Some Shia Scholars and the Theory of Evolution Part 2

دیدار اعضای مجلس خبرگان رهبری

Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi and his “Dialogue” with Darwin
 
Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi responded to Darwin’s theory in a  book he called Between Islam and Darwin. He identified himself in  the beginning of his book as “His Eminence, the Supreme Religious  Authority, Imam Shirazi, ‘may his life be prolonged“.  There is no harm in going through some of his arguments against  the science of historical geology and the theory of evolution in order  to determine whether they have scientific value, or if he has “heard  incorrectly so he answered likewise”. Shirazi imagined what Darwin  would have said, then attributed speech to him, and then responded  under the name “Muslim”, a name he chose for himself in his “dialogue”.
 
In his book, Shirazi wrote:[1]
 
Darwin [What Shirazi imagines Darwin would say]: The experiment  is examination and other evidence.
 
Examination: If a person were to examine the layers of the earth, he would found fossils of plants, animals, and humans. The fossils of each layer are different than the fossils of the others. Also, the closer  a fossil is to the crust of the earth, the closer it is to being ideal, and the further away the fossil is from the crust of the earth, the further  it is from being ideal.
 
Muslim [Shirazi responds to what he claims are Darwin’s words]:  How is this connected to evolution, knowing the origin of things, and  that the human being med to be a monkey?
 
Darwin [what Shirazi imagines that Darwin would say]: Now I  say, the connection is:
 
1. The bottom layer of the earth contains fossils of clam, sponge,  coral, shrimp, fish, a unicellular shelled organism, and an alfalfa plant.
2. The second layer contains pine trees, palm trees, reptiles, birds,  fish, and marsupials.
3. The third layer contains snakes, whales, apes, and modern trees.
4. The fourth layer contains mammoths, wooly quadrupeds, human beings, and all modern trees…
 
Muslim [Shirazi]:
 
First of all, how can you prove your claim that these layered fossils exist? And how can you prove your claim that the fossils in each layer have evolved from the fossils of the previous one?
 
Fifth: If we were to assume that humans do not exist at all in the  lower layers, would this successive change of fossils prove evolution  to be true? What if someone told you that God created a sponge in  the lower layers, and so on, how would you respond?
 
Furthermore, does the existence of a small car on the first floor of  a building, a bigger car on the second, and a bigger one on the third,  and so on, since they have various shapes, prove that the car evolved  by itself and that each one was not manufactured separately?
 
Moreover, let us suppose that a landslide occurred in New York  City and then a thousand years later a person discovered the building  whose floors contained the cars. Would they have the right to say the  same thing as you did? How would you answer them if they said so?
 
What is the difference between what you are saying and what they  would say? (AI-Shirazi 1972. Arabic source, translated}.
 
Response: Just like that, with the stroke of a pen, and with extremely  simplistic arguments, he wants to eradicate historical geology in all its  splendor, and its ability to determine the age of the layers of the earth,  and thus the age of the fossils therein. Shirazi says:
 
…how can you prove your claim that these layered fossils exist?
 
Then, in his dialogue, he claims that science, Darwin (or whoever he is talking to) couldn’t refute this question!
 
According to the example of the building, it seems that Sayyid  Shirazi imagines that geologists classify the layers of the earth based  on their order, and which one is on top, without any scientific standards or laws to significantly reduce the risk of falling into error. So he imagines that they would overlook natural occurrences such as  landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates without paying any attention to them while setting these scientific standards for classification. 
 
He should have first become acquainted with the geological methods of classifying and determining the age of the earth’s layers, the conventional mechanisms and methods of examination, and whether or not those methods are  scientifically accurate, so that he would not present such a naive and  simplistic argument while at the same time calling himself an “Imam”  (a divine leader) and an “Ayatollah” (a sign of God)!
 
In general, anyone searching for the truth only needs to investigate  to find that the following scientific methods are used to classify the age of the layers of the earth:
 
1. Relative Dating Method:
 
This method depends on certain factors that include: for any sequence  of rock layers not deformed by either cleavage or severe folding, the  lower layer is older than the upper one, and so on. Therefore, determining the older layer is not random in the way that Shirazi imagines, but is a classification subject to scientific standards. Basically,  this method determines the age of the rock layers relative to others,  without knowing the actual age of each layer.
 
2. Absolute Dating Method:
 
This method makes use of the radioactive isotopes of elements. With  time, the nucleus of an atom decays and forms a radioactive isotope.
 
This decay occurs at a constant rate over time for each element. Therefore, the time period of a rock layer containing a radioactive isotope  can be calculated by comparing it to its known original isotope. This  method has been well-known for decades, and was well-known long  before Shirazi wrote his book. It is now used to determine the age of  the rock layers with high accuracy. Several isotopes are used to determine the age of rocks, fossils and organic materials, such carbon (C)  and argon (Ar).
 
This is how Shirazi responded to Darwin and the evolution scientists:
 
And how can you prove your claim that the fossils in each layer have evolved from the fossils of the previous one?
 
The answer to this is very simple. We have earth layers, one on top  of the other, that we have examined using highly accurate scientific  methods that leave no room for error. We have found that the bottom  layer is the oldest, the top layer is the newest, and the difference in  age between layers sometimes reaches hundreds of millions of years.
 
The older layers contain primitive organisms, and as we move toward the present, the organisms are more developed, evolved, and complex.
 
Therefore, it cannot be said that the entire process of creation occurred in a single burst, because some of these organisms came hundreds of  millions of years after others. So, based on accurate scientific data, the  inevitable conclusion is that some organisms came after others. In fact,  even bodily complexity and multiplicity came after a simplicity that  preceded them by hundreds of millions of years.
 
The analysis, classification and comparison of the organisms was  then carried out by means of rigorous sciences, such as comparative  anatomy, with the most advanced analytical devices. According to scientific evidence and research, it has been found that they are generations of organisms that evolved from one another.
 
Now whoever rejects the results of these scientific tests and analyses would say that these organisms were created directly, each group  in a particular period of time. However, they should explain why God created them in groups and made it look as if one evolved from another. Was it to deceive the people?! The Almighty is far above that
 
Therefore, the issue is simple: these organisms have evolved from  one another.
 
Today we can test this in a laboratory, manipulate genes, and create  new species of organisms.
 
Shirazi also says:
 
Ninth: Assuming that the first cell was a living cell is not enough to  provide life for millions upon millions of organisms. Where would  the life of these organisms come from? Does the existence of one  piece of iron explain the existence of millions of tons of iron? Certainly not! (Al-Shirazi 1913, translated).
 
Response: I don’t know if Shirazi even understands the concept of  reproduction. Does he know that in a laboratory a single bacterial  cell can multiply to form millions of bacterial cells?! I believe this is  enough to prove that the multiplication of life is something that is  very natural and ordinary, once the raw materials and suitable conditions are available. I believe it is indisputable that the earth provides  sufficient conditions for life to multiply, and this is something that  can be easily tested in a laboratory. The variation of life forms is both  extremely natural and inevitable, as long as we keep in mind that there is a basis for physical life—the genetic plan— and that there are mutations that can always occur in this plan that lead to variation. If variation, reproduction, and a natural environment that selects the most fit to survive are all present, and the living organism transfers its genes  to the next generation through reproduction, evolution will definitely  occur.
 
Shirazi also says:
 
Second: If nature selects the fittest, why do primitive plants and  animals still exist? Why do apes still exist? Why didn’t nature transform them into the best form?
 
Third: “Why do you see[2] the unfit attack the fittest and eliminate  them? For example, lions prey upon humans, and poisonous animals  like scorpions and snakes sting or bite humans (i.e the fitter animal)  and kill them, and germs (microbes) kill humans, who are more fit.’
 
Fourth: Why do things that are more fit regress to a less fit state?  Just as humans become weak. die, and then tum into dust, the same thing happens to plants and animals.
 
Fifth: Why are there fossils of extinct animals that belong to the  highest classes as far as size of body and perfection of form…
 
Sixth: What is this nature that selects?
 
If it has a mind, comprehension and feeling, then what is it?
 
If it has no mind or comprehension, then how does it select?
 
If someone said, “This piece of iron has selected that brick to be its mate,” wouldn’t that be ridiculous and ludicrous?
 
How could nature be credited with this “alleged” selection that  happens to be better than the selection of all scientists, wise men and  philosophers, people of science, comprehension, and experience?! (Al- Shirazi 1972, translated) .
 
Response: Shirazi’s statement that apes and plants didn’t evolve is  incorrect. These are historical matters that can be easily resolved by  comparing fossils and referring to facts concerning archaeology and fossils. For example, it has been proven that flowering plants did not  exist in the past, so plants have evolved. Apes have also changed and  evolved, as the apes we see today are completely different than the  first apes. There were no great apes in the past. In fact, seventy million  years ago there were no apes at all. Rather, there were small mammals  from which others, including apes, evolved, after dinosaurs became  extinct.
 
As for Shirazi’s statement that an individual from among the lower—ranked animals kills an individual from the higher-ranked ones:
 
For example, lions prey upon humans, and poisonous animals like  scorpions and snakes sting or bite humans (i.e the fitter animal) and kill them, and germs (microbes) kill humans, who are more fit.  His assumption that this example is a refutation of natural selection  proves that he has no understanding of the matter. Lions, scorpions,  snakes, bacteria, and viruses all represent nature’s tools that surround  the species undergoing natural selection—the human being in his example. 
 
These tools select the individuals of that species that are the most fit to survive, or that are able to escape, overcome these obstacles,  and pass their genes on to the next generation. Moreover, members  of the same species sometimes play this role with even more ferocity  than members of other species, as they compete for limited space in a  shared environment.
 
I will present an example based on Shirazi’s standards for examples  in order to help those deceived by him to understand what I am saying:
 
Assume that we went back two million years to a time when a human species called Homo erectus existed. This species had a small brain (larger than that of a chimpanzee, but smaller than that of Homo Sapiens, or the modern human being). It is believed that the modern human species, Homo sapiens, evolved from Homo Erectus and became a separate species about two hundred thousand years ago. Now let us imagine that we are observing a Homo erecrus group consisting of ten adolescent females and ten adolescent males surrounded by deadly predators like lions, venomous and deadly animals like snakes and scorpions, and deadly bacteria. These twenty adolescents differ from one another, as is always the case. Some are tall and others short.
 
Some have completely straight legs and others have legs that are still slightly bent, an inherited trait that reduces their speed. Some have strong bodies and others have weak ones. Some have a strong resistance to bacteria, and others a weak resistance to bacteria. Some have larger than average brains and others smaller. Now when they are attacked by deadly predators, the strongest, fastest, and most intelligent will  usually survive, and the weakest, slowest, and least intelligent will usually perish.
 
For example, the intelligent ones will find a way to prevent a snake bite more often than the unintelligent ones, and in this manner the intelligent one (the one with the larger and better brain) will survive, reach puberty, mate, and pass his genes to a new generation. In this way, generation after generation, and by means of variation, selection, and reproduction, the size of the brain and the straightness of the legs will become more firmly established, as is the case for resistance to bacteria and other traits. Likewise, humans, deer, scorpions, snakes, and bacteria will all form a part of nature’s tools of selection for the lion.
 
Therefore, if we have two lions, one of them strong and fast, and the other weaker and slower, to the point where it is slower than the average deer and antelopes that live in its natural environment, it would probably perish, or be so weak that it could not compete with other males to mate, reproduce, and pass its genes to the next generation. On the other hand, the strong and fast lion would probably be able to mate, reproduce, and pass on its genes. This is how nature selects those most able to survive and endure within it. As for the deer, the lion is one of nature’s tools of selection in the sense that  nature will select the fastest deer that is most capable of eluding and escaping predators. In this way, the genes most able to keep up with their environment endure, while the genes that cannot keep up will be eliminated. So this is natural selection and survival of the fittest, and it is not as it was understood by Shirazi—that members of a less developed species are unable to harm any member of a more developed species. He presented his argument based on this misunderstanding.
 
The remainder of Shirazi’s arguments are based on his misunderstanding of natural selection. If he had known that natural selection is the survival of the fittest to live and reproduce in the organism’s natural environment, then he wouldn’t have presented this simplistic set of arguments. For example, natural selection of tall animals that exist in an environment in which food is available at a certain height means that animals tall enough to obtain plentiful food will pass down  the tallness trait to their offspring. It also means that the short animals will either die, or they won’t obtain enough food to reproduce and pass their genes on to the next generation. Moreover, an environment that provides plenty of food for a particular animal allows it to increase in size whenever mutation provides the genes for increased size. Therefore, natural selection of the fittest means that conditions within nature allow for the survival of some individuals of a species that possess favored genes, while not allowing for the survival of others. This IS because these conditions are suitable for the survivors, not those who perished—those who didn’t pass their genes on to the next generation because they didn’t reproduce.
 
Shirazi also wrote the following imaginary dialogue:
 
Darwin: The second proof is evolution, which occurs in many animal species. So we see that if a human is born in a cold climate he will become white. The same applies to animals. Thus, one species has a certain condition, shape, and certain habits in each environment. The same is the case with respect to plants. Therefore, if this is possible, then there is no difference between horizontal evolution, in which the color, size, and habits of one animal change due to differences in climate and other conditions, and vertical evolution, in which a cell turns into a plant, a plant turns into an animal, and an animal turns into a human.
 
Muslim [Shirazi]: Your inference is very strange, as there are two ways of looking at it here:
 
1. That individual animals, plants, or humans difier slightly depending on the differences in the environment and climate, while at the same time all individuals belong to a single species, as is the case with humans, but some are black, red, or yellow.
 
Or that all members of the species are bears, but all polar bears have certain traits, and the other bears in warmer areas have other traits.
 
Or that all members of a species are the wheat plant, but the Iraqi wheat has its own traits and the Australian wheat has its own traits.
 
2. That one thing differs drastically based on environmental differences, for example, being an ape in one environment, or a human or plant in another, even though all of them have a single origin.
 
What we see, and what everyone knows to be correct, is the first way of looking at it.
 
As for the second way of looking at it, what is your evidence to prove it?
 
It is like saying:
 
Just as mud can be used to make bricks, pottery, and adobe, it can also be used to make iron, ivory, and water.
 
Could such an analogy be possible?
 
Darwin: I am thinking!
 
Muslim [Shirazi]:Then your second piece of evidence has been refuted. What is your third piece of evidence? {Al-Shirazi 1972. Arabic source, translated}.
 
Response: Darwin is slandered in Shirazi’s imaginary dialogue. Darwin didn’t divide evolution horizontally and vertically, just as he never said that a cell can turn into a plant, a plant into an animal, or an animal into a human. Also, he didn’t advocate transmutation, nor do any of today’s evolutionary biologists or punctuationists.
 
As for Shirazi’s saying,
 
What we see, and what everyone knows to be correct, is the first way of looking at it.
 
This means that Shirazi has admitted evolution without realizing it. He has admitted evolution within the limits of family, like the Ursidae family, while rejecting it when it reaches a level of higher taxonomic separation. Therefore, he is the one who should present evidence that evolution stops at the limits of the family. Why wouldn’t it reach a higher degree of separation, a point it must reach over time, since it is a normal result of the accumulation of evolution over time?
 
We have genetic mutations that definitely lead to variation. The combination of genetic mutation, natural selection, and reproduction leads to the emergence of new and distinct traits in organisms, such as size, shape, hair type, claws, etc. The differences become substantial due to their accumulation over time. Shirazi and people like him accept all of this within the context of a single family.  This means that they accept the accumulation of diiferences over hundreds of thousands of years, or maybe even a few million years.  But Shirazi doesn’t accept that these differences reach the point of a different family, even though this differentiation is an inevitable and natural result of the accumulation of variation over a longer period of time— tens of millions of years, for example. This is long enough to emphasize this separation in a substantial way, resulting in the biological classification of an organism into a different family.
 
He accepted that there is continuous modification and restructuring of the organism that depends on its environment. This restructuring and modification is responsible for the variation between polar bears and sun bears, considering the tremendous differences  between them in shape, size, weight, color, food type, and metabolism. However, he rejects the argument that modification and restructuring reach a  level of variation that places them into different families, for example. So Shirazi is required to present evidence for this, because classification is an inevitable result of the accumulation of modification and restructuring. It is a process that relies on genetic mutation, and in nature it is theoretically possible for genetic mutation to form species, genuses, and families when given sufiicient time.
 
It has been proven in the laboratory that genes can be structurally altered. This can be done in an uncontrolled way, as in radioactive bombardment, or in a controlled way, as is widely done today.
 
Furthermore, the point has been reached in which a complete bacterial genetic plan can be constructed using non-living chemical substances. In this way, we can theoretically produce a human being in laboratories by using the ovum and sperm of chimpanzees, or by using just the cell nucleus of a chimpanzee and the enucleated ovum of a woman. All we have to do is alter the chimpanzee chromosomes in order to have the same number and likeness of human chromosomes, which is theoretically possible.
 
A point has been reached that goes even farther than this, just as a  complete bacterial genetic plan was produced in the laboratory using  non-living chemical substances, and it was implanted in the cytoplasm of bacteria and the chromosomes were able to live and replicate, a complete human chromosome plan can also be produced using non-living chemical substances [Alleyne 2010], because the difference between bacterial chromosomes and human chromosomes is like the difference between a small building and a large one, as both of them have the same building materials. We should keep in mind that biological classification of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans places them all in one family the Great Apes—just as all bears are placed into one family, Ursidae. The difference between humans and chimpanzees is like the difference between sun bears and polar bears. Actually, some of the differences between chimpanzee and human bodies are less than those found between the sun bear and polar bear. Therefore, when Shirazi admitted that evolution exists, considering it exclusively within the limits of the family, without realizing what he was saying, he admitted that chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans have evolved from a common origin as well, since they are all members of one family.[3]
 
As for his statement:
 
It is like saying: Just as mud can be used to make bricks, pottery, and adobe, it can also be used to make iron, ivory, and water. Could such an analogy he possible?
 
This is meaningless because making bricks from clay doesn’t alter atoms at the level of nuclear particles. So we cannot compare this to the transformation of clay into another element such as iron, for example, since the transformation of one element into another requires the restructuring of nuclear particles. We have two levels here that are entirely different, so this comparison is meaningless. It is also meaningless for Shirazi to compare this simplistic example to what happens in evolution, since the variation in evolution occurs at a single molecular level, which is the restructuring of chromosomes that have the same molecular composition in all organisms. The only difference between chromosomes in each organism is their arrangement. In fact, it would have been better for him if he had not made this comparison. And this concludes my response, but there is no harm in explaining things further.
 
It seems that Shirazi doesn’t know what he is talking about because when it comes to the evolution of life, we are talking about the restructuring of chromosomes—the building blocks of life. And when comparing chromosomes to elements, the analogy would be the restructuring of atomic nuclei—the building blocks of elements.
 
Chemical elements can be reformed and restructured. Had he asked any astrophysicist or physicist, he would have learned that iron is produced from other elements in the surrounding universe, and in tremendous quantities as well. Iron, and many other elements, are produced through nuclear fusion, a process that occurs in the stars around us. Nuclear fusion causes the structuring and formation of the elements. So when our discussion is taken to the subatomic level, and it is about the transformation of atomic nuclei, there is no difference between iron, oxygen, carbon, helium, and hydrogen, since they are all constructed from the same building blocks. 
 
Therefore, elements can be reformed and restructured to produce other materials from the same primary building materials of the elements. This is what happens in stars as they burn hydrogen  and helium. Heavier element nuclei that contain more protons and  neutrons are produced as a result of the fusion of light element nuclei.  In this way, carbon, oxygen, and the remaining elements are produced  until reaching iron, the most stable element. Then, if a great supernova explosion of the star occurs, the nuclear fusion process goes beyond  iron to heavier elements such as uranium.
 
So we can create iron from another element if we control the  atomic nuclear particles (protons and neutrons). All We need is a large  amount of energy in order to create such a small distance between  these particles that the strong nuclear forces can begin to work, and  then nuclear fusion occurs. This amount of energy is available in stars,  for example. For this reason, the production of one element from another element occurs in the universe that surrounds us all the time.
 
However, it is even easier to produce lighter nuclei from heavier nuclei  through nuclear fission, as the large amount of energy needed to bring  particles closer to one another isn’t required. We must simply induce  the fission of an unstable nucleus, like the nucleus of uranium—235.
 
This is what occurs in nuclear reactors, but in a controlled way. For  example, it can be controlled by adding a material like a cadmium alloy  to absorb excess neutrons so that nuclear fission proceeds at an acceptable rate, rather than at an exponential, uncontrolled rate that turns it  into an atomic bomb.
 
 

[1] Muhammad Al-Shirazi (1928-2001) was an Iranian Shia cleric. He wrote many  books on a variety of subjects including politics, science and religion.
 
[2] The electronic version says: “You do not see”. This causes the statement to he  contradictory and may be due to either a typographical error or confusion.
 
[3] Richard Alleyne, ‘Scientist Craig Venter Creates Life For First Time ln Laboratory Sparking Debate About ‘Playing God”, Telegraph.Co.Ult, last modified 2010, accessed December 10, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/7745868/scientist-Craig-Venter-creates-life-for-first-time-in-laboratory-sparking-debate-about playing-god.html.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s