Islam and Evolution: Is there a controversy?
1 Mar 2015
Rana Dajani, a professor from Jordon, contextualizes discussions of evolution in the contemporary Arab world in this lecture from 2015.
Dajani uses a wide variety of Qurʾānic verses to demonstrate that there is no necessary conflict between biological evolution and Islam as it is lived by Muslims today. She emphasizes that the Qurʾān speaks about how one is to live ethically in the world, not a book of science. However, she also sees in it descriptions of the scientific method, and an instruction not to be arrogant. She suggests that those who want to see a human exception for evolution are being arrogant.
Dajani surveys the understanding of evolution before the 20th century, looking briefly at a variety of premodern rudimentary representations. She also looks at the late 19th century to show that there was then also no necessary conflict with the ideas of evolution, although she also points out that On the Origins of Species was not available in Arabic until the 1920s. She suggests that this changed because of the influence, through colonialism and Christian missionary educational systems, of not only Christian rejection of evolution, but presentations of social Darwinism in order to validate imperial political aims.
She surveys Qurʾānic verses to show that labels like “creationism” do not fit well in the Muslim world. She also shows that some verses used against evolution, such as Q32.7 and 94.5 may be reinterpreted in ways that confirm evolution. She suggests that this ijtihād (striving, effort) should be done through committees, so it is not just one person’s opinion.
In closing, she recommends that more students from the Arab world study humanities and philosophy. She presents the relationship between religion and science as a fluid one, with exchange on both sides. She notes that diverse opinions, like diversity in the biosphere, is good. She hopes for continued development of independent thinking in the youth of the Arab world.
This lecture was given on 19 February 2015 at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, Cambridge, England. Rana Dajani holds a PhD in molecular biology, and is an associate professor at Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan. The recording includes Dr. Dajani’s Powerpoint displays, which detail the Qurʾānic references.
Islam: The material on Islam is within the bounds of what Muslims have historically understood as acceptable. Some Muslims may object to her interpretations, but they are arrived at fairly.
Science: The science presented is consistent with a consensus of contemporary scientists. Some scientists might object to the overlap of scientific and religious spheres.
History: The history presented is consistent with a consensus of contemporary historians.