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What is the Origin of Man?

by Dr. Maurice Bucaille

 

Chapter 5: The Compatibility between Religion and Science

The many approaches to the Question

Among the many questions posed by the meaning of our earthly existence, two important points are invariably raised: What is our ultimate destiny and what is the origin of the human species, to which we belong? In the case of the first question, secular knowledge seems to suggest that we are gradually moving toward annihilation [As far as the purely physical destiny of the human body is concerned, there can be no doubt that the state of 'dust' (or its equivalent), to which the Scriptures of the monotheistic religions tell us we shall be reduced, indeed corresponds to the future indicated by secular knowledge. Moreover, the predictions of science affect subjects that go beyond the scope of our own planet. This is the case for the solar system, in other words the sun and its satellites, one of which is the earth. From the physical point of view, it is possible to predict, at the extreme limit, a process that would result in a 'reduction' of matter. This process would cause the remains to become even more minute. Before this final stage, however, the earth-containing our remains- would have become a lifeless celestial body, just like the moon. As for the Holy Scriptures, they embody the promise that we shall be brought to life again, and raised up from the ground to be presented at the Last judgement.]. In the case of the second point, as we have already seen, modern knowledge has enabled us to refer to strictly material facts that play an important part in our study of the origin of man.

To what extent is this an advantage or a disadvantage? Some thinkers will say that there is a benefit to be derived from the inclusion of secular data in the analysis of the problem, while others will express the opposite. One wonders whether, over the course of time, it has been both a disadvantage to a sound idea, and then later on, a helpful addition. According to people's religious beliefs, the responses to the question are radically different. Nevertheless, everybody would like to understand: In their research, some thinkers lay heavy emphasis on the ideas to be found in the Scriptures, while others rely on the data supplied by secular knowledge. Surely a more balanced approach today would be to take account of both sources of information, for they do not appear to be in opposition, as was once suggested.

Leaving aside the case of those who systematically and automatically reject the idea of God, the answer to the question, "What is the Origin of Man?" will undoubtedly depend to a great extent, not only on the strength of the faith that people possess, but also on their degree of knowledge in the fields included in the study. In spite of what people may think, such knowledge is not always to the detriment of spiritual values.

In modern times, a scientific background may indeed contribute reasons that, far from causing people to reject the idea of God, may in fact bring them nearer to it by inducing man to reflect on certain discoveries that science has allowed us to make. Within the context of this present study, it is first and foremost the prodigious organization and perpetuation of life that leads us to acknowledge, not only as possible, but as highly likely that there exists a Creator. Conversely, the absence of a scientific background does not help those inclined to accept ideas that negate God's existence to understand certain evident facts as described in the preceding chapters that speak very clearly in favour of His existence.

This is how credence has been given to certain materialistic theories by those who prefer abstractions or pure metaphysics to the realities of nature as revealed by science. The very attempt to interest such people in material facts is doomed to failure, for science is completely alien 'to them; in their opinion, science should yield to their abstract constructions, for these, and these alone, have provided them with the immediate answer, and for them, that answer is definitive.

Another approach to the subject is to say that the highly advanced study of the phenomena of life at the cellular level such as we have seen in the last few decades in the fields of molecular biology and genetics may cause the scientist to think that there is good reason to continue in this area, progressing at the same breakneck speed and perhaps dispelling the present mystery surrounding the beginnings of life. It is difficult not to be struck today by the fact that certain thinkers, who until now have approached the problem from a strictly materialistic point of view, are beginning to realize that the question must ~ henceforth be seen in a light that introduces at the very least certain metaphysical considerations. For example, shortly before his death; the biologist Jean Rostand was asked a question concerning God during one of this talks on French television: Jean Rostand's reply was that, until then, he had not believed in the existence of God, but as a biologist, he admitted that he was at a loss for words when he contemplated the activity that took place at the level of the infinitely small.

In more general terms, we must surely realize that science does not simply have the effect of spreading boundless enthusiasm for unlimited possibilities of discovery in the future. It also causes us to stop and question the disregard for religious teachings that it has undoubtedly provoked in the minds of many people in the West. This leads us, therefore, to try and gain a closer grasp of the question a perennial theme since the nineteenth century of the opposition between the teachings of science and religion. In this context, the origin of man is surely a subject that gives rise to numerous reflections.

For many years, it has seemed to me that the problem ought to be approached from the points of view of the three monotheistic religions by asking the following question: How could Jews, Christians and 'Muslims all accept both the teachings specific to each of the three religions and the data of secular knowledge on the origins of man? Can a person who believes in God find compatibility between his religious ideas and the discoveries of science in this field? There is only one-way of approaching the subject: We must render as, accurate an account as possible of the established data of scientific knowledge, and then proceed: to an unbiased, logical comparison with the teachings of the Scriptures possessed by each of the three religions. This is what I have attempted to do. The time has now come to give a general survey of the results that arise from this comparison.

 

The Difficulties Encountered

The examination of the arguments put forward in the second half of the nineteenth century, following the first edition of Darwin's work in 185,9,.showed that as. far as man's origins were concerned, people in, Darwin's day reasoned more by analogy with ideas suggested rather lightly at the time on the subject of the animal kingdom, than by a process of , highly disciplined deduction. Moreover, the controversy gave: raise more to passionate, arguments than to scientific comparisons, documented with firm evidence and worthy of serious consideration. Furthermore the idea of natural selection; which was constantly, put forward, was surely nothing but an extrapolation that extended to the power of nature factors, which man, through artificial selection, had shown to be: suitable for the modification of certain features of a definite species and unsuitable for the profound modification of animal structures. In vaunting these supposed `virtues' of natural selection, people were far more interested in mere words or wishful thinking than in sound logic, and they defended what was no more than an ideology, based on flimsy scientific data.

The problem has today become extremely complex, owing to the considerable increase in our knowledge, and should therefore be dealt with in two stages. First, we should consider the matter in hand, in other words the facts such as they may be established with the help of material data. Next, we should look for explanations. For these to be valid, however, they must be directly related to the facts themselves, and. not to the personal views of those who discovered them.

We have already seen, however, the extent to which certain researchers have deviated from duly proven facts. What is meant here are the firmly established data of palaeontology based on the examination of fossils, and not the imaginative reconstructions described earlier in this book: The latter resulted in the presentation of `models' of prehistoric men based on a few fragments of cranium of other scanty vestiges. of skeleton. Those who are not well versed in the subject are misled into believing that far more is known about it than the documentary evidence in reality very slim would tend to indicate.

Over and. above this; certain researchers invariably proceed by analogy with events that may have, taken place in .the animal kingdom at infinitely, earlier periods. It has been suggested that if the history of the world were reduced to twenty-four, hours, today's man would have appeared in a fraction of the last minute. The major events in the evolution of the animal kingdom came to an end tens of millions of years ago. The last important transformations in the human species took, place tens of, thousands of years ago. These figures are significant, even if they merely indicate the size of the time scale, which. is the only notion to be noted in this context.

The chronology of events, the progress toward complexity, the halt in the phenomena all the concepts to which palaeontology, zoology; botany and embryology have contributed are fundamental notions. Considerable erudition is, required, to grasp them all in detail, and very few people possess such wide ranging knowledge. There are too many brilliant researchers who choose to ignore them.

It appears, however, that as a result of studies in molecular, biology and genetics, the data discovered in the area concerning the organization of cellular life provide new insights into the course of events that led to fully developed human beings. As we have seen, the concept of creative evolution allowed us to grasp the process (which it incorporates) of the course of that evolution. In contrast, other concepts pay little heed to facts, which still need to be explained, and therefore lack credibility: The theory of chance and necessity is an example of this.

In the same vein, theories have been constructed which are a reflection of the metaphysical system of those who put them forward, rather than the result of observed reality. Thus researchers have managed to formulate concepts that completely miss the point as far as man is concerned. Moreover, when scientists claim to rely on such changing data as those supplied by psychology, thus hoping to find common features between man and animals (from which they draw analogies that lead them to concepts suggesting biological kinship), confusion reigns supreme.

An added difficulty lies in the opinions that one reads or hears in various quarters concerning the contents of the Holy Scriptures; this applies to the Bible and the Qur'an alike. Statements are often attributed to one or other of the texts, which do not in fact appear in either of them. When it is claim ed that a certain statement in the Scripture has been proven by science although this is not the case at all the' credibility of the text. is even more seriously undermined. As far as the Bible is concerned, on the main points, we are fortunately able to rely on extremely respectable texts, such as the `Traduction Ecumdnique' [Ecumenical Translation] in French, the Revised Standard Version in English, or the various translations published by the Biblical School of Jerusalem. In the case of the Qur'an, translations are essential, for five sixths of the Muslim world do not read Arabic. Unfortunately, mistranslations abound in these texts whenever they touch on subjects that lend themselves to scientific investigation: This is particularly .apparent in statements on man. The habit of translating texts in the light of the interpretations suggested by early commentators whose view of reality could not possibly be in keeping with today's discoveries plays an important part in the misunderstanding of the Scriptures. I should like to warn the reader against the discrepancy' that exists between the translations of the verses quoted in the present work, and the translations he will find in the texts currently in use : As far as the subject in hand is concerned, the latter are riddled with errors.

 

The Concept of the Creation and Science

The monotheistic religions do not acknowledge any explanation of man's presence on earth other than that he was created by God. We find this stated in the two Old Testament narratives and also in the Qur'an. While science does, not provide any formal proof to support this theory, nor does it, suggest any arguments that speak against it or which lead us to regard it as a legend to be abandoned. The concept of evolution in the animal kingdom (which cannot be denied today) would not be changed at all if God, in His omnipotence, had decided at a particular point to allow a new pair of living beings to appear on earth. These new beings would obviously have had to possess anatomical features and functional capacities similar to those of other beings, living in identical or similar surroundings and like all other beings, adapted to that environment: This accounts for the more or less close resemblance of their structures. Once this new pair had been created, they could have formed the origin of a human lineage, which, over the course of millions of years, underwent the physical transformations that the data of palaeontology undeniably indicate. Thus; as the Qur'an seems to suggest, the man created by God may well have evolved with regard to his form. The text of the Qur'an also mentions the disappearance of human communities, which were subsequently replaced by members of other communities bearing morphological features that resembled those of , their forebears. Today's human type could indeed be the result of these phenomena and events.

The above approach to our origins could be said to reconcile the general principle of the creation of man by God, according to the form He willed, with all the organizational improvements that have appeared in the course of time in living beings; in this context, the lineage of the primates, with the great apes at the top, provides the most fully developed types in the animal kingdom. Thus one can argue that man was created with a morphology that is similar to that of the group mentioned above. When the naturalists closely examine the case of man and that of the animals which are structurally most similar to him, they develop comparisons, which rest on logical bases. As far as morphology and certain functions were concerned, the resemblances between man and the great apes which cannot be denied were imposed on man, who of necessity was obliged to live in the same surroundings (taking the word in its broadest sense to mean our earthly environment, with its geographical variations.) Thus, man needed a respiratory tract, similar to that of other animals, which consume the oxygen in the air, and a digestive tract to ensure his nutrition from the food provided by the earth or the flesh of other animals on which man depends, just like those animals themselves. One could continue the list of other characteristics of human organization, but the resulting conclusions would be the same, for without these morphological and functional resemblances,, man could not survive on earth. Certain scientists, palaeontologists and specialists from other disciplines are therefore abusing their authority when they invoke these similarities to defend the theory that man is descended from the lineage of the great apes, for they do not possess one iota of evidence to prove their theory.

Having said this however, we cannot rule out the possibility that, in one or several related but independent lineages of hominids, fully developed human groups may have appeared owing to certain genetic modifications arising from God's creative genius. A creation of this kind cannot be proven, but it is perfectly logical and does not provoke any objections from the point of view of either palaeontology or the natural sciences. The above hypothesis causes those who are aware of the latest discoveries in cellular functions such as the control of those functions by the genetic code to weigh the matter very seriously. The scientific point raised here is suggested by our knowledge of the role of genetic inheritance in living beings over the course of time, and by our discovery of the fantastic organizational complexity of the tiniest living forms, ranging from the most rudimentary to the most complex organisms.

Creative evolution may thus be said to have caused the appearance of a human lineage which was subsequently to undergo its own specific transformations. The latter took place within an organizational pattern that manifested itself at various levels over the course of time. The growing complexity of structures, as mentioned above, came from the gradual accumulation of new information concerning the development of anatomical formations and functions, above all regarding the brain.

The foregoing is obviously nothing but a hypothesis, for there is no scientific argument to indicate that the creative power of God manifested itself in such conditions: No fossilized remains have ever been discovered which might prove it. The hypothesis cannot therefore be said to rest on any formal scientific evidence: Today's knowledge simply indicates that we should not consider it impossible that man's appearance occurred in this way. I should even go so far as to say that if formal evidence were one day discovered that connected man to an animal ancestry not that there is the remotest likelihood of this happening, and if God in His omnipotence had created new information to endow the lineage with human features containing the same possibilities of evolution toward fully developed man, all of these events would to me seem equally compatible with the data mentioned in the present book.

If we argued in the opposite direction, we might state that the creation of the human species took place independently of any pre existing lineage and that it subsequently underwent the transformations described earlier: Not the slightest objection could be raised to this hypothesis, however, as far as the Qur'anic Revelation is concerned.

Whatever theory one puts forward, the general concept of the Creation as stated by the Scriptures of the monotheistic religions does not seem to be in any way incompatible with the data supplied by science.

 

Evolution and the Animal Kingdom and the transformation of the Human Form

As we saw in the preceding chapter, the general concept of the Creation embodied in the Holy Scriptures does ~ not stand in opposition to scientific data. Let us now decide whether there is a contradiction between, on the one hand, the phenomena of evolution in the animal kingdom and the transformations in the human form over the ages, and on the other hand, the teachings of the. Holy Scriptures.

It will be noted that in this context, I am dealing only with data that have been firmly established by modern knowledge: the fact that there is an evolution in the animal kingdom, and that the human form long ago underwent transformations. The question of relationships or kinship between the animal kingdom and the human lineage will not be broached here, for it was raised earlier with regard to the many gaps that exist in our knowledge. As we have seen, it is extremely easy for some researchers to consider as proven fact what is at the very most a hypothesis that is not without logic. It is indeed quite interesting to hear eminent scientists making such suggestions, but one cannot accept them as indisputable data, which would then be convincing. In order to respect data that are well founded, and thereby to avoid being misled by mere hypothesis, the case of the animal kingdom and that of man must each be examined separately.

There can be no doubt that evolution exists in the animal kingdom. This is indicated by the appearance of the main phyla, in which features become perfectly distinctive and are present in the entire lineage; divisions occur, in which new characteristics are individualized. Within the groups thus formed, subdivisions appear which can be broken down into classes, orders, families, and so on, each of which presents specific features that add new characteristics to each subdivision. The evolution of these various groups progresses in different phases: starting, accelerating, decelerating and stopping. Certain groups persistently survive throughout the course of time, while others eventually disappear. All of these facts are proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, and nobody questions them. What is open to discussion is the determination of these phenomena. The methods by which the phenomena become a reality are suggested by studies of the cell, and in particular the genes.

There is no reference in the Qur'an to evolution in the animal kingdom. In contrast, the Bible provides the Sacerdotal versions of Genesis, in which we find the creation of the animals `each according to its kind'. By using this expression, the Bible indicates that the animals were created in the manner imagined by the men who lived at the time the Biblical texts were written. According to the Bible, therefore, the animals have not changed during the period that separates the time the text was written from the discoveries of modern science. As far as this point is concerned, the Biblical authors expressed themselves in the language of their day.

In contrast, there is every reason to believe that the transformations of the human form that took place over the ages are referred to in the Qur'an: The references which appear in the passages quoted earlier indeed seem to allude to changes that affected the entire human species after man had appeared on earth, thus going far beyond mere statements on the development of the fertilized ovule in the uterus that results in a new human being: The transformations in the uterus are mentioned in the Qur'an, as we have already seen in the chapter entitled `Human Reproduction.'

The morphological changes that have occurred in man over the ages must be seen in the light of the data supplied by genetics. The long-term transformations of man could only have been produced by a series of 'reshaping' that occurred over successive generations, gradually accumulating in the course of time under the influence of new information supplied by the genetic inheritance. The process began at the embryonic and foetal stage, and the action of new information [Recorded on the D.N.A. tape].continued after birth and throughout childhood; it particularly affected human structures, For example, a feature that has changed considerably over the course of time is the cranial capacity, which, in conjunction with the development of the brain, has increased considerably. These changes have required constant and successive modifications over a very large number of generations, for each transformation has been very small indeed. They have all taken place in an ordered fashion under the control of the genetic inheritance, and each modification has begun at the embryonic stage. Without a change occurring in the uterus, at the level of the cells and the as yet undifferentiated tissues, genuine transformations cannot take place: After a certain stage of evolution, the cells and differentiated tissues are `locked.' on a certain course which determines their future. For example; once the individual has been born, the organism cannot produce a new organization of the nervous system, conditioned by the increase in the brain's functional complexity: The outline and development of its growth can only occur before birth.

In view of the above, all the events that take place within the uterus has a direct bearing on the series of modifications that appear over the course of time: The latter are simply the practical result of the accumulations of the former.

Obviously, however, these notions can only, be understood if one is aware of the influence exercised by the genetic code on intra uterine development. It is my profound conviction that one cannot fully grasp the meaning of certain verses in the Qur'an concerning man, unless one possesses a knowledge of the data on this subject discovered in recent decades. If one compares the statements in the Qur'an with the findings of genetics, however, the true meaning of the verses becomes perfectly clear. Needless to say, the verses were intelligible to man throughout' the ages, but until recently, commentators have only been able to uncover their apparent meaning. Men in days gone by were perfectly satisfied with this, however, for through their own interpretation of the verses; they perceived the basic purpose of the Book: to help man understand God's omnipotence, the prime task of any Holy Scripture. Additional aid is now supplied by science through the discovery of the true meaning of the Qur'anic text, which at the same time shows the complete concordance between the two.

In view of this, we are unable to find contradictions between the statements in the Qur'an on human transformations over the ages and the firmly established data of palaeontology concerning extremely early human forms whose features differ in certain respects from those of present day man: We should bear in mind the facts already mentioned concerning the fossilized human forms dating from several million years ago (the Australopithecus), less ancient forms (such as Neanderthal Man, who most likely lived some 100,000 years ago), and more recent forms (such as Cro-Magnon Man), from which, in practical terms, our own species evolved (Homo sapiens, which appeared some 40,000 years ago.) Let me once again stress, however, that there are gaps in our knowledge, caused by the lack of human vestiges. They affect periods that may be counted in millions, hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands of years, depending on the case in question. A possible explanation for these gaps is the fact that the human population of the world was very small in those prehistoric times: A comparison of human and animal remains discovered in terranes dating from the same period indicates the rarity of human vestiges. Nevertheless, the remains that has been found and acknowledged today as such are indeed human. This is born out by the discovery of traces of human industry, which, while admittedly rudimentary, are undoubtedly the product of beings that displayed intelligence and a capacity for fashioning implements.

We now possess incontrovertible evidence indicating that present day man is not quite the same as the human forms that lived long ago, whose remains we have recently discovered; the existence of transformations within the human species over the course of time is therefore undeniable, and is as obvious as the fact that the earth is round. While the Bible hoes not specifically mention these changes, the Qur'an tells us that they occurred after man was created: The Holy Scripture is therefore in perfect agreement with scientific data on this point.

 

Cellular Organization and the Origin of the Genetic Code: A Scientific Enigma

While we know that cellular organization functions according to the genetic code, the origin of this `command system' remains an enigma.

J. Monod, who vigorously defended the role of chance and necessity, which he considered to be determinant, was therefore obliged to make the following admission; already quoted from the book he published in 1970: "The major problem is the origin of the genetic code and the mechanism by which it is expressed. Indeed, one cannot talk so much of a `problem' as of a genuine enigma." It is a pity that the famous molecular biologist, although aware of the existence of this enigma, chose chance as the unique power to fill this gap in our knowledge. It is indeed a very serious deficiency, for, without wishing to go into detail again, it must be remembered that the intimate functioning of the cell is governed by a `central control', located within the nucleus, which regulates the information recorded in the genes.

The genes govern the chemical activity within the cell, which results in exchanges of matter and energy according to a precise code. They rely on `messengers' adapted to each task and also to reproduction. In the case of the unicellular beings which are even more simple, for they do not contain a nucleus, (such as the bacteria), the D.N.A. tape is in direct contact with the cytoplasm. Activity of this kind is quite considerable, especially with regard to the reproduction of bacteria. Indeed, a new bacteria can be formed from the substance of the bacteria itself within the space of twenty minutes, following the information received from the genes recorded on the D.N.A. tape. During each division, the tape is duplicated in its entirety within the new organism.: This is how life is passed on. The chemical functions of the bacteria are in fact extremely numerous

Escherichia Coli can produce three thousand species of protein. The D.N.A. tape of this bacteria, on which the genes are recorded, is said to be one millimetre long (roughly 5,000 times its length at the longest point, which is already quite considerable.)

In the case of a human cell, the D.N.A. tape is 1,000 times longer. The system is far more complex, however, than this figure would suggest, for while the bacteria is composed of a single living element, man is made up of an enormous number of cells. Their functions are coordinated by a multitude of regulatory systems, affecting all of man's constitutive elements. When taken together, the human cells possess a D.N.A. tape, on which man's genes are recorded, which is roughly equal in length to the distance from the earth to the sun. For every human individual, this represents a colossal mass of information. As mentioned earlier in this book, the single human cell contains a host of data which are expressed in molecular terms by the genes located on roughly one metre of D.N.A. tape for each cell.

We are therefore confronted with two questions:

  1. How could the simplest organization (or almost the simplest, as far as the bacteria are concerned) supply such an enormous mass of information, regulating each and every function, including reproduction? This raises the question of the origin of the genetic code in the rudimentary beings.
     
  2. How could the genetic code, ranging from the bacteria to man, have become so enriched with new information? For by giving rise to a new living organism, thus introducing a modification in comparison with the being that preceded it, the genetic code must necessarily have already possessed the new information required by the reproductive cells in order to engender an individual displaying slight dissimilarities compared with the one preceding it. It is obviously very difficult to imagine that the simplest living organism could possess all the genes that subsequently came to be distributed throughout the various species of animal: Evolution in the animal kingdom must have taken place with the creation of new genes.

The latter regulate functions that grow increasingly complex as one rises in the animal scale. They guide the anatomical and functional organization of all the living beings.

The constitution of an initial genetic code for the most primitive beings remains a scientific enigma. So does the enrichment of that code through the introduction of new genes, a process that is crucial to the most evolved species, involving ever-larger numbers of genes as one ascends the animal scale. The failure of science to provide an answer to the above enigmas shifts the emphasis of our study from the material to the metaphysical.

In this context, those who believe in God are more than willing to suggest the intervention of His creative genius : Science itself has shown that the theory of a creative influence, operating in the strict order present in evolution, is in perfect agreement with material findings.

The questions, which any thinking person is likely to ask about the origins of the staggeringly complex organization of the cell, find their answer in these very same scientific discoveries. Molecular biology has shown the infinite variety of chemical functions to be found within a single cell; all of them operating in perfect coordination, and has indicated the prodigious capacity for the production of proteins possessed by the human cell. Through the genetic information it contains, the nucleus controls all of these functions.

Once again, we are confronted with the same enigma; it raises the same questions and these in turn suggest the same replies.

 

The Evolution of Living beings, A special case within the General Evolution of the Universe

In spite of the inaccuracies specific to certain Scriptures, the causes of which we have already examined, the monotheistic religions all present a view of the world that stands in sharp contrast to the metaphysical concepts put forward by the thinkers of Antiquity, among them the Greek philosophers.

The Yahvist version of Genesis was written in the ninth or tenth century B.C. Although the Biblical authors wrote in the language of their day, their narration of the Creation is nevertheless a work of inspiration, which expresses certain general ideas concerning the universe. These notions were put forward long before the works of the eminent Greek philosophers, and yet they are infinitely more accurate than the latter, for by and large, they are corroborated by modern science. Empedocles, Plato and, for that matter, Aristotle, as well as many others, considered that the universe had neither a beginning nor an end, and that everything existed throughout eternity.

In writing the Sacerdotal version of the Bible, in the sixth century B.C., the priests at the Temple of Jerusalem adapted to their own purposes the primitive concept of a creation; embroidering their narrative with details which later proved to be utterly fictitious.

Christianity bases its concept of the origin of man on the information contained in the Old Testament. Moreover, it emphasizes the end of time and the Last Judgement that is to come after the Resurrection of the dead.

The Qur'an was communicated to man in the seventh century A.D. It refers to the creation of the world, man's appearance on earth, the end of the created world, and the destiny of man in the life to come, following the Resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgement. The Qur'an does not, however, contain the inaccuracies that are to be found in the Bible. It provides precise information on certain points that, in the West, come as a great surprise for many people today. We shall return to these in a moment. Modern science has taught us that the earth, the stars and the planets all have a definite age, and that they have all evolved over the course of time. It is of course difficult to provide a precise figure for the date of the formation of the universe: Some scientists estimate that the universe is fifteen to twenty billion years old, but in view of the ever increasing possibilities for receiving information from the furthest galaxies yet discovered, it may one day be shown to date from an even earlier period. The universe is said: originally to have been formed from a gaseous mass particularly containing hydrogen; it subsequently separated into fragments, thus forming the galaxies. Our own galaxy is probably some ten billion years old. The solar system is likely to have been constituted through a fragmentation of a part of our galaxy. The initial gaseous mass probably evolved to the point where it condensed, and in this way the atoms underwent a transformation: The hydrogen gave rise to helium, then to carbon and oxygen, thus creating various metals and metalloids. The stars also possess a life of their own, causing modern astronomists to classify them according to their stage of evolution. Some stars are now dead and are reduced to the state of extremely compact matter. As matter condensed, so the planets were born. For example, the earth is said: to have been formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago. It is highly likely that five billion years from now, the earth will have become a burnt out celestial body, such as the moon; life will have disappeared from the earth's surface. Specialists in astrophysics regard the existence of multiple worlds as highly likely: They think that stars exist which are at the same stage in evolution as our own sun, and that certain planets surround them at the same evolutionary stage as the earth. It is not only very logical, but highly probable to suppose that planets similar to our own exist somewhere in the universe.

In The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, I noted that statements on a host of subjects are to be found in the Qur'an, among them the following: the Creation in general, which took place in stages, starting from an initially unique mass which subsequently broke into fragments; the plurality of the heavens and the earths; the evolution of the sun and the moon toward an appointed term; and the expansion of the universe. All of these statements are in perfect agreement with data that specialists have either proven or regard as highly probable.

Parallels may clearly be drawn, therefore, between the data of the Scriptures and modern knowledge. The broad outlines of the general evolution of the universe, which may today be deduced from religious teachings when studied as a whole, and from the data of secular knowledge, point toward a steady progression. The latter is gradually moving toward the increased complexity of structures, ranging. from the primary nebula to the galaxies, the stars and the planets, with an evolution that ends in death; this has been proven by science in the case of certain very distant celestial bodies, and it is also predicted in the Scriptures with regard to various other bodies which form part of the solar system in which we live.

The evolution of living beings follows the same broad outlines of development toward a larger number of varieties with growing structural complexity the `infinity of complexity' mentioned by Father Teilhard de Chardin including halts in that evolution, and the disappearance of certain lineages. Since man first appeared on earth, there have been evolutionary changes in his morphology; this evolution is mentioned in the Scriptures and is evident from the vestiges found in ancient terranes. As far as the living world is concerned, the continual enrichment of genetic information has governed all of these transformations: From the bacteria to man, the information has accumulated to a considerable degree within the cell, regulating in the strictest order the changes that have taken place over the course of time.

For the first time in the history of man, notions such as these have come to light. These discoveries are due to the tremendous strides made by science, after moments of hesitation in previous centuries when many theories had subsequently to be replaced by others. Although obscure points still naturally pose difficulties of interpretation, science has today arrived at a stage where certain facts have been firmly established; their basic outlines are not likely to be called into question in the future, even if certain specific aspects of those facts are later clarified.

In every single field, whether the universe, living beings or man, thorough research, performed with no underlying metaphysical intention, clearly shows the existence of an order that is governed by the laws of 'nature. In the tiniest living organisms that form anatomical and functional units (i.e. the cells), just .as in the organisms that possess an even simpler organization, the study of the living world reveals a prodigious structural order which is present right down to the molecular level. The molecule itself, however, composed of a cluster of atoms, is also highly complex. This applies equally to the atom, for physicists' have spent decades analysing its `infinity of complexity, at this infinitely small scale. In view of the above, it is totally illogical to suggest that this favourable organization of structures results from chance, or that, in the case of living organisms which have evolved, the constant accumulation of information responsible for new structures stems from necessity or natural selection a la Darwin even when the latter has been updated through the skilful arguments of the neo Darwinians: When faced with the inability of science to explain the origin of the prodigious organization of living beings, ranging from the infinitely small to the infinitely large, it is difficult not to turn toward notions of a different order, for it is the material data themselves which suggest this.

To return to the question of man and his origins, we may perhaps formulate the following reply

There is absolutely no scientific proof to suggest that man was born of the evolved forms of present day apes. On the contrary, everything argues against this outmoded theory. What science has shown is that, at a certain point in time, a human species appeared which gradually transformed itself into today's man. From a scientific point of view, the crux of the problem is that we. do not know what man evolved from: Was it from an autonomous lineage or from one that could be connected with another animal lineage? Whatever the answer, recent studies in genetics indicate that the process could not have taken place by any other method than the addition of new information governing the appearance of structures and functions specific to man. These phenomena fit perfectly into the pattern of an expanding genetic code, as suggested by the theory of creative evolution.

Science does not supply indisputable indications as to the actual moment that the transformation took place nor on the initial matter employed in the process: Many of the ways in which the change occurred remain a mystery to us. What we can say is that a new life form resulted from it, which, as we have already seen, was different from the forms that most closely resemble man from a morphological and functional point of view. This is the very concept of the creation of man by God, which appears in general terms in the Scriptures of the three monotheistic religions. It is in absolute harmony with the ideas that may be formed from the firmly established data of science. .

Each and every one of these new ideas leads to a comparison between scientific fact and religious teaching, thus causing some of today's philosophers to examine the question in much greater depth

This may at least be said of those=rare thinkers who have had the great sense to compare abstract data with the ever increasing fund of established facts revealed by the development of natural studies.

For example, in 'Problemes du Christianisme' ' [Problems of Christianity] [Published by Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1980], Claude Tresmontant is clearly aware of the, fascination exercised on the scientist by the study of cosmic phenomena, and indeed of biological phenomena, both of which give rise to reflections on the ideas suggested to the philosopher by secular investigations in this field

"By exploring cosmic, physical and biological creation, the experimental sciences are in fact examining the idea that lies behind God's creation. When all is said and done, it is His creative idea which these sciences attempt to understand, and it' is this that fascinates the scientist as is so often the case whether he realizes it or not, and regardless of whether he is a monotheist, materialist or monist. By studying the universe, matter or living beings; what the scientist is ultimately trying to understand is a thought a `guiding idea', as Claude Bernard would have phrased, it; that is why experimental science is usually the first step toward the contemplative life."

This idealistic vision suggested by Claude Tresmontant does not yet seem to have convinced very many specialists in the experimental sciences. Let us hope, at least, that if researchers become better informed on the various religions, they may one day discover a certain harmony between religious teachings and scientific knowledge or failing this, compatibility.

 

The Compatibility between Religion and Science

The ideas that have been put forward in the present work have taken us a long way from the concepts that held sway over many of the scientists and philosophers of the last century who regarded religion and science as opposites. Religion was indeed essentially considered to proceed from belief, with its accompanying element of mystery, while science was deemed to be based on reason, for only those facts that could be proven by science were acknowledged as true. Today, however, it is strictly scientific data, which, when applied to an examination of the Holy Scriptures, reveal that religion may be viewed in a light that is different from a pure and simple belief that leaves no room for reason. At the same time however, science is progressing in leaps and bounds, accumulating ever more varied and complex findings, and thereby giving rise to a growing number of genuine enigmas. The fact is, science alone seems incapable of providing answers to some of the questions it raises: We have seen this already in tie case of the origin of the genetic code and the accumulation of the information it contains, a phenomenon that has been constant over the course of time. All of the above seems self evident when it comes to a detailed study of the kind of question raised by the present book, but suitable methods of analysis must be used, allowing for investigations concerning the Holy Scriptures as well as the data of science.

In spite of this, the various judgements that have been made on the general subject of the compatibility between religion and science are often corrupted by serious errors arising from the very manner in which the problem is approached. There are far too many researchers who give priority to metaphysical conceptions rather than to facts. While claiming to take account of material data, such people completely disregard the latter, and base their pronouncements on mainly abstract criteria. The preconceived ideas held by some researchers with regard to one or more of the religions make it very difficult to correct mistaken opinions especially when these result from the existence of inaccurate texts or mistranslations a phenomenon I have often noticed. Added to this is the fact that, in some instances, it is very difficult to deal with certain scientific questions even when expressed very clearly without employing technical terminology that is hard to grasp. Brilliant minds have been known to lose touch with concrete reality: Their works bear the hallmark of an exclusive predilection for abstraction. It is very rare to find philosophers who support their theories with reflections on subjects other than those belonging to their own field. One must indeed concede that it is extremely difficult for many people to understand data so far out of their normal range of interest, but when they deal with subjects that rely on concrete facts, these commentators must yield to the requirements of material investigation, otherwise their judgements will be unsound.

Preconceived ideas on the religions in general might suggest that those who claim to belong, to a religious community would not be able to express themselves in any other way than according to a simple belief. Naturally enough, they can produce no scientific evidence to support their opinions. It therefore follows that such people cannot fail to think that, as far as the religions are concerned, there can be no statements open to human judgement based on logic. After writing The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, I often heard it said that the only way of explaining certain passages in the Scriptures that referred to data discovered, centuries later by man, was by ascribing their presence to chance. This argument was employed, even though the large number of statements dealing with a wide variety of subjects of this kind quite obviously ruled out any such explanation. Thus, the statement is not actually denied, but any serious study is undercut by simple reference to `fortuitous accidents', a phrase we have already heard in explanation of the origins of life. In actual fact, the scientific enigma posed by the latter leaves many researchers at a loss for words.

There is no excuse for the fact that contemporary commentators have chosen to ignore a subject on which they nevertheless consider themselves authorized to speak, basing their opinions on data which have only become known over the last few decades. There are good reasons, however, why earlier thinkers put forward inaccurate opinions: They could not possibly have possessed the material data needed to form a correct interpretation at the time they lived. It is always a risky undertaking. to try and imagine what certain people of long ago would say today, if we could bring them back to life: I shall therefore limit myself to a single question concerning Renan, a nineteenth century thinker who could not possibly have had access to present day knowledge concerning the Scriptures and science. In 1849, Renan wrote `L'Avenir de la Science' [The Future of Science], which was not published until 1890, and in 1863, he wrote his famous letter to Berthelot, in which he set forth his concept of `God', a concept which evolved according to the progress of humanity. Now the question at issue is whether or not Renan would have expressed the same ideas, if he had had access to today's discoveries in genetics, molecular biology and the organization of the human cell, and had admitted the existence of enigmas raised by these findings. One wonders whether Renan would have held the same attitude toward the religions, if he had been aware of recent discoveries concerning the history of the monotheistic religions, for they are findings, which cast new light on the contents of then respective Scriptures. By the same token, it is debatable whether Darwin, in On the Origin of Species, would have championed the same ideas, had he possessed access to modern data concerning the genes: My guess is that these two researchers would indeed have expressed themselves differently. It is staggering to think how few scientific data they had at their disposal to support their final conclusions, compared with the immense fund of knowledge on the same subjects which we now hold at our command! As we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Father Teilhard de Chardin, I cannot help wondering whether the conclusions he drew would not have contained even more convincing arguments, were he alive today. One wonders whether he would have taken account of today's realistic concepts concerning the origin of the Biblical texts, which have been duly acknowledged, and also of the firmly established discoveries that have been made over the last decades in the fields of genetics and molecular biology. As far as I am concerned, this `aristocrat of the intelligence' to quote the phrase coined by the French President during a celebratory eulogy at Unesco would indeed have made use of these new data.

Although scientific materialism boasts of its triumphs, we are perhaps about to witness a reversal of ideas that in the West is totally unexpected, for it has mainly been caused by strictly materialistic data. In spite of what one might say, scientific knowledge does indeed seem to lead to reflections on the existence of God. The prodigious organization presiding over the birth and perpetuation of life; an evolution that is governed by the accumulation of new information recorded in the genes; the evolution of the universe within which these events take place all of these factors argue strongly in favour of a methodical organization of phenomena that developed in perfect order.

In this context, the basic compatibility between religion and science emerges very plainly. Although for many centuries difficulties existed for Christians, due to the presence of scientific errors in the Bible, modern explanations have dispelled this profound uneasiness, for they are., based on the conclusions that arise from detailed study of the texts. The declaration issued by the Second Vatican Council (1962 1965) acknowledges that the Books of the Old Testament may contain material that is `imperfect and obsolete'. From a Christian point of view, this admission has or certainly ought to have put a stop to a problem that has persisted since the seventeenth century. Fifteen centuries before the Council, however, Saint Augustine who naturally thought that God could not possibly impart to man ideas that did not correspond to reality was perfectly willing to banish from the sacred text any statement that he considered worthy of exclusion for this reason. The controversy that raged during the last century between those who upheld the fixity of species as stated in the Bible, and those who opposed it, might have turned out very differently indeed, if the Christian authorities had earlier admitted the existence of scientific errors in the Bible `the errors of mankind, for long ago man was like a child, as yet ignorant of science"; to repeat J. Guitton's phrase. In such circumstances, the objections to the far-fetched theories of Darwin's followers concerning the supposed simian origins of man might well have been countered by more solidly based arguments. Instead, however, Darwin's opponents doggedly defended the fixity of species as presented in the Bible, refusing to consider any other way of approaching the texts. As a result, they lost the battle before it had even started [Without the above decision of the Second Vatican Council, critical studies of the Bible would probably still suffer from the kind of ostracism that greeted Darwin's theories].

It should be noted that this was not the situation in the Muslim world. At a time when Western science, though still in its infancy, was already at odds with religion, such controversies did not exist in Islam. The reasons for this lie deep in Islamic history at its very origins in fact. A Muslim tradition dates back to this period, according to which the increase of knowledge must always be encouraged. The Prophet indeed ordered the believers to: "Search for science from the cradle to the grave", "search for science, even in China", by which he meant that no journey could be too long, if it served this purpose. Many verses in the Qur'an urge man to seek for signs of God's omnipotence through his contemplation of natural phenomena of all kinds. It is no exaggeration to state that this early command of nascent Islam to cultivate science;' was the religious driving force behind the blossoming of Islamic civilization, which flourished in the Middle Ages and from which Europe reaped such tremendous cultural benefits.

Along with recent discoveries concerning one of the aspects of the general relationship between science and religion, this reminder of events from the distant past should help, bring together the points of view of the members of each religious community who all believe in the same God, just as other questions from other fields should help create points in common between them. Although the terms in which the idea was expressed may have changed over the course of time, the Scriptures nevertheless remind all believers that they share a single God. Throughout the present study, emphasis has been laid on the fact that the concept of a Creation was not at all incompatible with the latest scientific data. Moreover, it has been repeatedly stressed that the process of Creation must logically have taken place over the course of time through the increase in genetic information, which would appear to be the necessary explanation of the transformations undergone by living beings.

It is therefore somewhat easier today to reply to the question: -

"What is the Origin of Man?" In order to arrive at this, however, we have had to proceed to a scrupulously objective analysis of science and the Scriptures of the monotheistic religions. Along the way, we have encountered some surprising ideas: for example; the discovery of certain texts which have traditionally been considered definitive and which have recently been proclaimed partly 'obsolete'. At the same time, we have seen that the progress of science and the increase in our knowledge of the history of science make it quite impossible for certain other sacred texts to be of human origin. This is indeed a dramatic change in our approach to an examination of the 'Holy Scriptures' It is particularly overwhelming for people in the West, who often know very little indeed about religions that are not common to their part of the world; and who are often provided with irrational, sentimental arguments that have no place in a study of such questions. We can only hope that these misguided attitudes will henceforth cease to interfere with the analysis of the subjects that appear in all three of the monotheistic religions and which form the theme of the present work. If these attitudes are abandoned, then men of goodwill can approach the question from the point of view recommended by the Second Vatican Council:

"Today as never before perhaps, thanks to God, there is a clear possibility of profound agreement between true science and true faith, both of which are servants of the one and only truth."

In the present comparison between religious teachings and scientific data, a compatibility has indeed emerged which strongly contrasts with the passionate controversies of the past. It indicates that the investigation of a subject such as the one studied in this book becomes much clearer when people set aside ideological hypotheses and, as their sole criteria, rely on established facts, logical deduction and the power of reason.

 

 

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