In common with many children, I took a great interest in living organisms and in matters related to them. Later, this interest was to play a very important part in my life.
At primary school, when our teacher first brought a microscope into the class and gave us the chance to see the delicate legs and wings of a fly I become for days enthused with the extraordinary grandeur of art in so tiny a creature.
At secondary and upper secondary schools we received more comprehensive courses in biology. Now though, everything began to be explained as the handiwork of mother nature. I couldn’t help wondering how this ‘mother nature’ was managing and doing so many things in their proper places; and whether the teachers really meant the Creator. But following the rest of what they said, and their train of thought generally, it became clear to me that they did not wish to say God.
In my family by contrast, it was always understood and always said that everything was created by God. Although my parents were not well-versed in religion, nor able to convey thoroughly what they did know, although none of us could have given clear answers to questions about God, His Power, His Essence, and Attributes, we nevertheless were aware of His existence and of the importance of belief in Him as our Creator.
Once, at the mosque on our street, I heard the preacher say that the Prophet Adam was the first man on earth. However, my biology tutor at the high school said that the first living organism developed from lifeless matter; then as it reproduced it changed of itself into different kinds of living organisms, ultimately producing plants, and animals. She talked also about certain prehistoric men who came into being through a long chain, by gradual, progressive evolution, of freaks and monstrosities. She narrated to us how fossil remains of these ‘men’ had been found. She seemed quite sure that fossil records provided a very important part of the argument in favour of Darwinian interpretations of the history of life on earth. She argued that the Prophet Adam and his life story was but a tale and that belief in such tales had no place and was of no use to us in the age of space exploration and space travel.
When I told my father what the tutor had said and asked if it was true, he said:
Take no notice of it. Don’t bother about such views. Could it ever he possible that monkeys would turn into man? He meant to comfort my doubts. But in fact what he said did not satisfy the need in me for sound knowledge. He was sure of what he said; so was my tutor. I, in the middle, was left in conflict and struggle.
My father was not able to discuss such issues because he had not read anything about them. On the other hand, the biology tutor was knowledgeable, and a capable person who had learnt how to deploy arguments convincingly. So what must happen to my belief in God? The only way seemed to be to blend belief in God with some sort of acceptance of evolution. Believing in God, at the same time accepting brute beasts or half-apes as my ancestors, and not thinking too much, nor bothering too much about how to reconcile the two. Aware that I was not the one person in the world who had such problems to resolve, I escaped to the football field and played so hard that I became too tired to think about the problems.
I had ambitions to be a doctor but, by a few points, failed to get the average for the Faculty of Medicine. My second choice was to enter the Faculty of Biology, which I did. I realized much later how great a blessing this would prove to be–it is something for which I have been thanking God for years.
I felt quite happy before 1 started the courses, expecting to find the answers to my many questions. However, two years passed, and I did not find the answers, only improved my style and techniques in football. What we were taught in the courses was the theory of evolution from the simple and crude to the complex and excellent. The words which always highlighted the arguments were ‘by chance’, ‘mutation’, ‘atrophy’, ‘evolution’. No one even uttered the word creation. I sometimes tried to discuss the subject with my friends. While some of them did not have enough knowledge to pursue the argument, others did not hesitate to reject creation. They said, that all had been accomplished without the supernatural intervention of a Creator; that what I believed in was tales, conjecture, self-delusion; the questions troubling me would he re-formulated in a way such that, in time, the progress of science and technology would resolve them; in short, there was no longer any need to worry over such issues.
If I followed this approach what would happen to all that I valued so much; belief in God, His Prophets, the practice of prayer, fasting, and so on? I decided to be resolved one way or the other, to either believe or disbelieve, because it was really distressful to be in between. How? I planned to see the most fervent atheist in my class, Kaya. If Kaya convinced me I would become like him; if I could make him say, ‘yes, there is really the One, the Supreme Being, who creates all’, I would be at ease with what I knew and believed.
I discussed matter, biology, physics and metaphysics, with Kaya for two hours. He was well versed in disbelief and explained everything in materialist terms. Once or twice I tried to cite examples from the micro and macro cosmos; from the balance harmony, order, and splendour in atoms, in living cells, and in space, but he was so expert in tackling those issues that he always had something to fire back with. I was not able to convince him. Rather he managed to raise many more doubts in me. Seemingly uncontrollable waves of disbelief began to swell within me. Everything I had somehow held to, now seemed about to fall to pieces. Were all the religious duties, my prayers and fasts, all for nothing now? Was even the pleasure I had taken in them merely self-deception? The business of living had no ultimate purpose–I was only one among billions of moving bits and pieces, now here, now there, then forgotten eternally? To be rid of those thoughts and agonies, I was drawn to contemplate suicide.
That was the turning point in my life. Ahmed, who observed us talking, had watched and listened from a distance. After Kaya had left, he approached me. He saw the gloom in me and asked the reason for it. I mentioned how Kaya had drowned me in doubts.
I had known Ahmed for two years. He was studying mathematics. We only chanced to see each other in the language laboratory once a week, and occasionally talking. He was a good, kind fellow, someone I had always felt at ease with. He started talking now as we had never talked before.
For everything, including man, that has a beginning and an end in time, there can be only four ways of trying to explain how it came to be.
1) It was made, or created, or caused by nothing at all. In other words, it came out of nothing. 2) It created itself. 3) Nature, according to generative principles like those given in nature, created it after a random series of chance coincidences. Or, 4) it has a creator, cause, or maker outside itself. The first three explanations are obviously impossible. It is inconceivable for something that has a beginning in time to come out of, or be made of, nothing at all. It is also inconceivable that it should bring itself into being. The universe and all that is in it could not have created itself nor did it come about by mere chance. He took a booklet from his inside pocket and referred to some examples to illustrate his argument. Some of them were as follows. If a number of bottles in a pharmacist’s, containing a variety of different elements fell off a shelf and mixed on the ground what is the chance that some wonder drug would result? If earth and stones fell from a mountain could the pieces organise themselves, even over infinite stretches of time, into a splendid palace?
Nature is effect but not the cause; it is a work but not the artist; if a clock is an evidence of intelligent design how much more so is the far more vast and complicated universe? Camel droppings imply the presence of a camel. Human footprints on the sand tell of a traveller having passed that way. The heaven with its stars, the earth with its mountains and valleys, and the sea with its waves, do they not point to the Maker, All-Powerful, Knowing, Wise and Caring? The conclusion is clear. The universe and all that is in it owe their existence to a Maker or Creator outside itself. You as a human being are a part of the universe, a tiny speck even in the context of this planet, and you owe your existence to such a Creator. To suppose that man evolved by random chance from other creatures, does not really answer the question about the origin of the universe and all that is in it, including human beings. Such suppositions are grounded in a wholly false world-view.
As Ahmed settled all my doubts, the seeds of disbelief and the temptation of suicide withered away. I felt considerably relieved. I gave thanks to God who sent me Ahmed and such a book in time to cure me of my doubt and suffering, and yet the gratitude I felt could hardly be expressed in words.
Later on, Ahmed introduced me to some of his friends, with them he shared a flat. Some of them were, like myself, first-year biology students. We went home, talked about and read from Ahmed’s booklet, the chapters on the existence of and belief in God, each of which effected a different cure.
At the faculty, the courses on genetics and evolution were presented in the context of, and in favour of, atheism. I no longer had any real doubts as to creation, nevertheless the Darwinian theory continued to worry me. The lectures were certainly one-sided. Whoever tried to say something in favour of creation was ridiculed as backward or reactionary by pro-Darwinian and atheist students. Those who tried to question the theory were even snubbed and silenced by the lecturers for seeking to introduce what they dismissed as irrational ways of thinking. Some students tried hard to compromise belief in God with evolution, saying that God created through evolution, that He brought into existence the first primitive life forms and that the higher forms, including man, evolved from them.
One day Ahmed and his friends came to the class and invited us to a lecture on Darwinism and Creation which would be given by an imam. Some students straightaway expressed their willingness to attend. Predictably the atheists in the class tried to discourage others from attending: “The speaker is a man of religion! How could an imam know such a subject better than professors of science!” That this opinion was prejudiced, not objective, certainly determined us even more to go.
It was a pleasant evening. The lecture was being held in a large hall usually used for public entertainment. As well as students, I was pleased to observe many scientists and scholars there also. At last the imam, whom by now every one was curious to see, came onto the stage and delivered his lecture. As he began, and as he proceeded, I felt the last, fluttering palpitations of Darwin’s theory in my mind. Among the things I remember from that evening are the first clear statement I ever heard of the simple truth that evolution is only a theory, an hypothesis, not an established scientific fact. To claim otherwise, as many who teach it do, is itself most unscientific. An increasing number of scientists, including a growing number of evolutionists, now argue that the Darwinian theory is not a properly scientific theory at all, that is, not capable of experimental testing. Many of its critics have the highest scientific or intellectual credentials, and of them many hold that creation is a for more plausible and acceptable explanation. Those who advocate evolution maintain their position but because the evidence is inconclusive disagree about the meaning and usefulness of it. Even among their number, one school of thought urges major modifications in the theory. It is not only so-called fundamentalist Christians but also reputable scientists who question the theory. There is growing dissent, especially, among palaeontologists whose speciality it is to study fossil records. Darwin himself acknowledged that if numerous species can be shown to have emerged simultaneously, that demonstration would be fatal to his theory very large quantities of fossils have been unearthed since Darwin’s time: they do not constitute a significant support for Darwinian interpretations of the history of life. The evidence is precisely that a large number of species did emerge simultaneously; the evidence does not demonstrate gradual development, as the theory of evolution requires. All the major groups of skeletonized invertebrates appeared in the Cambrian period and spread for about ten million years; scientists have not found the progenitors of the Cambrian forms in the vast depths of sediments below the Cambrian period, and admit that there is little prospect of their ever being found. Contrary to most people’s belief the fossil evidence could perfectly well be said to be consistent with the idea of a sudden creative act in which the major forms of life were established. The evolutionary process cannot be accounted for by mutations, because most mutations are damaging to the organism; they seem to be destructive rather than constructive processes. Those artists sketches of ape-men, depicted in text-books, encyclopedias and museums, are based more on mythologizing imagination than scientific reality. The first of mankind, said the imam, were neither brutes nor beasts, not ‘half’ man and ‘half’ ape. Those who persist in their belief in evolution, against the evidence are not the friends of scientific knowledge nor encourage a scientific attitude to such questions.
Many times, the speaker made reference to Islamic sources and quoted from them. I was filled with both wonder and joy. I felt a great blessing was granted to us that night which extended even to the hall itself, so that all the misuse of time and resources in idle entertainment with which the place was associated seemed to be undone. As I left, I could not help but say to myself: “Well, Mr Darwin, you have been a nuisance to mankind for a hundred years or so, but your account has surely been settled here-in a short lecture, in a couple of hours. Your followers, and even those who carry the word ‘professor’ in front of their names, could not save you. In the end, we have come to believe an imam, one whose learning and clarity of thought they would never have given credit to before…’
I liked and fastened to Ahmed, his friends, their books and to this preacher, and have stayed with them ever since. Of course, the argument has been carried further in my mind since then. Precisely because the theory of evolution has been a part of the mythology of modern Western civilization for so long, and because this civilization continues to enjoy enormous prestige and power, the theory persists and is believed by great numbers of people almost without question. It is still necessary therefore to keep up a mental struggle against the tyranny of the idea that human beings are descended from apes. We are not. Consider what it is that distinguishes us so decisively from all other living organisms on this planet. We give particular names to some species to acknowledge that they share with us certain characteristics: for example, we speak of weaver birds, farmer ants, and so on. Living and working together inlarge organized groups clearly is not what distinguishes us from the rest of creation. Nor is it our ability to build elaborate, even beautiful homes for ourselves: allowing for scale, termites build larger cities with even larger skyscrapers than we do. Our cunning and intelligence likewise are matched, perhaps exceeded, by many animals: spiders, for example, construct traps to catch their prey as subtle and delicate as any we might devise. Perhaps then, our special characteristic is that we use tools? Again, not true: several animals, notably primates, not only use tools (admittedly very simple ones), they teach the use of them to their young. Perhaps it is our emotional or psychological life that distinguishes us? Again, where we have had the means and the patience to study animal behaviour over a sufficiently long period, it is demonstrable that the animals experience and express happiness, sadness, tenderness, curiosity, impatience, bitterness, that some individuals can suffer inwardly to such a degree as a result of some traumatic loss (for example the loss of a friend or a father-figure) that they lose the will to live, failing to join with the rest of their group in eating or playing until, eventually, they die. So, if it is not intelligence, not our social skills, not our affective or emotional life, what is it that makes us special?
The answer is that what makes us unique is our use of language. No other living organism uses true language, that is a coherent and flexible system of signs, governed by a body of logical rules which we call grammar. Animals communicate but they do not use, nor, despite years of assiduous effort to do so, can they be taught to use, even the simplest sentence. By contrast, all human beings without exception enjoy this faculty, young and old, male and female, of any and every race, whether so-called civilized or so-called primitive; even the deaf, given the opportunity, can communicate fully using a true language. There is no early or primitive form of language from which true language evolves; one language is not more primitive than another; every true language is as truly a language as any other: that is why children brought up in any environment acquire competence in whatever language they hear around them, regardless of their parents’ language.
How does the theory of evolution cope with this fact? The truth is that it does not cope at all. It simply ignores it. And yet this is the decisive characteristic of our being human. If the theory that we are descended from apes has any validity at all, surely it must account for, or at least attempt to account for, this very large and obviously important fact. Historically the theory only emerged at a time when Western Europe was obsessed with the twin myths of human progress and the superiority of its own civilization.
The theory has rather more to do with the social and political ideology of a culture anxious to justify and rationalize its exploitative attitudes to all other living forms, including human beings, than it has to do with any objectively, scientifically observed reality.
I am glad therefore to abandon any temptation to base my understanding of the dignity or meaning or purpose of human life on a theory that is, as a scientific explanation of relevant facts, so very incompetent. And yet, even now I cannot help but tremble at the memory of how near I came to being seduced by it. Nor can I help but tremble at the thought of what arrogant darkness I might still be wandering in if I hadn’t met Ahmed when I did if I hadn’t attended that lecture by that preacher when I did. I give thanks therefore where, ultimately, it is always due: al-hamdu li-llahi rabbil alamin.