The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

The story of Adam confirms evolutionary origin of humans

 
The so-called Islamic creationism, where Adam is the first man, is based on a literalist understanding of The allegory of Adam in the Quran. This misinterpretation has been consolidated with creationist hadith stories that were essentially borrowed from Judaeo-Christian sources during the earlier Islamic centuries.

But does the Quranic story of Adam really contradict evolution? The answer is simply NO.

First, it is important to understand that the story in the Quran is a parable where Adam is a mythical name for all humans.

Secondly, the story, in all its seven occurrences (2:29-37, 7:10-25, 15:26-44, 17:51-65, 18:37-51, 20:50-123, 38:69-85), unmistakeably refers to the biological evolution of the whole humankind, on each occasion with an accent on a different aspect of evolution.

Below we will observe how the story, in each of its SEVEN OCCURRENCES in the Quran, invariably supports the idea that humans have originated through the process of evolution.

 

1st occurrence

Evolution: The power of thinking transforms hominoids into humans

He it is who created for you all that is in the Earth, while He settled to the Heaven, and fashioned them with due proportion into seven Heavens; and He knows all things.

And when your Sustainer said to the Forces: Indeed I am establishing upon Earth an inheritor, they said: Do you establish therein one who spreads corruption therein and sheds blood, while we, we hymn Your praise and sanctify You? He said: Surely I know that which you know not.

And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the Forces; then He said: Tell Me the names of those if you are right….

He said: O Adam! inform them of their names…

And when We said to the Forces: Prostrate yourselves before Adam….  2:29-34

Starting with a reference to cosmic and terrestrial evolution, this passage alludes to the power of conceptual thinking as an evolutionary potential that transforms the mindless hominoids (humanlikes; cf. 76:28) into rational humans (Homo sapiens). It describes Adam, or the human, as a divinely authorized inheritor of the Earth (2:30, 6:165, 27:62, 33:72, 35:39) and a successor of his anthropoid ancestors (76:28; cf. 6:133, 70:39-41, 56:57-62), whose aggressive nature concerned the witnessing ‘natural Forces’ about the violences and atrocities humans are inclined to (‘Do You establish therein one who spreads corruption therein and sheds blood …’ 2:30).

2nd occurrence

Evolution: Humans evolve through stages

And We granted you dominion on Earth, and made for you in it a habitat; little do you give thanks!

And We have created you, then fashioned you, then told the Forces: Fall you prostrate before Adam! 7:10-11

The sequence of these two statements ‘We have created you’ (brought you into being as living organisms) and ‘then fashioned you’ (shaped you as humans) indicates a time lapse. Then, translated here as ‘fashioned’1, the verb sawwara implies making something by gradually changing it through successive stages and thus implies evolution (see note 4).

Here man’s creation, or initiation of his making, represents his earliest stage of origin in the simplest life form, identical with the first life form on Earth, the unicellular organism; and his fashioning suggests the process of gradually being shaped into more complex forms through evolutionary stages (71:13-18). This can be interpreted as referring to embryological evolution of every individual human as well as phylogenetic evolution of the human species as a related member of the whole living world. With the reminder of humans’ God-gifted ‘dominion on Earth’ as a ‘khalifah’ (inheritor of the Earth or successor of previous species, 2:30, 6:133), this reference to the evolution of all humankind before mentioning Adam makes it clear that Adam symbolizes here all humans (31:10, 15:29, 18:37 and 38:71-76).

3rd occurrence

Evolution: Humans evolve from ‘hydrocarbons’

Verily We created man out of potter’s clay of black mud transmuted. …

And when thy Sustainer said unto the Forces: Surely I am creating man out of potter’s clay of black mud transmuted;

Then when I have fashioned him with due proportion and have breathed into him of My Spirit, do you fall down, prostrating yourselves unto him. …

He said: I am not to prostrate to man whom You have created out of potter’s clay of black mud transmuted. 15:26, 28-29, 33

These verses – after mentioning the galaxies (15:14-18), geo-biological evolution of the primeval Earth (15:19), ecological balance and food chain (15:19-22) – narrate the origin and evolution of humankind who is a ‘khalifah’ (or successor of previous species, replacing them on top of the food chain, 2:30, 6:133). Again, like 7:10-11, the sequence of the two statements ‘Surely I am creating man …’ and ‘Then when I have fashioned him …’ indicates the period of a process. The observation that the word ‘man’ here, like 38:69-85, totally replaces ‘Adam’ in the same allegory depicted elsewhere, makes it obvious that Adam symbolizes all humans.

Please note the expression ‘potter’s clay of black mud transmuted’ (‘salsalin min hama-in masnoon’)2, appearing three times in the passage (15:26, 15:28, 15:33). Now, if interpreted in light of modern evolutionary biochemistry, we can appreciate that black mud (‘hama’) here probably means carbon and that the term transmuted (‘masnoon’, also meaning altered, moulded or aged, which shares same root with ‘sunnah’, ‘to follow a path’) alludes to the changes over lengthy time span of millions of years when ‘hydrocarbons’ were gradually organised into higher organic molecules – like amino acids (protein), nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) and so on – necessary for origin and evolution of life. All these molecules are ‘sounding’, i.e. tale-telling, as they encompass in themselves history of millions of years. Thus the Quran seems to have used the expression ‘black mud transmuted’ to depict the original matrix – carbon (‘black mud’)-based organic molecules like hydrocarbons and their derivatives – whereby started the evolution of human’s physical body.

4th occurrence

Evolution: With humble origins, humans have gone on to dominate the world

Or a creation that is far remote in your minds. Thereupon they ask: Who will bring us back? Say: He who initiated you the first time. …

And when We said to the Forces: Fall down prostrate before Adam and they fell prostrate all save Iblis, he said: Shall I fall prostrate before that which You have created of clay? 17:51, 61

This passage, like 15:26-33 quoted above, briefly points to the same evolutionary setting with man’s humble origin from clay. There are many references in the Quran to man’s having been created from earthly material – from dust (18:37, 30:20, 35:11, 40:67), from clay (6:2, 17:61, 22:5, 32:7, 37:11, 55:14), from quintessence of clay (23:12), from sticky clay (37:11), from potter’s clay (55:14), from potter’s clay of ‘black mud transmuted’ (15:26, 15:28, 15:33), from Earth as a ‘growth/ growing plant’ evolving through stages (71:17, 71:14) and so on. All these signify man’s gradual development through a natural process as well as his lowly biological origins, with the fact that his body, like all his biological cousins and all living organisms, is composed of various organic and inorganic particles occurring in the Earth.

However, despite his humble origins, man emerged and has gone on to dominate the world as an agency authorized by the Divine (note: ‘Fall down prostrate before Adam …’).

5th occurrence

Evolution: Man was not allowed to witness the evolution of the Universe, nor the evolution of his own self

Do you reject Him who created you out of dust, then out of a drop, then in the end has fashioned you with due proportion into a human? …

Behold! We said to the Forces: Bow down to Adam. They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the invisibles, and he broke his Sustainer’s Command. …

I did not make them witness the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, nor the creation of their own selves. Nor would I take as assistants the misleaders (e.g., some religious leaders). 18:37, 50-51

Here the story of Adam reappears once again in a context that refers to the lowly origin of man, by embryological development of individual human as well as by phylogenetic evolution of the whole human species, in both cases initially from earthly material, then from a single cell, and then evolving through numerous life forms (32:7-9, 71:17, 77:20-23, 96:1-5). This mention of human evolution as a preface to the story further clarifies that Adam in the Quran epitomizes all humans.

The story is then followed by the statement that the Divine did not allow man to witness the evolution of the Universe, nor the evolution of his own self, nor He needed anyone as assistant. With a reminder of man’s limitations to reconstruct his unwitnessed evolutionary past, and his ultimate dependency on his Maker who alone is independent of anything, this also dismisses the anthropocentric worldview which postulates man, instead of the Supreme Being, as the central entity and value in the Universe.

6th occurrence

Evolution: Unfolding of divine messages is like biological evolution

He said: Our Sustainer is He who has given to everything its creation (essence), and further guided it.

He said: And what then of all the previous generations?

He said: Knowledge thereof is with my Sustainer in a Record. My Sustainer does not err, nor does He forget.

He it is who has made the Earth a cradle for you, and has traced out for you ways therein, and sent down from the Heaven water, and thereby We brought forth pairs of various growths (cf. God has made you grow from the Earth as a growth. 71:17). …

From it have We created you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again …

High above all is then God, the Sovereign, the Ultimate Truth! And, therefore, hasten not with the Quran before it has been revealed unto thee in full, but say: O my Sustainer, increase me in knowledge.

And certainly We made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot, and We found in him no firm determination.

And when We said unto the Forces: Fall prostrate before Adam, they fell prostrate save Iblis; he refused. 20:50-55, 114-116 (the story continues, 20:117-123)

Above occurs four times the term Rabb (Sustainer), which is expounded throughout the Quran with the sequential divine acts of creation, evolution, determination and guidance (82:6-8, 87:1-3). That Adam in the Quran symbolizes man becomes further evident when we observe how the allegory of Adam reappears here once again in a context that refers to the creation and evolution of man along with the cosmic, terrestrial and biological evolution (note the similarity between 20:50-55 and 71:14-18).

Please observe how these references to evolution are followed by the interesting appearance of the statement ‘hasten not with the Quran before it has been revealed unto thee in full … but say: O my Sustainer, increase me in knowledge’. And observe how this advice to avoid haste aptly creates a prelude to the forthcoming story of Adam. As if the Quran is telling the reader not to stop at any literal understanding of this story in particular and the Quran in general (3:7; likewise, the story of Adam in 17:51-65 is also repeatedly linked with similar instructions to avoid hasty, superficial reading of the Quran; 17:9-12, 17:18-19, 17:45-46, 17:61, 17:106). This is in line with the Quranic claim that the meanings and messages3 of the Quran are unfolding in individual and collective human mind (3:7) as a process of gradual manifestation, like biological evolution (3:6).

Then the actual story starts at ‘And certainly We made a covenant with Adam before, but he forgot’. Since the faculty of conceptual thinking is man’s outstanding endowment, his forgetting the covenant with his Sustainer (i.e., the shahada of Oneness, 7:172-173, 2:35-38) shows the weakness and inconstancy of human nature in general (20:115, 7:172-175, 2:36, 4:28). Clearly, Adam serves here as a common noun that symbolizes all humans.

7th occurrence

Evolution: Human evolution follows a cosmic blueprint

When your Sustainer said to the Forces: I am creating man out of clay;

Then when I have fashioned him with due proportion and breathed into him of My spirit, fall down before him prostrate … (all prostrated except the Evil Force inside his mind) …

Said He: O Iblis! What prevented you from prostrating before what I have created with My two hands? …

Said he: I am better than he: Thou hast created me out of fire, whereas him Thou hast created out of clay. 38:71-76

The verb sawwa (fashioned with due proportion) appears here, and throughout the Quran, to define the divine attribute Rabb (the Sustainer) as the Evolver, who guides the evolutionary process by following a cosmic blueprint (87:1-3, 82:6-8, 20:50). Thus, to define Rabb as the Evolver of “All the Worlds”, sawwa functions as a multi-layered reference4 to various stages of evolution: from cosmic to biological to anthropic to spiritual (2:29, 15:29, 18:37, 32:9, 38:72, 75:4, 75:38, 79:28, 82:7, 87:2, 91:7).

Some commentators try to reconcile evolutionism with creationism by arguing that, while other animals are created through evolution, Adam as a ‘special creation’ was not part of the same evolutionary process. They cite the phrase above ‘which I have created with My two hands’ in support of their argument. However, though the expression ‘My two hands’ may allude to human’s special status due to the duality in his make, e.g., an animal physique and a conscious self, it doesn’t place humans out of the evolutionary process. Likewise, elsewhere, other animals are also stated as created with God’s own hands (36:71).

Conclusion

The story of Adam, in each of its seven occurrences in the Quran, invariably supports the idea that humans have originated through the process of evolution.

***********************************

Note 1

Compare 7:10-11 with the following verses: He has created the Heavens and the Earth with truth, and He has fashioned you, then perfected your shapes: and to Him is the ultimate journeying. 64:3; cf. God it is who made for you the Earth a dwelling place and the sky an overhanging shelter, and fashioned you, then made your shapes excellent! 40:64

Note 2

The image ‘potter’s clay of black mud transmuted’, as the material for the creation of man, suggests that man was ‘modelled’, ‘moulded’ or ‘designed’ according to a divine plan or cosmic blueprint (cf. 7:11-12, 95:4). Often translated as ‘potter’s clay’, the term ‘salsal’ also denotes ‘dried clay that emits a sound’, and since it is used in the Quran exclusively with reference to the creation of man, it seems to allude to the power of articulate speech which distinguishes man from all other animal species, as well as to the brittleness of his existence and shallowness of his arrogance (cf. He has created man, / Taught him expression. … / He created man from a clay, like the potter’s (or, like pottery, i.e., like a pottery made of mud). 55:3-4, 14). See Asad’s notes on 15:26 and 15:29.

Note 3

As some of the divine messages in the unfolding Book of the Universe, which includes biological evolution, are relatively clear to man, while some others remain vague (e.g., many apparently ‘useless’ vestiges in human body, like appendix), so are the evolving meanings and messages of the Quran as an unfolding scripture (3:6-7; cf. 29:43).

Note 4

To define the divine attribute Rabb (the Sustainer) as the Evolver who guides the evolutionary process by following a cosmic blueprint (87:1-3, 82:6-8, 20:50) – and as the Evolver of “All the Worlds” – the verb sawwa (fashioned with due proportion) appears and functions throughout the Quran as a multi-layered reference to various stages of evolution: From cosmic to biological to anthropic to spiritual (2:29, 15:29, 18:37, 32:9, 38:72, 75:4, 75:38, 79:28, 82:7, 87:2, 91:7; cf. Yea indeed, We are able to fashion with due proportion even the very tips of his fingers! 75:4). The word has been consistently used to describe: General evolution of the whole cosmos, life and man (87:1-3); Cosmic evolution as a process of galactic and celestial development (2:29); Phylogenetic and ontogenetic evolution of life and man (32:7-9); Evolution of sex and sexual differentiation between males and females (75:36-40); Anthropic evolution of both individual human and human species (82:6-8); Evolution of the self with human’s individual and collective evolution (91:7-10); and Spiritual evolution prefaced by anthropic evolution (15:28-29 and 38:71-76).

Thus sawwa is a broader term for evolution, compared to sawwara, which is more specific as it is reserved in the Quran to describe the evolution of humans only (3:6, 7:11, 40:64, 64:3; cf. 2:260, 59:24, 82:8). In both occurrences where ‘man’ totally replaces ‘Adam’ (38:71-76 and 15:28-44), we find the word sawwa (fashioned with due proportion) instead of sawwara (fashioned; cf. 7:11). The latter shares the same root with the divine attribute al-Musawwir (The Fashioner, 59:24).

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What is the original material that man has evolved from?

What is the original material that man has evolved from

 
Question:

God in the Quran appears a bit muddled. Can he make his mind and decide what is the original material that man is developed from: dust (30:20), water (25:54), sounding clay from black mud (15:26), or blood clot (alaq, 96:2)?

Answer:

The Quran clarifies and often elaborates an issue through its interactive explanatory process (6:65, 6:105, 17:89, 18:54), where verses in one place explain, supplement, clarify or throw more light on verses in other places, and vice versa (17:89, 25:33, 39:23, 75:19, 6:114). So, for a better understanding, it is essential that we read the verses as parts of an integrated whole rather than as detached.

Take the various statements in the Quran describing various physical materials for man’s creation as an example.

Thus, according to the Quran, human is created from ‘nothing’ (19:67), from water (25:54), from primordial water (21:30, 2:164, 24:45, 31:10), from sea water (11:7, 25:53-54), from dust (18:37, 30:20, 35:11, 40:67), from clay (6:2, 17:61, 22:5, 32:7, 37:11, 55:14), from quintessence of clay (23:12), from sticky clay (37:11), from potter’s clay (55:14), from potter’s clay of ‘black mud transmuted’ (15:26, 15:28, 15:33), from Earth as a ‘growth/ growing plant’ evolving through stages (71:17, 71:14), from a single self (39:6), from a single self split into opposites (4:1), from male and female (49:13), from a tiny drop (53:46), from a drop intermingled (76:2), from quintessence of a fluid despised (32:8), from gametes (18:37, 40:67), from a blood-sucking leech (‘alaq’; clinger, leech, aquatic worm, hanging embryo, affection etc; 96:2), from nutrients of blood ejected from mother’s heart (‘a gushing fluid, emerging from between the backbone and the ribs’; 86:6-7), from ‘chewed-like lump, formed and unformed’ (22:5) and so on.

All these statements are scientifically accurate, not only individually but also collectively. The more they are assembled together, the more they portray a wider picture. A deeper analysis of these verses and their interrelations, further expounded with relevant scientific information, enlightens the reader with dynamic messages in line with growing knowledge of evolving generations.

For instance, look into the statement “And indeed We created man out of potter’s/sounding clay of black mud transmuted. 15:26” (cf. 15:28, 15:33). Now, this makes a good sense if interpreted in light of modern evolutionary biochemistry. That is how we can appreciate that ‘black mud’ (‘hama’) here actually means carbon and that the term ‘transmuted’ (‘masnoon’, also meaning altered, moulded or aged, which shares same root with ‘sunnah’, ‘to follow a path’) alludes to the change over lengthy time span of millions of years when ‘hydrocarbons’ were gradually organised into higher organic molecules – like amino acids (protein), nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) and so on – necessary for origin and evolution of life. All these molecules are ‘sounding’, i.e. tale-telling, as they encompass in themselves history of millions of years. Thus the Quran seems to have used the expression ‘black mud transmuted’ to depict the original matrix – carbon (‘black mud’)-based organic molecules like hydrocarbons and their derivatives – whereby started the evolution of human’s physical body.

Then, reflect on man’s creation from ‘alaq’, or a blood-sucking leech (22:5, 23:14, 40:67, 75:38, 96:2). While ‘alaq’ has been traditionally used to mean a clinger, leech, blood-sucker, worm, clot, hanging embryo, affection etc, it essentially means ‘something that clings or hangs or remains attached to something’ (4:129). In the Quranic context, the word mainly describes an initial stage of the development of the human embryo when it resembles and functions like a hanging leech, sticking to the womb and sucking blood from its host. Viewed in light of modern embryological knowledge, this is an appropriate description of the human embryo between days 7 and 24 of its development.

Rumi and the Quranic concept of evolution

rumi-and-the-quranic-concept-of-evolution

 
According to the Quran, far from arriving on Earth as a ready-made product, man has evolved through infinite stages involving the whole Universe.

Please read this beautiful passage:

What is the matter with you that you do not hope greatness in God, 71:13

When He has created you in stages? 71:14

See you not how God has created the seven Heavens in stages/layers? 71:15

And has set up in them the Moon as a light, and set up the Sun a lamp? 71:16

And God has made you grow from the Earth as a growth /plant. 71:17

Then He returns you to it, and He brings you forth a bringing forth. 71:18

Here the general reference to man’s evolution (71:14) is elaborated by specific references to man’s cosmic and galactic evolution (71:15), man’s solar evolution (71:16) and then man’s terrestrial and biological evolution (71:17), followed by man’s future evolution (71:18).

Note how the description unfolds in steps in an exact evolutionary sequence and how it interestingly accords with modern cosmology.

So, man has evolved in a very lengthy process of gradual changes in the great uterus of the Universe’s vast space-time – going through many cosmic, inorganic, organic and biological stages – up to the point where ‘man the animal’ eventually became self-conscious ‘Homo sapiens’.

While outlining the various stages of man’s evolution, here the Quran calls us to seriously reflect on evolution as a manifestation of divine power and intelligent design (‘What is the matter with you that you do not hope greatness in God, …’).

This Quranic call to human reason to “expect greatness in God, who has created man in stages”, gets resonance in the greatest sufi poet of Islam, Jalal al-Din Rumi:

I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying
?

And this is how evolution is mystically perceived in his Masnavi, which is often described as ‘the Quran in Persian’:

Low in the Earth

I lived in realms of ore and stone:

And then I smiled in many tinted flowers;

Then roaming with the wild and wandering hours,

O’er Earth and air and ocean’s zone,

In a new birth,

I dived and flew,

And crept and ran,

And all the secrets of my essence drew

Within a form that brought them all to view

And Lo, a Man!

And then my goal,

Beyond the clouds, beyond the sky,

In realms where none may change or die

In angel form; and then away

Beyond the bounds of night and day,

And Life and Death, unseen or seen,

Where all that is hath ever been,

As One and Whole.

– Rumi

Further reading: Man has evolved through stages

Man has evolved through stages

Man has evolved through stages

 

MAN UNDERWENT COSMIC AND BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION

Please read this beautiful passage:

What is the matter with you that you do not hope greatness in God, 71:13

When He has created you in stages? 71:14

See you not how God has created the seven Heavens in stages/layers? 71:15

And has set up in them the Moon as a light, and set up the Sun a lamp? 71:16

And God has made you grow from the Earth as a growth/plant. 71:17

Then He returns you to it, and He brings you forth a bringing forth. 71:18

While outlining the various stages of man’s development in a strict evolutionary sequence, here the Quran calls us to seriously reflect on evolution as a manifestation of God’s greatness and intelligent design (‘What is the matter with you that you do not hope greatness in God, 71:13 …’).

Here the description about man’s evolution (71:14) unfolds in steps: cosmic and galactic evolution (71:15), solar evolution (71:16), terrestrial and biological evolution (71:17) and future evolution (71:18). Please note the chronological order and how it accords with modern cosmology.

So, man has evolved in a very lengthy process of gradual changes in the great uterus of the Universe’s vast space-time – going through many cosmic, inorganic, organic and biological stages – up to the point where ‘man the animal’ eventually became self-conscious ‘Homo sapiens’ (He has created you in stages. 71:14’).

The story started suddenly with Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago, when all the Universe was still confined within an infinitesimal singularity in an area smaller than the size of an atom (21:30, 6:73). Triggered by a cause unknown and for a reason unknown, the cosmos began to expand at an incredible rate; and matter, energy, space and time all came into existence (51:47, 13:2, 55:7). Then, as the Universe expanded, the primordial particles slowly began to condense and coalesce into giant gas clouds (41:11), leading to the evolution and formation of large-scale structures, from about 150 million years of cosmic time to present (79:27-30). Naturally, the primal matter and then the gas clouds had to evolve through many different phases or epochs to get organized into ‘seven’ celestial systems in layers (41:9-12): star, galaxy, cluster, supercluster, filament, universe-n and the multiverse (‘God has created the seven Heavens, in stages/layers . 71:15 ’; cf. 67:3) …

Man underwent all these stages, including the ones where the thin disk of our galaxy began to form at about 5 billion years of cosmic time (15:16, 25:61) and the solar system formed at about 9 billion years (25:61, 79:29; ‘And has set up in them the Moon as a light, and set up the Sun a lamp? 71:16’) …

Then, following the formation of the Earth after shooting out from a spinning solar nebula at about 9.2 billion years of cosmic time (79:30, 25:61-62, 15:14-19, 10:3-6), man became part of the earliest traces of terrestrial life that emerged by about 9.8 billion years after Big Bang (71:17). Then, undergoing the phases of the most primitive organisms living on the Earth (76:1), he kept on passing through numerous, diversified life forms generated by the ongoing biological evolution (7:11, 32:7-9, 82:6-8). Man progressively ascended to ever-higher stages of development as hominoids (76:28, 6:133, 56:57-62), branching out along the growing ‘tree of evolution’, until he attained that complexity of body and mind evident in modern man (‘And God has made you grow from the Earth as a growth/plant. 71:17’).

Finally, as man continues evolving, he will further ascend to higher stages (‘He brings you forth a bringing forth. 71:18’; cf. 84:19).

FURTHER THOUGHTS

Here we note a direct link between ‘stages’ of human evolution in 71:14 and ‘stages/layers’ of cosmic evolution in 71:15. Translated as ‘stages’, the word ‘atwar’ in 71:14 shares common root with ‘tatawwar’, the Arabic word for evolution. Our rendering of ‘tibaqan’ in 71:15 as ‘stages/layers’ is supported by 67:3 and 84:19 (cf. ‘You shall surely ascend  from stage to stage. 84:19’).

Thus, by associating the ‘stages’ of the development of man (71:14) with the ‘stages/layers’ of the development of the skies (71:15-16), the Quran presents human evolution in the context of cosmic evolution.

Please note how the reference to the ‘seven Heavens’ in 71:15 is followed by the immediate reference to the Solar system (‘the lowest Heaven’) in 71:16. This is in line with an identical trend, persistent throughout the Quran, where a description of the whole Universe (i.e. ‘seven Heavens’) similarly descends to the Solar system (‘the lowest Heaven’): 41:12, 67:3-5, 37:4-7, 78:12-13, 71:15-16; cf. 6:75-78, 10:3-6, 13:2-3,14:32-33, 15:14-18, 21:30-33, 24:35, 25:59-62, 31:25-29, 36:28-40, 39:5, 57:4-6, 79:27-31.

It is interesting to observe how the description also alludes to the creation of the essential living conditions for man on the Earth – whereof the Moon is a satellite (‘light’) and the Sun is a star (‘lamp’, 71:16) – and then goes on reflecting on man’s arrival on the Earth as a gradual growing process, or a developing project of the Earth itself (71:17), thereby linking it to the Earth’s own geo-biological history.

Thus the general reference to man’s evolution in 71:14 is elaborated by specific references to man’s cosmic and galactic evolution in 71:15, man’s solar evolution in 71:16 and then man’s terrestrial and biological evolution in 71:17, followed by man’s future evolution in 71:18.

Usually rendered as ‘growth/plant’ (71:17), the word ‘nabat’ recurs in the Quran to mean something which is not ready-made but is in a process of growing (cf. 22:5). In the context of the verse ‘And God has made you grow from the Earth as a growth/plant. 71:17’, the word specifically concurs with the modern biological concept of the TREE OF EVOLUTION.

However, while interpreting the verse 71:17 as a reminder of this phylogenetic evolution of the whole human species, we can also understand it as a reference to the ontogenetic evolution of every individual human. This includes the initial processes of the creation of an individual out of the organic and inorganic substances originating from the Earth, as well as her embryological evolution in the mother’s womb.

SUMMARY

The general reference to man’s evolution in 71:14 is elaborated by specific references to man’s cosmic and galactic evolution in 71:15, man’s solar evolution in 71:16 and then man’s terrestrial and biological evolution in 71:17, followed by man’s future evolution in 71:18.

So, man has evolved in a very lengthy process of gradual changes in the great uterus of the Universe’s vast space-time – going through many cosmic, inorganic, organic and biological stages – up to the point where ‘man the animal’ eventually became self-conscious ‘Homo sapiens’.

Far from arriving on the Earth as a ready-made product, man has evolved through infinite stages involving the whole Universe.

Evolutionary sequence in the Quran

Evolutionary sequence

 
Please read this popular verse:

Behold! In the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, in the succession of the night and the day, and in the ships that speed through the sea with what benefits man, and in the water that God sent down from the Heaven, thereby gave life to the Earth after it had been lifeless, and did spread out therein all kinds of living creatures, and in the changing of the winds and the clouds made subservient between the Heaven and the Earth, there are messages for a people reasoning. 2:164

EVOLUTION AND THE SEQUENCE

Evolution appears in mind when we observe in 2:164 how natural phenomena are depicted here in interesting evolutionary sequence:

Following the creation of the Universe (‘creation of the Heavens and the Earth’), with the planet’s diurnal revolution upon its own axis came the cycle of day and night (‘succession of the night and the day’) …

While the laws of motion governed the Earth and all the celestial bodies, all orbiting like ships in an ocean (‘the ships that speed through the sea’) …

Then, with gradual cooling of the rotating Earth, emerged on it the oceans involving hydrologic cycle (‘water that God sent down from the Heaven’) …

And within these aquatic conditions, life originated (‘thereby gave life to the Earth after it had been lifeless’) and then became infinitely diversified with endless nuance of living creatures (‘and did spread out therein all kinds of living creatures’) …

Since then life has been constantly sustained by a sophisticated ecological balance where biotic factors are in strict interdependence with abiotic factors like winds and clouds (‘changing of the winds and the clouds made subservient between the sky and the Earth’) …

There is, however, a seeming interruption in the sequence by the phrase ‘the ships that speed through the sea with what benefits man’. In fact, this is in line with the continuous trend in the Quran to compare moving heavenly objects including the Earth with sailing ships, and thereby to compare the cosmos with ocean (2:164; 10:18, 22; 14:32-33; 16:12-14; 22:65; 31: 29-31; 35:12-13; 36:40-42; 42:5, 32; 43:9-12; 45:12-13; 52:5-6).

Thus this mention of ships, which immediately follows an astronomical context, seems to describe celestial bodies (including Sun, Moon and Earth) orbiting in space as ships gliding through the sea.

It also portrays our rotating planet Earth (signified by rotating night and day) as a loaded spaceship (cf. 36:40-42) designed for human habitation.

Moreover, this interpolation here – this reference to ship, sea and man’s benefit – appears to be a deliberate interruption by the Quran in accord with its own unique style. It probably serves a purpose as an extra literary device: it breaks the monotone in the description of a long list of natural wonders by drawing the reader’s attention to the vastness and benefit of water, which is so important for life, and by adding to it a human touch.

This harmony in the working of the Universe is described in the Quran as a divine sign (ayah), as it is an indication to the existence and the unity of its Maker. Man is asked to reflect over this creation and realise the divine unity in the midst of diversity and amongst the various forces of nature that work in perfect harmony with one another (‘there are messages for a people reasoning’).5

Please observe how the verse reminds us of the all-embracing duality in the evolving Universe by repeatedly referring to the ‘pairs of opposites’ (Heavens and the Earth, creation … succession, the night and the day, the ships … the sea, the Heaven … the Earth, life … lifeless, the winds and the clouds, the Heaven and the Earth etc). This persistent allusion to the universal polarity of thesis and antithesis depicts cosmic evolution, including evolution of life and man, as a dialectical process.

A CALL TO HUMAN REASON

The above is one of the many verses where the Quran appeals to human reason to ponder on the wonders of nature that point to a conscious creative power pervading the Universe.

The following is another example of a similar call:

Behold! In the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight,

Who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the Heavens and the Earth: Our Sustainer! Thou hast not created all this without purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! 3:190-191

And also this one:

Do they not deeply observe the divine dominion of the Heavens and the Earth and all the things that God has created, and that it may well be their own term that has already drawn nigh? Then in which HADITH after this will they believe? 7:185

The association the Quran makes above between unappreciative minds and ‘the nearly dead’ gets some resonance in this famous quote of Einstein:

“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. So to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that which is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms-this knowledge, this feeling is at the centre of true religiousness.”