History and Human Evolution
The subject of our discussion is the meaning of evolution in history, or in other
words, man's social evolution and progress. Men of science assume two types of
evolution for man: one of which is biological evolution, about which you may have
read in biology and know that man is considered as the most perfect animal and the
last link in the natural evolution of animals. The meaning of biological evolution is
clear: it is an evolution that the process of nature has produced without the
intervention of man himself and without his asking for it. In this respect there is no
difference between man and other animals; since every animal has reached a stage
of evolution by a natural and coercive process. The same process has brought man
to the stage that we call him a human being, and consider him a specific kind of
species as distinct from other species.

But the historical or social evolution means a new process of evolution in which
nature does not play the role it played in man's biological evolution. This evolution is
an acquired one, namely, an evolution that man has secured by his own effort, and
in every period has transferred it to the next generation through teaching and
learning, and not through heredity. The biological evolution has taken place without
man's will power and initiative, and has been achieved through a series of laws of
heredity. But the social or historical evolution, being acquired by man's effort, has
not been handed down from one generation to another, or from zone to zone
through heredity, and there is not even a possibility of its being such. It has been
accomplished through education, teaching and learning, and primarily through the
art of writing. We see that the Quran swears in the name of the pen and tools of
writing1, and addresses the Prophet thus: "Read in the name of your God, Who
created man from clotted blood. Read, and your God is the most exalted; He, who
taught with the pen."2 This means that God taught man how to use the pen; that is,
He granted him the power to make progress in his historical and social evolution.

There is no doubt that human society since its origin, that is, since civilization first
began to appear, has continuously progressed and evolved. We all know that like
the biological evolution, social evolution, too, has been gradual, with one difference,
and that is, with the passage of time the rate of evolution has increased in speed; in
other words, it has followed a course of acceleration. It has moved on and on and
has not been stationary, and the motion, too, has not been a fixed one. A car may
move at a fixed speed of a hundred kilometers for several hours; but a speed with
an acceleration means a gradual increase of speed in which the speed increases
every minute.

But although evolution and progress seem an obvious matter, you may be surprised
that there have been learned men who have doubted whether what has happened
can be called progress or evolution. One may wonder that there should be any
room for doubt in this matter. But the reason why they have expressed doubt about
it will be discussed later on. Here, it is sufficient to say that although we do not
consider their doubt justified and we believe that human society has continued its
course of an all-round evolution and is approaching its final phase, at the same time
their doubts are not quite without foundation. Nevertheless, we must clarify the
cause for this doubt in order to be able to fully understand the meaning of

What is Evolution?

We must first define evolution. Many matters seem at first so obvious as to require
no definition. But when one tries to define them, he finds it very hard and is faced
with difficulties. I have no intention of quoting all the definitions which philosophers
have given for evolution. There is a fine point in Islamic philosophy which is subject
to argument from the viewpoint of the Quran, and that is the difference between
"complete" and "perfect". We use the word "complete" as the antonym of
"defective", and again we use "perfect" as the antonym of the same word
"defective". But does "complete" mean "perfect"? No. There is a verse in the Quran
which is related to the question of Imamah and wilayah. It says: "Now We made
your religion perfect, and completed Our blessings on you and were content for
Islam to be your religion." (Quran, 5:3)

This shows that the Quran attributes two meanings to "perfection" and
"completeness". The blessings were completed from a defective state, and religion
was perfected from a defective condition. But before explaining the difference
between the two words, let me first explain the difference between evolution and
progress, and then return to this matter.

Is progress the same as evolution, and is evolution identical with progress? They
happen to have a difference and you may consider their usage. We sometimes
speak of a sickness which is progressing, but we do not say it is evolving. If an army
which is fighting in a land occupies a part of it, we say that the army is advancing,
but we do not say that it is evolving. Why not? Because there is a sense of exaltation
in evolution: evolution is an upward movement, a vertical movement, from a lower
level to a higher plane. But progress and advance is always on a horizontal level.
When an army has occupied a territory and added some land to its own
possessions, we say that it has advanced, which means that it has moved ahead but
on the same plane that it had before. Why do we not say that it has evolved?
Because, there is the idea of exaltation in evolution. So, when we speak of social
evolution, it means man's social exaltation and not just progress. Many things may
be considered progress for man and society without being evolution and exaltation
for the human society. We say this to show that if some scholars have expressed
doubts about such progress' worthiness to be called an evolution, their view is not
without foundation. Although we do not confirm their view, yet what they have
stated is not entirely pointless. Therefore, there is a difference between evolution
on the one hand and progress and development on the other; for progress and
development are almost similar in meaning.

But the difference between perfect and complete can be explained in this fashion: If
something consists of a number of parts, such as a building or a car, as long as all
the necessary parts do not exist in it, we say that it is imperfect. But when we place
the last part in it, then we can say that it is "complete". In comparison, evolution
has many phases and stages. When a child is born with some defect in his limbs, we
consider him defective; but even when he is born with all his limbs complete, it is
still considered defective from another point of view; he must pass through many
stages of evolution in his education which are for him a form of exaltation and
ascension by degrees and steps. So far our discussion was about the definition of
evolution in the social and biological sense. But now we deal with other matters in
this connection, the most important of which may be stated in three questions:

1. Has man, in his social life and throughout history, achieved evolution and

2. Is human society undergoing evolution and will reach a fully evolved state in

3. If it is undergoing evolution, what is that ideal society, or, as Plato would say, that
utopia of man, and what are its peculiarities?

We can understand the course of history up to the present; but what about the
future? Should we close our eyes about the future and say that history inevitably
moves on an evolutionary course? Is evolution in nature imposed by time? Is the
ship of time voyaging on an evolutionary course without the slightest intervention
of man and without any responsibility on his part? Have human beings in the past
had no role as beings endowed with free will, freedom of choice and responsibility?
Has the role of human beings in the past been secondary and subject to
determinism or if there has been no such determining force in the past?

Human beings, by their own free will and choice and their own initiative and
planning of their society, have determined an evolutionary course for their society,
and have advanced it. This matter of free will and freedom of human beings in the
past, should not be forgotten. Therefore, a group of men are worthy of praise and
admiration, and they are those who had the choice to stand against historical
evolution, or deprive it of their support, and prefer their personal welfare to the
struggle for the sake of progress. But they chose the other way, and freely, by their
own choice, followed the way of evolution, and sacrificed themselves. Similarly
other human beings should be reproached and even cursed for posing hindrances
in the way of this evolution.

If we do not recognize the future and have no plan for it, and if we pay no attention
to our responsibility for making history, we too deserve being reproached by future
generations. History is made by man, and not man by history. If we have no plan
for the future, and do not realize our responsibility for the future of history, no one
can promise us that this ship will reach its destination automatically. The least that
can be said is that it may either go ahead or turn backwards. This matter of ability to
advance or reverse the course of events, the idea that there isn't a blind coercive
force that drives events ahead, is in Islam, and especially in Shi'ism, a question,
which from a sociological viewpoint (as I have explained in my book, Man and
Destiny), may be considered one of the most sublime of Islamic teachings.

The Problem of Bada' ( Revision)

In Islam there is an issue called bada' (revision). The concept of bada' has an
apparent meaning which few would regard as acceptable. Some have even criticized
the Shi'ah for believing in bada'. The meaning of bada' is revision in Divine Destiny
(qada'), meaning that God has not fixed a definite and final form for the course of
human history. In other words, God says to man: "You yourselves are in charge of
the fulfilment of Divine Destiny, and it is you who can advance, stop or reverse the
course of history." There is no blind determinism either on the part of nature or the
means of life or from the viewpoint of Divine Destiny, to rule over history. This is
one way of looking at man, his history and destiny.

Therefore, as long as we do not understand the direction of evolution and man's
ultimate goal, we cannot speak of evolution and merely state that man is
progressing; for then, immediately, the question arises: towards what? If we
cannot answer this question, what right do we have to speak of evolution? Don't
we study history in order to open a way for the future? If by studying history we
get only so far as to allow it to introduce itself without showing a way for the future,
what is the use of history? But we see that the Quran surveys history in a way to
show us the path for the future, and this is how it should be. Therefore, our
discussion is related to the past up to the present, and then the future. The question
of our duty and responsibility is determinable only when, after becoming familiar
with the past, we gain an understanding of the future too.

The Evolution of History in the Past

If we regard history from two points of view, there has been indubitable progress
of man, if not an evolution. One of them is in the matter of tools and implements of
life. Man has certainly made progress in making tools, and, of course, an amazing
progress it has been. Once his tools consisted of unhewed stone, which later on
was hewed and polished. Today he has attained the present advanced state of
technology, craft and industry. Man has not only advanced in technical skills and
achieved stunning progress in production of tools, but he has made such a
marvellous progress that if our predecessors and philosophers of a hundred or two
hundred years ago had been told that man would advance so much in a hundred
years time, as he has today, no one would have believed it. You may call it whatever
you like, either "progress" or "evolution", there can be no doubt that man has made
tremendous progress in making tools, and it may be expected to continue in future
too, on condition, however, that it is not, checked by a historic catastrophe, a
calamity which is again predicted by some men of learning. They consider it
probable that man's technical and industrial progress will reach a point when man
may destroy himself and all his achievements in science and technology, his books,
his learning and civilization and all its vestiges. A new type of human being may
appear to start life from the beginning. If no such catastrophe occurs, there is no
doubt that the creation of tools may further advance to a stage which may not be
imaginable today. This evolution is produced by the evolution of man's experience
and his knowledge, for man has made so much progress in his experimental
understanding and knowledge of nature that he has been able to conquer nature
and turn it into a docile servant. This was one aspect of human progress.

Another aspect of man's evolution (which again may hardly be called "evolution") is
in the relations of social life and the structure of society (by "relations" here is not
meant human relationships). Human society has gradually been transformed from a
simple one into a complex structure. In other words, in the same way as he has
advanced in technical and industrial matters from the simple cars of yesterday to
the present day aircrafts and sophisticated spacecrafts, in the same way as in
natural evolution a unicellular organism is so simple as compared with an animal
like man in bodily structure, human society, too, has changed from a simple to an
extremely complex structure.

Some have defined evolution as a process involving two stages: at first, there is an
accumulation, that is, a multiplication of parts followed by division, characterized by
a movement from homogeneity towards heterogeneity, or, in other words,
movement towards organization between parts and organs interconnected by a
unifying relationship. For example, we know that in the process of fertilization, a cell
which is formed by the combination of male sperm and female ovum has a simple
form at first; then it begins the process of division (accumulation); one cell divides
into two, the two into four, the four into eight, the eight into sixteen, and this
division goes on. But it is only a question of quantity until a stage is reached when
there takes place another form of division; this is, one part becomes the nervous
system, another emerges as the heart and system of blood circulation, and so on,
and all these organs are interrelated forming an organized unity which is the human
body. In this respect, human society, too, has progressed, whether you may choose
to call it 'evolution' or not. That is, the structure of human society has changed from
a simple state into something complex. The structure of primitive and tribal societies
was very simple. Someone was the chief of a tribe consisting of a number of people,
and the chief divided the tasks between them, and these tasks were few in number.
But you see that with the progress of science and technology, such division of work
has become complicated because there are more tasks and more people to perform
them. Compare the existing variety of jobs, tasks, professions and crafts of modern
day with those of the societies of a hundred years ago. Or look at the degree of
specialization at the administrative and scientific levels. In the past, a man was able
to master all the sciences of his own time. He could become an Aristotle or an Ibn
Sina. But now the system of education has undergone such subdivisions, that we
have hundreds of the like of Aristotle and Ibn Sina, each a specialist in his own field,
who are not the least acquainted with other branches of science and quite unaware
of even their existence in the world. This is a characteristic of our time, a quality that
removes uniformity and homogeneity from among human beings and replaces it
with differences and distinctions. For, as man creates work, work too builds up
man. As a result, although all are human beings living in one society, but they seem
to possess different natures, since everyone is dealing with a task which is
unknown to another who is engaged in another task. Every one of them seems to
live in a different world of his own. The result is that human beings vary from one
another. If we speak of progress or evolution in connection with society and its
organization and division of labour, skills and talents, again the structure of human
society has changed from a simple into a complex and extremely entangled one.

You may, from these remarks, realize that if things go on in this fashion, there is a
danger of the creation of so many differences that the unity of mankind will be
threatened; that is, human beings will resemble one another only in appearance,
but their mental, spiritual, emotional and educational structures will be totally
different from one another; and this is a great danger for humanity. That is why it is
said that technological progress has alienated man from himself, and made him a
stranger to himself. It has turned man into a creature styled and tailored to the
needs of his job and profession, and destroyed human unity. This is in itself a
serious problem. In any case, we may say that from the viewpoint of social
structure too, societies have evolved in the past. However, here, in addition to the
problem of power and domination over nature and besides the structure of human
society and social organizations, there are a number of other problems which are
related to human nature, and that is the relationship of individuals with one

Human Relationships

Has man made progress in the quality of relationships of human beings with one
another in the same way as he has made progress in the creation of tools, and in
the complexity of social structure? If he has, then we may call it evolution and
exaltation. Have human beings progressed in the sense of co-operation? Does a
human being of today feel more co-operative towards others than in the past? Has
he made a proportionate advance in the sense of responsibility towards other
human beings? Has man's exploitation of other human beings been really effaced?
Or is it that only its form has been altered and that it has increased in degree? Has
man's aggression against the rights of others diminished? Have human relations
improved in proportion to the advances made in building tools and with the
complexity of social structure? Or have these problems remained the same as
before? Or there may be some who claim that not only no progress has been made
in this connection, but also there has even been a retrogression? In other words,
can it be said in general that human values, and everything that is the criterion of
the humanity of man, have advanced proportionately?

Different views have been expressed in this connection; some cynically deny it
totally that man has made any progress whatsoever in this respect, for, they say, if
the criterion of progress is welfare and happiness, we may hardly call it progress.
For example, even in the case of tools, it is doubted whether they have provided
man with welfare. As an example, speed is one of the things which has greatly
advanced as exhibited by the telephone, airplane and other such things. But can this
improvement in speed be called progress when measured by the criterion of human
welfare? Or, since speed is a means, it has produced comfort in one respect, in
other respects it has deprived man of welfare: it carries a good man promptly to his
destination, but it also carries a wicked man as quickly to his goal and as promptly in
his evil purpose. A sound and honest man has found stronger hands and quicker
legs. A wicked man, too, has the same advantages. These means have made
possible the transfer of a criminal from one part of the world to another part in a
few hours, to kill thousands or even millions of people at once. What, then, is the
final conclusion? Though I am not in favour of this cynicism, yet I wish to explain
why it has been expressed by some. For example, is the progress in medicine a true
progress? In appearance, it is, for I see that when a child suffers from diphtheria,
right drugs and proper medical treatment are readily available. This is progress. But
some people like Alexis Carl who measure these things with the criterion of
humanity, believe that medicine is gradually weakening human species. They say: In
the past, human beings had resistance against diseases; the weak were destroyed
and the strong remained alive, and this made successive generations stronger and
resistant to diseases, and also prevented the unnecessary increase of population.
But now, medicine is artificially preserving weak persons who otherwise would
have perished and were really condemned to death by nature. Therefore, the
successive generations are not fit to survive, and so every generation becomes
weaker than its predecessor. A child born in the seventh month of pregnancy is by
the law of nature condemned to death; but now medicine, with its progress and
means, preserves this baby. But what will become of the next generation?
Moreover, there is the question of over-population. It happens that those who are
fitter for the improvement of the human race are destroyed and those who are not
competent to bring about this improvement somehow manage to survive. This is
the reason for doubt in this matter.

Another Example

In connection with the mass media, one may think it wonderful to sit in a corner
and at the right moment hear the news in which he is interested. But remember that
this same thing creates so much anxiety and worry for human beings; for, in many
matters, it is more advisable for man not to hear such news. For instance, in the
past the people who lived in Shiraz were unaware of the flood which overran
Ghuchan, drowning so many people and making others homeless. But now they
learn of it immediately and feel sad and anxious. There are thousands of such
unpleasant happenings occurring in various parts of the world.

It was from the viewpoint of human welfare, and welfare as a criterion that learned
men have doubted whether to regard speed as a measure of progress and
evolution or not. However, we have nothing to do with these problems, for as we
believe, there is ultimately an evolution and all these difficulties may be overcome-a
subject which we will discuss later. Thus, in the question of human relationships,
we cannot say that any progress or evolution has taken place, or, even if it has
occurred, it is not proportionate to the progress made in making tools and to the
growth in social organization.

The Relation of Man with Himself

Another question is the relation of man with himself, which is termed 'ethics'. If we
do not say that all the happiness of man lies in the establishment of a good
relationship with oneself-and we do not say so because it would be an
exaggeration-yet we may say that if the means of man's happiness are compared
with one another to find a percentage of role of every factor, a greater part of
human happiness would be found to lie in the relation of man with himself, or with
his "self": the relationship of man with his animal aspect. For, man, in spite of his
humanness and the human values inherent in his nature, is also an animal; that is,
he is an animal on which humanity has been imposed. In other words, he is an
animal, which, by the side of his animality, also possesses humanity.

The question arises here whether the humanity of man is subordinate to his animal
side, or if his animality is subservient to his humanity. The Quran says:

He who purifies the soul indeed attains deliverance, and one who corrupts it
certainly fails (91:9-10)

The problem here is of self-purification, which means not being captivated by greed
and concupiscence of the self, and not being in the clutches of one's base animal
characteristics. As long as man has not evolved ethically and has not attained
internal emancipation from his own animality, it is not possible for him to establish
good relations with other human beings. Good human relations can come into
existence when man liberates himself from the captivity of other human beings, and
is also able to abstain from subjugating other human beings to himself.

So far we have discussed four points:

1. The relation of man with nature, in which he has made progress.

2. The relation of man with his society, which has progressed from the viewpoint of
social structure and organization.

3. The relation of man with other human beings, and the quality of his relations with
other members of his kind, which depends again on his spirituality and is linked
with the substance of his humanity. In this matter there is doubt as to whether he
has made progress or not: that his progress in this sphere has not been on a par
with other aspects is beyond doubt; the real question is whether he has made any
progress at all.

4. The relation of man with himself, which is the subject of ethics.

The Role of Prophets and religion on the Historical Evolution

Has man of today overcome his animality more than his ancestors in the past, and
have the higher human values been realized in his existence? Or, has the quality of
human existence been better in the past? The role of the prophets in the historical
evolution, their role in the past and in the future, becomes clear in this connection.
Here we can discover the role of religion in the past and thereby find out its role in
the future, and on the basis of scientific and sociological evidence, we can guess
whether man requires religion in future for his evolution or not; because, the
survival or annihilation of every thing is subject to its being able to fulfil human
need. This principle has been stated by the Quran and is affirmed by science. The
Quran says:

As for the scum, it vanishes as jetsam, and what profits men abides in the earth ...
(13 :17)

There is a parable which I have repeatedly used in my lectures, and that is the
parable of flood and the foam on water. It says that the foam disappears quickly
and the water remains. Right and wrong are compared to water and foam, and
what is beneficial remains, and what is useless disappears.

The question whether religion will survive in the future is related to its role in
human evolution, that is, in the evolution of his essence, his spirituality and
humanity and the evolution of good relation of man with himself and with other
human beings-something which cannot be replaced by anything else, either now or
in future.

The question, therefore, is that, either, in the future, human society will dissolve
and mankind will be effaced from the face of earth as a result of collective suicide,
or human society will attain its true destiny, which is an all-round evolution
(evolution in his relation with nature, evolution in awareness, in power, in liberty, in
emotions and sentiments and other kinds of human feelings). We believe that this
evolution will be achieved-a belief which, in the first place, we have obtained under
the inspiration of our religious teachings.

In a lecture entitled "The Significance of Occult Aids in Human Life" I have stated the
point that this optimism concerning the future of humanity and human evolution
and man's deliverance from reaching a dead-end, cannot be provided by anything
except religion. It is the role of religion in human life which alone guarantees the
evolution in the human essence of man's being.

Our former discussion was about the meaning of the historical or social evolution of
man in the past. We-examined the question whether the processes which man and
his society have undergone may be called evolution or at least progress, or whether
there is a third alternative explanation that in some aspects of social life
considerable progress has been made, while in other aspects there has been no
progress or evolution. Or we may, at least, say that if there has been progress it has
been very slow and out of harmony with the rate of progress in technical matters
and evolution of social structure. The dimension in which man has not been able to
make proportionate advance is the human dimension of social life. If we liken man's
social life to an individual human being, technical progress and social development
may be thought of as the body of society, while the human aspect of social life is the
ethos of the individual. We may conclude, therefore, that humanity has physically
overgrown, while its spirit and human ethos have made very little headway. The
divergence between various views concerning the future is rooted in this matter. 
Man's Future from Different Viewpoints

Some people are doubtful about the fact as to whether man has a future at all. They
are uncertain because man is threatened with self-destruction. Such an uncertainty
is evident among the enlightened and learned men of the West. Another group go a
step further, and in addition to uncertainty, they are extremely pessimistic about
humanity's future and openly cynical about human nature. They believe that man's
nature consists of animality, lust, selfishness, egoism, deceit, cunning, falsehood,
tyranny and such things, and since times immemorial when man began his life and
social existence, this familiar scene of life has been always as full of evil and
mischief, both in the days of barbarism and in the age of civilization. They believe
that civilization and culture have not changed the nature of man, and nothing has
been able to transform the wicked nature of this creature called man. The
difference between the savage of primitive times and the civilized man of today is
nothing with regard to goals and objectives. The only difference lies in the method
of work, and outward form and style. The primitive man, because of his
primitiveness and lack of civilization and culture, committed his crimes more openly
and unaffectedly, whereas the civilized man equipped with modern culture,
commits the same crimes under the deceptive cover of high-sounding and stylish
phrases and euphemisms. But both are essentially alike. What the wild man did, is
not different in nature from what the civilized man does; the difference lies only in
the outer form and appearance of their acts.

What is the conclusion? They say: pessimism and despair. What is the solution?
They say: suicide, collective suicide. Fortunately, there are few among us who think
in this fashion. If there had been no such ideas at all amongst us, I would not have
mentioned it. But the thinking exists, and it may more or less exist mainly among
students, and I mention it because I have noticed such thinking in some of the
books which I have come across.

What is amazing in what they say is that man, after having reached cultural
maturity, should commit suicide. Why? Because, they explain, when we find that
human nature is beyond remedy, every person has the right to kill himself, and
encourage others to commit suicide too. This is the logic of the type of writers such
as Sadegh Hedayat. Such a kind of thinking is prevalent in various forms in Europe,
and statistics show that in spite of all the welfare that exists in the civilized world,
the number of suicides is increasing daily. By comparing the figures published in our
newspapers we see this steady increase between the years 1955 and 1975. The
Hippie movement was a social phenomenon, which was a reaction that took the
form of dislike of civilization. It meant that civilization has failed to do anything for
man, and that it has failed to change his nature. Do not compare this Western
hippyism with our own hippyism, which is only a superficial imitation. But those
who had originated this way of thinking in the West, had in fact a philosophy for it:
the philosophy of disgust for civilization, and despair on account of its inability to do
something to solve human problems. And this difficulty, too, is considered
insoluble, a knot that by no means can be disentangled.

To be continued ...

اللهم صلي علي محمد و آل محمد و عجل فرجهم و العن اعدائهم
History and Human Evolution
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