Evolution – design or chance?

[by Dr. Adeel Bajwa, member of the MKA Research Association]

The key principle of Darwinian natural selection is best summarised by the man himself:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.  (1)

Richard Dawkins famously modeled this process in a computer program described in his best selling book, The Blind watchmaker (2). The principle of this program was to show how random mutation followed by non-random selection can lead to interesting, complex forms. The program consisted of a simple computer generated shape where the nature of the shape was determined by a small length of computer code depicting genes. These shapes were allowed to spawn children with slight random mutations in the code resulting in subtly altered shapes in the subsequent generations. Dawkins would repetitively choose these “mutated” progeny for reproduction on aesthetic grounds. Quite quickly, within a few generations in fact, extraordinarily complex and wonderfully shaped computer generated “biomorphs” evolved. Applying this process to the natural world where the time since the creation of life is vast, the selection of subtly mutated progeny on the basis of fitness to survive would result with in an almost endless gradual process of evolution. A process that could account for the variety and complexity of organisms that exist today. A process so simple yet powerful that Dawkins believes it negates the need for supernatural intervention of a Conscious Creator.  The impact of Darwinian natural selection on the God theory was summarized in a speech Professor Dawkins delivered to the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference in 2002:

“Darwinian natural selection is so stunningly elegant because it solves the problem of explaining complexity in terms of nothing but simplicity. Essentially it does this by providing a small gradual ramp of step by step increment. The elegance of Darwinism is corrosive to religion precisely because it is so elegant, so parsimonious, so economically powerful. It has the sinewy economy of a beautiful suspension bridge. The God theory is not just a bad theory; it turns out to be in principle incapable of doing the job required of it.”(3)

Thus, instead of participating in this gradual process, God is incapable of contributing to this creative wonderment, perhaps in awe of the stunning elegance of evolution that Richard Dawkins describes. Left on the sideline, this incapacity to contribute, claims Dawkins, is the reason why Darwinian natural selection is so corrosive to the very concept of God. This is the battle ground that is being fought today, a battleground seemingly littered with the rotten corpses of religious doctrine. If time and natural selection can create man, what power is then left for God to be worthy of worship, if indeed any evidence can be found of His existence at all?

An immediate objection to Dawkins standpoint arises in the obvious question of why studying evolution would lead to any proof regarding the existence or non existence of God.  Would accepting the modern interpretation of Darwinian natural selection in any way confirm that God does not exist? Consider for a second that God does in fact exist, (a literal hell for Dawkins and his colleagues) would the path to His discovery lie solely and wholly in the rotting fossils of the Cambrian period? In a world that God exists, it would follow that it would be for God to decide what avenues if any, would be open to His discovery by man. It is beyond the margins of rational thinking to accept that the Almighty creator of all things, including the dictates of wisdom and intellect, would allow a creation a means to His discovery. Having created  the universe and set the orbits in motion, having fashioned the Earth from molten rock and prepared a soup of chemicals to instigate life and then having perfected His creation in man, can we accept that the means to attain His knowledge would ever be left to an Oxford Professor of biology?  Clearly the means of His discovery is in the avenues that He has created and for those He chooses. The real question for followers of Islam is that is there any evidence from the Holy Quran that the study of evolution is an avenue towards God:

Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things;

Who has created death and life that He might try you — which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving.

Who has created seven heavens in harmony. No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again: Seest thou any flaw?

Aye, look again, and yet again, thy sight will only return unto thee confused and fatigued. [67:2-5](4)

And in your own creation and in that of all the creatures which He scatters in the earth are Signs for a people who possess firm faith. [45:5](4)

So in actual fact, from an Islamic perspective, Dawkins is correct (albeit by serendipity) in his view that the absence of evidence in favor of Intelligent Design in evolutionary science would indeed be corrosive to Islam as a religion. In the study of evolution, believers in God will be rewarded with further evidence to bolster their faith. Thus the challenge raised by Richard Dawkins and his colleagues is one which Muslims at least cannot ignore.

 The arguments in favor of intelligent design centre on the existence of a staggering variety of complexity that exists in the vertebrate and invertebrate kingdom. The step by step gradual incremental progress to complexity, as proposed by Darwinian natural selection is the argument against intelligent design. The key principle of step by step incremental evolution requires the non random selection of random genetic variation.  It is clear to see that non randomness must enter the equation in order to result in the complexity we witness today. This non randomness is aptly simulated in Dawkins biomorph computer program in which the non random selector, (simulating Darwinian natural selection) is the aesthetic whims of the human being running the computer program. The human being decides using his intellect which of the randomly mutated computer generated shapes he fancies to preferentially pass on their physical characteristics, and thus it is the human intellect that drives this process forward. By now, the obvious objection to this approach is apparent in that an intellect is providing the non random element to this artificial model of natural selection. This highlights the first major objection to the modern interpretation of Darwinian natural selection, namely there is no real evidence to suggest that natural selection in the absence of Intelligent Design would be anything other than random. When the object of natural selection is simply survival, for this process to be non random, the threat to survival itself would have to be consistent and predictable. However the reality is that the real threats to survival that exist and have existed, are as varied and random as the random genetic mutation they have to select. This is acknowledged by Darwin himself when he talks about  “the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life”(1). Viruses, bacteria, floods, drought, parasites, meteors, earthquakes, hunger, lack of space, paucity of trace elements, warmth, shelter, wind, the list of “threats to survival” is limitless. That which is determined fit for survival in one moment is eclipsed by the next challenge. In fact simultaneous varied challenges co exist, pushing fitness in one random direction to the next. Consider a drought that will amply ravage mammalian species, complex organisms with a long and illustrious evolutionary history. Yet the worm in the earth scavenging dirt and eating the feces of its “evolutionary” advanced cousins would happily survive turning progress on its head. Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (RA) writes in his comprehensive repost of Richard Dawkins, in Revelation Rationality Knowledge and Truth:

In every changed context, the principle of the survival of the fittest would favor the survival of different contestants. Every calamity would have its own preferences” (5)

It is only the chance outcome of a given situation which decides the quality of the surviving factors. Blind struggle for existence cannot always aim at the right qualities. Whatever emerges, bad or good, must be accepted as the fittest. A particular species could be adjudged as champion with regards to its potential for survival in a specific situation. The species that becomes extinct could have possessed more advanced qualities and characters in other regards” (5)

Thus the very first premise of natural selection is based on an assumption, namely that only the fittest will survive. The reality is that only that which is fittest for that particular challenge would survive and even within a generation the direction of evolution will meander aimlessly in one direction then the next. The very least Naturalists would have to admit is that the true direction of evolution when every challenge to survival is computed into the survival equation, is unknown. By now the reader must be aware how completely inadequate Dawkins computer program is. Remember, the selection for survival in his

program is whatever biomorph catches the user’s eye. This is supposed to be modeling every conceivable threat to survival, which for even the simplest organisms in the simplest environment is so complex it is at the point of being inconceivable! Consider for a second the threats to survival the reader faces even during the reading of this article. Any number of viruses, bacterial infections parasites, prions could be challenging the immune system of the reader. At the same time, an over eager immune system might inadvertently start attacking the body itself causing inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or vasculitis. Even worse, an over stimulated immune system might result in an allergic reaction, even anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest. Blood cells and proteins mediating these immune responses by dividing uncontrollably might clog up in blood vessels causing a thrombosis the deep venous system with blood clots dislodging only to embolise in the lungs causing instant death. Then let’s get to the cancer cells metastasizing from the colon to the liver devouring and eating everything in it’s path and consuming all the bodies nutrients and energy leaving the reader ever more tired and weak. Meanwhile, years of a high fat low in exercise diet have progressively furred the readers coronary arteries to the point of them being completely occluded bringing the spectra of an imminent heart attack. Perhaps worst still, the readers furred carotid arteries cause turbulence in the blood flowing to the brain. Turbulence that risks the passage of a blot clot to the left hemisphere of your brain causing a stroke leaving half the body paralyzed, and the reader unable to swallow without choking himself to death. By now the threat of infection and disease might be making the reader uncomfortable, perhaps he should go for a walk – on the other hand tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, mosquitoes, snakes, scorpions, the venom of the deadly Brazilian wandering spider (should the reader be South American) await. Maybe going outside was a bad idea, perhaps an afternoon nap, only to be waken by an earthquake 7.3 on the Richter scale, why did you want to move to San Francisco anyway! The list of threats is endless, varying minute by minute, day by day. That which might kill you today might not appear again for decades, centuries even. This threat to survival, this competition without rules, was modeled by Dawkins as the aesthetic whims of a computer programmer! Thus the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion of the threats to survival is that they constitute a diverse range of challenges which critically vary with time. This variation with time renders the competition for survival unquantifiable and certainly not capable of being modeled in the proposed computer program. It cannot even be said that the competition for survival is a simple equation, because the variation with time would necessitate the equation changing almost continuously. How then can we expect this process by which successive generations negotiate these varying threats results in a clear direction of evolution towards complexity?  Why do we even need to? The reason is that Naturalist’s face the dilemma that having already eliminated God from the dynamic survival equation, they face the problem that the net result of evolution to date is a bewildering array of varying biological complexity. Their dynamic survival equation has to equal complexity (although they would have to forget for a minute the simultaneous examples of simple non complex organisms that persist).  For them Natural selection must have chosen time and time again, a path of complexity because complexity is what we have. There is no other plausible explanation for them (having eliminated God from the equation).  They might also argue that complexity has been chosen because it is the complexity that allows those organisms to be successively selected for survival. We reject this because it is based on an assumption, it is counterintuitive and is without any evidence. Why would drought, disease, predation, meteorite attack time and time again chose complexity as the best characteristic of survival? The evolutionary journey of complex organisms is incomparable to the least complex organisms like the poor worm in the earth. Why would polar bears, mosquitoes, fruit bats and human beings emerge from the dust whilst leaving the poor earthworm behind sucking dirt? If in fact complexity represents a real survival advantage then why are the simplest of organisms still in existence in a time warp where evolution has stood still? There is only one criteria that fulfills the dictates of Darwins natural selection and that is survival, and not complexity. Naturalists on observing complexity and using their hindsight are required to convince themselves that natural selection will leave no stone unturned in its search and promulgation for the ever increasing complexity that surrounds us and that is us. It is clear to see that within the dynamic survival equation, some sort of catalyst must be acting to guide natural selection in the direction of progress. Perhaps, Naturalist might claim, this catalyst is a missing mysterious protein or enzyme that is as yet totally undiscovered. Alternatively this accelerant in the dynamic survival equation is in fact the invisible hand of God, choosing and selecting what He pleases.

And thy Lord creates whatever He pleases and chooses whomsoever He pleases. It is not for them to choose. Glorified be Allah, and far is He above all that they associate with Him. [28:69] (4)

In a created and designed universe, where the discovery of the Creator discriminates against the unjust and arrogant, even the existence of this opportunity for intelligent natural selection in this dynamic survival equation is in itself stunningly flawless.

Seest thou any flaw?

Aye, look again, and yet again, thy sight will only return unto thee confused and fatigued. [67:2-5](4)

Thus in the study of evolution, the belief in God is indeed bolstered with the discovery that both evolution requires a creative catalyst and that the mechanism for this input is as elegant as the book it is described in. There is no incongruity. But what of those who don’t have this belief? In isolation, Intelligent Design is unlikely to represent enough evidence for them to alter their beliefs because even for the believer, this study of evolution is in the context of an accumulation of signs and personnel experiences that removes all doubt. The believer in Islam has another unique characteristic that is sadly lacking by Richard Dawkins and his Naturalist colleagues. It is a requirement of faith that the believer is always inclined towards reason:

 And no soul can believe except by the permission of Allah. And He makes His wrath descend on those who will not use their reason. [10:101](2)

 Thus we await with eagerness for the Naturalist to discover their missing catalyst (for which there is to date not even an atom’s weight of evidence) with an open mind but insist that similarly Naturalist should themselves open their tired and confused minds to the obvious possibility that this catalyst is none other than the Author of a book revealed in a desert 1400 hundred years ago to an illiterate man (sas). The onus is on the Naturalist to furnish the evidence that evolution could be driven by anything other than intelligent design because this is so far the only explanation to this conundrum. That they do not even consider this a possibility is an example of their staggering prejudice bias and unscientific approach to the science of evolution that will ultimately exclude them from the true satisfaction of this study.

______________________________________________

Reference List 

1.    Charles Darwin. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 1st ed. London: John Murray, 1859.

2.    Richard Dawkins. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton & Company, 1986.

3.    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism.html. 2002.

4.    The Holy Quran. Tilford: Islam International Publications Limited, 2002.

5.    Mirza Tahir Ahmad. Revelation Rationality Knowledge and Truth. Tilford: Islam International Publications Limited, 1998.

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9 comments

    1. Superb article. One thing I will mention is that the term “Intelligent Design” should perhaps be avoided by Ahmadi Muslims, because though it correctly describes what we believe, the term has been hijacked by those who believe that God created the world in seven days (literally), moulded creation like a potter playing with small models, put them on the earth and then said “action!”. The term is mainly used (according to Wikipedia) to try and provide scientific evidence for the Christian God, ie: of the biblical genesis story.

      As Ahmadis, a better that has come about which is “Guided Evolution”.

      All in all-I love the article. Keep it up!

  1. only one word explains this article. flawed logic. how in the very beginning u made an assumption n then treated it as a fact, i m referring to let us imagine there is GOd. i accept that there is no proof that whether there is GOd or no GOd bt still it doesnt give u the right to sit in assumption why suppose there is God why not suppose there is no God or why not keep things 50 50 atleast. also people it is time for us ahmadese to start accepting realities. anybody can make mistakes be he whatever special man. do u people know 2nd caliph was against evolution in general. and if now 4th caliph gave u mindless followers a concept of guided evolution u are jjust trying with all might to prove it. just accept he might be a religious scholar or a man of God bt he he was no scientist. the evidence supporting natural selection is over whelming its time to grow up and start doing neutral objective analysis of things with out preformed opinions. ok

    1. Mr Omar, please do your research before you make claims about other people. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II (ra) was not against evolution but supported it from the Holy Qur’an (Please see Saer-e-Ruhani and Hasti Bari Taala).
      Also Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rha) was also supportive of evolution. It is a fact that is supported by the Qur’an, why would then any Ahmadi deny it.

      The main premise here is not that natural selection does not happen. What the main premise is that it is blind. It is the assumption of the naturalists that simple life inevitably leads to complex life which is fitter to survive – this whole assumption has been questioned by many. Please do your reading before writing another of your uninspired comments.

    2. Salaam Omar,

      I think you may have somewhat missed the point of this article and all articles that discuss the existence of God based on the observation of the physical world. What they seek to do is take both premises: a) that God exists, or b) that God doesn’t exist, and then determine from an observation of the material world which premise is indicated as being true. As the Author aptly points out, to an atheist any one argument ‘is unlikely to represent enough evidence for them to alter their beliefs because even for the believer, this study of evolution is in the context of an accumulation of signs and personal experiences that removes all doubt.’

      From what I can tell you’re saying that it is flawed logic to assume that there is a God, and within that you’ve also asserted that the Author did assume that there is a God. But he hasn’t- what he’s done is to look at evolution then explore both the aforementioned premises, and see which one is indicated.The article asks whether evolution could have taken place without the direction of a Concious Creator, or whether the unrelenting march of evolution in the direction of complex life indicates the guiding hand of God. After weighing up both possibilities, the Author concludes that natural selection alone is incapable of driving towards complexity. He argues that there’s no reason why natural selection, which is merely a culling process and not a creative one, would lead to the complex life that we see today. For the full argument, please reread the article with concentration and an open mind, because the Author has done a fantastic job in showing the inadequacy of natural selection ALONE to drive evolution. Also it seems you’re an Ahmadi so I’d assume you’re not averse to prayer. Here are a few prayers you should do if you truly want to understand the truth of things:

      “Rabbi arinee haqaa’iq al ashyaa’i” – O my Lord! Reveal to me the basis of all things (Promised Messiah)

      “Rabbi zidnee ilmaa- O my Lord, increase me in knowledge (20:115)

      All Ahmadis, including yourself, should also often read the prayer in chapter 3, verse 9:

      “O our Lord, let not our hearts become perverse after Thou hast guided us; and bestow on us mercy from Thyrself; surely Thou alone art the Bestower.”

      Remember that we are not denying evolution at all. Read the chapters on Evolution in ‘Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge or Truth’ to understand the Ahmadiyya position. And you may be surprised to learn that evolution was not something proposed by Darwin originally. It was in fact a Muslim scientist, Al Jahiz, who first described it over a millenium before Darwin! –

      “Animals engage in a struggle for existence: for resources, to avoid being eaten, and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”

      Hilarious that western thinkers take such pride in something that a Muslim scientist, no doubt blessed by the guidance of the Qur’an, described so many centuries before!

      To answer the second part of your post, alhamdullilah all Ahmadis do is accept realities! Tauseef Sb has dealt with what have you said there effectively. All I would add is that just because you don’t currently agree with what the Khulafa have said, you should be wary of denouncing them as wrong. Read the prayers and make proper investigation and I promise you you won’t be disappointed, because what they say has full basis in the Qur’an. As for Khalifa Rabe (rh) not being a scientist by profession? He was a man who had had his mental faculties illumined by the light of the Qur’an so had a much deeper understanding of science than any common scientist, and everything he has said was fully supported by rational arguments. The beauty of the Ahmadiyya understanding of Islam is that we understand the rationality behind Divine teachings- it is other creeds, atheistic or religious, whose beliefs are untenable when put to the test by reason.

      Fee Aman Allah

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