Wednesday, December 29, 2021

How Real Is The Science-Religion Dichotomy?

By Prof. M. A. Sofi, New Age Islam 27 December 2021 The Role of Morality and Ethics - As the Raison D’etre of True Religious Precept - Shall Not Remain Peripheral Main Points: 1. Religion and religious fervour shorn of their real essence and spirituality are no more than tools of exploitation and oppression. 2. It’s pointless and even dangerous to see science and religion as irreconcilable dichotomous entities. 3. It’s both wise and rewarding to let the two proceed along their respective trajectories. ------ Science and religion (Photo courtesy: Science and Technology) ---- Over a long period of my professional life involving interactions with a variety of people, both from within the scientific community and without, I have reckoned that the highest levels of critical thought and analytical skill- which are so intrinsic to scientific enterprise - invariably happen to be accompanied by an attitude that is largely seen to be dismissive of a design in the cosmos being shaped by a designer behind the creation of the universe and all that resides in it. It is not accidental that a huge section of them are least likely to be drawn towards things which have to do stuff like religiosity or the other-worldliness, an attitude that sometimes even borders on atheism and often times on agnosticism. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Islam Does Not Inhibit Science: Islamic Culture Has Produced Many First-Rate Scientists Who Were Also Devout In Their Religious Observances ------------------------------------------------------------------ On the contrary, it has also been observed that those involved in scientific research while being endowed with the necessary faculties to undertake such work but having a certain amount of ecumenical/religious fervour find themselves a trifle short on critical thought and rational approach which inevitably leads to a situation where they are hemmed in in an effort to achieve excellence in their professional career. So here we see a dichotomy, an ‘uncertainty principle’ of sorts at work. It’s not my case to advocate the necessity for the scientific temper to coexist with a modicum of religiosity for a balanced approach to life. All I am trying to emphasise is that such choices are so unwittingly forced upon us that it is only in the middle stages of our life that we wake up to a worldview where we find ourselves espousing- and even post-facto justifying- something that has been shaped by such fortuitous choices. It’s also true that such choices are determined to a great extent by a host of factors that include, among other things, the environment and the culture in which one has grown up and which determine the priorities and preferences of an individual for the rest of his/her life. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: A Quranic Vision of Scientific Knowledge ------------------------------------------------------------------ But there is a flip side to this story too. Here, it may help to recall a lively and spirited meeting I had had some years ago with a well-known hoary Israeli mathematician on matters including certain non-mathematical issues involving his views on recent political developments in the Middle East. But what indeed was so refreshing was his observation on my question regarding the phenomenon involving the supremacy and predominance of the Jewish scientists and mathematicians in their respective disciplines over the past several hundred years. His response was both revealing and thought provoking "We Jews have been having a long tradition of engaging with our religious scriptures at a level that demands the application of mind on the subtext of its revelations rather than look at the text merely as a set of inane rules and rituals to be followed blindly". In other words, “it is the intellectual engagement with the Old Testament that has set them apart from other religious communities in the world and that is why the protestant Christians are a lot more different from their Catholic counterparts". Further that "if the Muslims were to engage with the Quran at the same intellectual level as we do – the Jews, that’s - the consequences would be as rewarding". According to him, the current sorry state of Muslims, especially in education and sciences, has chiefly to be explained in terms of how their holy scripture Quran has been misused and (mis)interpreted by their scholars and reduced to an inane exercise bereft of any intellectual content that is actually lurking behind the seemingly esoteric content underlying the Quran. Said he "The need is for a scholarly engagement with the Book as opposed to how it is approached at the moment". ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Science Should Be Separated From Religion: No Point in Proving Changing Scientific Theories from Quran ------------------------------------------------------------------ As I see it, I couldn’t agree more with that line of thinking, considering that deep religiosity shorn of conscious engagement with the spirit of religion could be as drab, insipid and uninspiring a chore as irreligiosity divorced from reason and rationale. The crux of the matter is that nothing short of a conscious and deep intellectual engagement with either side of the dichotomy as enunciated above and informed by a scholarly understanding of the issues involved would deliver humanity from the state of darkness and ignorance that it’s presently seeped in. On this count, the situation as it prevails especially in the subcontinent provides a microcosm of the gigantic mess that the Muslim world at large finds itself beset with. If anything, the abject surrender to a medieval, primitive and regressive mindset involving the role of religion in the life of an individual and of the society has to be pinned down to absolute contempt for reason having any role to play in matters ecumenical. Which is why hordes of religious groups in India and owing loyalty to forces of disruption and divisiveness have been on a rampage against those espousing a different faith or following other forms of worship. A similar pattern of ignorance is in witness in the neighbouring country which is held to ransom exactly on similar grounds even as those perpetrating such acts in the name of religion never tire of claiming of being the inheritors of a religious faith which is supposed to reign supreme over other faiths on the strength of it belonging to a superior genre of faith, never mind how that particular faith is required to shape individual thoughts, action and behaviour. ---------------------------------------- Also Read: Science and Religion ---------------------------------------- The underlying reason for what clearly are acts of insanity and hooliganism derive from a supremacist mindset fed to them by their ill-informed cabal of leaders/preachers that they have the license to get away with such acts of aggression and transgression simply because they are doing so in the name of gods who they owe their fealty to and who they seek to propitiate, albeit in such utterly insane and inhuman ways. Religion and religious fervour shorn of their real essence and spirituality are no more than tools of exploitation and oppression rather than an agency for lifting the human existence from the level of farce and accord it the grace of spirituality and transcendence as the apotheosis of true religious injunction. In the case of Quran as a divine scripture which is seen by Muslims as a guide to provide a road map for a morally robust and spiritually fulfilling individual character, in practice the Muslim community looks at it as a drab aggregate in chapter and verse which is merely to be recited and memorised without the need to see it as a dynamic, interconnected text. It’s a tragedy of startling proportions that the Muslim masses led by their religious leaders tend to look at Quran as a static text which is frozen in time, rather than as a beacon of light that encourages change, evolution, progress and that exhorts its followers constantly to adjust to change. An important aspect of Quran that is lost on a great majority of our Islamic scholars involves an unwillingness on their part to connect one segment of the text to the next, or to many other segments throughout the sacred text. The underlying message becomes clearer when these connections are probed, discovered and put in context, thus leading to a new dynamic of the meaning which evolves, develops and changes as more and more connections are sought and discovered. Incidentally, that is redolent of the mathematical enterprise where the underlying unity of the huge edifice of mathematics helps to get a view of the ‘big picture’ involving a certain mathematical idea or a phenomenon, thus lending itself to make better sense of what’s actually going on over there. ---------------------------------------- Also Read: Agnostic Einstein Closer To Quranic God ------------------------------------------------------------------ The fact that at a point of time when the Islamic world had held sway over large swathes of land in the Arabian Peninsula extending to Europe and elsewhere, that had happened in the midst of a culture where Muslim scholars and scientists had shaped the coming about of the golden era of Muslims in science, mathematics and philosophy. And this was essentially because the message and the teachings of Islam were being followed in their quintessential spirit rather than merely as a set of inane, jejune rules to be followed merely as a passport for entering the Jannat. It’s in the absence of that spirit that the institution of religion as it exists today shall continue to wreak havoc by its otherwise ‘intrinsic’ nature to cause conflict and friction and inflict untold misery upon the people, as is being witnessed now across countries and continents. Sadly, that is as true of Islam today as it is of many other religious faiths and scriptures. Here I quote Dipankar Gupta who notes in his column that has appeared in the Times of India today (Dec.25th, 2021) “What is sacrilege for one may appear a frivolous misdemeanour for the other; or what is outrage for one is a hissy outfit for the other”. The point is that whereas there surely are structural and fundamental aspects of science and religion being peculiar to their respective paradigms and set one completely apart from the other, it’s pointless and even dangerous to see the two as irreconcilable dichotomous entities within the huge gamut of a whole lot of important human endeavours. Rather than seek to reconcile the two which would be akin to a pie in the sky, it’s both wise and rewarding to let the two proceed along their respective trajectories while making an effort to bring reason- a bequest of the scientific temper – to bear upon issues arising in the reading of and following the sacred text. In the obverse direction, it won’t add up to much to pursue science merely as a drab academic exercise but as an important human endeavour where the role of morality and ethics - as the raison d’etre of true religious precept - shall not remain peripheral. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: God-Realization and Modern Science ------------------------------------------------------------------ I conclude with the following pithy quote of the famous French philosopher Simeone Weil: "To die for God is not a proof of faith in God. To die for an unknown and repulsive convict who is a victim of injustice, that IS a proof of faith in God". ----- Prof. M. A. Sofi is currently NBHM Visiting Professor at JK Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Srinagar He previously taught at AMU, Aligarh, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar and University of Kashmir, Srinagar Did Master’s from AMU, Aligarh (1978) and Ph. D Mathematics at IIT Kanpur(1982) Presently living in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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