Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Erroneous Intellectual Presuppositions are Obstacles to Progress

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam 18 May 2022 Muslims Idea Of An Omnipotent God Is A Whimsical God Because Whimsicalness Is Proof To Them Of His Omnipotence Because God Says That He Does Whatever He Wills! Important Points: 1. The Quran also repeatedly insists on go look, see, ponder, wonder, discover, know. 2. The Quran repeatedly tells us to learn empirical truths from past stories of the prophets and their people. 3. Muslims have no idea of what good scholarship means. ------ The history of human endeavour is replete with examples of how erroneous intellectual presuppositions have impeded progress. We all know about Einstein’s prolific and unmatched contribution to theoretical physics. This brilliant physicist also hit a wall and his pathbreaking contributions ended abruptly. What caused it? His belief in a deterministic and therefore a predictable world that could be precisely described mathematically. When nuclear physicists were increasingly using probabilistic theories to study and describe the behaviour of subatomic particles, he expressed his discomfort by saying that he does not believe that God plays dice with the universe. However, every pathbreaking and major advance in quantum physics before and since is based on probabilistic models. Deterministic models fail at the quantum level, and we can only describe things in terms of probabilities. Einstein missed out completely on these developments because of his intellectual presupposition. He is otherwise considered the father of quantum physics for describing the photoelectric effect for which he won a Nobel Prize in 1921. The discovery of the phenomenon of the photoelectric effect led to the development of quantum mechanics. The Pitfalls Of Necessarian Theology All through history, people have imagined what God does, what God must necessarily do and what God cannot do. To the extent that such beliefs were erroneous, progress was impeded for several centuries until they discarded some of the erroneous presuppositions. A different set of intellectual presuppositions defined each of the civilisations which set a limit on their progress. Each of the civilizations made rapid strides till they reached the limit set by their set of presuppositions after which they stagnated. In 1277, Etienne Tempier, the bishop of Paris, writing with the support of Pope John XXI, condemned ‘necessarian theology’ and 219 separate theses influenced by Greek philosophy about what God could or couldn’t do. We continue to have necessarian theologians in our midst although the revelation of the Quran has done away with the need for speculative necessarian theology! Scientific Revolution Then in Europe began the scientific revolution. What caused it? Shedding many of the erroneous intellectual presuppositions and adoption of the “scientific method” for a systematic study of natural phenomena to discover what God does or did. (Disbelievers in God can replace God by Nature in this discussion). To paraphrase Robert Boyle, “the job of the scientist is, not to decide what God must have done, but to go and look and to see what He did do”. Go look and see, go look and see. It becomes an empirical science rather than a deductive or philosophical approach to studying nature. And that was the great shift in approach that helped the scientific revolution in Europe. The Seeds For A Scientific Revolution Were There In The Quran The Quran also repeatedly insists on go look, see, ponder, wonder, discover, and know. It also asks us to reject false gods from the empirical evidence that they have no power. The Quran repeatedly tells us to learn empirical truths from past stories of the prophets and their people. It has verses that speak of knowledge discovered only recently by people who adopted systematic empiricism and the scientific method. The Quran repeatedly asks us not to rely on tradition and the beliefs of men but to question these in the light of empirical evidence. It tells us repeatedly that Allah never changes His word and His ways which means that His laws governing the Universe, human behaviour and indeed everything are unchanging which is an invitation to study these and benefit from them. The Quran says in a couple of verses (10:19, 11:110) that He may have acted differently but for the fact that His word had already been sent forth. This means that Allah binds Himself by His word and can never be whimsical. The Quran speaks of logical consistency and integrity and therefore the lack of discrepancy in the Book. This is telling us to strictly follow the rules of logic while making sense of it. It also means that logically derived inferences from the Quran are as good as if the inference was part of the text. This is as it should be because logical truths are apriori truths. So why do the Muslims find themselves at the bottom of the heap? Not quite because the same religion took them to great heights and pitchforked them a thousand years ahead of Europe before they hit the ceiling. For more on the subject, read: Causes For The Rise And Fall Of The Muslims Swings In Our Fortunes There was a great deal of dynamism in the beginning and Islamic civilization flourished and made great strides in every field and dominated the world. They, therefore, had virtues that took them to the top but then they stagnated and even regressed. The first three centuries were of relative freedom from religious orthodoxy and bigotry and the philosophers, the mathematicians, the astronomers, and the healers made great strides. The Muslims were avid learners and learned from the Greeks and every other civilization and took what they learned forward. The Greek philosophers were atheists whose influence rubbed off on the Muslim philosophers and a gulf began to develop between the religious scholars and the natural philosophers (the common term for philosophers and scientists). The tussle between science and religion continues to this day although there is no need for it, as these do not overlap and are complementary. Both sides are equally to blame. The great strides made by Muslim society may also be attributed to the fact that the environment was conducive enough to allow the ascendance of the rationalist’s school of theology or the Muʿtazila. During the period the Muʿtazila enjoyed the patronage of the Caliph, the traditionalists were imprisoned and persecuted. There was a tussle for power between the religious scholars and the natural philosophers who were leaning towards atheism and Imam Ghazali won the fight for religion with his treatise “The incoherence of the philosophers” which paved the way for the return of the traditionalists and driving out of the Muʿtazila and the persecution of the natural philosophers for their unorthodox views. The momentum of scientific progress ensured progress for several decades until orthodoxy stifled it and Islamic civilization began to stagnate. Europe’s renaissance owes much to translations of all the Arabic texts of knowledge in subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine etc. Europe appears to have made a systematic study of what made the Islamic civilization great and took everything a step further. They became a great industrial and naval power and colonized the world. The Muslims became reactive and instead of learning from Europe, became resistant to the very things that made Europe great. Neither could the Muslims learn from their own glorious past nor from the present of a rising Europe. The State Of Islamic Scholarship When I compare the standard of western scholarship with that of Islamic religious scholarship, Islamic scholarship appears primitive, disorganized, unscientific and with little evidence of having mastered even simple logic and mathematics, because of which the Muftis struggle with the inheritance related calculations to this day. Lack of logical consistency does not appear to bother them nor does the fact that their Shariat and theology do not follow from the Quran. Imam Ghazali is the greatest Islamic scholar and yet his Mishkat al-Anwar which is a treatise on the Ayat al-Nur (24:35) on which the scholars go ga ga even today, is demonstrably a can of trash although of the highest erudition. His explanation of the verse contradicts the very next verse. How could Imam Ghazali not know that his explanation of the verse contradicts the very next verse? It did not seem to have bothered him nor the army of scholars who follow him to this day. This malaise exemplifies the entire body of Islamic scholarship. They are suckers for every kind of nonsense if it is packaged well and has the stamp of authority. We therefore blindly follow the Imams although their limitations are obvious. Looks like the Muslims have no idea of what a good scholarship means. Also Read: An Exposition of the Verse of Light (Ayat al-Nur) If I must make a list of what impedes progress for the Muslims, it is a long list. The most important is a lack of intellectual integrity. If contradictions do not bother them and did not bother even their greatest scholar Imam Ghazali, how can then they ever be sure that they are on the right path? One Madrassa product even commented that logic is good but not too much logic! The Muslims seem to have got everything wrong. Their idea of an Omnipotent God is a whimsical God because whimsicalness is proof to them of His omnipotence because God says that He does whatever He wills! Now, if God is whimsical, there can be contradictions in the Quran and therefore the contradictions that arise from their interpretation of the Quran do not bother them one bit. That the Quran says that you will not find any contradictions in it is brushed aside as just another proof of God saying whatever He wills and not to be taken seriously! The fact is that the Quran is not taken seriously at all. It has become a Book of liturgy and the emphasis is on memorising and pronunciation but not on understanding it. The Books that are followed religiously are the Ahadith although the Ahadith contradict the Quran on every subject. So, if the Quran is interpreted considering the Ahadith to be true, you will gain nothing from studying the Quran and will give up and relegate it to the place it occupies as a Book only for liturgical purposes. We will have a revolution once we keep aside the Ahadith and the commentaries of past scholars and read the Quran without a single intellectual presupposition. We will then learn the true nature of Allah and His creation and what leads to success in this life and the Hereafter. Almost every article of mine brings out what the Quran says and how our scholars have got it wrong. Science Complements Religion Without science, our understanding of the Quran would have continued to be as poor as that of the past scholars. Science is not an enemy of religion but provides proof to the people of our times of the truth of the Quran. The mutual antagonism is due to human frailties of insecurity, suspicion, and greed for power. Why should Islamic scholars fear science if their religion is true? They should expect religion to be strengthened by the discoveries of science. The suspicion and antagonism are understandable because many of those who pursue the sciences lean towards atheism. Subjects in the west such as biology, physics and anthropology are taught with the explicit assumption that there is no god, and this attitude rubs off on all who study these subjects. That is proof that bigotry is not confined to the religions alone but extends to the sciences as well. It is possible for us to rise above every kind of bigotry and give proper place to both religion and science in our lives. ----- A frequent contributor to, Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He has spent years studying Quran in-depth and made seminal contributions to its interpretation. 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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