Ibn Khaldun: 14th-century Islamic evolutionist
Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) was a famous Tunisian Arab historian and Islamic jurist, regarded by those who have read his books as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics.1 His most famous work is his Muqaddimah or “Introduction to History”, written in 1377.2 It contains much perceptive comment on the civilizations of his day, including an epigram commonly attributed to him, that “government is an institution which prevents injustice other than such it commits itself”.3 Of particular interest to us is Khaldun’s ‘evolutionary’ view about the origin of plant, animal, and human life.
An evolutionary philosophy
Influenced by the writings of the ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle,4 Khaldun opined concerning “the world of the visible elements”:
“One notices how these elements are arranged gradually and continually in an ascending order, from earth to water, to air, and to fire. Each one of the elements is prepared to be transformed into the next higher or lower one, and sometimes is transformed. The higher one always finer than the one preceding it. Eventually, the world of the sphere is reached. They are finer than anything else.”5
Then, concerning what he called “the world of creation”, he wrote:
“It started out from the minerals and progressed, in an ingenious, gradual manner, to plants and animals. The last stage of minerals is connected with the first stage of plants, such as herbs and seedless plants. The last stage of plants, such as palms and vines, is connected with the first stage of animals, such as snails and shellfish which have only the power of touch. The word ‘connection’ with regard to these created things means that the last stage of each group is fully prepared to become the first stage of the next group.
“The animal world then widens, its species become numerous, and, in a gradual process of creation, it finally leads to man, who is able to think and reflect. The higher stage of man is reached from the world of the monkeys, in which both sagacity and perception are found, but which has not reached the stage of actual reflection and thinking. At this stage we come to the first stage of man.”4
Khaldun offered no cause(s) for his ‘ingenious gradual’ progress in nature, nor yet any mechanism for his ‘gradual process of creation’ that produced man from ‘the world of the monkeys’. He appears to have been suggesting that God made everything in a sort of theistic evolutionary process. So is this feasible? The answer depends on which God we are talking about.
The God of the Bible says that He caused the land to produce vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit, each according to its kind, by His Word, on Day 3 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:11). Then the God of the Bible created every living creature with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind, by His Word, on Day 5 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:20–21). Then the God of the Bible caused the earth to bring forth living creatures according to their kinds, by His Word, on Day 6 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:24). And finally the God of the Bible made man in His own image, of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and He then made Eve from Adam’s side, also on Day 6 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:27; 2:7, 21–22).
Notice that the God of the Bible specifically does not say that He turned minerals into plants, or plants into animals, or animals into mankind via monkeys. The God of the Bible spoke (as an expression of His will),6 and the creation happened in a coherent, logical, unified sequence, in obedience to the expressed Word of God.
However, Khaldun’s God was not the Yahweh/Jehovah, the triune God of the Bible. As a devout Muslim scholar, his God was Allah, the monotheistic deity of the Koran (Qu’ran). The Koran mentions ‘creation’ some 48 times,7 but only in fragmented details that are scattered across many of its 114 chapters (or ‘Sura’). For example:
Allah “created the heavens and the earth in six periods of time … and (He created) the sun and the moon and the stars” (Sura 7:54).
“Say: What! do you indeed disbelieve in Him Who created the earth in two periods, and do you set up equals with Him? That is the Lord of the Worlds. And He made in it mountains above its surface, and He blessed therein and made therein its foods, in four periods: alike for the seekers. Then He directed Himself to the heaven and it is a vapor, so He said to it and to the earth: Come both, willingly or unwillingly. They both said: We come willingly. So He ordained them seven heavens in two periods, and revealed in every heaven its affair; and We adorned the lower heaven with brilliant stars and (made it) to guard; that is the decree of the Mighty, the Knowing” (Sura 41:9–12).
“He began the creation of man from dust” (Sura 32:7).
“He has created you from a single being, then made its mate of the same (kind), and He has made for you eight of the cattle in pairs” (Sura 39:6).
“And in your (own) creation and in what He spreads abroad of animals there are signs for a people that are sure” (Sura 45:4).
Unlike the precise order of events in Genesis, there are, in fact, no coherent, logical, unified details of creation, either as a whole or in six days, in the Koran. So it may be that Khaldun felt the need to add what he considered was lacking.
Today, the alleged progression from chemicals to man taught universally reflects the atheistic evolutionary worldview. It is proclaimed in defiance of established scientific facts such as the law of biogenesis (life only comes from life), and the extreme paucity of even candidates for intermediate fossils, although these factors would not have been known to Khaldun in 1377.
Without the solid foundation of God’s true account of Creation (the Bible), the way is opened for distorted thinking about our origins, even for evolutionary ideas. Little wonder then that Khaldun saw no contradiction between his evolutionary notions and the Koran (in common with many modern Muslims, too8). Unlike Genesis, evolutionary viewpoints logically permit the idea that some people are less evolved than others. So it is no surprise that Khaldun had the racist view that black people were inferior. He wrote:
“Their qualities of character, moreover, are close to those of dumb animals. It has even been reported that most of the Negroes of the first [i.e. equatorial] zone dwell in caves and thickets, eat herbs, live in savage isolation and do not congregate, and eat each other.”9
“The Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.”10
Whenever anyone rejects the Genesis record in favour of evolutionist assumptions (as Khaldun did in the 14th century, and as atheists and others do today), confusion is introduced rather than truth.
Furthermore, according to the Bible, all men and women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 5:1; Ephesians 4:24; James 3:9), so no people group is similar to “dumb animals”. All people are related, because we have all descended from one couple, Adam and Eve.
Christ died and rose again to be the Saviour of all men and women who put their faith and trust in Him, irrespective of their ethnic identification. As Revelation 7:9 teaches, Heaven will be populated by “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages”.
References and notes
- “Ibn” means “son of”. Return to text.
- Khaldun, I., The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal, abridged and edited by N.J. Dawood, published by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1967. It is has sometimes been called the Prolegomena [i.e. Introduction]. Return to text.
- What he actually wrote in ref. 2, p. 97 was that the masses are “prevented by the influence of force and governmental authority from mutual injustice, save such injustice as comes from the ruler himself”. Return to text.
- Aristotle is mentioned on over a dozen pages of Muqaddimah. See also creation.com/evolutionary-naturalism-an-ancient-idea. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 75. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., Creation: How did God do it? Creation 13(2)36–38, 1991. Return to text.
- According to quod.lib.umich.edu/k/koran “an electronic version of The Holy Qu’ran, translated by M.H. Shakir and published by Tahrike Tarsile Qu’ran, Inc. in 1983” available via Google. Return to text.
- See the section under “The Islamic evolutionists” in Catchpoole, D., The Koran vs Genesis, Creation 24(2):46-51, 2002; creation.com/koran. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 59. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 117. Return to text.