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Page last edited on 05 April, 2003

Biological Origins

Biological Origins: A Metaphysical Reconstruction

Chapters in this essay

Biological Origins

Considered in its proper domain, ultimately the question of biological origins is a cosmological question and not a question of biology or paleontology. This reconstruction of biological origins is not to avoid so-called scientific data; it is only to place the question in its proper domain. It is clear from the contemporary scientific data that there exist compelling arguments against chance evolution. A case in point is numerous examples found in Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and there are hundreds of other works. These works continue to appear. However, the position being taken here does not rest on scientific data; it is essentially a meta-scientific construction based on the following reasons.

The Missing Link

 The central thesis of Darwinism, the contention that one species can transform itself into another, merely through natural selection, based on the survival of the fittest, suffers from “a missing link,” as Whitall Perry has so cogently stated it in The Widening Breach. “This missing link is de facto the pole subject’, apart from which the pole object’ is inconceivable.”[1]

This subject-object polarity is present everywhere in the manifest universe. “Everything manifested proclaims its self-insufficiency by testifying existentially to that other half which it is not.”[2] Thus we have knower-known, cause-effect, activity-passivity, emptiness-fullness, expansion-contraction, life-death and scores of other polarizations at all levels of existence. One can actually expand this list endlessly. The evolution hypothesis suffers from this missing link, for it conceives an inanimate matter, an object, without its pole, subject. Moreover, this object is conceived as an independent primal cosmic dust, which, billions of years ago, arrived at a tropismatic molecular organization of the amino acid constituents of protein, providing us the biochemical components of protoplasm.[3] Then either through sophisticated filter-passing viruses or some other mechanism, this inanimate matter went through the mysterious transformation and became animate. Through evolutionary process and after passing through several stages, this matter became bacteria —the immediate ancestor of protozoa. This hypothesis accords an absolute, unlimited autonomy to this substance, an autonomy that allows it to float through endless space or endless eons, an autonomy that is, moreover, uniquely conceived as without a purpose. Mere random selection, based on chance, then, leads to an organic state. But, as William Dembski has shown in The Design Inference, in specified events of small probability, undirected natural causes lose their explanatory power.[4] Thus, chance cannot be accorded the pivotal position that it enjoys in evolutionary theories. 

This subject/object relationship is essentially the linchpin for the whole argument against evolutionism for there can be no object without a subject. Evolutionists may claim that one pole of a duality can exist in the total and unqualified non-existence of its corollary or counterpart but such claims cannot be valid for the simple reason that in the whole of manifest universe, not a single example can be found to support this claim. On the other hand, the manifest universe is full of subject/object relationships which are expressed in numerous phenomena—the regularity with which the heavenly objects move, the unerring functioning of all the laws of matter according to their properties and the inter-play of a wide range of dualities to produce logical results in the phenomenal world.

The primordial truth is that the Being of all beings is but only one Being and that polarities appear only at the manifest plane of reality. And once we accept this, everything in the universe speaks convincingly of the grand design that manifests itself in this polarity: the laws that govern the appearance of night and day, the water cycle, the marvelous habits of the honeybees, the hexagonal structure of the beehives which join so that the apex angle of the individual cells is always 70.5290.

We are not speaking here from the perspective of the great religious traditions—Jewish, Christian or Islamic—for that would not be a convincing argument for those who have so rashly abandoned the fountainhead that nourishes the spirit. The Tradition to which we now wish to refer is the intellectual tradition and not the religious tradition though such a bifurcation is hard to think of in case of these Islam.

This intellectual tradition, which spans centuries of human existence, maintains that the Ultimate Truth is verifiable by human intellect without recourse to revelation. In other words, man is capable of finding out the nature of things unaided by the revealed message because this ability is latent in the human constitution. Each major religious tradition has its own paths to truth but the basic claim of these traditions rests on this common ground.

Argument from Design

The second support for our thesis comes from a well-established thesis that has always existed in the Origins debate: the Argument from Design.

One of the main characteristics of various theories of evolution is their reliance on “Chance” as means of evolution rather than a “Design”. For if it could be proved that there exists no design in the emergence of species (or individual organs) and that each species and organ becomes perfect through gradation, as Darwin proposed, then one can eliminate not only the Design, but also the Designer. However, if on the contrary, it can be shown that there exists no possibility of chance evolution of perfect organs and species, because of their complexity, and then Darwin’s theory will break down. Darwin himself was conscious of this fact. He wrote in The Origins:

If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.[5]

There exist in nature thousands of examples of these complex organs as well complex chemical reactions that could not have been a result of successive modifications. Michael Behe has produced numerous examples of this nature in his Darwin’s Black Box¾examples that range from the biochemistry of vision to defensive mechanisms of bombardier beetle to the complexity of the bacterial flagellum. Likewise, William Dembski’s The Design Inference convincingly shows how specified events of small probability cannot be a result of chance. What we propose to do here is simply to direct attention to the fact that argument from design is such an old, well-established argument that there exists an enormous amount of data on the subject in all traditional cosmogonies which refutes mechanism proposed by Darwin’s  theory.

Before we mention some of these arguments from Design, let us first note that these arguments do not rest on the premise that there exist a Designer behind the Design; rather, they build their case on the same observable data to which Darwin had recourse.

These teleological arguments pursue two distinct lines: the evidence of design on a minor scale or on a cosmic scale. The evidence of design in both cases is either the functionality of nature or an aesthetic quality in nature, that is its orderliness and beauty. Socrates, for example, is known to have pointed out the diversity of man’s physiological and psychological endowments and the phenomena surrounding man which contributes to his well-being. He postulated that what “clearly is for a purpose” must be the result of “forethought”, not “chance”. And he concluded that man must have been made by a “wise demiurge”; and he said, “gods take care to furnish men with the things they need... that nature discloses divine providence’ and love of man’.”[6]

Cicero goes further. The spokesman for Stoicism in his De Natura Deorum offers phenomena of botanical, zoological, meteorological and geological data to heap a wealth of evidence that discloses functionality and hence design. “The world is governed by the providence of the gods,” he declares, “everything in the world is governed, for the welfare and preservation of all, by divine intelligence and deliberation and not by chance.”[7] Galen was to follow a similar line of reasoning, adding details from human and animal physiology. [8]

The second line of teleological arguments spanned the whole cosmos. These arguments refer to the immense beauty and the regularity of the celestial bodies as a self-evident proof for a “mind” that governs the universe. Several cosmic schemes and plans are extent in literature from ancient times that employ an elaborate reasoning to show that the “sympathetic, harmonious, all-pervading affinity of things … forces” one to recognize “a single divine, all-pervading spirit,”[9] as Cicero’s stoic spokesman says in De Natura Deorum.

Both lines of these teleological arguments lend themselves to a demonstration of unity in the universe; this was particularly true for the second line that took the whole cosmos as its point of departure. If there was beauty, compelling harmony, functionality, interdependency, it was argued, then there must be a single overall design and by extension, a single designer.

Both lines of arguments continued to appear in the medieval Arabic philosophy and Jewish philosophy. But let it be said that these ancient arguments had arrived in the Islamic intellectual tradition after the transmitted sciences had been thoroughly established during the two centuries of intense reflection on the Qur’an—the fountainhead of all things Islamic. Revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, over a period of twenty-three years (610-632)[10], the Qur’an provided a rich repository of technical terms to the nascent Muslim community for reflection on the various modes of arguments used in the Divine Book. Among the most astonishing aspects of the Qur’an was an emphatic invitation to all humankind to reflect on the grand Design in Nature that exhibits itself in such a compelling manner that no one with heart and soul and mind can fail to recognize an underlying unity in the cosmos and hence a single Designer, God.

Though compelling in its own way, these are, however, not the arguments that we want to present here for the simple reason that they originate with the ontological reality, which the skeptics fail to accept. Hence they would easily render these powerful arguments irrelevant by stating that had they accepted the Grand Designer, they would not be arguing against the Design. Surely, we do not fall into the trap in which they themselves readily fall:  Only the fittest survive. Who is the fittest? The one that survives!

Instead, what we propose to do is to present a glimpse of the intricate arguments developed by that formidable intellectual tradition that arose out of a unique synthesis of ancient Greek, Persian and Indian civilizations through their contact with Islam. Though they had recourse to the Qur’an, the representatives of this tradition recognized the need to demonstrate an independent path that can lead human intellect to the nature of reality without recourse to the Divine Book. But let me mention in passing that the Qur’an itself does not use its ontological premise while inviting humankind to reflect on the signs (Ayat) that are spread throughout the universe  —signs that speak to the innate human intelligence in the most extraordinary manner. These include the water cycle, the regeneration of earth after it has been dead, the periodic and orderly movement of the heavenly bodies, the alternation of night and day (so that ye may rest during the night and seek sustenance during the day), the six stages of development of fetus in mother’s womb and a host of other natural phenomena.[11] Indeed, an oft-repeated refrain in the Qur’an is “in this (sometimes these) are signs for those who reflect.”

The tradition to which we wish to refer, appeared in Islam almost two hundred years after the death of the Prophet and rapidly expanded, absorbing, reshaping, recasting and appropriating material from such diverse traditions as the Greek, the Syrian, the Persian and the Indian in a grand synthesis. There were many Christians and Jews who were part of this expanding universe and who contributed toward this intellectual revolution of the first order through translations of Greek, Syrian, Persian and Indian works into Arabic. [12] However, given the enormity of this intellectual tradition and what it has to offer to our contemporary discourse on Origins, we can but merely point to a few illustrious examples.

One of the metaphors employed by Cicero goes back to the Cleanthes and Chrysippus of the old Stoa. They argued that the design in the universe can be compared to the design apparent in a house. This argument is based on aesthetics. Cleanthes contended that when someone comes into a well arranged and regulated house, he cannot suppose that the order in the house came about without a cause, hence with far more reason, the motion and order of the world, which over an infinite past time have never played false, must convince every observer that nature is directed by a mind.[13] This analogy was also used by Chrysippus who compared the beauty of the heavenly bodies and the great magnitude of the oceans and lands to a giant and beautiful house, thereby inferring that the world must have been constructed by the immortal gods as a “domicile for themselves”.[14] Philo, too, mentions the analogy, crediting it to “those whose philosophy is reputed to be the best”, the Stoics, who maintained: “Should  a man see a carefully built house … he will get a notion of the craftsman … just so, anyone entering, as it were, the great house of the world … and beholding the heavens … planets, stars … which move rhythmically, harmoniously, and for the benefit of the whole, … beholding as well the [arrangement and variety of] earth, … water, … air, … and fruits, … will surely conclude that these [things]” are the works of “a creator, God.”[15]

This analogy was to reappear in the Islamic intellectual tradition, perhaps through the route of translation. The earliest example is in an Arabic work, attributed to Jahiz  which has been mentioned by various titles all of which contain the term Reflection. The printed version is entitled, The Book of Proofs and Reflections regarding Creation and Divine Governance, Kitab al-Dala’il wa-l-Iti’bar ala al-khalq wa-l-Tadbir.[16] In its Arabic construction, the argument attempts to show that the universe not only has an intelligent cause on the grounds that it shows a remarkably unified design but also that a single creator must be behind this design who made it and who provides for it. The argument further states that the planning (taqdir), governance (tadbir) … and order apparent in the universe must come from one single creator who fitted the parts together and arranged them.[17] Note, the terms here have been transformed from the Greek philosophical tradition to the Qur’anic usage. Taqdir and Tadbir are oft-repeated terms used in the Qur’an in reference to the creation of the universe and its maintenance by one single God.

Another example that can be traced from Socrates to Jahiz is, interestingly, the argument which is also used in the Qur’an. Socrates had insisted that the alteration of night and day has been made for man’s proper function: “Gods provided [him] with a most beauteous time for resting.”[18] The Spokesman for the Stoics in Cicero’s De Natura Deorum counts “the alternation of day and night which afford a time for acting and another time for resting” among the gifts of divine providence.  Kitab al-Dala’il repeats this theme: “The rising of the sun permits men to busy themselves in their affairs” and its setting furnishes them with the opportunity of “repose for the recovery of their bodies,” and indeed in forcing them, when necessary, to rest; for human greed is so great that “many would never rest except for … the darkness of … night.” Note, once again, the Qur’anic theme of the alternation of night and day which the Qur’an presents as one of the proofs of Divine Design: “Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day, in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that was dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth; indeed [in all of these] are signs for people who are wise. “[19]

Argument against Design often marshals so-called facts from the natural world in its support with the underlying assumptions that these have been recently discovered. But in piling these mounds of “facts”, it is often overlooked that no amount of hair-splitting can make hair anything but hair. To be sure, what we know today about the physical world far exceeds than what was known eight hundred years ago, but most of it is in a quantitative sense. Medieval scientists were not innocent of these facts that are often claimed to have been discovered yesterday. Just one source, our Kitab al-Dala’il, accumulates hundreds of details from plant biology, zoology, human physiology and psychology in support of its argument from Design. Some examples are: The human eye, providentially protected by eyelids, lashes and eyebrows, the digestive and excretory functions, Man’s erect posture, the willingness of animals such as the ox, the horse, the dog, the ass, the camel and the elephant to submit to man, although they are stronger than he¾all of these are mentioned in detail in this early source and they become much more refined in later sources such as The Wisdom in God’s Creation (al-Hikmah fi Makhluqat Allah ), a book attributed to al-Ghazali (d. 1111).

One can continue to quote examples of teleological arguments from this tradition ad infinitum. Suffice it to say that Islamic intellectual tradition was not only aware of the need for formulating the argument for Design independent of the ontological premises which were at the heart of Islamic faith but it also carried it out  to its ultimate limits  with increasing refinement. One can trace this thread from Muhasbi (d. 857), who has a teleological argument for the unity of the cause of the universe, to Qasim b. Ibrahim (785-860) for whom the “imprints” of perfect wisdom and the “signs” of good governance manifest in the universe to prove that a wise and good deity must be responsible, to argument from “wondrous wisdom” exhibited in the universe which  Maturidi (d. 944) was to use in his Kitab al-Tawhid[20] to the Ikhwan al-Safa’, the Brethren of Purity,[21] who offer a teleological argument for the existence of God in which the very structure of planets and stars supplies the evidence of Design.

All of these traditional views maintain that in this manifest world, the flow is from the higher to the lower and not otherwise. Evolutionists envision the process in the inverse direction, from below upwards, outwards to inwards, ascending from quantity towards quality, the higher evolving from the lower. All that Darwin did was this: He came up “with an amazing progression of upward’ emanations, beguilingly flattering to a contemporary humanity now supplied with all the arguments necessary for unabashedly presuming itself superior even to Caesar and Christ by the circumstances alone of chronological succession.”[22]

It is this difference in approach that separates all modern scholarship from the traditional scholarship on evolution, may that be the classical Kalam arguments used by scholars who adhered to the three Abrahamic religions or the viewpoints of Chinese sages or those who were rooted in the pre-modern Western tradition.

In this scheme of things, the universe is considered as a one single unit, “as a city is one, or as an animal is one, or as man is one, as the Ikhwan noted in their Rasai’l.”[23]

Ibn Hazm was to add biological and botanical data to the astronomical data of the Ikhwan along with an argument from aesthetics which would build on the functionality of the argument. Thus he admires the skill by which the limbs of the human body fit together and the texture of the palm tree fiber, which is woven so skillfully that it seems to be the work of a loom. But the important point to note is that Ibn Hazm’s final appeal is to the intellect: it is in the human intellect that it must be undoubtedly known that the celestial and terrestrial regions must have come about by the “deliberation of a maker” who “exercises choice and invention” and the evidence from both the macrocosmic and microcosmic planes is “sufficient to conclude not only that the universe has a maker, but that it has a single maker.”[24]

This appeal to intellect is central to the Islamic intellectual tradition. For Ikhwan, the creation of the universe proceeds in the following manner:

1. Creator¾who is one, simple, eternal, permanent

2. Intellect (caql)¾which is of two kinds: innate and acquired.

3. Soul (nafs)¾which is of three kinds: vegetative, animal and reasonable.

4 Matter (hayula)¾which is of four kinds: matter of artifacts, physical matter, universal matter, and original matter.

5. Nature (tabicah)¾which is of five kinds: celestial nature and the four elemental natures.

6. Body (jism)¾which has six directions: above, below, front, back, left and right.

7. The sphere¾which has its seven planets.

8. The elements¾which have eight qualities, these being in reality the four quantities combined two by two: Earth¾cold and dry; Water¾cold and wet; Air¾warm and wet; Fire¾warm and dry.

9. Beings of this world¾which are the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, each having three parts.[25]

Nasr notes the elegance inherent in this table of generation: “The first four numbers are simple, universal beings¾he numbers 1 to 4 already containing in themselves all numbers, since 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10¾while the other beings are compound.” He points out that it is from this point of view that the Ikhwan divided the hierarchy of Being into the four-fold division of God, Universal Intellect, Universal Soul and hylé.[26]



Ikhwan produced a highly elaborate system consisting of a hierarchy of beings¾a system which is universal in its intrinsic value for it has exact counterparts in Chinese, Indian, Greek, Christian and Islamic cosmologies (Fig. 3). These conceptual dimensions of Nature are integrally connected with the spiritual realization of the one who studies Nature. “According to the Ikhwan, the qualities and perfections belonging to the various levels of the hierarchy of Being are not in any way “subjective” or “anthropomorphic”.[27]

Figure 3 : Representation of Chain of Being by Ikhwan as-Safa’

The diagram from the Risa’il,[28] visually describes the interrelatedness of all things from the “highest of the high” to the “lowest of the low”. Even before Dr. Hamidullah based his defense of evolution on The Epistle of Ikhwan, Dietericihad already constructed this case: Ikhwan support evolution in the Darwinian sense. Nasr had already responded to it: “The chain of Being described by the Ikhwan possesses a temporal aspect which has led certain scholars to the view that the authors of the Rasa’il believed in the modern theory of evolution.”[29]   In a footnote, Nasr mentions Dieterici’s Der Darwinismus im X. und XI Jahrhundert (Leipzig, 1878),[30] as one such proponent of evolution who saw the Brethren as Darwin’s precursor.

Nasr also states that in 1933, De Boer had correctly refuted this thesis of Dieterici and reassert that the Ikhwan simply implied a gradation and not evolution in the modern sense.[31]

Let us also not that another similar case was made by T. I. Raïnow concerning al-Biruni (362/973-442/1051). He says that in “Alberuni’s fine and substantial work entitled India, which is devoted to the history of all fields of Hindu thought, one may find the whole theory of Darwinism already expounded more than eight hundred years before the publication of the theory of natural selection.”[32]

Professor Jan Z. Wilczynski, of the Lebanese State University refuted this claim in his “On the Presumed Darwinism of Alberuni Eight Hundred Years before Darwin, ISIS, 50:459-466 (December 1959).

Nasr also clarifies that according to the Rasa’il, all changes on earth occur as acts of the Universal Soul and not by an independent agent acting within bodies here on earth. Secondly, Ikhwan construe this world as a shadow of another world that is more real than it, and the “idea” of everything in this world actually exists in the other, so that there is no question of the species changing into another, because the “idea” of each species is a form which is beyond change and decay. He quotes Ikhwan:

The species and genus are definite and preserved. Their forms are in matter. But the individuals are in perpetual flow; they are neither definite nor preserved. The reason for the conservation of forms, genus and species, in matter is fixity of their celestial cause because their efficient cause is the Universal Soul of the spheres instead of the change and continuous flux of individuals which is due to the variability of their cause.[33]

Nasr mentions that there exist certain similarities between the doctrines held by the Ikhwan and modern theories of evolution. For example, both believe that the date of existence of terrestrial plants precedes that of animals, minerals proceed the plants, organism adapt to their environment but he asserts that the conception of Ikhwan was teleological: Everything existed for a purpose, the final purpose of the cosmos being the return of multiplicity to Unity. Also, there exists no struggle for life, adaptation to the environment is not due to the struggle for survival, but due to the “Wisdom of the Creator, Who has given each creature what corresponds to its need.”

Nasr makes the distinction between modern ideas and those of Ikhwan by stating: “In the deepest sense, what separates all these ideas of the Ikhwan from their modern counterparts is that for the Ikhwan the hands of God were not cut off from creation after the beginning of the world—as is the case with the deists. On the contrary, every event here ‘below’ is performed from ‘above’ by the Universal Soul, which is God’s agent. Consequently, the purpose of the study of Nature is to see these ‘vestiges of God’¾the vestigia Dei as the medieval Latins used to express it—so that, thanks to the analogy existing between the Universe and man, the soul through this knowledge of cosmic realities can come to know itself better and ultimately be able to escape from the earthly prison into which it has fallen.”[34]

Like the Ikhwan, Abu Raihan al-Biruni also uses this medieval scheme in which Man is perceived in relation to his position within the universe. The “migration” mentioned by al-Biruni, however, once again signifies the gradation of being in the Universe which according to al-Biruni and most of his contemporaries, is a hierarchy in which each creature occupies a position in the ontological scale in conformity with its own nature. The mineral kingdom forms the base of support for the plants and animals. al-Biruni also accepts the analogy of microcosm and macrocosm, which is closely related to the concept of chain of Being.

But let us note the position of the Ikhwan is rather a marginal position in Islamic thought; there are different opinions about their origins. Most modern scholars tend to agree that they were Ismacilis. As we have already pointed out, al-Ghazali refuted their ideas. He himself was to put together a simple teleological argument along with the argument from creation, the proof that first establishes the creation of the world and then infers the existence of a creator.

An important point to note is that al-Ghazali’s appeal is to the inborn faculty of Man to grasp the teleological argument and though he starts by quoting the teleological verses from the Qur’an (2:164): “Behold, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day, in the ships that float on the sea for the profit of mankind, in the rain which God sends down from the skies, and in the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through earth; in  driving forth of the winds and clouds between the sky and the earth; indeed are signs for those who understand.” But having referred to the Divine Book, he then declares that no one “possessing the least intelligence who reflects upon these verses, who gazes upon the wonder of God’s creation on earth and in heaven, who gazes upon the marvelous formation of animals and plants,” can doubt that “the well adapted arrangement” depends on a “maker who governs… and adapts it.”[35]

Al-Ghazali also wrote a separate book, al-Hikmah fi Makhluqat Allah (Wisdom in the Creation of Allah), in which he points out the wisdom and design inherent in the sky, earth, sun, moon, oceans, water, air, fire, Man as well as birds, bees, fish and minerals. He mentions mosquitoes, flies and pearls.

In his Kitab Jawahir al-Qur’an (The Jewels of the Qur’an), in the chapter “Secrets of the Sura of the Opening, and how it comprises eighth of the ten valuables of the Qur’an”, he had already pointed out to a remarkable fact about the spiders:

Look at the spider, how God has created its limbs and has taught it the device of weaving, and how He has taught it the tricks of hunting without two wings, for He has created for it sticky saliva by which it connects itself with a corner lying in wait for the passing of a mosquito close to itself. It throws itself onto the mosquito, catches it, shackles it with its threads composed from its saliva, and thus disables it from escaping until it eats it or puts it in store. Look at the spider’s method of weaving its house, how God has guided it in its weaving according to geometrical proportion in the order of warp and woof.[36]

He also mentions bees:

 Look at the bee and the innumerable wonders of its gathering honey and [producing] beeswax. We should like to make you aware of the geometry of its hive. It is built on the figure of a hexagon so that the space [in the hive] may not be insufficient for all the bees who crowd in one place in great numbers. If it should circular hives, there would remain outside the hives an empty space since circles do not pack contiguously. Likewise, are all other shapes. As to squares, though they do pack contiguously, but the shape of the bee is inclined to roundness and so inside the hive there would remain empty corners as in a circular shape, there would be empty corners outside. Thus none of the figures other than a hexagon approaches the circular figure [of the bee] in contiguity, and this is known by geometrical proof. Consider, then, how God has guided the bee to the characteristic of this figure.[37]

Let us note that all varieties of bees all over the world have been constructing hexagonal beehives whose apex angle is always 70.5290.[38]

Ibn Rush (Averroes) derives two simplified arguments from the Qur’an: one a simplified cosmological argument concluding that some entity must be responsible for the occurrence of events in the world and, second, the teleological argument mentioned above (with reference to the teleological verses) but in the following manner: The functionality exhibited throughout the universe cannot conceivably be due to “chance”; it must “perforce” be the doing of an “agent” who intends and wills it.[39]

One can keep quoting ad infinitum, for there exists a continuous chain of scholars who have written on the subject: from Fakhr al-Din Razi, Baqillani to Shahrastani¾all have something to tell us.

Scientific Challenge to Evolution

But our age is more inclined to understand scientific arguments and hence we close this inquiry by mentioning one, out of hundreds and thousands that exist in nature and in our own selves. These complex mechanisms clearly show the frailty of the so-called scientific data upon which the case for Darwinism has always rested, along with the “power” that has been given to this data for generating sweeping theories that seek to redefine our notions about Origin.

The Optical Phenomena

We have chosen the optical phenomena because it is one of those basic sciences which has always attracted human interest and also because evolutionists have made it a point to attack this marvelous construction.

We know that mirrors and burning lenses date back as far as to the age of written records and Egyptian ophthalmologic recipes go back at least to Papyrus Ebers, copied before 1500 from considerable older sources.  We find advanced theories of visual processes and of light in the oldest extent Greek philosophical works. Thus vision, mankind’s “most noble sense” has been the subject of every notable philosopher and practitioner of medicine since ancient times. The Atomists had their theories of vision and so did Plato. For the former, and they were by no means unanimous on it, vision required a material effluence to be conveyed from the visible object to the eye.[40]

Darwin was aware of the need to show that “to suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.[41] But, he had an argument:

When it was said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Die, which every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms, in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode should become aggregated and develop into nerves, endowed with this special sensibility.[42]

He then goes on construct his theory. “The simplest organ which can be called an eye consists of an optic nerve, surrounded by pigment-cells and covered by translucent skin, but without any lens or other refractive body. We may, however, according to M. Jourdain, descend even a step lower and find aggregates of pigment-cells, apparently serving as organs of vision, and serve only to distinguish light from darkness…”(p. 170) He was aware of the weakness of his ground and hence he tried to pre-empt the objections:

It has been objected that in order to modify the eye and still preserve it as a perfect instrument, many changes would have to be effected simultaneously, which, it is assumed, could not be done through natural selection; but as I have attempted to show in my work on the variation of domestic animals, it is not necessary to suppose that the modifications were all simultaneous if they were extremely slight and gradual… We must suppose each new state of the instrument to be multiplied by the million; each to be preserved until a better one is produced, and then the old ones to be all destroyed. In living bodies, variations will cause the slight alterations, generation will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement.[43]

Let us look at the biochemistry of vision. Michael Behe has summed it in his Darwin’s Black Box. This can be found any text book of biochemistry: When light strikes the retina a photon reacts with a chemical called 11-cis-retinal which rearranges within picoseconds (about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair) to trans-retinal. Notice that this change in the configuration is nothing but a flip in one of the bonds of 11-cis-retinal (Fig. 4), but this small flip is precisely what is needed to force a change in the shape of protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound.

Figure 4 : The First step in Vision, drawing not to scale.


This change in the structure of the protein changes its behaviour and name; it is now called meta-rhodopsin II and it now sticks to another protein called transducin which was previously tightly bound to a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with meta-rhodopsin II, the GDP falls off and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin.

GTP-transducin-meta-rhodopsin II now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner memberae of the cell. This attachment gives phosphodiesterase the ability to chemically lower the concentration of a molecule called cGMP. This reduction, in turn, reduces the concentration of positively charged sodium ions in the cell, hence causing an imbalance in the charge across the cell, which, finally, causes a current to be transmitted across the cell membrane to the brain. The brain interprets the signal and “vision occurs”.

But there is further fine tuning. If the reactions just mentioned were to be allowed to proceed without further changes, it is obvious that the supply of 11-cis-retinal, cGMP and sodium ions would rapidly deplete. So, something has to turn off the proteins that were turned on and restore the cell to its original state through a highly complex mechanism (Fig. 5).

(i)                  The ion chamber lets calcium ions into the cell; calcium is pumped back out by a different protein, thus regulating its supply at a certain concentration. When cGMP level falls, shutting down the ion channel, calcium ion concentration decreases as well.

(ii)              The phophodiesterase enzyme, which destroys cGMP, slows down at lower calcium concentrations.

(iii)            As soon as calcium concentration starts to fall, guanylate cyclase, a protein, begins to synthesize cGMP

(iv)             While all this is going on, meta-rhodopsin II is chemically modified by an enzyme called rhodopsin kinase. This modified rhodopsin then binds to a protein known as arrestin, which prevents the rhodopsin from activating more transducin. So the cell contains mechanisms to limit the amplified signal started by a single photon.

(v)                Trans-retinal eventually falls off of rhodopsin and must be reconverted to 11-cis-retinal and again bound by rhodopsin to get back to the starting point for another visual cycle. This is done by another interesting process in which an enzyme modifies trans-retinal to trans-retinol, a molecule that contains two more hydrogen atoms, and a second enzyme then converts the molecule to 11-cis-retinol.

(vi)             Finally, a third enzyme removes the previously added hydrogen atoms to form 11-cis-retinal, thus completing the cycle.

Figure 5 : Biochemistry of vision


This chemical insight takes us right to the heart of the problem. The anatomy of the organs function in relationship with a large number of chemical changes, all of these highly complex and inter-related mechanisms could not be merely the result of evolution of one or two anatomical structures by gradation, as Darwin and neo-Darwinism has been claiming. There are hundreds of thousands of irreducibly complex mechanisms of this nature that are operating in nature at various levels. For them to have evolved over time, without design (and a Designer) is simply absurd.

A Thought Experiment

Let us imagine that we are locked in a room that has only one window near the ceiling. Let us further suppose that we are sitting on a carpet on the floor. The window opens and a small green ball drops on the carpet after every second. In one hundred seconds, we would have collected one hundred green balls. But the next ball that drops is not green; it is red. After this, the series of green balls resumes so that in the next one hundred seconds, we have one hundred more green balls. And this is followed by the red ball. At the end of 202 seconds, we would have collected 100 green + 1 red + 100 green +1 red balls. This can be represented by the following series:

1010g, 1r, 1010g, 1r...

where g= green ball and r=red ball

Now, let us suppose that this series of one hundred green balls followed by one red ball repeats itself for one hundred years. This would result in a staggering number of balls. For each one hundred green balls, there would be one red ball. Assume that this pattern repeats itself year after year with great regularity. This would be a convincing case for a hypothesis that there exists in the unknown source of balls a pattern defined by the series: 1010g, 1r, 1010g, 1r

However, just when we have convinced ourselves about the nature of the series of green and red balls, the ball that appears at the end of the one hundredth year turns out to be blue and not red. This would force us to redefine our series.

Now suppose that we observe this phenomenon for another hundred years and the same pattern is followed. That is, every 101th ball turns out to be red for each year except for the centennial year, when instead of the red ball, we get a blue ball. After a long period of observation, we would arrive at the conclusion that the invisible source of balls has a pattern of one hundred green balls, followed by one red ball and this pattern repeats itself year after year, except for the centennial year when the odd ball is blue, instead of red.

As a last step in this thought experiment, let us assume that this observation is found to be true for 999 years. But the odd blue ball in the millennial year is replaced by a yellow ball. And let us further suppose that this pattern is observed for several thousand years.

After thousands of years of observation, we will deduce the following results:


1. Until we reach the first hundredth year, we will remain convinced that the unknown source of balls has the following pattern: 100 green balls, followed by one red ball.

2. After the first centenary ball appears to be blue instead of red, we will become unsure about the pattern.

3. After 999 years, we will be working with the hypothesis that there exist a pattern in the unknown source of balls which is like this: 100 green balls, followed by one red ball for every year, except for the centenary year when the red ball is blue.

4. When the blue centenary ball turns out to be yellow at the end of the 1000th year, we will, once again, become unsure about the pattern.

5. But after observing the process of thousands of years, we will conclude that the pattern is actually defined by the following series: 100 green balls, followed by one red ball for every year except for the centenary year when the red ball is blue and except for the millennial year when the odd ball is neither red nor blue, but it is yellow.

This thought experiment is actually a variation of an old theme, which has echoed in various cultures, including the Western, over many centuries.  For example, Charles Babbage (1792-1871), a mathematician and pioneer in the field of calculating machines, used a similar model in an 1838 paper, “Argument in Favour of Design”.[44]

The conclusion Babbage draws is similar to the one that we have just postulated: Babbage wrote: “In the present chapter it is proposed to prove, that it is more probable that any law, at the knowledge of which we have arrived by observation, shall be subject to one of those violations which, according to Hume’s definition, constitutes a miracle, than that it should not be so subjected.”[45]

This experiment typifies the contemporary Evolution/Creation debate. At each turn, we are confronted with absolutely “convincing data” that attempts to prove one or the other theory and just when we are ready to accept that theory as a fact, a ball of a different colour arrives to upset the sequence.  But this is only one aspect of the difficulties we have to deal with. There exist a number of other difficulties which deserve clarification.


In 1981, Professor Nasr stated the need for a well-documented, contemporary response to evolution. “A complete response requires concerted effort on the part of a large number of Islamic thinkers working in harmony within the bosom of the Islamic tradition.”[46]

In 1987, he mentioned in his Traditional Islam in the Modern World, the trend among modernized Muslims to accommodate evolution:

   …usually modernized Muslims have tried to come to terms with evolution through all kinds of unbelievable interpretations of the Noble Qur’an, forgetting that there is no possible way to harmonize the conception of man (Adam) as he to whom God taught all the ‘names’ and whom He placed on earth as His Khalifah, and the evolutionists conception which sees man as having ‘ascended’ from ape. It is strange that except for a number of traditionalists and also ‘fundamentalist’ Muslim thinkers who have rejected the theory of evolution mostly on purely religious grounds without providing intellectual and rational arguments for their rejection of the theory, few Muslims have bothered to see its logical absurdity and to consider all the scientific evidence brought against it by such men as L. Bounoure and D. Dewar…[47]


Let us mention in closing that evolution is really a theory in crisis, even by its own methodologies. As for the Qur’anic view of creation, let us recall that there is no specific a time-frame mentioned in the creation verses; the traditional understanding of the seven verses of the Qur’an (7:54; 10:3; 11:7; 25:59; 32:4; 50:38; 57:4) that mention the creation in “six days” has always been an undetermined time, known only to the creator. The commentators also mention that in Arabic, the word Yom, refers to both a day from sunrise to sunset as well as an era and the Qur’an itself mentions multiple times (32:5; 70:4). Also, unlike the Biblical narration, the Qur’an has no day of rest of God; He is beyond the need of rest: “God, there is no god but He, ¾the Living, the Self-subsisting, no slumber can seize Him nor sleep; His are all things in the heavens and on earth…”[48]

However we see it, there exists a transcendent perspective on life and cosmos in most ancient traditions. Seen from this perspective, most of the contemporary discourse on evolution¾rooted as it is in proliferation of theories, facts, and details¾would seem to be an endless repetition of the same pattern¾a repetition that does not add anything of real substance to the origin idea. This is so because it is all based on a reversal of direction of inquiry, from lower to the higher. In its very nature, existence has always been and always will be rooted in a flow characterized by a movement from higher to the lower, from One to the many and back to the One. No amount of quantification of data can change this fundamental reality.

In sum, “the virtue of each thing,” as Plato tells us, “whether body or soul, instrument or creature, does not reach a high pitch of perfection by chance but as the result of the order and truth and art which are imparted to them.”[49]

It is an age-old aphorism that one becomes identified with the object of one’s knowledge. For those who believe the world emanates from God, has a design and purpose, and there is a way back to God; for those who believe it to emanate from chaos, there is, likewise, a way that corresponds with this possibility. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall unto God who gave it.[50]

[1] Op. cit, p. 1

[2] Perry, op. cit. p. 3

[3] The colloidal and liquid substance of which cells are formed, excluding horny, chitinous, and other structural material; the cytoplasm and nucleus; the living matter of organisms regarded as the physical basis of life, having the ability to sense and conduct stimuli.

[4] Dembski, William A., Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1998. I must add here that although excellent in its coherent construction of the Design inference, Dembskis book also suffers from the same historic brevity that I mentioned earlier: thus in the section entitlted “Historical overview we jump from Cicero to Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace with only a cursory backward glace at Thomas Reid (1780) and Abraham de Moivre. op. cit. pp. 1-2.

[5] The Origins, op. cit. p. 171

[6] Xenophon, Memorabilia, I, iv; Iv, iii. Quoted by Davidson, Herbert A, Proofs for Eternity, Creation and the Existence of God in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Philosophy, [hereafter Proofs], New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 217.

[7] Cicero, De Natural Deorum, II, xxxix, 73; xlvii, 120lxvi, 167; and more briefly in Tusculan Disputations, I, xxviii, 68, quoted in Proofs, p. 217

[8] Galen, De Usu Partium, X, 9; XVII. ibid, p. 217. Davidson notes that the theme had already appeared in Aristotles De Partibus Animalium, but there design in nature is clearly regarded as immanent and nonconscious. See De Partibus, Animalium, I, I, 641b, 12; III, 1, 661b, 23-24; IV, x, 687b.

[9] De Natura Deorum, II, vii, 19; cf. notes of Mayor and Pease, cited in Proofs, ibid. p. 218.

[10] Various accounts of the beginning and the method of revelation have been preserved in Hadith literature. According to one Hadith, a companion of the Prophet of Islam, Al-Harith ibn Hisham asked the Prophet, “O Apostle of God, how doth the revelation come unto thee? And the Apostle of God said: “Sometimes it cometh unto me like the ringing of a bellCand that is the most hard on me; then it leaveth me, and indeed I retain in my memory what it said. And sometimes the angel assumeth the likeness of a man for me and speaketh unto me, and I retain in my memory what he saith. (Asad: 1981. p.4-5).

[11] See, for example, 2:164; 3:190;30:20-25; 45:3-5;55.

[12] The translation movement is said to have started as early as during the reign of Umayyad caliph Marwan (r. 683-685) in whose reign Masarjawaih (Marsarjuis), a Jewish physician  had translated the medical compendium of the Alexandrian Monophysite physician Aaron. During the next fifty years, a number of texts from Pahlevi were translated by cAbdullah b. al-Muqaffac (d. 757), a Persian convert from Zoroastrianism, who is credited with the translation of the fables of the Indian sage Bidpai, Kalilah wa Dimmah,a literary classic which is regarded even now as a model of Arabic prose and which is still read in most of the Muslim lands either in Arabic or in other Islamic languages. Among the most celebrated names in the translation movement are the first two Muslim astronomers, credited with building the first astrolabe in the Muslim world, Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Fazari (d. 806) and his father Ibrahim (d. 777) who jointly translated the famous Indian treatise on astronomy, the Siddhanta (Sindhind in Arabic), Yahis (Yuhanna) b. al-Bitriq, credited with translating Platos Timaeus, Mashallah (d. 820), a Jewish astronomer and astrologer of Persian origin and of course the translators associated with Caliph al-Manuns celebrated Bait al-Hikmah, the House of Wisdom, established in 830 for the express purpose of translation and research: Yahia b. Masawaih, al-Hajjaj b. Matar and the most famous of all Hunain b. Ishaq (809-873), the disciple and later colleague of Ibn Masawaih who firmly established the translation movement on firm footing by producing an extraordinary number of exact translations from Greek philosophy and science and in the process, giving birth to a rich repository of terms. For more details of this fascinating movement in the history of ideas see, Fakhary, Majid, A History of Islamic Philosophy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1970, for primary sources, see Ibn Nadim, Kitab al-Fihrist, Beirut, nd, Ibn Abi Usaybicah, cUyun al-Anba, Cairo, 1882.

[13] De Natura Deorum, II, v, 15, quoted in Proofs, op. cit. p. 220, n. 44

[14] ibid, vi, 17, quoted in Proofs, p. 220, n. 45

[15] Legum allegoria, III, xxxii, 98-99, cf. De Specialibus Legibus, I, vi, ww-35, quoted in Proofs, p. 220, n. 46.

[16] Jahiz, Aleppo, 1928, also found in Aya Sofia, in MS. 4836/2, described by Gibb, “The Argument from Design, Ignace Goldziher Memorial Volume, Vol. 1 (Budapest, 1948).

[17] K. al-Dalail, p. 3; cf. p. 63, quoted in Proofs, p. 221, n. 49.

[18] Xenophon, Memorabilia, IV, 3

[19] al-Quran 2:164

[20] Maturidi, Kitab al-Tawhid, Beirut, 1970, p. 18

[21] The word Safa’  is used extensively in the Islamic mystical tradition. It appears in the Qur’an (2:153) and the word Sufi is derived from Safa’. As to the identity of the group of scholars from Basra who are commonly known as Ikhwan al-Safa’, the Brethern of Purity, there exist numerous references in classical sources. These include the names of Abu Sulaiman Muhammad ibn Macshar al-Basti, Abu’l-Hasan cAli ibn Harun al-Zanjani, Abu Ahmad al-Mihrajani, Awf and Ziad ibn al-Rifaic . (Nasr, Doctrines, p. 25); this is by far not the only list; other references include Ibn Zarcah (331/942-398/1007), Miskawaih al-Razi (d. 421/1029), Abu’l-Wafa’ al-Buzjani, Abu’l-Qasim al-Ahwazi, Abu Sacid Bahram, Ibn Shahuyah, Ibn Bakr, Ibn Hajjaj, al-Shacir (d. 391/1000) and ibn cAbid al-Katib. (ibid, p. 26)

[22] The Widening Breach, op. cit. p 87

[23] Wa innha kulliha alamu wahid, kamadinahtu wahidah, aw kahiwanu wahidah, aw ka-insanu wahid., Jamicah I, 386, quoted from Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines,[ henceforth Doctrines,]  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

[24] Kitab al-Fasl fi al-Milal, p. 19, quoted from Davidson, H. Proofs, op. Cit, p. 226.

[25] Nasr, Doctrines, op. Cit, p. 52

[26] Ibid, p. 52.

[27]   ibib, p. 69

[28] Reproduced from Doctrines, p. 71

[29] Doctrines, op. cit. p. 71.

[30] De Boer refuted this thesis of Dieterici and reassert that the Ikhwan simply implied a gradation and not evolution in the modern sense. Tj. De Boer, History of Philosophy in Islam (London: 1933), p. 91, quoted from Doctrines, p. 71, n. 97. Also note that T. I. Raïnow was to say that in “Alberunis fine and substantial work entitled India, which is devoted to the history of all fields of Hindu thought, one may find the whole theory of Darwinism already expounded more than eight hundred years before the publication of the theory of natural selection. Wilczynski, Jan Z, refuted this in his On the Presumed Darwinism of Alberuni Eight Hundred Years before Darwin, ISIS, 50:459-466 (December 1959).


[31] Tj. De Boer, History of Philosophy in Islam (London: 1933), p. 91, quoted from Doctrines, p. 71, n. 97.

[32] T.I. Raïnow, Wielikije Uczenyje Usbecistana (IX-XIIbb), [The Great Scholars of Uzbekistan (IXth to -XIth centuries)], Tashkent: Edition Ousphan, 1943, p. 62

[33] Doctrines, p. 72, wherein the text has been quoted from Carra de Vaux, Les Penseurs de l’Islam IV, 107, emphasis added by Nasr.

[34] Ibid, p. 74

[35] Al-Risala al-Qusiya, tr. A.Tibawi as Al-Ghazali’s Tract on Dogmatic Theology, London: 1965

[36] al-Ghazali, Kitab Jawahir al-Qur’an, ed. & tr. By Muhammad Abul Quasem, as The Jewels of the Qur’an, London: Kegan Paul International, 1983, p. 68; note the translation has been slightly modified for better flow.

[37] Ibid, p. 68-69, translation modified.

[38] Note that the hexagonal structure is also the most optimal structure for it is capable of holding the maximum amount of honey, using the minimum amount of beeswax. By solving the optimality problem for a hexagonal pyramid, we find out that in order to achieve the maximum capacity for the minimum surface area (and hence the minimum amount of beeswax), the apex angle of the individual cells would have to be exactly 70.5290. For further details of this interesting example, see, ANALYS, “Chance or Intelligent Designin Islamic Thought and Scientific Creativity, vol. 2, no. 4, 1991, pp. 73-77

[39] Kitab al-Kashf, ed. M. Mueller, Munich: 1859, pp. 27-28, quoted by Davidson, op. cit. p. 229

[40] See Cyril Bailey, The Greek Atomists and Epicurus, quoted in David C. Lindberg, The Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976, p.2

[41] The Origins,p. op. cit, 168

[42] ibid, 168-69

[43] ibid, 170-71


[44] Reprinted from The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment, 1838, in Jones, Howard Mumford and Cohen, Bernard (eds.), Science Before Darwin, London: Andre Deutsch, 1963, pp. 51-76.


[45] Babbage, C, op. cit, [italics in the original], P. 69-70. In a footnote, Babbage quotes two separate passages from Hume: AA miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possible be imagined. And again: A miracle may be accurately defined, a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent. A miracle may either be discovered by men or not. See Of Miracles, section 10 of An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, in Philosophical Works (Edinburgh: Black and Tait, 1826), IV, 133; 134, note x.

[46] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Islamic Thought and Life, London: Allen & Unwin, 1981, p. 34

[47] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Traditional Islam in the Modern World, London: KPI, 1987, p. 106

[48] al-Qur’an: 2:255

[49] Plato: Gorgias, 506 D, quoted by Parry: 1971, op. cit., p. 24

[50] Ecclesiastes, XII.7