Ethical Objections to Evolution in Contemporary Muslim Thought

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David Jalajel

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Abstract

Muslim creationists often argue that the theory of evolution is inherently unethical, claiming that concepts such as natural selection, survival of the fittest, and differential reproductive success promote behaviors like selfishness, violence, and sex- ual promiscuity. This article explores the distinctions made by classical Islamic theologians between God’s actions and human- ity’s actions and their potential to address ethical objections to evolution. The question is examined with reference to two theological traditions: the Ash`ari and the Salafi. The first one distinguishes between God’s creation of actions and humanity’s acquisition (kasab) of actions. According to this approach, ethical valuation is understood to be an attribute of human volitional action. The second approach, followed by Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Abu al-`Izz, and others of the so-called Salafi tradition, distinguishes between God’s existential (kawni) will and legislative (shar`i) will. According to it, ethical valuation is restricted to the domain of what God legislates for His volitional creatures. Although these approaches differ in how they contextualize ethical behavior, both of them place ethical valuation strictly within the context of human volitional action. As a consequence, God’s actions in creation (and therefore what is observed in nature) can neither be taken as a pattern for determining ethical norms nor judged according to the ethical norms appropriate for human beings. The paper concludes that by making these distinctions, classical Islamic theology has the potential to effectively counter ethical objections to evolutionary theory.

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