Allah’s Vice-Regents And Evolution – OpEd


The Qur’an teaches us that, unlike all other species on Planet Earth, Adam/Homo Sapiens/HS was created to be Allah’s Vice-regents on planet Earth; (2:30, 7:11, 35:39, 38:26) and a species with God’s spirit within.” (Qur’an 15:28-9). The Torah of Musa also teaches us that Adam/Homo Sapiens was the one species on planet Earth created by God to be in His image ( be God’s vice-regent Genesis 1:27) 

And the Zabur of David poetically adds: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God (and above all the angels) and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet” (Psalms 8:4-6) 

In other words, “when your Lord said to the angels, “I will create a human being out of clay from an altered black mud and when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [spirit] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.” (Qur’an 15:28-9)                        

All those who study the Bible and the Qur’an have always been aware that this special status of mankind is primarily in the moral and spiritual arena. However a secondary, but still very important aspect of mankind’s special Vice-regents status, is our impact on planet Earth.

Of the millions of species on this planet, only one can consciously have an impact on the evolution of life. That species is Homo Sapiens. Religion provides guidance and direction to enable humans to be good Vice-regents (agents of God) rather than destroyers of society and exploiters of nature. 

The Qur’an also teaches that we should be able to see majesty in God by seeing that God has created humans in different, successive stages (71:14) and has caused us to grow from earth like a plant. (71:17)  If for some reason we do not want to see God’s majesty in the evolution of life in general, and human beings in particular; there is something that matters with us. (71:13)

As Albert Einstein put it: “What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in asking it? I answer, people who regard their own life and that of their fellow creatures as meaningless, are not merely unfortunate, but almost disqualified for life.” (The World as I See It, Sacramento, Ca. Citadel Press, 1993 p.5)

Now a major analysis of the fossil record shows a deep pattern in nature, that remained the same for over 300 million years, was disrupted about 6-9,000 years ago. “When early humans started farming and became dominant in the terrestrial landscape, we see this dramatic restructuring of plant and animal communities,” said University of Vermont biologist Nicholas Gotelli, an expert on statistics and the senior author on the new study.

In the hunt for the beginning of the “Anthropocene” — a new geologic era defined by human direct influence on planet Earth– this research suggests we need to look back farther in time than human-caused climate change, genetically modified food, urbanization or the industrial revolution.

“This tells us that humans have been having a massive effect on the environment for a very long time,” said S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who led the research. The study, published December 16, 2016 in the journal Nature by a team of 29 scientists, studied plant and animal datasets from both modern ecosystems and the fossil record stretching back to the Carboniferous Period, 300 million years ago.

Examining thousands of pairs of species, the scientists looked to see how often a particular pair of plant or animal species was found within the same community. Analyses of modern communities of plants and animals have shown that, for most pairs of species, the presence of one species within a community does not influence whether the other is present or absent.

But some pairs of species tend to appear together in nature, more often than one would expect by chance — like cheetahs and giraffes who both live in savannah habitats. Other species are “segregated,” meaning that when one is found, it’s unlikely the other species will be there too — like two species of woodpecker that compete for the same insect prey, being driven apart by different habitat needs or fierce competition, so that they occur together less often than would be expected by chance.

For modern communities of plants and animals, studies show segregated species pairs are more common than aggregated ones. But when the team investigated the composition of ancient communities using data from fossils, they were surprised to find the opposite pattern: from 307 million years ago to about 6,000 years ago, there was a higher frequency of aggregated species pairs. Then, from 6,000 years ago to the present, the pattern shifted to a predominance of segregated species pairs. A very ancient rule of nature had changed.

Perhaps this is the reason that the rabbis during the second century CE, began calculating the beginning of the Jewish calendar year epoch (now 5784), not with Abraham, the First Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) but with the exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden 6-9 millennia prior to Prophet Abraham, to work and till the soil. (Genesis 4:23)

We know next to nothing about the God concepts of prehistoric humans. While beliefs about God are of great concern to Monotheists, most other religions focus much more attention on myths about the interactions between the Gods, magic and anti-magic rituals, dietary self-discipline, public and private life cycle rituals, standards of social and personal behavior, healing sickness and sin, and community ceremonies and celebrations. Formal creeds and religious beliefs are a small and recent development within the much larger domain of feelings of trust and group loyalty that have been evolving among primates for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Recent brain studies have shown how biologically organic trust and sharing are to human minds. Activities that build group loyalty and interpersonal trust enhance individual survival and promote individual spirituality much more than cognitive beliefs and ideologies. But urbanization, writing and mass communications may be changing this. Written revelation introduced a tremendous force expanding the power of religion both in space and time.  

The development of a class of religious scholars who study sacred scriptures and attempt to spread the sacred teachings among the people only happens when a religion has a “book”. The impact of religions with written revelations on historic human culture is comparable to the impact of modern science and invention on 20th century lifestyles. Both together will make the 21st century a turning point in human destiny.

What role does God (the One God of the revealed religions) play in all this? According to Genesis 4:26 humans only began to call upon the name of the Lord (YHVH) in the days of Enosh whose name means Adam/mankind/Homo Species/HS). That could mean that prior to Enosh prehistoric religions evolved naturally. Only with the rise of scriptural revelations did the One God enter into human consciousness. 

Or it could mean that human consciousness had risen to the level of being able to receive Divine communication from the One God. It took over 3,000 years for monotheism to spread world-wide even with scriptural revelations, so it is not surprising that it took over 100,000 years to get humans ready to receive revelations.  

Spirituality among Homo Sapiens has been evolving for at least 100,000 years. Religion is as deeply, if not more deeply rooted, in the HS brain as art or music. Recent studies, especially those on adult twins who were raised apart, suggest genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person’s general religiousness. 

The idea that reason, socialism or modern science would replace spiritual and religious thinking has turned out to be a wish fulfillment fantasy of some people, many of whom bear a grudge against religion and spirituality. Religious rituals and ideas are ubiquitous among HS and continue to evolve as the creative intelligent minds of Homo Sapiens encounter changes in their environment. This will most likely continue as long as HS have creative intelligent minds.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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