It’s very common to hear someone say they, “don’t believe in evolution,” because, “it’s just a theory.” Yet gravity is a theory as well – why doesn’t anyone sane go around professing their doubts about it?
The fact of the matter is, the evidence for evolution has reached the point where it isn’t even hyperbolic to compare it to gravity. In scientific circles it has become a fact accepted by virtually everyone, on the same level as the Earth orbiting the Sun.
The heart of the theory of evolution is the astounding similarity in almost all living creatures. The five bones that make up the human hand are almost exactly the same as the five bones that make up the wing of the bat and the leg of a cat, with the only differences being the sizes and proportions. Similarly, the bones that make up the human coccyx, or “tailbone”, are identical to the bones found at the beginning of the tail of most animals. On their own, these similarities prove nothing, but it’s when we begin to move backwards that a picture starts to emerge.
In rocks a billion years or older, the only fossils found are those of single celled organisms. 500 million years later, we start to see simple multicellular fossils. At 400 million years, we see the first fish and sea creatures. At 370 million years, we see the first land creatures. It’s clear that the nature of life on Earth has changed over time – from single celled organisms to multicellular organisms to sea creatures to land creatures. And at each stage, we see remnants of the stage before it. In 1998, scientists discovered a fossilized fin with remarkably similar bones to the human hand, but undoubtedly from a fish. Is it a coincidence that at the point in time fossils of sea creatures began to look more and more like their counterparts on land, we begin to discover fossils of land creatures? At this point, the narrative of evolution begins to look more compelling.
The real kicker however, is DNA. All mammals share the same DNA structure – about 3 billion total bases of DNA and about 25,000 genes. And of those 25,000, all mammals share 99% of their genes. As we move back in time, we find that the very same links in different organisms that could be hypothesized at by looking at the fossil record, are backed up by DNA. Perhaps even more conclusively, studies have found genes in the human genome that are currently inactive, providing no apparent purpose in our current form. When the genes are extracted and reactivated, they provide functions we can directly trace back to older species.
The study of evolution and the evidence for it is a massive subject that cannot be summarized in a short article. I’ve attempted to share some of the simplest and most convincing pieces of evidence in favour of the theory, but it’s worth asking: why was this even necessary? As Muslims, we don’t spend time doing independent research on whether or not the Earth orbits the Sun – we trust scientists when they tell us it’s simply a fact. So what makes evolution any different? Why do we bother doing all this research in an attempt to disprove what the academic community has accepted?
“Because evolution contradicts Islam,” you protest. “We can’t accept something that flies in the face of our religion!”
No, we can’t, but evolution doesn’t have to fall into that category. Why? Check back next month.