The Sharing Group Discussion “Creating a Fly”

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Brother Ebu Aydin posted, on The Sharing Group, on the 21st April 2014, “What are your thoughts on this verse, which I notice some atheists have objected to recently: 

سُوۡرَةُ الحَجّ

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ۬ فَٱسۡتَمِعُواْ لَهُ ۥۤ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ تَدۡعُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ لَن يَخۡلُقُواْ ذُبَابً۬ا وَلَوِ ٱجۡتَمَعُواْ لَهُ ۥ‌ۖ وَإِن يَسۡلُبۡہُمُ ٱلذُّبَابُ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا لَّا يَسۡتَنقِذُوهُ مِنۡهُ‌ۚ ضَعُفَ ٱلطَّالِبُ وَٱلۡمَطۡلُوبُ (٧٣) 

O men!  Here is a parable set forth!  Listen to it!  Those on whom besides Allah, you call cannot create (even) a fly, if they all met together for the purpose!  And if the fly should snatch away anything from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly: feeble are those who petition and those whom they petition! (Surah al-Haj: 73) 

Does it follow from this verse that we will never see life get created in the lab?” 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Consider this, brother, before we talk about life.  There are 98 known naturally occurring elements.  This corresponds to what the ‘arifin say, that all Creation manifests 98 of the Divine Attributes except asw-Swamad, but we have all 99.  In all these years, despite our advances in chemistry, we are able to create a lot of new elements, but none of them are stable.  The half-life of all created elements is measured in less than seconds.  If we cannot even create a stable new element, can we create life?  We can manipulate it, we can alter it, we can mutate it.  But we cannot create life, not even a new virus from protein building blocks. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Thanks brother. As I see it, there are a number of ways in which one might read the above verse.  Some of these ways are as follows: One might take it to mean, partly, that the idols which were called upon by the polytheists in our Prophet’s (s.a.w.) time were impotent to create a living fly.  Or one might take it to mean, partly, that no one apart from Allah (s.w.t.) could have created a fly at the time of our Prophet (s.a.w.).  Or, one might take it to mean, partly, that no one apart from Allah (s.w.t.), at any time, will ever be able to create a fly.  Which of these readings, if any, is correct?  Or which is closest to being correct? 

What has got me thinking is that living beings like flies, which presumably have no ruh, are merely physical, biological beings.  That being the case, it seems that theoretically, we might one day be able to build such beings, atom by atom, given sufficient advances in science and technology.  Now, it might be the case that Allah (s.w.t.) never allows us to advance to this degree.  So what I am interested to know is this: Is there anything in the Qur’an that rules out our advancing technologically to the point where we can build living beings from the ground up, from non-living building blocks? 

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The way I understand it, brother, is that Creation involves making something from nothing.  Man is unable to create.  We may modify and that is it.  And whatever deities we worship have no such power.  Only Allah (s.w.t.) is al-Khaliq. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: My concern is this, brother: Sure, when Allah (s.w.t.) Creates the fundamental stuff of the universe, whether they be quarks, strings or whatever, He Creates via ‘ibdah, from no pre-existing matter.  But when He Creates spiritless biological beings like flies, he creates via insha’, via the rearrangement of pre-existing, fundamental particles.  So, one might ask, is it possible that humans might one day, with Allah’s (s.w.t.) Leave, create living beings like flies via the rearrangement of atoms or quarks?  Physically speaking, there seems to be nothing to prevent it.  If only we advance sufficiently, in terms of science and technology, it seems theoretically possible.  Yet, depending on how we read ayah like the one above, it appears that the Qur’an rules out our creating living beings like flies.  This is why I would like to know how we should be reading those verses. 

Of course, I am mindful of the fact that in a very real sense, we are impotent to even tie our shoe laces, let alone create flies.  This is because, in reality, we have no ability to cause physical effects in the world.  But I am not sure whether this is the reason why Allah (s.w.t.) Says we are unable to create life, if that's in fact what He Says.  If this is the reason, then we need to know.  It is important to know what the Qur’an Says in relation to this issue, and why It Says what It Does, because if we get either wrong, it can affect persons’ faith should it one day happen that man creates, or appears to create, life in the lab. 

Brother Frederick Jacob Kohn: I don't know the Arabic, but “Those on whom besides Allah, you call” sounds like false gods to me, not people. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: I agree, Brother Frederick.  That is that one way we could read the verse.  But I am sure that when Brother Colin Turner reads this, he is going to remind us that people take all kinds of things as false gods, including other people.  They even take themselves to be false gods.  Again, the issue turns on how we read the verse, and how widely or narrowly we define the key terms. 

Brother Ahmad Jenkins: We have made great advances in science even to the point of being able to clone some animals, but this is merely cloning, and much like having a vegetable garden a long stretch from actually creating.  Allah (s.w.t.) Alone Creates.  We will never have the actual ability to create, nor should we endeavor to try and compete with Allah (s.w.t.) in this. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Ahmad, with Allah’s (s.w.t.) Power, there is much that man apparently does.  He builds houses, cars, space ships and so on.  What I am trying to learn is whether or not there is anything in the Quran that precludes man from apparently building living beings.  At the moment, we do not have sufficient ability to manipulate matter at the sub atomic level.  But if Allah (s.w.t.) were to Allow us to advance far enough, it seems we could one day build objects that have the exact same atomic configuration as extant living beings.  Now, there might be good reasons why Allah (s.w.t.) ought not allow such a thing.  But what I specifically wish to know is whether or not the Qur’an Itself Says that man will never assemble a living being.  Only once we can answer this, can we know the proper way to respond to atheists who are presently criticising Islam because of this issue. 

Brother Colin Turner: There seems to be nothing that would preclude the ultimate in human creativity, namely to fashion a being that has life.  If this happens, the only conceptualisation of God that it will disturb is the one which posits Him as a Prime Mover or “God of the Gaps”  Human creativity has already been responsible for things which, if they had occurred hundreds of years ago, would have been deemed either miraculous or satanic.  We need to remember that human creativity is totally unlike Divine creativity, upon which it depends and to which it is subsidiary. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Okay, if there is nothing in the Qur’an to preclude it, then we need to add a great deal of nuance to the way we presently respond to atheists on the issue.  At present, the tendency seems to be to point to man’s current inability to assemble living beings and to assert that this vindicates the Qur’an.  But if we are reading the relevant verses incorrectly, this is fraught with all kinds of danger. 

Brother Colin Turner: This is an old problem.  In the past, the inability of science to do this or that was used by the well-meaning, but ultimately misguided, as vindication of the veracity of the Qur’an.  But now that science is able to do a lot of this or that, those old vindications no longer hold.  The same is to be feared about the “creation” of life. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: A few years back, Dr. John Craig Venter et al made their own DNA using off the shelf chemicals and transplanted this DNA into an organism whose DNA they had removed.  Lo and behold, the organism lived on after the transplant.  Now, this is a far cry from fully assembling a living being out of non-living parts, but it is a small step in the right direction.  I think the smart thing to do is to get the message out there to Muslims to have a closer look at exactly what the Qur’an does or does not say about the human creation of life. 

Brother Colin Turner: Brother Abu Eydin, there needs to be a sea change in how Muslims see these issues from the perspectives of ethics and theology, rather than just jurisprudence.  In some parts of the Muslim world, new readings of the Qur’an, informed by an appreciation of new contexts and circumstances, together with theological speculation that is informed by classical precedent as well as contemporary developments, go some way to addressing these issues in ways that are rationally appealing and in keeping with the spirit of Revelation.  Most of us, however, have our heads stuck in the sand of the 10th century or earlier and refuse to budge. 

Brother Ebu Aydin: Brother Colin, we are in a quandary then.  We need to change our mindset so that we can grow, but we won't change our mindset unless we first grow. 

Sister Barefoot Ra Ra: It suggests that if you call on Allah (s.w.t.), you may indeed witness the wonder of creation occurring, according to the level of your observation, comprehension, gnosis.  There is no gain in contemplating the futility of futility. 

Brother Colin Turner: Sister Barefoot Ra Ra, what does that mean, “witness the wonder of creation occurring”, and how is it relevant here? 

Sister Barefoot Ra Ra: Once we believe in Allah (s.w.t.) and begin becoming the part of Reality as opposed to bristling out of it , we can see such simple things as how babies come about.  How our words have certain affects.  And so on.  Allah (s.w.t.) is Creating constantly.  Once we sit in His Heart, we can see how Creation is occurring, and experience will be as though we are creating.  It is a matter of perception, not of technology.  You can see yourself, for example, as an instrument of the Divine Will “creating” a baby.  You will enjoy the process as a creator if you submit yourself and your perception to Him.  But you can hardly put meat and vessels together and make a baby. 

Brother Colin Turner: How do you “sit in His Heart”?  This sounds awfully like New Age Sufi speak to me. 

Sister Barefoot Ra Ra: Well when we submit our perception to reality, which is to say we calm our senses and begin observing, watching, listening, we get an actual physical perceptual experience that's akin to taking a seat in a theatre in which we begin seeing things occurring in front of us such that we feel the thing is happening according to or by us.  Because the experience is akin to sitting in the centre of something, it would be like sitting in the chest of a human body - thus the expression. 

If you take an actual camera and install it in the dead centre of the chest, the video it will capture will show you two hands out there doing everything such that the hands will seem to be coming out from one's own body.  That is not the same view you'll get from the head, knee or looking up from the feet. 

When we begin listening, observing, watching, gathering, sensing, our actual perception shifts to the centre of the chest, and thereafter we begin having a different experience of life.  Likewise, we get a central viewing seat in the ecosphere.  When we do, we will get a sort of theatrical viewing experience that will show as though creation is occurring from us.  We enjoy us as though we have created.  This is the reward of submitting to God. 

Brother Colin Turner: In the next world, those who enter the Garden will be able to mirror “kun fa yakun” and “create” what they will, and it may well be that some of the awliya’ can reach states in this world which approximate that.  But it hardly seems as accessible as you paint it.



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