Darwin’s islamic ancestors

Darwin's Islamic ancestors

From Akhlaq-i Nasiri by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Image: public domain

Why Turkey can’t escape the theory of evolution

In Turkey, Schoolchildren Will No Longer Learn About the Theory of Evolution. Turkic politicians instead call for putting Islamic scholars of the Middle Ages on the curriculum. But their theories were not unlike Darwin’s teachings of mutation and selection.

It is "too questionable, too controversial and too complicated for schoolchildren"When the Turkish Ministry of Education announced last week that it would remove the theory of evolution from school textbooks, enlightened observers could only shake their heads. Finally, the theory from Charles Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species" previously considered the undisputed explanation of the development of life on our planet. On this side of the Bosporus at least.

As a "archaic theory", which is hardly proven, is how the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus described the theory of evolution at the beginning of this year, thus setting in motion a debate that has now resulted in the banishment of Darwin from the textbooks of the 9. Class culminated.

Starting in 2019, Turkish schoolchildren will learn about the principles of mutation and selection at university, at the earliest, the chairman of the education committee in the Turkish Ministry of Education, Alpaslan Durmus, announced in a video message. Instead "Eurocentric" Replace lessons with the teachings of Muslim and Turkic scholars.

However, this can only mean that the powers-that-be in Ankara did not pay much attention in school themselves. Otherwise, they knew that Islamic scholars over the centuries had come to conclusions not unlike Darwin’s teachings.

thousand years before Darwin, an Islamic researcher put forward a theory of natural selection

One of them is Abu Uthman Amr ibn Bahr al-Kinani al-Basri, better known as Al-Jahiz. Already in the 9. In the sixteenth century, and thus about 1000 years before Darwin, the Arab-African writer wrote the following in his seven-volume encyclopedia "Kitab al-Hayawan" (Book of Animals) a systematics of 350 animal species. In the book, Al-Jahiz not only describes animal food chains, he also developed a theory of animal struggle for survival reminiscent of Darwin’s doctrine of natural selection:

Animals are in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten, to reproduce. Environmental influences affect the organism so that new traits will evolve to ensure survival, resulting in new species.


Only a few decades later, a religious teacher in Central Asia came to similar conclusions. Muhammad al-Nakhshabi described at that time how life, according to his conception, continuously evolves:

While man descended from sentient creatures [meaning animals], these descended from vegetable beings, and these in turn from combined substances, and these from elemental properties, and these from heavenly beings.

Muhammad al-Nakhshabi

His theory may sound banal from today’s point of view and is still far away from the complex teachings of Darwin, but as a reminder: In Christian Europe at that time it was believed that the number of species in the world was determined only by God’s creation and the place on Noah’s ark.