Did Arabic Scholars Discover Evolution in the Ninth Century?
Why not give credit where it’s due? We could learn still more.
One thousand years ago, when the United States of America did not exist and Oxford and Cambridge were backwaters of ignorance, the light of human reason shone brightly in places like Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad. During the Abbasid caliphate for much of the 8th through middle 11th centuries, and also sporadically thereafter, tolerance of certain non-Muslim groups was enshrined in law. This was not as extensive as the constitutionally guaranteed religious (and non-religious) freedoms we enjoy in the West today, but it did mean that non-Muslims such as Musa Ibn Maimun (also known as Maimonides), Hunayn ibn Ishaq, and Yuhanna Ibn Bukhtishu, could not only practice their Judaism or Christianity, but could also make enduring contributions to the social and intellectual life of the then-dominant Muslim culture.
It may not be a coincidence that many aspects of our understanding of the world have roots in this age. Arab and Persian scholars (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) not only translated the writings of the Greeks, but also made original contributions about mathematics, medicine, and social science (among other topics). Regarding biology, one of the more interesting claims that surfaces from time to time concerns evolution:
The theory of biological evolution in its complete form was presented by a great early zoologist, al-Jahiz in the ninth century.