Some Sunni Scholars and the Theory of Evolution
Al-Azhar University, which represents the Ashari and Maturidi Sunni ideologies, is generally known for rejecting the theory of evolution. These are some of the statements from an Al-Azhar graduate claiming to have refuted evolution.
Dr. Umar Sulaiman Ashqar , in his book, Al-Aqeeda fi Allah [Belief in God], begins by explaining his understanding of Darwin’s theory, or the theory of evolution:
Note : Dr. Umar Sulaiman Ashqar (1940-2012), a Sunni scholar, received his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Islamic Law at Al-Azhar University. He was a lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Law at Kuwait University, and he later served as a professor at the Faculty of Islamic Law at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan.
Darwin’s explanation of the process of evolution:
Natural Selection: Elimination factors cause the weak and frail beings to perish and the strong ones to survive. They call this law “Survival of the Fittest”, so the strong and healthy creature survives, and passes its strong traits to its offspring. With time, the strong traits gather to make a new trait in the organism. This is “abiogenesis” that makes the being with these primary traits evolve into a higher organism. In this manner, evolution continues to occur, and that is progression. (Ashqar 1999, 85. Arabic source, translated).
Response: Abiogenesis is a theory that explains the origin of the first replicators and how they emerged on the earth. It has nothing to do with the traits of organisms or the law of natural selection. It deals with how the first protein, or the first self-replicator, representing the simplest origin of life, came into existence. With regard to organisms evolving and bearing new traits during the process of evolution, this is not abiogenesis. It is actually the process of evolution and development. Also, the appearance of a new organism that expresses enough traits to separate it from its relatives during the process of evolution is called speciation and diversification.
Wonders never cease with people like Ashqar, who delve into a science they know nothing about. He is not even capable of distinguishing abiogenesis from evolution, or development from speciation, yet he says that the theory of evolution is false, and sets out to refute it!
Ashqar later says:
Professor Nabeel George, one of the reliable scientists in this field, says: “For that reason, natural selection does not explain the theory of abiogenesis or evolution. It only explains that the least fit will die, and that some characteristics will spread among the species. Those who speak of evolutionary leaps mean that an animal which did not have an eye suddenly had an eye, because of the action of some rays.
Some specialists have proved that x-rays can cause changes in the number of genes, but this change occurs in something that is already present—it does not create something that does not exist. The number of a monkey's genes differs from the number of a human's genes. X-Rays only affect the genes that are already present; how could these rays, which do not possess any form of intelligence, create the intelligence in man which distinguishes him from monkeys and other animals?
These rays can affect the genes, but it is more akin to distortion than reforming, as happens in the case of atomic rays (radiation). This is in addition to the fact that science of genetics disproves Darwin’s theory, as experience shows. The Jews, and the Muslims after them, have been circumcising their sons for centuries, but this has not led to any of their children being born circumcised. The more science advances, the more Darwin’s theory is proven wrong.” (Ashqar 2005, 139).
Response: Here again, he shows his misunderstanding of the theory of evolution when he quotes the following:
Those who speak of evolutionary leaps mean that an animal which did not have an eye suddenly had an eye, because of the action of some rays.
This is incorrect. According to the theory of evolution, the eye did not come into existence suddenly. Initially there were cells that sensed the environment of the organism. These cells then specialized in sensing light, multiplied, arched, and shrank to form the light orifice, and afterwards the lens was formed. The modern eye evolved through minute cumulative steps that occurred over millions of years and across many generations.
Ashqar’s reference to circumcision shows that he understands nothing about the theory of evolution. What does circumcision or tradition have to do with the theory of evolution? Evolution occurs due to the presence of a favored genetic trait acquired by the organism. Circumcision is not a genetic trait, but rather a surgical procedure that groups of people habitually perform. Customs and surgical procedures cannot be inherited. Rather, it is genetic traits that are inherited and therefore have an effect within evolution.
By God, how strange that a person who understands nothing about the theory of evolution writes a book to refute it, and considers it a scientific response! There is no power except in God.
This theory is not supported by reality
a) If this theory were true, we would see many animals and people coming into existence through evolution, not only through reproduction. Even if evolution needs a long time, this does not mean that we would not see monkeys changing into men, one group after another.
b) Even if we accept that natural circumstances and natural selection turned a monkey into a man for example, we cannot accept that these circumstances would also dictate that there would be a woman to accompany this man, so that they could reproduce and there would be a balance between men and women.
c) The ability to adapt which we see in creatures such as the chameleon, which changes colour according to where it is, is an ability which is inherent in the formation of that creature. It is born with that ability which exists in some and is barely present in others. All creatures have limits beyond which they cannot pass. The ability to adapt is the matter of inborn potential, not a developed characteristic that has been formed by the environment as the proponents of this theory say. Otherwise, the environment would have forced rocks, soil, and other inanimate objects to adapt.
d) Frogs are distinguished from man in their ability to live on the land and in water. Birds are distinguished from man by their ability to fly and move rapidly without the aid of a machine. A dog’s nose is far more sensitive than that of a human—so is a dog’s nose more advanced than a human’s nose? Are frogs and birds more advanced than humans in some ways? Camels’, horses’ and donkeys’ eyes see equally well by day and night, whereas human eyes are unable to see in the dark. An eagle’s vision is far more acute than that of a human. So are eagles and donkeys more advanced than man? If we take self-sufficiency as the basis of superiority, then plants are superior to man and all animals, because they manufacture their own food and food for others, with no need for nourishment from elsewhere.
If we take size as the basis of superiority, then camels, elephants, and prehistoric animals (dinosaurs for example) would be superior to man. (Ashqar 2005, 139-41).
Response: Ashqar believes that the modern human, Homo sapiens, has evolved from the modern ape. This is not the case. Actually, humans and modern great apes share a common ancestor. Due to his ignorance or misunderstanding of evolution, he demands that modern apes evolve into humans, because he imagines that this is what happened in the past. However, humans and modern apes diverged millions of years ago. This means that modern great apes and humans share a common ancestor, but they split into two different lineages. For this reason, it is scientifically impossible to expect that a modern ape would evolve into a human, because millions of years ago apes took a different evolutionary path than humans. It is nearly impossible to imagine apes going backwards on the evolutionary path to the original point of divergence from humans, and then embarking upon the same evolutionary path as humans.
Regarding the lineage from which chimpanzees separated and in which humans evolved, the only remaining member of this lineage is the modern human—Homo sapiens, so no one can ask why all members of the human lineage did not evolve into humans. The truth is that all members of this lineage evolved into distinct species, one of which is the modern human. As for the question of whether evolution continues today or not, the answer is yes, it still continues in nature, even though the evolution of most organisms is not visible to us due to the brevity of our lives and the long life cycle of these organisms. However, it is possible for us to observe evolution in some insects due to their short life cycle. Through observations of some insect species in their natural habitat, we can see clear indications of evolution and dramatic changes in their traits. These are established facts that anyone can verify.
Regarding his demand that a female evolves, it is truly the most extreme form of ignorance, because evolution occurs within an entire species. One of the pillars of evolution is reproduction, the transfer of genes to the following generation. For example, when a mutation that alters the straightness of legs occurs in a female, she passes it to her offspring, whether they are male or female. Likewise, if a mutation occurs in a male, he also passes it to his offspring, whether they are male or female. These mutations are small and do not take an individual out of its species. Therefore, a mate bearing the same mutation is not required in order to be able to breed. The individual is still able to breed with others of the same species who do not have that mutation. In cases where the mutation is a favored trait, then natural selection will firmly establish it. Eventually, those individuals possessing this trait will entirely prevail over the species.
Also, without reproduction there is no evolution. Therefore, how can it be imagined that males would evolve without females to a point where they are two different species, in order for Ashqar to demand that the female evolve after the male? By God, it is tragic that these people respond to the theory of evolution with such worthless ignorance!
Ashqar’s third point clearly reveals his extreme ignorance of evolution. The man barely understands a thing about the theory that he set out to refute.
As far as his comparison of the senses, I do not know why he finds it so strange that certain animal sensory mechanisms are more advanced than their human equivalents. This is beyond dispute, and everyone agrees on it. For example, humans lack the sonar of bats, as well as the sight possessed by hawks. Does he disagree with these scientific, empirical, and anatomical facts?!
Thus the colonialist education system, after destroying the people’s religion, imposed the study of this theory in the curriculum, introducing it in scientific garb so that students would believe it to be true, thus instilling in students’ minds the difference between this falsified science and religion, so that people would reject religion.
It is sufficient for the reader to know that because of this theory, many Muslims deviated from their religion. For this reason the colonialists were keen to teach this theory to Muslim children in their schools at the time when American law forbade teaching this theory in schools from 1935 CE.
But in Europe, after they had dealt the final blow to their deviated religion, they announced that Darwin’s theory, which they had used in the battle to support science against religion, was not a scientific fact; it was no more than a theory, and the more science advanced, the more the falsehood of this theory became apparent. (Ashqar 2005,143).
The theory of evolution is a scientific theory. It is currently the only one recognized by all well-established universities and research centers around the world to explain life on the earth. European and American universities are still teaching the theory of evolution, and neither they nor any other academically respected university has ever stopped teaching it. So I do not know where Ashqar got this fabrication: “the more science advanced, the more the falsehood of this theory became apparent.”
As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Advancements in genetics have proven the theory of evolution with irrefutable scientific evidence that cannot even be the subject of a substantial opposing argument. Two examples of this genetic evidence are retroviruses and the fusion of Chromosome 2 in humans.