Thursday, 6 March 2014

Adam's creation from dust

As per orthodox Muslim belief, the "God created Adam (as) from dust" is referring to an actual material creation, not just metaphor. People try to rationalize God's decision to create Adam from dust in a number of ways. Such efforts are understandable, because if God wished, He could have created Adam from anything. So why dust?

Some anti-Islamic apologists go so far as to claim that the claim that God created man out of Adam is unscientific, since dust or clay is nothing more than sillica and aluminum, but we find such elements only in trace amounts in the human body. This argument however is easy to refute, since it's understandable that God didn't mean clay to refer to how clay is understood by the scientific community of today. Additionally, as it appears in the hadith- God asked Archangel Gabriel (as) to collect clay from different parts of the world. This means the clay that was used probably wasn't a homogenous, purified material, but a mixture of different substances commonly found in the earth's crust. It could contain degraded or semi-degraded organic matter, humous, other elements not found in pure clay but deposited by natural processes, and so on. The clay, therefore, could be carbonaceous, and carbon is the basis of all organic life. This aside, even if God created man from pure clay- a mixture or suspension of silica and aluminium in water- it doesn't pose a defeater for the Qur'anic creation account. After all, no one would claim that the Creation of Adam from was natural process. Predictions of finding a large amount of the starting material (clay) in the end product (man) are predicated upon natural creation, not special or supernatural creation. We only know that God started off with dust/clay/earth and water as a starting material, we have no idea what He did with it, how He modified it, and how that modification led to Adam. We have too little info to go anywhere with this.

We can think of a Creator-Engineer having two motives for choosing a certain material for his Creation. One is the obvious, commonsensical human motive of that material serving as the best material basis for the end product (which is why we use iron to make weapons as opposed to cotton). I believe this doesn't apply that much to God, since, well, He is God. We humans choose our raw materials for our products because this is more efficient. If we wanted to create weapons out of cotton, we could do it but it would be a lot more work- we would need to condense the cotton, solidify it, and still the end product wouldn't be as durable and user-friendly. Even if we choose to alter the molecular conformation of cotton to make it something else and then use it to make weapons, it would mean putting in a lot more effort for nothing, since we have a far more suitable raw material available i.e. iron. Making weapons out of cotton, in light of all this, is serendipitous at best. But these limitation/efficiency considerations are very human. God doesn't have to think like an engineer in terms of the "appropriateness" of a raw material for the product. His powers are limitless, and it is unlikely that such considerations would play any significant role in His reasoning.

But there may by another, more subtle motive for choosing a raw material. Sometimes, a raw material has a story of its own. An engineer may "underwrite" some message into his creation simply by choosing a particular type of raw material. William D. Barrick in the book Four Views on the Historical Adam (p. 134) puts the point thus:

...The Creator Himself purposefully chose the medium [raw material- Hassan] in order to convey a theological message beyond the historical account. Sculptors often intend a subliminal message by means of the material they form into an object of art- it is not merely a matter of the resulting statue's durability. A sculpture of Churchill in wood just does not send the same message about his character and significance that a bronze or stone statue of the British prime minister would convey. If a mere human sculptor can possess such thoughtful expression through his work, why not the Creator of all things and all life?

Barrick is exactly right- it is entirely too plausible to think God's choice of the material had to do with sending a message of theological importance. That message is all too well-known to the Muslim since it appears many times in the Qur'an and Sunnah- it puts man in his place because he is created from no more than dust of the earth, it tells him that there is no intrinsic value to his morphology except for the fact that God breathed the spirit into him and made him His vicegerent on earth, and thus does away with all basis for racism since racism is predicated upon intrinsic structural/morphological superiority, since we return to dust when our body decomposes it is a reminder of our death, and so on. My intention here is not to enumerate or repeat these reasons, however. The point though is this: God created man in a certain way, from a certain stuff- not because it was materially efficient, but because it sends a message. God wrote our humility in our creation process itself, and now we cannot part with it even if we tried. Our true identity is inseparable from us not only because God says so in His book, but because our very structure is testament to that fact.

Interesting way to think about it, eh?