As Muslims, we shouldn’t be hasty in dismissing the theory of Intelligent Design in accounting for life. It is not clear what kind of conflict there is between Islam and Intelligent Design. There is plenty of conflict between Islam and the theory of evolution, however.
I am not sure why some Muslims feel the need to disassociate from intelligent design. We shouldn’t buy into the atheist’s outright dismissal of the theory. And we shouldn’t buy into the naturalistic assertion that nothing outside the natural order can impact and affect the observable world in a way that we can empirically detect. This latter point is something that has caused confusion in Muslim academic circles. This is because many have adopted the underlying assumptions of naturalistic epistemology and have not reflected carefully on the entailments of Islam and Islamic epistemology.
What is so objectionable about intelligent design in the first place?
Intelligent design is a very simple but profound claim: That life and indeed the entire universe is best explained by the actions of an intentional intelligence. This is because life and the universe, as a whole and in part, bear all the markings of an intentional “Designer.” Evolutionary theory, Darwinism, and natural selection are simply inadequate as explanations for the origins of life.
We of course have to be cautious about the words we use to describe Allah and so we wouldn’t necessarily use “designer” and “intelligence” to describe Allah, but acknowledging that Allah has will and decrees according to His will and superlative knowledge in order to create as He pleases — none of these aspects of Islam and Islamic theology contradict or are in conflict with the general idea of intelligent design or the particulars of that field.
Allah Almighty calls us to look at creation, to look at the world around us and we will see His ayat. One of the defining features of these ayat is that they are without inconsistency in their beauty and majesty. That lack of tafawut (i.e., incongruence) that can be observed points indisputably to the Creator.
“[He] who created seven heavens in layers. You do not see in the creation of the Most Merciful any inconsistency. So return [your] vision [to the sky]; do you see any breaks? Then return [your] vision twice again. [Your] vision will return to you humbled while it is fatigued.” Quran 67:3-4
Also Allah says:
“We have indeed created man in the best of moulds.” Quran 95:4
Islam claims something much stronger than intelligent design here. Man has been created in the best shape. In other words, to say that humans bear the markings of intelligence in their form is an understatement.
In this way and others, the ayat of Allah are indisputable signs that we can all see and know are from the Creator. As Allah says:
“We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the truth.” Quran 41:53
There is no leap of faith required. There is no belief without evidence required. The ayat are there for all to see.
The fact that some people do not acknowledge the Creator despite the existence of these ayat does not detract in any way from the ayat and their ability to confer certainty. In actuality, some people’s lack of faith only speaks to their own self inflicted epistemological impairment.
“They have hearts wherewith they understand not, they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not (the truth). They are like cattle, nay even more astray. Those! They are the heedless ones.” Quran 7:179
Muslims should be leading the way in research showing the falsity of the naturalistic assertion that blind, unintentional chance processes could produce the world with all its beauty, complexity, and intricacy. I urge Muslim intellectuals to carefully consider Islamic epistemology and its concepts in order to flesh out all the ways they challenge and undermine naturalism. This would be merely the first step in developing a deeper, more comprehensive, more principled Islamic dialogue with modern science.