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Qur’an And Torah Are Pro Religious Evolution (Part I) – OpEd

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The Qur’an and the Torah teach us that, unlike all other earthly creatures, Homo Sapiens have been created to be Allah’s Vice-regents (deputies or agents) on this earth. (Qur’an 2:30, 35:39, 38:26 and Torah Genesis 1:26-28). Of the  8.7 million estimated total number of species on Earth (6.5 million on land and 2.2 million in oceans), only one can consciously decide how to have a major impact on the world’s climate and the evolution of life on this planet. That species is Homo Sapiens.

Religion provides guidance and direction to enable humans to be good Vice-regents of God rather than be destroyers of society and nature. The Qur’an also teaches that we should be able to see the majesty of 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) Abstracts like language, religion and averages do not actually exist. One cannot speak language, or practice religion, and no mother has 1.8 children. One can only speak a language, practice a religion, or have a whole number of children.

Religion is a collection of human spiritual feelings. thoughts, and activities that informs a sacred narrative connecting personal experiential realities with physical realities to unite a group of people into a holy community.

If for some reason some people do not want to see God’s majesty in the evolution of life in general, and human beings in particular, there is something the matter with them. (71:13) Thus, it is surprising that belief in evolution is a minority position in almost all Muslim societies around the world. According to studies, 22 percent of Turks, 16 percent of Indonesians, 14 percent of Pakistanis, and only 8 percent of Egyptians believe in evolution.

In comparison, belief in evolution was about 40 percent in the U. S. where many people (primarily evangelical Protestants) still think there is a great conflict between evolution and religion. That has changed in recent years. “From 1985 to 2010, there was a statistical dead heat between acceptance and rejection of evolution,” said Jon Miller of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “But acceptance then surged, becoming the majority position in 2016.”

Examining data over 35 years, the study consistently identified aspects of education — civic science literacy, taking college courses in science and having a college degree — as the strongest factors leading to the acceptance of evolution.

“Almost twice as many Americans held a college degree in 2018 as in 1988,” said co-author Mark Ackerman. The researchers analyzed a collection of biennial surveys from the National Science Board, several national surveys funded by units of the National Science Foundations, and a series focused on adult civic literacy funded by NASA.

Beginning in 1985, these national samples of U.S. adults were asked to agree or disagree with this statement: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

The series of surveys showed that Americans were evenly divided on the question of evolution from 1985 to 2007. According to a 2005 study of the acceptance of evolution in 34 developed nations, led by Miller, only Turkey, at 27%, scored lower than the United States.

But over the last decade, until 2019, the percentage of American adults who agreed with this statement increased from 40% to 54%.

Protestant religious fundamentalism is the strongest factor leading to the rejection of evolution. While their numbers declined somewhat in the last decade, approximately 27-30% of Americans continue to be religious fundamentalists. But many of those who scored highest on the scale of religious fundamentalism shifted toward acceptance of evolution, rising four-fold from 8% in

A great deal of unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding has been caused by the careless use of the terms ‘human’ and ‘man’ by evolutionists to describe the increasing number of fossil finds of tool using biped primate species (over a dozen now) some of whom were ancestral to Homo Sapiens.

I shall try to refer to each distinct species by its scientific name only. Most people think that the name ‘human’ or ‘mankind’ should be reserved only for our own species. Not using the name ‘human’ and ‘man’ carelessly would help resolve most of the conflict over the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution can help us understand why religion is so important for human survival; and why religion is universal. Indeed, modern Homo Sapiens would be better named Homo Religiosus, a term used by many scholars in religious studies and anthropology.

The evolution of spiritual activities that enhance the successful survival of humanity is not only concerned with enhancing the survival of our own species. With the recent domestication of plants and animals and the very recent industrial revolution, Homo Sapiens (HS) acquired a great deal of responsibility for the evolution of most of the species on the planet itself. The ability to genetically modify both plants and animals gives Mankind a significant role in the future evolution of life. Thus the behavior of religious people themselves now becomes a factor in the evolution of life on earth.

Religious behaviors are evidence of self-conscious creative thought processes most people associate with Homo Sapiens. Religious behaviors are the creative responses of intelligent minds to certain challenges in social and personal life. Since only Mankind of the millions of species on this planet, can consciously have an impact on the evolution of life; it is only natural that God has inspired thousands of individuals (124,000 according to Muslim tradition) to urge their own communities to live according to God’s will.

But first God had to prepare ancient humans (pre Adam) to be receptive to the words of the prophets. Although no one knows exactly how God works; the following scenarios seem reasonable to me.

For many centuries it was thought that mankind’s ability to use tools was what made us unique. However, we now know that several different species use tools (including birds) and Chimps not only use but also make at least three different kinds of tools for different functions. Chimp tool use differs in different locations (a cultural not a genetic difference). Chimps also show signs of self-awareness by recognizing themselves in a mirror. So what makes us what we are?

First, we are small group, hierarchically organized, social primates. Any genes that enable the group (extended family and/or band) to function better will contribute to individual survival and reproduction.

Second, the species that preceded Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal have been evolving larger and larger brains for several million years. Eventually two species, Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthal evolved that achieved self-conscious ways of meeting life’s challenges through non-material i.e. cultural and spiritual behaviors. (Homo Neanderthals is a species physically close to Homo Sapiens whose last common ancestor shared with Homo Sapiens lived about 660,000 years ago according to a DNA study published in 2008. HN co-inhabited in Europe and parts of western Asia with HS- anatomically modern humans, from about 120,000 to 29,000 years ago. HN were well adapted to the cold and were very muscular. They had slightly larger brains than HS)

Increasing dependence on mental capacities became problematic for those individual HN and HS who malfunctioned mentally. Any genes that would help correct or ameliorate individual mental challenges would be selected for and would spread throughout the population. Spiritual activities among HS have evolved over the last 120-160,000 years. If one takes seriously the Biblical claim that humanity was created in the Divine image, spiritual evolution testifies to the creation of creatures who are vice-regents of purpose driven non-material responses to environmental and social challenges.

Homo Sapiens (HS) faced at least half a dozen different challenges over the last 150,000 years that stimulated spiritual developments that improved survival rates both for groups and individuals within the group. One of the greatest challenges to increased intellectual development is anxiety and self-imposed stress. The more HS can think about things, the greater the ability to produce anxiety and self-imposed stress that are debilitating by themselves, and also depress the immune system. Anything that reduces stress and anxiety increases survival rates for intelligent minds.

Also as successful groups got larger it became harder and harder to keep them from internal conflict and splitting. Larger groups, or groups with strong alliances, were more likely to win when there was intergroup conflict and had reduced negative affects from inbreeding. Anything that helped larger groups create bonds that were more than family, and behavioral norms that were more than mimicking would increase survival rates.

Individuals with a mental illness could not contribute much to a tribe or band. Anything that helped heal or integrate these individuals would help survival rates. These are some of the challenges faced by a species that began using its mind more and more.

The first challenge is also the ultimate one: death. Homo Sapiens is the only living species that knows in advance that death is inevitable. Genesis 2:17 teaches “on the day you eat it (the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you will know) you will surely die.” Elephants, Chimpanzees and Orangutans have been observed to mourn for a dead child, but no other living species practices ritual burial. The intelligent minds of HS responded to the death of loved ones by creating funeral rites and rituals of ancestor worship.

Evidence from Qafzeh cave in northern Israel of ritual burial and grave goods (red ocher and mollusk shells of an inedible species) goes back 100 -120,000 years or more. These funeral rituals brought comfort and solace to the mourners. Funeral rituals also had the important effect of strengthening group solidarity at a time when leadership might be challenged and changing. Strengthening group solidarity reduced internal conflict and violence thus increasing the chances of raising children to adulthood.

Although other species also dream, the intelligent minds of HS creatively concluded that dreams about the dead showed that the dead were still active and could continue to help their descendants. Thus departed spirits ought to be venerated and worshiped. It is possible that nomadic hunter-gatherer bands used the skulls of important individuals in community rituals for many centuries. Two HS skulls from Herto in Ethiopia, well worn through handling, have been dated to more than 140,000 years ago.

These ritual activities strengthened feelings of kinship within and among hunter-gather bands enabling them to be more stable and grow larger. This in turn increased the chances for survival of individuals within the more effective bands and clans. Ritual activities and ideas about help available from deceased ancestors reduced stress and anxiety and so led HS to expand the realm of spirits to the treatment of physical and mental illness.

Scientists now know that anxiety and stress weaken the immune system and increase the chances of not surviving an otherwise survivable illness. Anything that reduces anxiety and stress increases survival rates. This is one key reason that religious behavior became ubiquitous.

Illness, especially mental illnesses that tend to be chronic rather than fatal, provided serious challenges to the intelligent minds of HS. Epilepsy, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Bipolar Disorders and other brain diseases occur in at least 2-3% of the population worldwide.

Thus there should be at least one or two cases in every band of 50-100 people. Severe cases are very scary and disabling, but the intelligent minds of HS could react to the challenge of mild cases with a variety of rituals and practices that served to alleviate the symptoms through mind-body interactions that we recognize today as placebo faith healing.

Placebo faith healing works primarily by reducing pain through endorphin release and increasing the strength of an individual’s immune response, which is weakened by stress and anxiety. Only HS are known to be capable of placebo spiritual healing. Among HS today only a minority of individuals are able to heal themselves with the aid of placebo faith healing. The hope that ritual can heal and the ability to trust a healer are powerful factors that frequently bring about improvement. Chanting, drumming, dancing, meditation and fasting are widespread ways of inducing an alternative consciousness that helps alleviate pain, stress and anxiety.

With the support of a community of believers, and a tradition that enhances their individual hope and trust results would be even better. A cure, either short or long term, isn’t the only outcome in faith healing. The ceremony itself can reduce many of the side effects of the illness such as depression, stress, anger and negativity. This often ameliorates symptoms and brings relief. Chronic illness negatively impacts the immune system and eventually increases death rates. Ritual faith healing ameliorates symptoms for many people in these types of situations. This reintegrates the ‘possessed’ into a support group and reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and reduces death rates.

A tiny charismatic minority, who themselves had struggled successfully to overcome these diseases, may became guides to others. These Shaman guides undertook journeys into a realm of evil spirits who they believed had caused these afflictions and effected cures. A 45-60,000 year old site in a cave at Shanidar, Iraq yielded the skeleton of a badly disabled older Homo Neanderthal that the excavator thought might be a Shaman.

Since this individual could not hunt and thus support himself, the excavator suggested that the man disfigured by his shrunken arm and damaged eye, was thought “touched” by the spirits. Thus he might be able to communicate with them on behalf of the community. So the band had supported him, while he intervened with the spirits on their behalf. The bear skull found next to him, the red flowers piled upon his grave, and a ring of stones around the grave are all evidence of his ritual importance. His advanced age suggested that his HN group revered him for years.

Elders of each family unit, usually in the home, regularly carry on ancestor worship to this day in East Asian religions. Shamans however, were called in as specialists for unusual situations. These Shamans were the first religious professionals. Their disciples were their most successful patients. Shamans in different bands and tribes most likely exchanged experiences and techniques with each other. Shamans, and later priests who knew how to conduct public ritual rites that promoted group unity, became a powerful alternative class of leaders to the traditional big, strong hunter and fighter types.

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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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