Many modern Muslims believe that “science and Islam can never contradict.” In other words, nothing in revelation (i.e., the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s)) could ever contravene what we know of the world through science. At first blush, this seems logical. We can expect that man-made texts, especially those from antiquity, will contradict natural facts, since people of the past were ignorant of the scientific method. But the source of revelation, in contrast, is the All-Knowing God Himself who also created the universe. Therefore, no contradiction is possible.

The flaw in this logic is that it ignores the fallible nature, not of religious texts, but of… science. Scientific consensus is an ever-evolving discourse. What scientists hold as fact one day may be overturned the next. As an example, physicists in the early twentieth century believed that the universe was infinite in size and age. Only in the 1930s did scientists begin to seriously consider a Big Bang theory of the development of the cosmos. Of course, the idea of an eternal universe contradicts the theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which all posit a finite point of Creation. Had Muslims in the early 1900s, for example, decided to reinterpret their theology in order to accommodate the eternal steady-state model of the universe that was in vogue at the time, they would have had to backtrack a mere three or four decades later.

In short, science is not always correct in its representation of the universe. In fact, historically, it is often wrong. Furthermore, scientists themselves acknowledge the provisional nature of science in that their research is perpetually a “work in progress” and subject to change. Therefore, Islam’s incompatibility with some contemporary scientific contentions, such as evolution, is not problematic in the least. In fact, from the Muslim perspective, it should be entirely expected. The Quran provides us with timeless truths describing, in many verses, the magnificence of creation, truths relayed by the Creator Himself with His perfect knowledge. It is expected that imperfect human knowledge, as represented by scientific discourse, will fail to match the Divine Address.