Chance or random events are an integral part of the theory of evolution. What do we mean by chance? The simple meaning of the word is something that happens unpredictably, without discernible human intention or direction, and in dissociation from any observable pattern, causal relation, or natural necessity.
We define events as unpredictable in two ways. In the first, we are limited by the lack of detailed and accurate knowledge at the micro-level. In such cases chance means that we are unable to determine all the micro-factors affecting the initial conditions that determine the macro-events. In the second scenario, the observed “unpredictable” event is the result of the crossing of two or more independent causal trains of events, when we have had no precise information about the trains themselves or about their point of intersection, or about the origins of preceding small, sequential, causal events.
Many Muslims believe that assigning a role for chance in the creation of the universe and its subunits—animate and inanimate—is anti-Islamic, a denial of God’s absolute control of the universe. In their view, the universe is like a clock and God is the clockmaker. The clockmaker set the clock in motion to tick away toward the Day of Judgment. This miraculous clock never slows down, never runs fast, and never stops. A perfect clock!
But if the universe does run like a clock, then future events should be precisely predictable. Our whole lives and futures would be predetermined, and we would have no freedom to actualize any possibility or affect any change in the universe. If the universe is a mechanical clock whose function was predetermined in the past, all God could do is helplessly observe it ticking away to the Big Crunch. We would have an unemployed God!
A universe without chance and variety of possibilities exists only if creatures do not have the potential or freedom to help or to hurt, to believe or not believe in God, and so on. In a deterministic, chance-absent universe, humans cannot choose freely what they want, but are forced to submit to destiny, and God is responsible for unthinkable evils.
In such a universe, for example, Wahshi, a hired killer, had no choice but to kill Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet, in the Uhud war, because it was meant to be. Hind d. Utba, who paid Wahshi to kill Hamzah and who then cannibalized him, also had no choice in the matter because it was destined to happen. In such fatalistic universe, Osama bin Laden and other fanatics among the minority of misguided Muslims played no role in forming American public perception of Muslims. Instead, all is destiny! God becomes the ultimate puppeteer who pulls the strings on puppets such as Wahshi and Hind d. Utba to kill and mutilate one of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), and God becomes responsible for hiding the true face of Islam from ordinary Americans so they see all Muslims as terrorists. In a deterministic, chance-absent universe, human choices and actions are useless because destiny, not chance or volition, transforms them into believers or nonbelievers!
We can discover many other reasons to reject the deterministic, chance-absent universe of Muslim anti-evolutionists.
According to the Qur’an, the current universe is a testing ground for us to gather data in preparation for the Day of Judgment, when God will either reward or punish us based upon His evaluation of what we gathered during our lifetime. The Qur’an states: “[Allah] Who created death and life in order to try you to see who of you are best in deed” (Qur’an 67:2)1 and “Or do ye think that you shall enter the Garden (of Bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you?” (Qur’an 2:214)2 It also reads: “On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear. It will receive every good it earned and suffer every ill it earned . . . .” (Qur’an 2:286)3 Therefore, in the Islamic universe, every human being is a free agent, given equal chances and the free will to perform moral or immoral acts—equal chances to get to heaven or hell. What each human being does on this earth matters on the Day of Judgment, when the Divine’s absolute justice prevails.
In the predestined universe posited by anti-evolutionists, our thoughts and resulting deeds are preordained by the clockmaker. But if this were so—if Allah prompts every move of His earthly creatures—genuine tests or trials as described in the Qur’an on Earth or Judgment Day are impossible. Why should humankind be accountable for deeds over which they have no control? The Day of Judgment becomes a tyrant’s phony court hearing where preprogrammed robots called humans, who have no control over their actions or decisions, are capriciously judged. Without genuine freedom and the chance to do good or evil, where can humankind find the Generous (Al-Karim), Merciful (Ar-Rahman) God?
Many medieval Islamic scholars and imams have rejected a deterministic universe. For example, in response to a letter from Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan regarding the doctrine of predestination, Imam al-Hasan al-Basri (b.624) replied:
O Commander of the faithful; do not alter it or interpret it falsely. God would not openly prohibit people from something and destine them to do it secretly as the ignorant and the heedless say. If that were so, He would not have said in the Qur’an, 41:40: Do what you wish but would have said: ‘Do what I have destined you to do’. Nor would He have said in Qur’an, 18:29: Whoever wills shall believe and whoever wills shall disbelieve but would have said: ‘Whoever I will shall believe and whoever I will shall disbelieve’.4
The fundamental purpose of the Qur’an, and the Prophet’s authentic tradition, is to make us aware of heaven and hell and of the moral or immoral decisions that we could make by the use of our free will in an unpredictable world. These sources are also decision-making guides as to what actions God allows, prohibits, or considers neutral. God does not, however, totally determine or preordain individual choices and actions. In this universe, we are free to choose from contrasting possibilities that are packed as information in each moment of the arriving future. We are free to actualize our choices into visible monuments of Allah’s creation in the material world.
God holds us accountable if our choices violate the guidance that He revealed though his prophets. All-knowing God (al-Alim) knows that free will exists only where authentic choices exist. So He offers us an open future with chance events and a multitude of possibilities that allow us to exercise our free will. Human beings, unlike robots, are even allowed to accept or to reject God, because they are not preprogrammed. No! Allah is not a puppeteer. He is the All Compassionate, Merciful, and Just God, who presents us with possibilities and who permits us the freedom to choose right from wrong or vice versa. Thus we see that random and chance events inevitably occur in this universe peopled with creatures granted with free will.
Anti-evolutionist Muslims acknowledge the truth that Allah used the elements of chance and unpredictability in the historical processes that produced our contemporary universe. Anti-evolutionist Muslims cannot deny this fact, because the revelation of many Qur’anic verses emerged as a direct answer to the free human choices of the Prophet (pbuh) and his contemporaries. A marvelous example is the revelation of chapter 80, “He Frowned (Abasa).” One day the Prophet (peace be upon him) was engrossed in a conversation with some of the most influential chieftains of pagan Mecca, hoping to convince them of the divine message. At that point, a blind ordinary man approached him with the request for an elucidation of certain earlier verses of the Qur’an. Annoyed by this interruption of what he momentarily regarded as a more important endeavor, Muhammad (peace be upon him) “frowned and turned away” from the blind man. Immediately, there and then, the first ten verses of the chapter 80 (He Frowned) was revealed to reprove the Prophet’s treatment of the blind man.5 If chance exists in the daily affairs of human beings and even of the prophet and shapes their histories and epics, even their religions and holy books including the Qur’an, why should Muslims reject the role of chance in shaping our biological history? We can discern no reason to do so in the matter of the evolution of the universe. Chance is an integral, unavoidable part of the evolution of life.
How did God design and direct this miraculous universe yet allow for chance and random events? What are its mechanics? How does God respond to and answer prayers without violating natural laws? How does He maintain the continuity and directionality in the evolution of the universe and life in the presence of chance? Let us explore these questions in the next chapter. (See the post: The Quantum Universe: A Master Design – T.O. Shanavas – Islamic Web Library)
Shanavas, T.O.. Creation And/Or Evolution: an Islamic Perspective: An Islamic View of Creation . Xlibris US. Kindle Edition.