A Question

Academic, Religion and Philosophy

Instructor: RL Malcolm

Illinois Central College

Date: May 7, 2013

A Question

It was a typical weekday, and I was sitting in my high school biology class, waiting for my teacher to begin today’s lecture. Unlike previous lectures, however, today’s topic of discussion was going to put me in a great dilemma, which would cause me to question my basic beliefs, and I was totally unprepared for it! However, what I would find in exploring the conflict would only strengthen my beliefs.

I was not hungry. I sat before my lunch, with my eyes staring at the ceiling and my food getting cold. Questions kept running through my head since the discussion we had in biology this morning. Today, we began a new unit in Biology, and that unit was on the evolution of species. My instructor went through a brief overview of the unit, including topics relating to human evolution. It was this topic that unexpectedly threw me off. What my instructor was talking about seemed to go completely against what my religion taught me about the first human beings on earth.

I am a Muslim, and my religion is Islam. I have been taught by one of my teachers at my Islamic Sunday School that Allah (God) had made Adam and Eve, and they were the first human beings. Allah had brought Adam and Eve down to earth from the heavens in order to test them after Satin lured them into eating the forbidden fruit. Today, my biology instructor explained that the human being is a primate that has evolved from earlier species of primates. He further mentioned that we are one of many species in the genus “Homo”; namely, we are “Homo Sapiens Sapiens”. My instructor overviewed the concept of mutation and natural selection, which he then used to provide a strong argument for human evolution. It seemed as though my mind was playing tug o’ war between two conflicting ideas. My faith in my religion was strong, but, nonetheless, I was unable to figure out why my religion was opposing such a logical and scientific concept. I was hungry for answers, not for food.

“Hey! Are you deaf?” These words came to me as a quiet scream. I was so lost in thoughts that I barely realized that my friend had called me. I turned to him. He was standing beside my lunch table, holding his tray full of hot lunch. He set the tray down on the table and took a chair next to me. I finally spoke, “Oh, hey, what’s up?” He responded, with the exclamation, “What’s up with you, man? I had called you five times before you actually heard me!”

“It’s bio. You know…today’s lecture on evolution?”

“Yes,”

“The scientific background on evolution that our instructor presented sounds quite logical, including the theory on human evolution.”

“Naturally, it should make sense because it is backed up by scientific experimentation. Humans evolved from earlier primates through mutation rather than just appearing out of nowhere.”

“Yes, I know, but my religion, Islam, states that Allah made Adam and Eve to be the first humans and brought them down to earth. I cannot seem to explain this contradiction, and this is what’s plaguing my head!”

“You are, indeed, struggling with conflicting ideas, my friend. I, however, don’t believe in any religion or Allah. For me, I know that the theory of evolution is correct. But for you, I think you may have to start deciding on which of your conflicting concepts is likely to be true.”

I didn’t respond; I couldn’t respond: there was nothing I could say at the moment. My friend tried to change the subject, but I was in no mood for conversation; so, we ate in silence.

I opened my eyes, but it seemed to make no difference. The room was pitch-black, buried in silence, except for the sound of a ticking clock. I had been lying on my bed trying to fall asleep with no success. I had talked to my mother about the questions that were running through my head earlier that evening. I had told her about the theory of human evolution and how I am unable to connect it with what Islam tells me about the first humans. “Humans didn’t come from monkeys!” This was her initial response. She went onto saying, “Why do these schools teach kids about the stupid theory of Darwin that we come from monkeys!” Although humans technically didn’t evolve from monkeys, I knew what my mother meant. She didn’t want to accept the idea that we evolved from a common ancestor. She believed we came from Adam and Eve. The conversation with her only left me more confused.

Waking up was as difficult as was falling asleep. I was unable to fall asleep for most of the previous night, but just as dawn approached, my eyes shut tightly. With having only two hours of sleep, I knew the day was going to be long. My mother noticed that I haven’t been able to sleep the previous night, and she also understood why. Although I was afraid to bring up the subject with her again, she asked me without hesitating, “Looking at the bags under your eyes, I can see you have been philosophizing all night, Socrates…or should I call you Plato? Have you come up with an answer yet?” I kept my head down, staring at the breakfast. I didn’t have an answer. She continued, “Well, at least you have a question. Most people don’t even have that: they do things or believe things without ever questioning as to why they do what they do. As humans, none of us should blindly believe or do something just because our parents, peers, and/or society tell us to do so. We have to think for ourselves, which is why Allah gave us the most powerful brain of all species on earth.

“Think of questioning not as a way of doubting your current beliefs, but rather exploring them. We, as humans, need to continuously ask questions and seek answers, through studying, researching, asking someone, or using whatever means appropriate for the situation at hand. I am sorry I got upset at you yesterday evening. I sat down and thought about what you said, and I realized that rather than being upset, I should have been glad that you are taking a genuine interest in Islam and that you are willing to believe with your own record. You are doing precisely what every Muslim should be doing; that is, you are thinking and questioning. This is what Prophet Abraham did when he questioned the validity of idle worshiping in search for the truth. This is what early scientists did: they questioned why things work rather than rely on the myths of their ancestors. Remember, though, to not let your questions cause you to doubt too quickly. You need to be patient and realize that answers don’t always come that easily, and not having an answer at the moment doesn’t necessarily make something false or invalid. Believe in Allah and He will help you find your way, since Allah loves those who seek the truth and put effort in gaining knowledge.”

The cool air felt quite relaxing, as I set on the park bench after school, thinking about what my mother had told me earlier that morning. She is a very wise person who sees things with an open mind and in a realistic sense. I didn’t notice my friend approaching until he threw a light punch on my right arm before sitting beside me on the park bench. “How is your contemplating going?” he asked. “Still thinking” I responded.

“You see, this is one of the reasons I think all religions are a baloney, no offence.”

“None taken. Tell me what you believe to be true, and don’t worry about offending me.”

“I’ll tell you what I believe is true. I believe that Allah isn’t real and religion is all made up stories people make up to give them false hope. Where is the proof that Allah exists? How do I know what religion is the right one when members of every religion in this world keep saying that theirs’ is the right one? Science, on the other hand, has clear explanation and proofs. I will stick with science and look at things practically rather than dreaming fairytales. Sorry to sound harsh, but I guessed since you are my friend, I can be a little bit open about what I believe in.”

My friend talked about science and how it is a better way to look at the world because it provides clear explanations. Was he right? Did I have any valid reasoning for my belief in Allah and Islam? Fortunately, I did have valid reasons as to why I believed in the existence of Allah. My reasoning had come from me spending time in thinking about the world and Islam, talking about it with my teachers at Sunday school, and reading books on Islam as well as on other religions. Most importantly, I had read Allah’s final book to humankind, the Qur’an. By reading it, I knew that no human being could have written such book. For instance, the Qur’an—despite being 1,400 years old, speaks about natural processes, like embryology and astronomy that science has only recently discovered. It talks about justice and humanity, and does so in a beautiful poetic manner that is marvelous and truly divine. Since I knew that the Qur’an is the true words of Allah, I reflected on some of the things Allah asks of us as humans. He asks that we believe in the unseen and we are humble, knowing that only Allah is the All Knowing and Wise. It then dawned on me how arrogant I was.

Given I had found clear proof of Allah and that the Qur’an is His book, I had to, by definition, know that I am bound by the limitation of human knowledge unless Allah tells humanity about the unseen. One of the unseen is the origin of humankind. Given I had found the proof of Allah, I had no option but to believe His word. The conflict I had seen with evolutionary theory and Allah’s description of Adam and Eve is not an issue with Allah, but, rather, it exists because of the limitation of human knowledge. Allah is the creator of all things, and He created all scientific laws, including the process of evolution that brings such a diverse collection of animals and plants that exists today. However, evolution need not be the only method by which Allah can bring about beings on Earth because Allah is the All Powerful. That is, while evolution may very well play a key role in the history of this earth, it need not be the only one, and after researching a bit more, I learned that there is, indeed, no conclusive evidence of humans as a species evolving.

Recently during a conversation with a physics professor at Illinois Central College, I learned that there are two very different and conflicting laws of physics that scientists deal with. One is the laws of relativity and the other is quantum physics. Quantum physics help explain everything observable in this world except gravity. For gravity, laws of relativity must be applied. This is not a problem because for large scale situations, like interaction of the planets, laws of relativity is sufficient, and for small-scale physics, like interactions of atoms, light, etc. quantum physics is sufficient. However, when these two scenarios is combined, such as in a black hole where the size is very small and gravity is very large, there is a problem. Scientists are not able to combine these two very different physics. This conversation with the professor reminded me of that very “conflict” I was having with evolution. These conflicts in physics are not a fault of Allah but only a symptom of the limited knowledge of humanity.

I caught up to my friend the following day. I was eager to tell him that I found an answer. “You look pretty darn happy. You finished ‘thinking’?” he asked when he saw me. I told him what I had discovered and that the evolutionary theory and what Islam says about creation of humans are not actually contradicting, though it might seem so at first. “Glad you are satisfied. Although, I still think I you are making up your own explanations to make yourself feel better.” This was his response. And this was my response to his response: “You are right when you say many blindly believe in religion or Allah. But I am not one of them. I can back up my belief with reasoning that I feel is perfectly valid. What if I tell you that you blindly believe in science? Do you believe everything that the science book is tells you without questioning? Are you refusing to explore religion because you feel that exploring questions about religion is difficult? Einstein never ran from difficult questions. No one should immediately disregard something just because answers to the questions are difficult to find. Pursuing difficult questions is, has been, and always will be, a challenge for human beings.”

During the following biology class, I had a new prospective. I was in class to learn about Islam, about Allah, and about the universe. Because Allah created science, learning science is learning about Allah’s creations. Understanding this world around us and gaining knowledge is a fundamental part of Islam, as stated in the Qur’an. From that day forth, I had never looked at religion and science separately. They are both tightly connected. As a Muslim, my entire life is Islam, from the world around me, to the knowledge, to the proper and just way to live life.

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