A view evolutionary theory from different religious perspectives


Evolution Theory is a heated topic of debate within scientific and religious circles ever since 1859, when Charles Darwin published his work ‘On The Origin of Species' describing how evolution through natural selection is a valid argument for different species we have on earth. This topic was also addressed by different religions. Two of these religions with substantial numbers of believers are Christianity and Islam. There are approximately 2.1 Billion Christians and 1.3 Billion Muslims in the world (Famighetti, 717). These numbers represent a significant portion of the world and account for the influence of these faiths. Without a doubt these faiths have an immense role in shaping the world we live in. These faiths fundamentally answer why we are alive and give the believer a cause to live. Religions typically give answers to essential questions such as how we came to be, how the world was created etc. While religions have been explaining the entire list of inexplicable phenomenon in their dogmatic systems, science also started to explain inexplicable phenomenon, in greater detail. With science fueling technology, and technology aiding for more advanced science, humans scientific knowledge has expanded vastly. However science still doesn't have answers for most fundamental questions, and some major theories, like the theory of evolution has yet to be proven. Darwin's theory is one of the major contributors to the modern evolutionary synthesis. Therefore Darwin's Theories are set out to explain the same question that religions explain. It is important to see what different religious groups think about the evolutionary theory as the different opinions shared might shed some light on why some believers see evolutionary theory as a threat. Islam and Christianity and their different religious groups perceive evolutionary theory differently due to their interpretation of religion; some literal interpreters of the religious texts believe that evolution is unacceptable, while for others see evolutionary theory as a part of the divine plan.

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Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution theorizes about the origin of species. Charles Darwin started out with his hypothesis “ There is neither enough space nor enough resources for all individuals that are born to survive. Some individuals are better able to survive and reproduce under the conditions of a given environment than others. Organisms that survive and reproduce pass along to some of their offspring traits that improve their chances of surviving and reproducing in turn. Over time, this differential survival and reproduction will change a species in ways that better adapt it to its local environment and make it different from closely related species in slightly different environments. Given enough time, the differenced between current generation and its ancestral generation become so great that we say a new daughter species has evolved. Similarly over time the differenced between one population and another nearby become so great that we say a new specie has evolved” (Moore, p67). This hypothesis is an outline of what Charles Darwin set out with. It explains Darwin's observances and Darwin then tries to see if they are true. The problematic part for religious groups is that Darwin suggests that some species perish, while new ones form. Darwin talks about natural selection and survival of the fittest when he mentions that the species fit for an environment will populate the environment faster than others. These hypotesis imply a common ancestor. Humans share common ancestor with primates on the smallest time scale, and with all the other species in the largest time scale.

Genesis according to Christianity is at odds with the Darwin's Theory. There are two scrolls that make up the Genesis. According to Moore: “ few readers seem to notice that there are two very different accounts of creation in Genesis, one originating in the P scrolls and the other in the J scrolls” (p30). The P account leads to the Christian belief the God created the universe in 6 days. The J account is much older and makes no reference to days it took for God to create the universe (Moore, p36). “ Some scholars interpret J to imply that all creation occurred instantaneously, not in six days” (Moore, p36). This shows differences between different editions of the text and the different interpretations of the text. However the main idea is that the god has created all, and there is no space for natural selection like Darwin suggests. Fundamentalists and Evangelical Christians who believe in inerrancy of Bible can be shown as the Christian religious groups who reject evolution. Be it 6 days or instantaneously, these different groups perceive that god, and this clashes with the idea Darwin proposes, created the species.

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In genesis there is another clash point with Darwin's theories about the origin of men. While Darwin's theory implies man has an ape like ancestor, 27th sentence in P scroll clearly states that “ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Moore, p33). Therefore we can say that Darwin's theory's implications mean that God has an image of an ape, which is unacceptable for Christians.

Creation according to Quran is also at odds with Darwinism, as it implies perfect design and superior creation and rejects ape-like human ancestor. “Surely your Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six periods of time, and He is firm in power; He throws the veil of night over the day, which it pursues incessantly; and (He created) the sun and the moon and the stars, made subservient by His command; surely His is the creation and the command; blessed is Allah, the Lord of the worlds.” (Qur'an, 7.54) This description is akin to J scroll, but Muslims believe that the duration of these periods of time are not defined. Thus their interpretation of Evolution is more welcoming. However the clashing point is : “We created man from sounding clay, from mud molded into shape” (Qur'an, 15.26). Clearly the Muslim believe that ape-like ancestor implied by Darwin is unacceptable. Also since the Qur'an is believed to be single original text, the word of Allah, different editions are not available to contrast. According to Harun Yahya, “The reality is clear an evident. All life is the product of a perfect design and a superior creation.”( Yahya, p155). Therefore Islam is also at odds with Darwin's theories.

Islam clashes with Darwinism to a lesser extent since it has only one major clash point with Darwin's theories, while Christianity has two major clashes. It can be easily seen that the older Genesis scroll is more alike to the description made in Qur'an. While some Christians believe that everything was created in a day, Muslims generally hold that 6 periods of time can be very long time in our perception. This facilitates the acceptance of Evolution in Muslim circles to the extent that it can be accepted along with Muslim beliefs. One must not forget that Islamic belief requires one to think that ape-like ancestry is out of question, as it is clearly stated that humans were created from mud. However this is not as strict as the Christian interpretation of creation, which tells that humans were created form the image of God. We can say that the different religious groups have different number of points they clash in however the ape-like ancestry clash point is common in both religions. However this is mostly the fundamentalist approach as the Fundamental Islamists are the ones insisting on strict literal interpretation of Qur'an.

Other interpretations of Christian texts exist, and these interpretations are more welcoming to Darwin's theories. There are people who believe that evolution is just a part of the divine plan, and evolutionary science is beneficial in understanding the wealth of God's design. For example Liberal Protestant Denominations are know to believe in evolution and they are thought to accommodate this belief by assigning symbolic meanings to Genesis and or treated those passages as myths (Beliefs of Christian Faith Groups About Origins). These groups interpret the Bible less literally. Some Catholics also believe in evolution. This belief was facilitated by Humani Generis, an encyclical by Pope Pius XII, which stated that a Catholic is free to accept any scientific theory about human origins provided it is accepted that God gave human its immortal spirit at some stage (Berra, 124). This was an important step for Papacy as it enabled those who have faith in Catholicism to hold evolution as true.

Some Muslims accept evolution and think that it actually proves that belief of Islam being the one and true religion. For example : “ And it is God who has created all animals out of water; and [He has willed that] among them are such as crawl on their bellies, and such as walk on two legs, and such as walk on four. God creates what He will: for, verily, God has the power to will anything”(Qur'an, 24:45) is a passage one might refer to for defending evolution with Qur'an. This passage clearly supports the evolutionary theory as it talks about a common starting point. We can also re-visit the creation of men from dust and link it to the creation of Earth and all that is on Earth from dust. So different interpretations of Qur'an actually support evolution, and less literal approaches facilitate these views.

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While keeping in mind the perception of two religions on the issue, we should also draw attention to those who does not believe in god. It is a fact that while Darwin believes in the “Theory of Evolution”, never he rejected the idea of a creator, in this manner God or Allah. The question asked should be “if one believes in the evolution, should he be considered an atheist?” Then if this is the case, one will have to be either an evolutionist or a creationist. According to Ruse “ I will agree that if you accept methodological naturalism, then you are almost certainly going to be an evolutionist”.(Ruse: 270) With this in mind, creationists are the ones that are the members of the abovementioned religions and those who believe in the creationist idea are atheists in some form. It is a very sharp and dangerous distinction. To end the argument, Ruse makes a conclusion by saying “ I am arguing what history has shown: There is really no reason why a Christian should not be a Darwinian, and there is really no reason why a Darwinian should not be a Christian… but I am saying that the one does not preclude the other.” (Ruse: 282) Therefore, ones belief in a creator does not necessarily mean that he can not be a Darwinian; on the contrary, a member of a religious can be both religious and an evolutionist. Thus, the making a distinction is meaningless.

As a conclusion we can say that for both Islam and Christianity have different factions that interpret the theory of evolution differently, with less fundamental groups accepting the theory and more fundamental groups rejecting it. The difference between Islam and Christianity is that in Qur'an no specific time interval is given for the creation, while the Bible has more literal time interval defined (in some editions). Christians who believe in evolutionary theory, like Muslims', take these time intervals less literally. Both Qur'an and Christianity have issues with intelligent design versus natural selection question. Less fundamentalist groups have seen Evolution as a part of the intelligent design. Qur'an is somewhat more compatible with Evolutionary theory as some passages accord the scientific theory in its content. We can also comment that fundamentalists generally base their beliefs on their arguments, therefore they would not believe in evolutionary theory unless they lost faith. This situation is also one of the reasons why they believe evolution is a deceit and a threat to those who believe. As a final note we can say that perhaps evolution is not confined to species but it applies to religions as well. Perhaps science is the new religion.