The achievements of man in the field of science and technology during the last century have been extremely remarkable. Man’s landing on the moon, cloning, heart transplantation, supersonic jets, satellite communication, the digital revolution – all these and more have changed our lives dramatically. And man is so proud of his intellectual acumen and ingenuity that he feels now that he can simply dispense with God and religion.
This mood of man is really the product of a long confrontation between science and religion in Europe since the Middle Ages. Back then the Church had been for a long time in conflict with scientists who questioned the information in the Bible, and anything that was found to contradict religion was declared unethical and unacceptable.
But today, science has indeed become a substitute for religion, especially in the West. One might say this surrogate religion has its own prophets and priests who prescribe rites and practices for its faithful. Even for the nonscientists, the new cult is simply a natural pursuit of truth by empirical means in a post-Christian world (Snow). The pious Christians of today try to resolve the contradictions between their faith in religion and quest of science chiefly by means of a reinterpretation of their creeds to make them compatible with the conclusions of science.
It is often asserted that science is essentially hypothetical as it offers no truths in an absolute sense. A confirmed “scientific fact” of one generation is quietly thrown overboard for a newer version of it by the following one. Christian apologists hasten to point out that science is no more than a fallible enterprise pursued by sinful men, whereas religion is supernaturally inspired by God.
The Orthodox Christians often scoff at the failed attempts of certain “scientific Christians”, who try to adapt their faith to the latest fad in science, only to find that science has moved on and left them in the lurch. It is claimed that “Orthodox Christianity is not against science that stays humbly within its limits, which recognizes that the universe is not an isolated system, but one that is open to the God Who created it, Who preserves it and all its parts in existence, and Who sustains every one of its laws by His Providence. Such a science – as opposed to scientism – Orthodoxy can work with and applaud.” (Moss)
Their modern re-interpretation of “the fall of mankind” brought about by Man’s “First Disobedience and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree” (Milton) states:
“Our fall came about through our partaking of the tree of knowledge prematurely, before partaking of the tree of life […]. Science has repeated this original fall, coming to the bitter and senseless and deadly conclusion that all life has evolved through a struggle to the death […]. Science can only come to life again by coming into contact with the true Light, Christ, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Moss)
In the last century, the Western incarnations of the Eastern religion of Hinduism have been successful to a certain extent in eroding the Judeo-Christian concept of the Creator and the creation as separate entities. The maharishis and the gurus who have large followings in the West often use modern concepts of science to blur the distinctions of God and man into a single pantheistic entity as it were. The basic dictum that ironically entrances the materialists of the West can be summed up in the statement: Brahma satyam jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah, which in English is translated as: “Brahman is the only truth, the world is unreal, and there’s ultimately no difference between Brahman (i.e. the Supreme Being) and individual self” (Adi Sankara’s Vivekachudamani) (Rosen). The result of this realization is: Aham Brahmasmi meaning “I am God”.
Today, Hindu intellectuals in India and the West claim with all seriousness that there is “no conflict” between the eternal laws of the Vedas and the laws discovered by modern science. “Countless gurus and swamis teach that the Vedas are simply “another name for science” and that all of science only affirms what the Vedas have taught. This scientistic version of Hinduism has found its way to the West through the numerous ashrams and yoga retreats set up, most prominently, by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his many clones.” (Nanda)
It is to the credit of Islam that for many centuries, and particularly during the Middle Ages, Muslims led the world in scientific inquiry and exploration (About.com). The Qur’an itself, instructs Muslims to contemplate the wonders of creation, as the entire universe follows and obeys the laws of the Creator. From the Islamic point of view, what are usually called Laws of Nature are in fact the Laws of Allah (God), the Single Ruler and Law-Giver of the universe. So Muslims are encouraged to explore the universe, to observe the phenomena of nature, and find therein the “Signs of Allah”. God says in the Ever-Glorious Qur’an what means:
In the creation of the heavens and earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the ships that sail the seas with goods for people; in the water which God sends down from the sky to give life to the earth when it has been barren, scattering all kinds of creatures over it; in the changing of the winds and clouds that run their appointed courses between the sky and earth: there are signs in all these for those who use their minds. (Al-Baqarah 2:164)
The above verse among others, tells us how much emphasis Islam lays on the observation and study of natural phenomena as well as the laws underlying them. In an age when scientific investigations have raised serious questions about religious belief, it is the same scientific investigations that lead to the validity of the Qur’anic revelation and of the religion based on it.
As our knowledge of science expands, we get more and more pieces of evidence of the methodical organization of the phenomena of nature, which points to an Intelligent Planner behind it all. The Qur’an encourages this kind of general reflection, and in fact, the findings of modern science are seen to be clearly endorsing the specific scientific data provided in the Qur’an. For instance, read the following verse:
Are the disbelievers not aware that the heavens and the earth used to be joined together and that We ripped them apart, that We made every living thing from water? Will they not believe? (Al-Anbiya 21:30)
The above verse underscores two modern ideas: the first says that in the beginning there was a huge mass of condensed matter, which exploded to produce all the heavenly bodies. This is in line with the Big Bang theory. The second one states that the origin of the species was in the water.
The Qur’an is unique in its constant appeal to human reason; it asks us even to question its own claims in a scientific spirit. The fact that the Qur’an contains references to the transcendental and metaphysical realities, does not mean that all scientific research is antithetical to it. The transcendental realities tell us that the appeal of science is limited to matter and the material world; not that its findings are to be discarded out of hand. It only means that there is an area of reality where science is helpless, and that is the area of the spirit.
But the proponents of “scientism” argue that any knowledge that is obtained outside the scope of scientific investigations is useless. Indeed the application of the scientific methods involves the use of the five senses for observation and logical analysis for arriving at the right inferences. But both the five senses and the human brain’s analytical skills bear the stamps of their own inherent weaknesses. Yet, the advocates of scientism would blindly reject the possibility of realities existing outside the realm of scientific methodology. Their claim is that only matter exists (hence, they are called materialists). According to their belief, God, angels, and even the human soul do not exist, as these realities defy their instruments and units of measurements.
We should pause here a little and acknowledge that we are unable to comprehend the vastness of the universe of which our planet is only a tiny speck. We cannot know when it all began or when it will end. And yet we have the temerity to believe in the sufficiency of the methods we use to measure the secrets of the universe.
We arrogantly declare the non-existence of God, as if the existence of God would depend on our acknowledgment. For men of understanding, everything around them is a sign of God as the Creator. All the living beings in the heavens, on the earth and in all that lies between them, loudly proclaim the existence of their Creator:
Do they not see the sky above them, how We have built and adorned it, with no rifts in it; how We spread out the earth and put solid mountains on it, and caused every kind of joyous plant to grow in it, as a lesson and reminder for every servant who turns to God; and how We send blessed water down from the sky and grow with it gardens, the harvest grain, and tall palm trees laden with clusters of dates. (Qaf 50:6-10)
Islam is a religion based upon knowledge derived through reason and revelation, and ultimately it is our knowledge of the Oneness of God combined with faith as well as the total commitment to God that saves us. In the history of Islamic Civilization a student of science – indeed any seeker of knowledge – has always been held in honor and high esteem.
- About.com. Islamic Science. 2010. Accessed February 2010.
- Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Book I. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
- Moss, Vladimir. An Orthodox Christian Approach to Science. Orthodox America. Vol. XV:137. United States of America: 1996.
- Nanda, Meera. Postmodernism, Hindu Nationalism, and Vedic Science. Frontline Magazine, Vol. 20, Issue 26. India: The Hindu Group, 2003.
- Rosen, Steven. Krishna’s Song. California: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.
- Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Encounter Magazine. Vol. XII. London: 1959.
Courtesy www.onislam.net with slight modifications.
Professor Shahul Hameed is a consultant to the Reading Islam Website. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.