A Muslim journey through Creationism and Evolution

wayfarer

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Related Threads: * Introduction to Islam * Muslim call to Christians * Redirected Arguments
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The following is an account of my own journey through creationism and the Theory of Evolution (ToE)

My journey starts back in my primary school days, when, during a lesson, the teacher commented about a certain junior science book, "Look how stupid these people are! Perhaps their parents were monkeys, but mine certainly were not!" That was how I was inducted into that debate. And that was a phrase I was to repeat time and time again, through most of high school, to any peer who dared to give the ToE even the slightest consideration.

This phrase was also my "redeeming" remark at a high school extra-mural activity. When I was in grade 11, ours was one of the first non-white schools to ever join a white debating league. Other than that "honour", it was not a very affirming venture, as the whites out-dressed us (with their blazers and all), out-vocabbed us, out-accented us, and ultimately, out-competed us. There I was, engaging in informal chit-chat with a white chick (who was officially declared "best debater of the night") after I had been pronounced "most promising debater". I felt somewhat shy and intimidated by this blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl, averting my gaze and instead casting it down on to the dog-eared pages on which my "promising" rebuttal was written, when she remarked, "Is it not amazing that while we stand here as strangers, we all come from common ancestors that were not even the same species as us." To which I triumphantly replied, "Perhaps your parents were monkeys, but mine certainly were not!" The eloquent "debater of the night" was at a loss for words, and after a stuttering frenzy, all she could say was, "I don't know." I am not sure exactly what her thoughts were, but in retrospect, I do not think that she was particularly impressed.

Anyway, some further high school reading on evolution, as well as the discovery that so many (professional/academic) people supported the ToE, led me to a slightly more compromising position: I was still a pretty hardcore creationist, but evolution might just be the method by which God created humans.

I later did some very basic university studies in biology (and physics), and it appeared that the ToE was a neat way to explain the development of life and diversity from the onset of life to the present. I also spent some years teaching Life Sciences at a faith based Islamic high school. I periodically screened biology video clips in class which showed how various aspects of (and phenomenon within) nature demonstrated the Greatness and Mercy of God (also being consistent with the Quranic narrative on this topic). These clips were produced by Harun Yahya's foundation (Adnan Oktar), and strongly advocated creationism. However, while I was probably still a creationist, I felt too uncomfortable to play any clips that completely condemned the ToE. The ToE eventually became an essential part of the grade 11 syllabus. Biology teachers at faith-based schools were in opposition to this. Some conspired to teach creationism instead, while others would teach it as a "false theory of those who rejected God". This really troubled me, and I redoubled my efforts at learning about the ToE, as well as what veteran classical and contemporary Islamic scholars had to say about this matter (which was not very much). I also immersed myself in science and philosophy literature that deconstructed and criticised the ToE.

My research led me to a 1995 "academic letter" by a contemporary Islamic scholar/philosopher, who is well respected in the Muslim world. He explained, from a philosophical and Islamic theological perspective, that the ToE may have some applicability, but that because of the way in which God created Adam, the ToE was not likely to be applicable to human beings. Quranic verses suggest that God took very special care in Adam's creation, and it did not seem befitting that millenia of random mutations and natural selections would fashion Adam. As a result, he opined that Muslims could either reject the ToE or accept it on the condition that it excludes Adam. I decided to play it safe. When teaching my students the grade 11 level of the ToE, I put it to them that they could either adopt it as their prefered understanding of the origin of life (excluding humanity from the process), or reject it entirely in favour of creationism (which was still fairly popular with the parents of learners). Personalities such as Richard Dawkins did the ToE no favours either in terms of selling it to religious communities. He promotes himself as an evolutionary biologist, but is publicly more actively anti-God than he is pro-evolution. As a result, many lay religious people are inclined to, without much thought, reject this "anti-God" theory. The biggest creationism influence on Islam, no doubt, comes from organised creationism within Christianity. The Christian Institute for Creation Research was formally approached by the Turkish government in the 1980s for guidance on this topic, which gave the Turk, Harun Yahya, exactly what he was looking for.

By then, I had personally come to adopt the "all life evolved, other than humans" theory. I set about trying to understand the nature of this exception, and to grapple with a possible logical and scientifically sound explanation for having both of these methods co-exist, i.e. ToE for non-humans, and creationism for Adam. After leaving the teaching profession, I started working on my own "small hypothesis", which I refined post by post, right here on MBB! I also posted some of my later, more refined, explanations on various Islamic forums internationally. I was wholly surprised when small numbers of Islamic scholars and also Muslim scientists made contact with me regarding this "small hypothesis". Some were very supportive and even excited, while others were quite scathing in their criticism (though none were directly confrontational), but this afforded me the opportunity to further refine the mini-theory, and repost it to the forums.

All the while, I had been engaging in dialogue about this hypothesis with a devout Muslim friend who lectures in microbiology at a local university. "Why exclude humans?" my friend asked, and "What is you? (what is your essence?)" These types of questions led me to do further research into classical Islamic philosophical explanations on the nature of the human. The "why exclude humans" question had also earlier been posed to me on MBB. As to the "what is you" question, Islamic scholars would answer, "The soul." The body is nothing but a vehicle, an earthly, mammalian, primate vehicle. Its honour is contingent on its relationship with the soul. This explains the dual nature of the human being: part earth (animal, material, carnal) and part divine spirit (the soul, purest essence).

Although there are some who say otherwise, the dominant Islamic view is that Adam was created from Earth's clay brought to Paradise, and then the soul entered him. Is it then unthinkable that God raised Homo Sapien Sapien (evolved from the soil of the Earth) to Paradise to receive his precisionly crafted soul (and conscience)? Remember that mainstream Muslims are by no means scriptural literalists; we accept that allegory exists within the Quran. Is this a reasonable metaphor? My body is an animalian mechanism. It is of this earth, and will return to it. It is composed of Carbon-based compounds just like all other life on Earth. It is a vehicle for my soul. I had gone 180 degrees. God likely created the human vehicle through the process of evolution. God effected and selected mutations according to His Will, through (seemingly) "natural" processes and systems created by Him.

I am not a scientist, and I do not understand these things on the level of scholars. I do not have absolute certainty in this matter, but I am inclined to accept that evolution produced the diversity of life on earth, including the vehicle of Homo Sapien Sapien. This view does not contradict what is in the Islamic texts, but does contradict the padding that some scholars have given to what is stated in Islamic texts.

(Note that trying to reconcile scripture with the science of the day is not a requirement for the believer, especially if it is not something that is easily observable and which unambiguously and manifestly stares you in the face, proclaiming its absolute reality. For most ordinary people, the ToE falls outside the realm of what is obviously true, or a manifest reality. There are Islamic scholars, from the classical period to the present day, who painstakingly attempted to demonstrate to critics that the Quran (or Islam) was consistent with contemporary science, only for science to update itself, modifying the original understanding. What then becomes of the linked "Islamic" interpretation? Religion presents essential realities, while science seeks to discern manifest realities)
 
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wayfarer

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Below is a video of a phenomenal, landmark conference which took place in 2012, entitled "Have Muslims misunderstood Evolution?". Four prominent Muslim scientists (including Research Chair in Evolutionary Biology at McGill University and also a Professor of Biological Anthropology) and traditional Islamic scholars make presentations about Islam and Evolution. Many students and scholars of Science and of Islam were present in the audience. This event was the first of its kind on this level. The video is well worth the watch for anyone interested in how a faith tradition attempts to deal with science that to some seems to contradict traditional views.

[video=youtube;FbynBJVTWKI]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbynBJVTWKI[/video]
 
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wayfarer

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Related Quranic references

I do not think that the Quran explicitly confirms or denies either creationism or evolution, but there are some verses that may be relevant here.

Lets start with the following verse:

"Have not the unbelievers then beheld that the heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, and then We unstitched them and of water fashioned every living thing? Will they not believe?" (Quran 21:30).

Now lets look at the creation of life, and what could possibly be mitotic division in asexual reproduction. Note the genderless description of this original life:

"O humans! Be pious (careful of your duty) to your Lord, Who created you from a single entity, and from it He created its mate, and from them He has spread a multitude of men and women." (Quran 4:1)

The next verse speaks about life producing life ("We created your mates from yourselves")

"And of His signs: He has created for you from yourselves mates with whom you find rest , and He ordained between you love and mercy . In this, there are signs for people who ponder." (Quran 30:21)

A reiteration of the role of water:

"God has created every animal out of water . Of them (is a category which) walks upon its belly, (another which) walks upon two legs, and (a third which) walks upon four. God creates what He wills. God is Able to do everything (he wants)." (Quran 24:45)

In addition to water, clay/soil/dust is involved in the origination of creation, and reproduction resulting from "mean" water (gametes in a liquid substrate?):

"(It is He) who has created all things well. And He originated the creation of man out of clay, then He fashioned his progeny of an extraction of mean water" (Quran 32:7-8)

The verse below is traditionally thought to be in reference to embryonic development. Some scholars are starting to think that there might be more to it:

"Seeing that it is He that has created you in diverse stages." (Quran 71:14)

Below is another related verse:

"And God has caused you to grow out of the earth in [gradual] growth" (Quran 71:17)

"O mankind, what has deceived you concerning your Lord, the Generous, Who created you, proportioned you, and balanced you? In whatever form He willed has He assembled you." (Quran 82:6-8)

There are many more relevant verses, such as those describing the stages of life. Feel free to research this topic for yourself.
 
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porchrat

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Jeepers I actually took some exerts from that initial post to see if it had been copied and pasted from somewhere else. Your writing is stupendous! :eek:

Thanks for the awesome post.

I haven't found that Muslims on this forum have a religious problem with evolution but this will hopefully demonstrate to those who do, that the conflict exists only in their minds and there is no need for it. This is proof that your faith and science can indeed peacefully coexist.

We need one of these for the Christians on the forum, who are far far worse with their rejection of evolution and the creation of this "us vs. them" mentality.
 

copacetic

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Fascinating post. Most excellent, thank you.

All I have is one question - If you had been born in, say, India, would you have perhaps written this in defense of some form of Hinduism and its relation to evolution?

I (and many others) greatly appreciate your thoughts and efforts on this topic (especially your willingness to engage), but ultimately, I cannot help but see it as you spending many years attempting to fit in a religious theory of reality, with an observable reality that is in many ways at complete odds with the religion.

I went through a similar (albeit much more low-key) experience with Catholicism, and when I finally (after many years) realized that there was no need for the religious component, the universe suddenly made so much more sense (as did my sudden understanding of the staggering breadth of my ignorance).
 
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porchrat

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Fascinating post. Most excellent, thank you.

All I have is one question - If you had been born in, say, India, would you have perhaps written this in defense of some form of Hinduism and it's relation to evolution?

I (and many others) greatly appreciate your thoughts and efforts on this topic (especially your willingness to engage), but ultimately, I cannot help but see it as you spending many years attempting to fit in a religious theory of reality, with an observable reality that is in many ways at complete odds with the religion.

I went through a similar (albeit much more low-key) experience with Catholicism, and when I finally (after many years) realized that there was no need for the religious component, the universe suddenly made so much more sense (as did my sudden understanding of the staggering breadth of my ignorance).
Oh good point. It is another example of how religious beliefs can hold back scientific progress and understanding. Didn't spot that. :eek:

I don't think acceptance of evolution is a big problem with Hindus. If I recall correctly the vast majority of them accept it as the most likely explanation. Though I'm sure there are some folks that don't.
 

isie

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Fascinating post. Most excellent, thank you.

All I have is one question - If you had been born in, say, India, would you have perhaps written this in defense of some form of Hinduism and it's relation to evolution?

I (and many others) greatly appreciate your thoughts and efforts on this topic (especially your willingness to engage), but ultimately, I cannot help but see it as you spending many years attempting to fit in a religious theory of reality, with an observable reality that is in many ways at complete odds with the religion.

I went through a similar (albeit much more low-key) experience with Catholicism, and when I finally (after many years) realized that there was no need for the religious component, the universe suddenly made so much more sense (as did my sudden understanding of the staggering breadth of my ignorance).

From my experience its more the followers of a religion that have the problem with the science then the actual religion itself?

In the Evolution aspect, a man finds it so awful that he is 'related' to a monkey so will dismiss evolution entirely, rather then consider the possibility that evolution a whole (natural selection and all) could possibly be part of ' gods plan' andnot necessarily have to be Anti god- just my opinion

Reminds me of an argument i had with a fellow muslim discussing ( I use the term lightly) the big bang theory - didn't go further when his argument went give me dynamite and ill blow something up show me how anything can be created by that -I didn't bother explaining its not an actual explosion in traditional sense - his mind was set its against what he believes (or was taught to beleive)
 
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ShaunSA

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Oh good point. It is another example of how religious beliefs can hold back scientific progress and understanding. Didn't spot that. :eek:

I don't think acceptance of evolution is a big problem with Hindus. If I recall correctly the vast majority of them accept it as the most likely explanation. Though I'm sure there are some folks that don't.
In India, Most Hindus accept the theory of biological evolution. In a survey, 77% of respondents in India agreed that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and 88% of God-believing people said they accept evolution as well.[6][7] According to the survey conducted by Pew Forum in the United States, 80% of Hindus agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth.[8] However, Indian textbooks for over hundred years teach students, "evolution" as the true scientific explanation.[citation needed]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_views_on_evolution
 

AlphaJohn

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Great read wayfarer.

Just one small note, and sorry to be pedantic, but scientifically speaking, you have a "small hypothesis" not "mini-theory". In Science theory can be tested and replicated, i doubt the same can be done with your hypothesis.
 

copacetic

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Oh good point. It is another example of how religious beliefs can hold back scientific progress and understanding. Didn't spot that. :eek:

I don't think acceptance of evolution is a big problem with Hindus. If I recall correctly the vast majority of them accept it as the most likely explanation. Though I'm sure there are some folks that don't.
It was just a completely arbitrary example - I used Hinduism for the geographical aspect mostly. The point is simply that your cultural, geographical and familial background instills in you whatever religion you believe in, in the vast majority of cases, and as such (to my mind), this drastically reduces the likelihood of any one religion being correct (while at the same time making it completely understandable why people who come from such a situation approach existing from the baseline of what their religion has to say about reality [until there is a irreconcilable clash which prompts a paradigm shift])

From my experience its more the followers of a religion that have the problem with the science then the actual religion itself?
Well, ultimately religion is in the hands of the believers of that religion. If you look at the history of science and religion, it has mostly been a process of scientific knowledge pushing back religious dogma. It gets to a point where reality intrudes far enough that the religion as a whole simply has to adjust its views.

In the Evolution aspect, a man finds it so awful that he is 'related' to a monkey so will dismiss evolution entirely, rather then consider the possibility that evolution a whole (natural selection and all) could possibly be part of ' gods plan' andnot necessarily have to be Anti god- just my opinion
I am perfectly happy with the notion that evolution is process initiated by god (whatever god is), but this view also misses the point that evolution simply does not need god to operate as it does, which is part of what makes it so incredible.

Reminds me of an argument i had with a fellow muslim discussing ( I use the term lightly) the big bang theory - didn't go further when his argument went give me dynamite and ill blow something up show me how anything can be created by that -I didn't bother explaining its not an actual explosion in traditional sense - his mind was set its against what he believes (or was taught to beleive)
There we go. This is the crux of the issue. Ingrained beliefs stopping the acquisition of new knowledge in its tracks.
 
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ShaunSA

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Thanks for being the only one not too lazy to fetch the actual figures :p

See, I knew the Hindus would be cool with evolution. Hindus are so chilled in general that I expect they are cool with just about anything. :D
They have their share of crazies. But those tend to be a really small minority. :D
 

Nerfherder

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wayfarer said:
Although there are some who say otherwise, the dominant Islamic view is that Adam was created from Earth's clay brought to Paradise, and then the soul entered him. Is it then unthinkable that God raised Homo Sapien Sapien (evolved from the soil of the Earth) to Paradise to receive his precisionly crafted soul (and conscience)? Remember that mainstream Muslims are by no means scriptural literalists; we accept that allegory exists within the Quran. Is this a reasonable metaphor? My body is an animalian mechanism. It is of this earth, and will return to it. It is composed of Carbon-based compounds just like all other life on Earth. It is a vehicle for my soul. I had gone 180 degrees. God likely created the human vehicle through the process of evolution. God effected and selected mutations according to His Will, through "natural" processes and systems created by Him.
Even as someone who is completely Atheist I think you have something there... that was a really great read.

Although I think you have just made a breakthrough that ultimately erode your faith.

You have accepted that your body is just a vessel for your soul and that is possible that this vessel could have evolved. Then you suggest that perhaps the creator is manipulating this evolution, ok but then consider this.

Blue eyes are dominant, so a mother and a father with blue eyes are going to have a child with blue eyes, its impossible for it to be any different. This is an exact thing, so lets say this was something the creator decided long ago. Blue eyes will be dominant and this will be the rule.

So then what is the significance of that? Are people with blue eyes special... perhaps people with a certain skin colour are special? are then some people born closer to god then others ?

If the creator is evolution, did he always do it ? When did he start, when did he stop ?

Once you have gone down this path you will see that there is no reason for a creator.
 

wayfarer

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Fascinating post. Most excellent, thank you.
Thanks to all for the kind remarks.

All I have is one question - If you had been born in, say, India, would you have perhaps written this in defense of some form of Hinduism and it's relation to evolution?
Evolution is not generally a problem for Hindus, as it complements the concept of samsara (reincarnation) and moksha nicely. It is almost as if samsara and evolution are metaphors for each other, as are moksha and the actualised Homo Sapien.

To answer your question, the piece about my journey is actually not in defense of Islam. In fact, in terms of literal specifics, the Quran is largely silent on this matter. In cannot be said that the Quran unambiguously supports or rejects the idea of the evolution of life.

I (and many others) greatly appreciate your thoughts and efforts on this topic (especially your willingness to engage), but ultimately, I cannot help but see it as you spending many years attempting to fit in a religious theory of reality, with an observable reality that is in many ways at complete odds with the religion.
Change will never be hasty for a castless, "hierarchiless" body like the Muslim nation. Recall one of my earlier posts:

...
According to Islamic scholar, Timothy Winter ("Contentment" lecture):

"It took the West 400 years to adapt to modernity... and many of the challenges that the community of Islam faces are there because of having to turn a very sharp corner very quickly. The community is, if you like, like one of those super tankers that take 20 miles in order to change course, because they're so big, and ponderous, and carrying so much, and they have been underway for so long, that you can't suddenly turn them on a new course overnight. If you're a tiny little ship, you can do that, a new religious movement - it can change and adapt because it is light-weight. But a religion like Islam, if it has to change course, which it has to, because that's what ijtihad (continued scholarly efforts to better understand, interpret and operationalise the Divine Message in way that is relevant to the context) is about, and that's what living in a changing world is about, and what the universality of the religion is about, then it's going to take time..."
I went through a similar (albeit much more low-key) experience with Catholicism, and when I finally (after many years) realized that there was no need for the religious component, the universe suddenly made so much more sense (as did my sudden understanding of the staggering breadth of my ignorance).
This is generally not the case with Islam. Islam encourages engagement with (and through) science. Close-minded or fanatical Muslims are so because of a variety of factors, mostly internal, but some external as well. It is not true that religion imposes this on anyone, but many have evoked religion in support of their bigotry, violence, hardheadedness, etc. In the absence of religion, people will simply find other facilities/avenues to justify inappropriate attitudes and behaviour.

Oh good point. It is another example of how religious beliefs can hold back scientific progress and understanding. Didn't spot that. :eek:
Having ontological views are common to all peoples, whether religious or not, and this factor is generally what impedes hasty changes in views, and not religion per se. Your assumption, of course, is that Islam is likely false, and therefore it would not be worth it to undergo this journey for "imaginary eternal bliss". I do not mind that I grappled with science, because the Hereafter (which I have faith in) is of ultimate importance. In my specific example, I do not think that excluding humanity from the ToE was fatal, other than maybe irritating Occam to an extent. I do not see Islam as playing any significant role in the impedance of science.
 

porchrat

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Having ontological views are common to all peoples, whether religious or not, and this factor is generally what impedes hasty changes in views, and not religion per se.
My stance doesn't impede my scientific understanding or advancement in any way that I am aware of.


Your assumption, of course, is that Islam is likely false, and therefore it would not be worth it to undergo this journey for "imaginary eternal bliss".
No my argument is just that Islam can, and does, impede scientific progress. Something people seem reluctant to admit.


I do not mind that I grappled with science, because the Hereafter (which I have faith in) is of ultimate importance. In my specific example, I do not think that excluding humanity from the ToE was fatal, other than maybe irritating Occam to an extent.
Of course it was fatal. It was a fundamental misunderstanding and perversion of science. Had your entire society agreed with you they would not have bothered to even investigate human evolution because "well duh, humans didn't evolve!... what a silly notion!! *guffaw guffaw chuckle*".


I do not see Islam as playing any significant role in the impedance of science.
Says the guy that underwent a massive journey in order to catch up to current science thanks mainly to his religious beliefs. :rolleyes:

Those societies that don't have to jump through all the hoops you had to have the inside track.

... is this maybe a usage of the term "impedance" that I am unaware of?
 

falcon786

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Excellent post wayfarer,and I think its about time muslims address this whole evolution debate a lot more seriously,I'm glad that you have done more than just set the ball rolling but have actually tried to formulate a reasonable logical coherent chain of thought that allows muslims to really think about the theory of evolution going forward.

Theres no point hiding in a corner and playing it safe we need to realize that the theory of evolution is affecting our knowledge base today and to outright deny it would be foolish at best.I have also come to a similar conclusion to yours during my thinking on the subject.
 

falcon786

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Personalities such as Richard Dawkins did the ToE no favours either in terms of selling it to religious communities. He promotes himself as an evolutionary biologist, but is publicly more actively anti-God than he is pro-evolution. As a result, many lay religious people are enclined to, without much thought, reject this "anti-God" theory.
Dawkins is not the only one guilty of this,unfortunately many ex-christian atheists just lump Islam as being in the exact same boat as christianity and try to use evolution to disprove the existence of GOD or the relevance of religion.I have experienced it on this forum also,fortunately there are many actual scientific minded individuals and atheists on here who can easily see that evolution does not justify belief in GOD or lack of it,it just explains mechanisms and methods in which organisms of the earth developed to the current state and its very very useful in predicting results of biological actions so that it helps us move forward.

Even if evolution is somehow proved to be incorrect the fact that it is useful as a model to predict scientific outcomes means it would still be useful to take humanity further,so studying evolution is not a waste of time by any means.A good example of this is Isaac newtons laws of nature were basically overridden by Einsteins theory of relativity,however we still use them to this day to calculate the velocity of a car rather than use relativity because of the predictable results in most scenarios which give us the needed accuracy in results.
 

wayfarer

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...Blue eyes are dominant, so a mother and a father with blue eyes are going to have a child with blue eyes, its impossible for it to be any different. This is an exact thing, so lets say this was something the creator decided long ago. Blue eyes will be dominant and this will be the rule.

So then what is the significance of that? Are people with blue eyes special... perhaps people with a certain skin colour are special? are then some people born closer to god then others ?
I don't know why God did it that way. There are many things I do not know about God's method. There is no doubt that science will uncover some of the mysteries.

(It was my understanding that blue eye colour was recessive.)

If the creator is evolution, did he always do it ? When did he start, when did he stop ?
Please see my post on what the Creator Wills, according to His Power.

Once you have gone down this path you will see that there is no reason for a creator.
I am not a proponent of the God of the Gaps argument, so studying and contemplating creation cannot sway me, it can only inspire me. The Quran exhorts its followers to observe, learn and reflect. The Quran manifestly asserts that this would lead to spiritual growth and greater God-consciousness.
 
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Mineer

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Very nice post :love: for me tho the journey was allot shorter, it was not much a journey to begin with. I never had such a huge problem accepting evolution when I first heard about it, for me it was more like "dude it makes the most sense", also for me, I never really found evolution as contradictory the teachings of Islam for exactly the same verses quoted in the OP and more. Too me the Quran seemed to say go out and research and make your conclusions on logical deductions, I think in this spirit, the scientific method was produced.

(I know in the other thread my logic may be questionable, but I would like to think I used logic, irrespective, to get to my conclusion, a false conclusion admittedly)
 
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