Theory of evolution

Charles Darwin's theory of evolutionEvolution of human beings over millions of years from ape-like ancestors

In 1859, a British man called Charles Darwin published a book called 'On the Origin of Species'. This book was based on his studies of creatures he had encountered on his travels to many overseas locations, including the Galapagos Islands. He put forward the theory that all living creatures that exist today, including human beings, have evolved over a period of perhaps millions of years, from more primitive life forms to how they are today by a process of natural selection.

Darwin was a natural science graduate of Cambridge University and a geologist. He was also a Christian. Darwin did not intend to challenge religious beliefs with his book but many religious believers responded to it with fury. These reasons included:

  • The theory of evolution seemed to go against religious teachings that God made the Earth and created all living things, as they knew them.
  • Christians believed that God had created humans 'in his own image', that humans were superior to all other creatures and had a soul that is immortal.
  • The theory of evolution challenged the idea that God is the designer of the universe and that the beauty, order and complexity of the universe is evidence of this (the design argument).
  • The idea that living things adapt to their environment was opposed to their belief that God had created the perfect environment for them.
  • The Bible says humans were created on the sixth day of creation, not over a period of millions of years.

These scientific theories were first put forward in the 19th century, when Christianity was an important influence on people's lives and the way they thought. Many people saw them as a direct attack on their faith. Charles Darwin faced criticism from people who could not accept what they saw as his 'anti-religious' ideas.

Is the theory of evolution compatible with Sikhism?

As Sikh teachings mention little about how Waheguru created the universe and how life developed on Earth, it is quite possible for evolution to be a part of Sikh thought. However, Sikhs believe that Waheguru cares for all living things and is in charge of the birth, life and death of everything.

Evolution would only be accepted as compatible with Sikhism if Waheguru was in complete control of the process. Crucially, the information the Guru Granth Sahib gives us about creation does not seek to offer a scientific answer to questions about the origins of the universe.

The Guru Granth Sahib is more concerned with making it clear that Waheguru is in complete control and that the universe exists because he wants it to. Our purpose as humans is to help Waheguru to care for creation and not seek to damage it.

The main difference between the two is that Darwin's theory talks about evolution being influenced by natural selection – only the fittest and most successful species survive and so different forms of life evolve to be the fittest and most successful.

A Sikh would say that Waheguru oversees this natural process – after all, he created nature along with everything else. Everything is planned by God and not left to random chance, as the atheistic interpretation of the theory of evolution suggests. The Guru Granth Sahib teaches:

He created the creation, and watches over it. Guru Granth Sahib page 8
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