Religion & Science
Whether there is a real tension between religion and science in Islam depends to an extent on the view of Islam being considered.
The account of creation in the Qur’an says:
Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for the Mercy of Allah is (always) near to those who do good. It is He Who sendeth the winds like heralds of glad tidings, going before His mercy: when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith: thus shall We raise up the dead: perchance ye may remember. From the land that is clean and good, by the will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after its kind: but from the land that is bad, springs up nothing but that which is niggardly: thus do we explain the signs by various (symbols) to those who are grateful (Surah 7:54, 56-58).
There is no order given for creation, simply that everything was created by Allah. Although translations, as here, tend to say that the process of creation took six ‘days’ – the word being translated is more properly understood as ‘long periods’ or ‘ages’.
The creation of humanity:
I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me. No Sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He Who gives (all) Sustenance—Lord of Power—Steadfast (for ever). For the Wrong-doers, their portion is like unto the portion of their fellows (of earlier generations): then let them not ask Me to hasten (that portion)! Woe, then, to the Unbelievers, on account of that Day of theirs which they have been promised! (Surah 51:56-60).
The Jinn are spirits made of fire and are neither good nor evil. The Mala’ikah are angels and the messengers of Allah but they have no free-will and no physical bodies.
Islam has always been at the forefront of scientific discovery and therefore modern theories of evolution and cosmology do not present a problem.
Although the Qur’an is viewed as the Word of Allah and therefore true, this does not mean that science cannot explain further what is written in the Qur’an. As humanity grows and learns science helps further understanding of Allah’s message.
There are some details in the Qur’an however, which show what appears to be a very modern approach to science:
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? And We have set on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with them, and We have made therein broad highways (between mountains) for them to pass through: that they may receive Guidance. And We have made the heavens as a canopy well guarded: yet do they turn away from the Signs which these things (point to)! It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course (Surah 21:30-33).
This passage seems to show an understanding of the beginning of life in what is now often referred to as a ‘primordial soup’. It also demonstrates that the sun and the moon have separate and particular orbits.
Muslims might argue that Allah wished to explain these things to humanity even though the supporting scientific discoveries had not yet been made.
A further verse explains the role of water in life:
Seest thou not that Allah sends down rain from the sky, and leads it through springs in the earth? Then He causes to grow, therewith, produce of various colours: then it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then He makes it dry up and crumble away. Truly, in this, is a Message of remembrance to men of understanding. (Surah 39:21)
In addition it is shown that bodies can carry out physical changes on substances:
And verily in cattle (too) will ye find an instructive sign. From what is within their bodies between excretions and blood, We produce, for your drink, milk, pure and agreeable to those who drink it. And from the fruit of the date-palm and the vine, ye get out wholesome drink and food: behold, in this also is a sign for those who are wise. (Surah 16:66)
Scientific discoveries are therefore seen as supporting what has already been revealed.