SK23 – SEEN KAAF PODCAST – Creation or Evolution ?
False Oppositions, False Alternatives
So I’ve been thinking that it was very strange that in conversations, or even processes of thought, people are sometimes accepting oppositions that really, if you think about it, really do not apply. And I’m thinking about: are we created or are we the product of an evolution?
I have noticed lately that pretty much everything that is being presented to us deserves some deep questioning.
Opposition or false alternatives?
What you’ve just presented right now would be such an interesting topic to explore. I’ve never seen such an exploration. Where do you want to begin?
I’m not so sure it is that deep. In fact, this question “are we created or are we the product of an evolution?” is just, in my opinion, a way for us to be faced with an alternative that is one of the false alternatives, because in fact, one does not exclude the other.
There are some claims and there are very good historical reasons for that and it’s due to Christianity in particular and the way it developed, where there was a strong segregation between science and religion.
The Example of Religion vs. Science
False alternatives, not exactly science
You had basically to choose your camp. Either you were following the claims of the church based on the Bible, but not only on the Bible but on the fathers of the church. And in this case, many of these claims were not compatible with what science and looking at the laws of nature we are seeing and in this case you had to choose: do you belong to camp religion or do you belong to camp science? The false alternatives again.
But isn’t this the age old criticism of religion that those that attack the idea of religion say that you’re expected to have a lot of blind faith, a lot of beliefs that can’t be backed or can’t be evidence based? And so they take a stance that anyone that follows a religion is really sort of following something blindly and hence is dangerous.
Yes, but what I want to say is that this only exists within the context of the west and of Christianity in particular. How so? Because this question never arose before. Because this example amongst false alternatives “are you religious or are you a rational being?” was not even existing as an alternative before Christianity.
So you had religions, and you can think about Taoism, you can think about Hinduism. They were not so much concerned by explaining the laws of nature. And even ancient Egyptian religions, they didn’t care at all about this world. Everything is really meant for the afterworld.
So whatever we did in this world was really going towards the next world. Yes, for Egyptians is very clear. But in Hinduism, for example, you are not so much concerned about understanding the laws of nature. You’re just understanding that you have a karma, meaning that your actions will create a reaction. But that’s all you need to know, really.
The Role of the Qur’an
Dispelling false alternatives
It’s very clear in terms of what we call science and understanding the laws of nature, it’s the Qur’an that really brought this to a center of concerns for humans in this planet. Because Allah says in his book “look around you and think and understand” and “don’t you see that?”. And “what you know, aren’t you going to think?”.
And in terms of science, of course there was some astronomy, there was some mathematics, but very, very I wouldn’t say primitive, but reduced to simple things.
And when you look at the story of science from 500 years before the Common era until the Quran, there is not, nothing is really progressing. The Quran came, got us out of these false alternatives and then from the 7th century, an explosion: algebra, alchemia moving to chemia, et cetera, because there was a clear incentive since the Quran for people to look at the laws of nature that have been created by the same Creator that we are addressing with these metaphysical questions.
And there’s a way to reach Him through understanding his Will by the laws He intended. So we need to study this universe and reason and science are part of his Will.
So we need to study this universe in order to come to know our creator? Part of it, yes. And that’s something that was just introduced you mean from Islam onwards? Yes.
Prior to that, what was the contrast in thinking? The contrast is that you had the will of god, or gods, that were pretty much operating within matter where we are. But this matter, the origin of this matter, we address the Bible later, but for Buddhists, for Hindus, et cetera, the creation of this matter is not really known.
Maybe it is something totally permanent and cyclical and there’s no beginning, no end, really. Okay. It’s an ongoing process, a human vision within a universe that basically has no beginning. And no end.
You have some special beings who are gods, who are god, who are exercising their will, but you have really no relationship between the way this matter is behaving. So the ongoing cycle or the ongoing sort of no beginning and no end, hence leads to the idea of reincarnation, because you keep coming back until you have lived through the karma of that particular life.
Well, reincarnation as we understand it, which is that it’s like life number one, life number two, life number three, etc… is not found in any ancient religion, not even in Hinduism. Really? No. So is that a new thing? It is a thing that Europeans inferred from popular Hinduism in particular in the 19th century. But it wasn’t found in the Hindu doctrines themselves.
Then how do they take it from them?
Well, it’s just a way of exaggerating something which is called metempsychosis, which is there are elements in the psyche, in the person that are just like your body will be reused, maybe to make a tree or will go into another human, your atoms that compose your body. The idea is that part of psychology or the psychic body will be also reused, but it’s not the person as such.
Right. So if people are interested, there is a good consideration by René Guénon on this. René Guénon says what? In general, he has a book that I encourage people to read, which is on the principles of Hinduism (General Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines).
And very clearly, he articulates this idea that reincarnation as such cannot be a metaphysical, a sound metaphysical idea because in this universe, there cannot be repetition. So in the original Hindu no, it didn’t exist. No, it’s a popularized, very bastardized concept that doesn’t exist in the sacred scriptures and is not even really taught by the people who know the Veda.
It’s such a shame that a lot of these religions are now lost religions. They’ve either been tampered with or they’ve been changed so much over and over again that they’re not even recognizable from their original state, which could serve as one proof that really, in the beginning, all messages were one.
And many of those messages, like you said, were not preserved. And maybe that’s a part of the beauty of the system too.
The Role of Revelation Today
Revelation to expose false alternatives
We, as Muslims, have the Quran, which in it, God promises that it will remain preserved till the end of time. So maybe all the culmination of all the truth that once existed throughout the history of all religions has now come together into the book of the Quran. And we need to sort of like hold it, really as a gift, because it is probably the only place where it’s not been tampered with.
Yes. I mean, we know and it has been revealed to us that since Adam, no people have been left alone without a revelation, without a prophet, that he’s just reenacting or reviving the truth. Right. But these various revelations and the Prophet, peace be upon him, told us that there were 124,000 prophets sent to humanity since the beginning.
Some of those prophets, they came with some scriptures and 25 of them are listed in the Quran, but so many more have come. I have no problem believing or thinking that maybe Buddha was a prophet. Lao Tzu could have been a prophet. The problem is the preservation of their message. They were sent to specific people at a specific time.
Only the Quran was sent for the whole humanity, and for all times, starting from its revelation. And it clearly states that in the Quran that it was sent for all of humanity. And it makes total sense at the time when humanity comes as one, because now the whole world is a village. It would not make sense today that we have, let’s say, two authentic messages adapted to two different people.
So coming back to your comment about are we created or have we evolved, one can ask, what’s the difference? Because at some point there was a creation and then the question of whether it evolved over time. There had to be some creation in order for that to evolve. Again back at one of these false alternatives.
Yes. The main point is: how can something come out of nothing? Right? And if you ponder this question, obviously there needs to be something first. And it’s a very ancient metaphysical thinking. You must have something that is out of the nothing, that makes something. Even the big Bang, if you say the origin of everything, of time, space, anything, it’s a bang. What banged? Right. Something had to be there to bang.
Dispelling the Dichotomy Science vs. Religion
So very simplistic ideas. But I want to stress this. These false alternatives, like this dichotomy between science and religion came when, in the context of Christianity in particular and Judaism, you had sacred scriptures that were not concerned so much with science and describing the universe or containing many, let’s not call them mistakes, but considerations, ideas that were pertaining to the very people who wrote these accounts.
And suddenly, with the Qur’an, you had an incentive at understanding the world. And when you’re a Christian or a Jew and you look at your scriptures now, there are many things in these scriptures that do not match, let’s say, an objective, rational assessment of the how the world works.
In the story of creation in the Bible, for example, the plants are created before the sun, right? Like in the six days of creation and one day of rest. Well, you cannot help but thinking that how can plants exist without the sun? Right? If you want to take it literally. These kind of ideas and much more. But suddenly you have a scripture that is disconnected from science.
So you have to choose a camp. You cannot reconcile the two. Either you say these scriptures have problems and recognize that they have been tampered with. And they are not revelation. They are inspired by very good people, but they put inside their ideas. Or you stick to what really your reason and your experiments give you.
This problem does not exist in Islam, it goes beyond the false narratives. I was going to say, at what point can we prove scriptures as evidence based science? Is it provable? And should we expect it to be provable? So let’s say the Quran.
We’re coming to Islam now and the Quran has been untampered and it is all the culmination of all the truth that has come to mankind from the beginning to the end.
And we’re told that the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger of God. So now if it’s all come together in the Quran, are we to test the whole proposition of every truth that’s spoken in the Quran? No, this would be what is called concordism, which is that you would judge revelation according to human knowledge. This would be a huge mistake and it would lack the humility of understanding what it is that God wants us to know rather than understanding what it is that we think we know.
Human Knowledge is Always Limited
False alternatives, not a match
And every teacher of science that is let’s take metabolism or the functioning of viruses, et cetera, if he’s a really good teacher, will teach his students in university that his knowledge is limited. You have one of the greatest biologists who says to his first year students:
“everything I’m going to teach you is wrong. Right? I know it’s wrong, but first you need to learn this before you can criticize it. These are the foundations. But even the best things I know today, I know in 20 years it will be probably revised”.
But it is not to say that we cannot have foundations, for example, that there is an evolution of life on this planet. I think it’s pretty obvious. And this will not be, let’s say, deemed as false idea in the future. There is an evolution because you find remains, you find fossils and you can try to reconstruct the way the living has been expanding on this planet.
And by that token, everything’s been evolving. Even, as we spoke about it in the past, some of our past episodes that, you know, even the plants have been evolving. The fruits and the vegetables that we know today aren’t the fruits and vegetables of before. So man has also evolved over time. We’ve gotten either taller or shorter or healthier or sicker. It depends on the evolution of man.
This is very tiny evolutions, but I’m talking about from a single cell into the vegetable and then 5 million years later, you have the first animals, some mushrooms in the middle. And then within these two kingdoms, animals and plants, you have a huge expansions of possibilities, immense possibilities. And you can trace one species coming out of another species, et cetera.
We have some missing links, obviously, but I think the fact that there is a deployment of life according to trees, of genealogy and trees from species to species is something that, in my opinion, is pretty solid.
Now, some religious people, because of the Bible, when when God says, I, they insist that God created species according to their form, meaning that the dinosaur was created as a dinosaur. Right. And then humans were created as humans, and there’s no middle evolution. There’s no middle ground on that, no species. So they refuse any evidence that there would be a chain of gradual evolution that produces all these various species within a line. Falling then into yet again one of those false alternatives.
What is Guiding the Evolution of the Living?
But we have some foundations because of these prehistorical remains. We cannot deny there is this evolution. Now, the big question is, what is driving this evolution? So you have the ones who deny evolution totally, but now they have to deny science. There’s those who accept science, so evolutionists, they are divided into two groups.
Those who think that this evolution of the living on this planet is driven by chance, randomly, and there’s those who think that this evolution is driven by a higher force that has a purpose, that is like a deployment of possibilities that are already ingrained in a plan.
As Muslims, we know that Allah has everything under his control. There’s no place for chance or randomness. True. And I think one could also wonder if there is a place for really even debate between the two, because it would be a never ending debate.
Those that refuse to deal with any reasoning from the side that says that God has done everything with a plan, and the others that say that it’s more random really have little common ground when it comes to coming to a conclusion on this.
Yes, because there’s a lot of ideology. When you look objectively at the arguments from randomness, it cannot stand. It’s like you find a watch on the beach and someone says there is obviously someone who made this watch with a plan because there’s a battery, there’s an electric system, there’s turning, there’s the glass.
And someone says, no, it’s just the forces of nature and the sand being moved by the sea and the sun and all this melted and ended up into a watch. Rationally it, this proposition is not acceptable. Our DNA, for example, is much more complex than any watch.
The Purpose of Evolution
It’s just to say that from my point of view as a Muslim, there’s no problem in reconciling science and religion. And that Allah tells us in the Quran, it’s revealed that he will create a being and then give him a perfect form. And when his form will be perfect, he will put the “nafs”, the soul, which is the person, in it.
So you can see that as steps of creation over millions of years and for the sake of just clarity, nafs is the person, is the soul.
So God created the person, then God put the soul of the person inside a material body. So what was revealed to us is that humans are beings that are created in an immaterial world first, then ask the question that they recognize that Allah is their Lord and then they come in this world to experience a life that will manifest the truth of their being.
And then this experience will end and this person, who is a nafs, who is soul, will get out of this world, into another world, which is either heaven or hell.
This is so when Allah tells us about the story of creation, we can see it in this world, you know, as preparing a body, so it is preparing primates until they reach a certain form, which is the human form. And then this given a soul which is the person, by which we live our life. And we evolve through our consciousness.
And we develop and we grow, we feel pain. We experience and we basically change. We manifest what is latent. And this is the whole purpose of this life. Allah doesn’t need this world experience to know us, but we need this world experience to know Him. Knowing Him, or at least get closer to Him. But it’s rather, I would think, for us to understand the place we have in Eternity and to work towards the best place in Eternity.
So the whole point of it is to get to the eternal life. This it is what Muslims believe, and that’s what we work towards. Time has been created, as an opportunity for us to understand ourselves and change, so that we would go into the Good Place, God willing.
Without this opportunity and this immense mercy of having the capacity of understanding, of seeing where it will lead and be able to change the trajectory, it’s an immense mercy that is offered to human beings so that they can change and evolve. And the way to evolve is really to get closer to Him and to receive his “nur”, His light.
One of my teachers made an impact on me at a pretty young age when he said, your good deeds alone won’t get you into the highest place in your eternal life, in the life after this life. And I thought about that for a while because often people have these conversations about moral consciousness, just doing moral things and being morally good.
The Ceiling of Human knowledge
Human knowledge and false alternatives
I find it is so much easier to talk about it than to actually do on so many levels. It’s sometimes so easy to slip. And I wonder if the missing link is often that we don’t really make that same effort to come to know God and what God wants and what God is, which is the opportunity in this life is to come to know and ask those questions.
This is the big difference between a text like the Bible and the Quran. What’s the difference? The big difference is that the Bible is describing, is a text about what God does. The Quran is about who God is.
Okay. Interesting. I never thought of it that way.
So you have this the purpose of revelation, which is a very interesting question. Why do we have a revelation? It’s because humans, if they maximize all their capabilities and they go as far as they can as humanly possible, they will always reach a ceiling of understanding, which is the maximum possible understanding of humans.
So if you want to have a clear view on what our condition is in this world, you need a non human information about you, you need to be told from a non human point of view what humanity is and what is his journey in this world.
But then the obvious question to a lot of people would be, well, what is this non human source we go to? Isn’t that the debate? The Christians will say it’s the Bible, Muslims will say it’s the Quran, Jews will say it’s a Torah. And of course, the other faiths, claiming higher inspiration.
And then there’s also the on faith-based people who will say, well, it’s my heart. My heart tells me what’s. Wrong and right so they start looking at their gut feelings and their own inspirations.
So is there a litmus test on how we find out what that non human source should be?
Well, I think nobody is abundant and I think the answer to this question depends on the sincerity of the question. If you really, really, want to know, I think Allah is very generous and will open ways for people to see clearly. One of the thing we know is that, for example, one way to discriminate a false source or source is falsely claiming to be divine is that there would be contradictions.
And this is a clear challenge that Allah is asking humans to do is: take my Qur’an that I have revealed to you and try to find contradictions in it, because if it were not from me, you will find many contradictions.
So people have been at it in the Qur’an and trying and you cannot find one contradiction. And through that, they come to really know God. Because if God says that if you want to find me, you look into the Quran, there is so much of a challenge there that those that want to put their egos aside and just focus on, like you said, sincerely wanting to know the truth will step up to that challenge.
Absolutely. There’s so much here to unpack and such a wonderful ongoing discussion that we can have. I would love to explore this from different perspectives. I would love to explore this from understanding more about the commonalities with the Bible and also the differences within the Bible or the Torah or certain ideology. Sound ideology is indeed the best way to live.
Yes. But the importance of the source and the quality of preservation of the source is for me paramount. And the interpretations, there’s often interpretations even of the Quran. We’ve seen as you and I, as Muslims, that sometimes we get taken aback by people’s interpretations and what they act on based on what they believe they know.
There is a very strong idea in our tradition is that the Quran should be understood by the Quran and that or the sunnah of the Prophet, when we have very well preserved, hopefully, explanations that he may have given.
But many people are just judging the text from their own point of view or their own understanding and they are imposing meanings that depend on their own education And if you want to understand the Quran, you need to understand that any problem you see in the text is just like a mirror of the problems you have in you, of trying to force an understanding when in fact, it is just an idea that is not in the text.
Avoiding false alternatives to reach harmony
Could achieving harmony be one of those things that we can look for in understanding that maybe we’ve sort of applied something correctly? Because I would think that if we are following God’s rules, then there is definitely some gain for some benefit.
Let’s not call it gain. Let’s say there’s a benefit for us, and for me, that would be that if I’m living by God’s rules and there would inevitably be a degree of harmony in the process.
Well, what I can say is that what I see is that Islam is really everything that Allah tells us to do is towards preserving an harmony in a world that is full of oppositions. And instead of trying to reduce oppositions, you know, there’s no hot without cold, there’s no up without down.
But you cannot suppress up and down and cold and and hot without destroying this world. So it’s how do you you have people who have certain tendencies. You have people who have other tendencies.
Allah tells us that He created us very different people so that we could know each other, because you cannot put all the qualities of humans in one people and all the bad qualities in another. So we are all a mixed bag.
And He says, we have created you in different people, ethnicities or people in general, so that you may know each other and be emulated in doing good. So the point is to identify what works, what is the best without any chauvinistic preferences, but also to preserve diversity.
I think it’s important for me, it’s important that a Chinese mosque looks like a Chinese temple. A pagoda. I have trouble thinking that Muslims worldwide would be dressed as Arabs of the 7th century when Arabs are not the majority Muslim population. I know, but there is a tendency now the stereotype.
People would start to wear clothes of Northern Africa when they are in Western Europe. Because most of the Muslims there are coming from there and they think that being Muslim means dressing like that.
But I think they’re missing the whole mark. Because you can be Muslim, with any background, any country, any culture. You can be Muslim and still live by that country’s culture. And I think we should obey the Prophet and follow his example.
Something touched me very much when I learned that when an ambassador or someone coming from outside was coming to visit the Prophet, the person would go to Medina, would enter the gathering place and there would be a lot of people, and the person had to ask, who among you is Muhammad? There was absolutely no difference in the way he dressed , in the way he looked.
And so I think that as Muslims, when we go in foreign countries, et cetera, we should do as the local people do. And I am very opposed to the fact that Muslims should be different than the society they live in.
We have to get along with the society, you shouldn’t be able to say, oh, this one is a Muslim and this one is not. Simply because this creates dichotomy. But with the caveat that, of course, when something is clearly wrong, we don’t partake in the wrong of that society.
Yes, of course. That’s understood so little. And usually societies agree what’s wrong and right. The lines that cannot be crossed is murder, is thief, et cetera. Everyone agrees. Yeah. No, that’s true. Great. Wrongs are pretty much clear in pretty much all the societies.
I agree. And that kind of reminds me of the discussion that you and I had on Qatar and how people going to Qatar were still criticizing Qatar for their rules. Whereas you and I would agree that whenever you’re in the country, you respect the rules of that country, no matter how foreign those rules are to you, except if evidently contradicting the truth.
If you have agreed to be in someone else’s land, then you will be that respectful guest of that land. And I think there’s so much to learn here, and I’m really looking forward to exploring more aspects of this conversation in the future. In sha Allah.