Recently, New York University professor James Higham tweeted about how he updated the lectures of his class on primate behavioral ecology, geared to upper-level undergraduates. They now “properly acknowledge Islamic scholarship in this area—especially that of Al-Jahiz (781-869 CE),” Higham wrote. “It seems clear that something like evolution by natural selection was proposed a thousand years before Darwin/Wallace.” (The naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace independently proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection around the same time as Darwin.)
“I was struck by the extent to which Al-Jahiz appears to have had not just evolutionary ideas, but many ideas that could be said to be related specifically to the process of evolution by natural selection,” Higham said in an email. “This seems to have included ideas such as competition over finite resources, adaptation in response to the environment, and speciation over time as an outcome.”
“I think it’s good for students to know that other societies have thought about these things," Hameed said. “I think it enriches our story of science. The story of science in some sense should be a story of humans, not a story of a couple of individuals coming up with these great things—but a human endeavor.”
An untold story in biology: the historical continuity of evolutionary ideas of Muslim scholars from the 8th century to Darwin’s time
Textbooks on the history of biology and evolutionary thought do not mention the evolutionary ideas of Muslim scholars before Darwin’s time. This is part of a trend in the West to minimise the contributions of non-Western scientists to biology, human anatomy and evolutionary biology. Therefore, this paper focuses on the contributions of pre-Darwinian Muslim scholars to the history of evolutionary thought. Our review of texts from a wide range of historical times, and written in various languages, reveals that there were in fact several Muslim scholars who postulated evolutionary ideas, some with remarkable similarities to Darwin’s theory. These ideas included the adaptation and survival of the fittest, a specific origin of humans from apes/monkeys, the notion of evolutionary constraints, the occurrence of extinctions within taxa and hereditary variability. Moreover, while both the scientific community and the broader public generally base their knowledge on Western textbooks, several parts of the Muslim world have indicated an overall rejection of biological–including human–evolution. Therefore, to improve historical accuracy and create a better understanding of scientific history, the world’s diverse civilisations and their philosophies, this untold story should be widely disseminated to the scientific community and the general public.
This is pretty interesting. Notably Islamic evolution seems to have included human evolution, and I’m not sure they got the idea of common descent…a lot to dig into here…