenesses. At the same time, God’s attributes are immanent in created reality – not by incarnation, but by the principle of reflection. That is to say, the Universe in its entirety is a limited reflection of God – insofar as He can be manifested. This principle is expressed by the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh in his Memoirs as below:
“Imam Hassan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the Sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the Sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allāh is the Sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time), Read the Full Source Here:http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/
The analogy of the Sun and its reflection in a pool of a fountain is much more appropriate in describing the relations between God and the natural Universe than the analogy of a designer and the designed artifact. There are two features of the Sun-reflection analogy that convey the ontological and spiritual relationship between God and the Universe. Firstly, the existence of the image of the Sun in the water is entirely dependent upon the Sun. Compared to the Sun, the image or likeness of the Sun is of “little reality” since its own existence derives from that of the Sun at all moments. This conveys how the existence of the Universe is metaphysically dependent upon the Reality of God. Secondly, the Sun-reflection analogy means that the qualities or attributes of the Sun – such as its luminosity – are partially reflected within its image. Similarly, certain qualities or attributes of God are reflected in the created things of the natural world. This point is confirmed by the Qur’ān which refers to all kinds of natural phenomena as the “signs” (ayāt) of God. The present Imām of the Ismā‘īlī Muslims, Mawlana Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī, once said that “in Islam, the Divine is reflected in Nature’s creation” (see full speech).
Nature must therefore be conceived as a living system with built-in or inherent teleology, i.e. purpose, meaning. The reasons for this were given in the previous section and due to the fact that the mechanistic view of Nature is entirely outdated and no longer a tenable picture of physical reality. At the same time, this teleological Nature must also be understood as a reflection of God’s Names and Attributes – in other words, as a Divine manifestation or theophany. This does not mean that God has entered inside Nature or “intervened” to design Nature from the outside. It means that God’s qualities are ontologically and spiritual reflected in and as Nature – a reflection which comprises the very existence of Nature. On the same idea, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh wrote that:
“Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Qur’ān God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of Divine power, Divine law and Divine order…Islam is a natural religion of which the Ayats are the Universe in which we live and move and have our being.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,(“What have we forgotten in Islam”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz., Vol II, 1290), Read the Full Source Here:http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1253/
The many features of Nature which human beings today take for granted are actually the signs of Divine Power and Divine Intelligence. What scientists today call the “laws of nature” and the laws of physics are patterns of regular behavior that natural things consistently observe. This regularity is logical and intelligible – this is the only reason why scientists can describe it in mathematical terms. Such regularity – on a purely naturalistic worldview – has no basis or reason to occur. If a person who has faith in naturalism simply answers that the regularities within nature exist merely due to chance, such a view is ultimately untenable due to its sheer improbability. It is one thing to win a lottery for which one had very slim chances a single time, and it is another thing to win the same lottery millions upon millions of times. The regularities within Nature are akin to the second case and therefore cannot be attributed to chance or randomness. Instead, the laws of Nature are manifestations of God’s Power and Intelligence – not an “intervention” from outside, but a reflection of them within.
Even if one affirms this theistic point of view, one can continue to study Nature as a closed system and analyze the various patterns, interactions, processes within Nature – as the scientific method does. Neverthless, the mechanistic view of Nature regards all natural phenomena as lifeless and soulless – being comprised of inert matter. But in the view of classical theism, all things in Nature possess “soul”. Thus, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh writes that:
“Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence — in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God.”
Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Tim), Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/
The idea of all things – even atoms or molecules – having souls may conjure up ideas of “ghosts” being present “inside” each and every bit of matter. But to think this way is to mistakenly appeal to the mechanistic view of Nature and matter. At the human level, the soul is the subject of self-consciousness who is a free agent with respect to human intellectual powers and acts. At the animal level, the soul is the consciousness of a particular animal with respect to its actions and behaviours. At the vegetative level (and all living things), the soul refers to the “organic wholeness” of a living organism – the unity that holds together and directs the various interdependent parts of the organism and is responsible for the organism’s ability to adapt and react to its environment. At the level of ‘inanimate objects’ such as minerals, molecules, atoms, etc, the soul refers to the form or structure of the material components of that object. For example, the soul or form of a water molecule is the particular pattern or structure in which the two hydrogen and oxygen atoms are bonded. One must note that pattern, structure or even shape is NOT the same as the material or matter that is shaped. There is a qualitative difference between the formal structure of an object and its constituent material parts. The parts of any object always exist in a certain structure – without which the object would no longer be essentially what it is. In terms of matter, the human brain and a sandbox are essentially the same – made out of the same essential material components (i.e. atoms, molecules). But what makes the human brain a most complex entity is its form or structure in which its material components are arranged. Thus, soul is an integral dimension of all things in Nature – mineral, living, animal, and human – while being present and actualized at various levels that depend upon the entity in question. In the case of human beings, would be more accurate to say that the living human body is a reflection or shadow of the human soul – as opposed to saying that the human soul dwells inside the human body.
Having established the status of Nature in the worldview of classical theism, we now turn to the question of the “origin of species” and “evolution” in such a framework. Everything in Nature – including atoms, molecules, minerals, living organisms, animals, and human beings – is a particular reflection of one or more of God’s Names and Attributes. For example, God’s power is reflected, albeit partially, in the waves of the ocean, storms, or even lightening. God’s stability is partially reflected in the stability of a rock. God’s life is reflected in living organisms to various degrees – from single celled bacteria to lions. In the theistic worldview, the human being is the comprehensive reflection of God due to his potential to reflect all of God’s Names and Attributes. Nevertheless, each species is a reflection of a particular combination of God’s Attributes. In philosophical terminology, a particular configuration of these Divine attributes manifested in a certain species is called “form”. The “form” is a spiritual blueprint or archetype of a species with respect to its defining or essential qualities. Every physical species on earth is a manifestation or reflection of a specific form. From the spiritual perspective, each species has its spiritual archetype or form that pre-exists in the spiritual realm and there are an infinite number of these forms. When the natural environment is suitable, these spiritual archetypes manifest as the physical species – in chronological order from less differentiated to more differentiated.
“In the celestial realm the species are never absent; their essential forms or archetypes reside there from an endless beginning. As earth ripens to receive them, each in its turn drops to the terrestrial plane and, donning the world’s fabric, gives rise to a new life form. The origin of species is metaphysical. First a viable habitat must be devised, hence the inorganic universe is matured to the point where life can be sustained. And when living beings do arrive, they do so in a vaguely ascending order that passes from relatively undifferentiated organisms – though not simple ones; the electron microscope shows unicellular organisms to be astonishingly complicated to ones that are more complex. But there is no need to force the fossil record to show a univocal and continuous line. If the movement proceeds in jumps with whole categories of plants and animals bursting out at once without discernible predecessors, this presents no problem… If the tortoise turns up all at once in fossil remains or the spider appears simultaneously with its prey and with its faculty of weaving fully developed, such facts can be welcomed with smiles instead of puzzled brows. As for the variant forms which Darwinists must use to construct their largely hypothetical bridges between species, from the metaphysical perspective these appear as variations which the species in question allow. It is as if nature, always more prolific and life-loving than we had supposed, first staked out distinct species and then decided to ring changes on these by having each reflect the forms of the others insofar as it could do so without transgressing its own essential limits.”
Huston Smith, (Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions, 139-140)
The classical theistic view of the origin of species is very much consistent with the findings of modern science with respect to evolution. But it must be kept in mind – as argued before – that the mechanistic understanding of Nature is outdated and the purely materialistic and naturalistic view of reality is hopelessly and logically flawed. The key difference between this Islamic theistic view of the origin of the species and the naturalistic Darwinian view is that the former asserts that the appearance of rational creatures in the world was built-in to Nature and is the end goal of the evolutionary process. About nine hundred years ago, the famous Ismā‘īlī Muslim philosopher, astronomer and scientist, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, explained the origin of the species and the creation of humankind in accordance with the metaphysical principles explained above. Consider the below passages from Ṭūsī’s most famous Ismā‘īlī work known as Taṣawwurāt:
“The natural kingdoms began with solidification [of minerals], then [there came] plants, then animals and then human beings. The final stage of minerals was joined to the first stage of the plant kingdom, the final stage of the plant kingdom to the first stage of the animal kingdom, the final stage of the animal kingdom to the first stage of man, and the final stage of man to the first stage of the angelic kingdom. Since the chain of existence (silsila-yi wujūd), [causing] the return of all things to the Command of the Almighty, reached its completion in the perfect status of man, and since the ability to acquire such perfection, [consisting of diverse] intellectual conveniences and physical tools, was particular to man, it is clear that, although the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms preceded him in [the temporal order of] existence, the ultimate aim of all of them was him. And it is said, ‘the first in thought is the last in action.’”
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 29)
“The action of Nature upon matter lay in bringing into the reality of concrete existence the forms bestowed upon it by the [Universal] Soul. The final purpose of all such emanations was that [the natural kingdoms], beginning with minerals, would combine with the vegetative [realm], and [the vegetative realm combine] with the animal realm, and [the animal realm] be terminated by humankind.”
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 106)
“The purpose of the movements of the spheres was mixing of the elements of the natural kingdoms, and since the purpose of the natural kingdoms was the human species, the order of existence necessitated that first minerals, then plants, then animals and then human beings come into being. if there had been no minerals, plants could never have come into being, and had minerals, plants and animals not existed, neither could man have existed.”
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 68)
Evolutionary theory will continue to undergo more changes and modifications as human knowledge progresses. In fact, some biologists such as Stuart Kauffman and Simon Conway hold that random mutation is insufficient to explain the complexity of life and that matter must have self-organizing properties which are themselves rooted in a deeper order of things. But none of this contradicts the metaphysical origins of creatures as previously explained. Even if one grants all the key features of Darwinian evolution, it is the integral interpretation of this theory that is most important. Such an interpretation would have to account for the fact that purpose appears to be built into Nature – as some biologists now hold:
“If ever we are to attain a final theory in biology, we will surely, surely have to understand the commingling of self-organization and selection. We will have to see that we are the natural expressions of a deeper order. Ultimately, we will discover in our creation myth that we are expected after all.”
Stuart Kauffman, (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (1996), 112)
If the natural Universe is a reflective manifestation of God in fragmented multiplicity, and human beings are the reflective manifestation of God in comprehensive singularity, it follows that the human being is the manifestation of both God and the external Universe. Evolution by way of genetic mutations (either due to chance or due to self-organization potentials inhering in matter as Kauffman would argue) and their perpetuation via natural selection is the vehicle by which the Universe produces a creature who is best suited to survival in the natural environment. To use an analogy, the Universe or the external environment is like one mirror of God and the human form is another mirror of God. The evolutionary process of Darwinian natural selection is the mechanism by which these two mirrors are “brought into focus” such that the resulting creature – namely the human being – appears in the Universe. Once again, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī helps summarize the metaphysics of this process as follows:
“When the effusive grace of the Divine Command fell upon the First Intellect, it did not halt there, but provoked the existence of another type of being, that is, the Universal Soul. Likewise, when it [the Command] fell from the First Intellect upon the Universal Soul, it did not halt there either, but it provoked another type of existence, that is, the spheres. And when it [the Command of God] fell from the spheres upon the elements, it did not halt there but provoke another type of existence, that is, the natural kingdoms. And [similarly], when it fell from the natural kingdoms upon the minerals, it did not halt there, but provoked another type of existence, that is, the plant kingdom. And when it fell upon the animal kingdom, it did not stop there, but provoked another type of existence, that is, humanity. But when it fell upon man, it stopped there, for the furthest reach and terminus of creation was sealed with him. Thus, man is a compendium (majmū‘ī) of all these stages and perfections, bearing within himself a likeness of the entire Cosmos, which is expressed by the marvels of his physical constitution and the amazing composition of his soul.”
Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 169)
The above diagram helps illustrate the manner in which both Creation and Evolution are processes within Nature. God, as the Unconditioned Reality, bestows existence upon all other realities and sustains them in being. The divine creative act of giving existence is called the Command of God, and the first conditioned reality with respect to metaphysical or essential causation is the Universal Intellect which contains the Forms of all things in oneness. Through the Universal Intellect, the Command of God manifests and emanates the Universal Soul – in which the celestial archetypes or Forms of all creatures are differentiated. The Universal Soul generates a shadow of itself – called Prime Matter – whose nature is simple receptivity, potency or passivity due to which that it cannot be observed empirically. Prime Matter receives the Forms which emanate and shine upon it from the Universal Soul. In this process of continuous emanation (see above) or involution, the Prime Matter “evolves” into the Universal Body or Universal Matter [what medievals called the ‘spheres’] – identical with the quantum field or “vacuum energy” that physicists register as the boundary of empirical observation from which subatomic virtual particles “pop in and out” of existence. These particles are the Heisenberg potentialities – that receive the “forms” imprinted upon them from the Universal Soul by means of measurement interventions – and become actualized as discrete particles. This evolutionary process continues while being empowered by continuous emanation or involution, i.e. the manifestation of the Forms from the Universal Soul. Thus, Simon Conway, has said that “Darwinism not a total explanation? Why should it be? It is after all only a mechanism, but if evolution is predictive, indeed possesses a logic, then evidently it is being governed by deeper principles.” If biologists like Stuart Kaufman speak of the “self-organization” of matter, this is because they are detecting the effects of the Forms. These Forms cause matter to organize into more differentiated structures that are suited to the external environment and these are perpetuated by the process natural selection. The holistic structure (or “holon) of an organism is the “soul” (as explained above) and it is the soul that serves as the principle of the self-organization of matter into a complex “whole”. In the human being, this soul has reached the level of reflexive self-consciousness – or what is traditionally called “rational” (nāṭiqah) – that can in principle know and conceive the entirety of the Cosmos. Thus, the human being is the culmination and summation of both spiritual emanation and physical evolution. The human being continues to evolve with respect to consciousness until higher stages – the intellectual (‘aqlī), the inspired (ta’yīdī), and the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil) or Universal Man (al-insān al-kull) – are actualized. The Universal Man is the most perfect manifestation of the Command of God, the Universal Intellect, and Universal Soul, through which everything in the Universe returns to its origin.
Perhaps, it is no surprise that Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, the forty-eight hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims, had already achieved a synthesis that reconciled his understanding of God’s creation with Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species:
“It was this Islamic sense of unity in all forms of life which confirmed my father’s faith in a God-governed order. He achieved a synthesis which enabled him to conciliate his faith in the Almighty as well as in Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species which swept across Europe in his youth and generated such heated debate. It was difficult for him to separate what he called proto-religion and proto-science: they made their journey like two streams, sometimes mingling, sometimes separating but running side by side… I have not forgotten his heated conversations with Professor Leakey in Nairobi when the first discoveries of the earliest remains of man were made in the Rift Valley.”
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan on his father Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, (The Times, November 5, 1977)
For Further Reading:
Simon Conway Morris on the Limits of Darwinism
Seyyed Hossein Nasr on Evolution and Islam
Rodney Blackhirst on Evolutionism and Traditional Cosmology
James Cutsinger on “Emanationist Evolution”