Adam Is No “Myth”

  • This is a response by Dr. David Jalajel to criticisms of his paper.
  • For further clarification, please refer to Dr. Jalajel’s podcast on the subject.

I wish to discuss some confusion that has been circulating through social media, alleging that my article describes Adam (peace be upon him) as a “myth”, or alternatively, that it claims Adam is supposed to be taken allegorically. Nothing can be further from the truth. I have been encouraged to respond to these allegations by Asadullah Ali, Shoaib Malik, and others.

My purpose for writing the 2018 paper was to look at the question of human evolution strictly from a classical Sunni theological perspective, meaning the Ash`ari, Maturidi, and Athari/Salfi viewpoints. Essentially, I wanted to ask how would scholars like al-Ghazali, al-Nasafi, and Ibn Taymiyah have dealt with the issue of human evolution if they had been confronted with the question in their day?

I then identified an important principle that the three classical Sunni schools agree upon. When it comes to matters known to us only by way of scripture, Muslims are to believe what the scriptures say but make no assumptions about matters the scriptures are silent about. This is the principle of theological non-commitment (tawaqquf). To apply this principle, it is crucial to understand what the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah are saying and what they are not saying.

So, I began by discussing the various Qur’anic verses and hadith on the subject and the understandings that classical Muslim scholars had about them, and I concluded the following:

  1. Adam was created directly from clay/dirt.
  2. Adam and Eve were both created without parents.
  3. All people on Earth today, without exception, are direct descendants of Adam and Eve.

I conclude this section by saying:

This paragraph, in fact comes immediately before the paragraph that has become a point of contention. It clearly says that the rest of the paper “will not challenge” these propositions.

Then I start the next paragraph – the one that is being confused, by asking a question:

Here I am asking, if we as Muslims believe these things about Adam and Eve, what do the scientists have to say about it?

I go on to say:

Here I am bringing up a response often heard from scientifically-minded people. They call it a myth because it cannot be empirically proven. They do this to dismiss it. I even say that many of them mean it pejoratively, that they intend it as an insult. Footnote [17] attributes this adjective use to no other than Richard Dawkins:

Here is his statement. He is clearly using the word “myth” pejoratively, He wants to discredit the concept of original sin. He does so by attributing it to the “myth” of Adam and Eve.

Since I repeatedly say in my paper that I am exploring the issue exclusively from a traditional Sunni perspective, it is strange how someone can assume I am adopting Dawkins’ perspective, and from The God Delusion no less!

I then go on to unpack their claim, saying:

Here I make it clear that their only gripe with us is that we are taking our knowledge of Adam from the Qur’an. I also show that the truth value of something received in that way depends on the truth-value of the source. If you believe the source, then it is true for you. We admit that we have no other proof for Adam than the Qur’an and Sunnah. That is all we need. We believe the Qur’an is the word of God and so we believe in Adam.

Why do I say that their accusation, in spite of being mean-hearted and a bad choice of words, is “reminiscent of the way Sunni theologians have always looked at them”? Why am I making this statement? It is because I am throwing their accusation back at them. In more colloquial terms, I am saying to them: You are telling us that Adam is a “myth” only because we believe in him because of the Qur’an. Well, to that we say: “Guilty as charged! We believe Adam is real, because the Qur’an tells us he is.”

Then I turn their argument against them:

Here I say, if you wish to call Adam a “myth”, then by your own admission, you scientists have to keep quiet about him. Science does not deal with “myths” but only with empirical evidence. So, if you call him a “myth”, you have just taken yourself out of the conversation! You have nothing more to say. Keep out of it.

It is interesting to note that my if-then argument was misquoted in a work of criticism written against my article. It states the following:

You will notice that the word “if” is removed from the beginning of the sentence, but the author obligingly capitalises the next word for the sake of grammar! (or maybe to give the impression that nothing is missing from the beginning?) Then the author deletes the entire second half of the sentence that starts with “then”, and which answers the “if”, and places a tidy full-stop punctuation where he does so, so that no one will ever suspect that there was more to come.

What is ironic, is that even after these major alterations to the text, it still does not have me saying that Adam is a myth. It just says that the term can only be taken in the sense that belief in Adam and Eve rests on our belief in “the divine origins of the texts”. THE DIVINE ORIGINS OF THE TEXTS! Therefore, not only does the author misquote me. He then has to misinterpret his misquote!

Getting back to what I really said, you might ask: Why am I making my if-then argument? Who am I addressing?

Ever since I wrote my book, Islam & Biological Evolution back in 2009, my severest critics have been a number of scientifically-minded Muslims who are harsh on traditional Islam and who reject the possibility that God can work miracles. They have accused me of “Creationism” and of contradicting scientific fact.

I wrote this paragraph to refute them. I am arguing that they can have no scientific evidence about Adam and Eve and their creation, because scientific evidence is limited to empirical evidence. They can never produce that evidence one way or the other. They need to keep quiet. However, they accuse me of contradicting science. Please consider the following critique of my book by Nidhal Guessoum in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia:

[Jalajel says:] “Science can never hope to be able to determine the manner in which a single human being, Adam,… was specifically created … What the sacred texts say about the creation of Adam has led classical scholars to the conclusion that his creation was unique, even miraculous.” He adds: “there is no reason to assume that the creation of Adam had to follow the same pattern as the creation of other life forms.” Needless to say, this fully contradicts not only the whole scientific perspective on the subject, but tons of empirical evidence as well.

Nidhal Guessoum (2016) “Islamic Theological Views on Darwinian Evolution,” Religion: Oxford Research Encyclopedias.

You can see that he quotes where I mention Adam’s miraculous creation. He is focusing on Adam, not on human evolution or anything else, just the idea that Adam was created miraculously without parents, and then he says that this particular point “…contradicts the whole scientific perspective…” — on Adam? — as well as “…tons of empirical evidence…”. Again, is he claiming that he has tons of empirical evidence relating to Adam’s parents or lack thereof? I would love to see it. I wrote my paragraph to tell people of this persuasion that they do not have such evidence, they can never have such evidence, and they cannot tell believers in Adam’s miraculous creation that they are opposed to science. Science has nothing to say about it one way or the other. (Please note that I am not saying Guessoum considers Adam to be a myth, just that he claims Adam’s miraculous creation is contrary to science).

I hope it is clear now that I never said Adam is a “myth”. I never said he was “allegorical”. In my article, I repeatedly emphasise that the story of Adam and Eve is to be understood as true and on its face value, that they are two real people created directly without parents and that all human beings on the Earth today are their descendants. I never even insinuated anything else.

However, to make matters clearer, I have made a few minor adjustments to the paragraph. It still says the same thing, but hopefully with a wording that is easier to understand, and more difficult to doctor. This will be how it will appear henceforth on the Yaqeen website. (The new version will be distinguished in print and PDF by having a 2018 as well as 2020 copyright date):

Does this conclusion, however, conflict with the prevailing scientific account of human evolutionary origins? Since belief in the existence of two particular individuals called Adam and Eve, for traditional Sunni Muslims, rests squarely upon the revealed texts, some scientifically-minded critics of this belief describe it as “mythology” and certainly, many of them intend the term pejoratively. However, they make this accusation based solely on the fact that what we know about Adam and the events associated with him are by way of a received narrative and not by way of empirical evidence. This says nothing about the actual truth-value of the claim made about the person or event. What matters is whether you believe the source. Sunni theologians have always looked at Adam and Eve as a matter of the Unseen which comes under the category of the samʿiyyat, something that is known to us exclusively through scriptural sources without any empirical evidence, and accepted by believers on the strength of faith.

Actually, these scientists’ argument backfires on them if they are trying to deny Adam’s existence “scientifically.” In fact, it is against them. If they wish to say that Adam and Eve are “mythical,” then by their own admission, it is impossible for them to employ science to critique Adam and Eve’s special creation. Biologists are not—and cannot—be concerned with what their perspective would classify as “mythical beings.” Scientists can only deal with the empirical world. It would be ludicrous for a biologist to argue the merits or demerits of various theories regarding the “mythical” origins of “mythical” people or to talk about the “scientific” evidence for their existence, since no such empirical evidence can conceivably exist. The only time a scientist could think of objecting to a “myth” is where people use it to explain particular natural phenomena. As long as that is not the case, then these scientists have no grounds on which to argue. They need to keep out of it. Consequently, there can be no scientific objection to the idea that Adam and Eve were created miraculously without parents. Such an argument would take scientists far outside of their field.

Forthcoming Edit

I pray that this puts an end to the confusion and allows people to consider my article’s thesis on the value of its merits.

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