Friday, May 27, 2022

Should Science And Religion Be Kept Separate?

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam 27 May 2022 “There is a verse in the Quran which says, We have created every living being out of water. There are the words about Heaven and Earth being united together before We split them apart. The man who believes in the Big Bang will perhaps believe in the Big Bang. I do not. I do not believe that the Big Bang theory will last forever in scientific thinking. It will be absolutely stupid to try to connect the science of today to what is essentially a religious, spiritual experience which is I think a totally different dimension” Dr Abdus Salam, Theoretical Physicist and A Nobel Prize Laureate ------ While the late Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam was a devout Muslim and has said on several occasions that the Quran was his inspiration, and listened to the recitation of the Quran by Qari Basit every day, and said that doing so opened up his heart, what did he have to say regarding verses in the Quran to do with the creation of the Universe? This is a verbatim quote of what he said to his other scientist friends who were curious to know more about the verses in the Quran that say that the Universe came about the way proved by science: “There is a verse that says, We have created everything living out of water. There are words about heaven and earth were united together and We spilt them apart. A man who believes in the big bang will perhaps read the Big Bang. I do not. I do not believe that the BB may last forever by our scientific thinking. It would be absolutely stupid to connect the science of today to what is essentially allegorical, religious, spiritual experience which I think is a totally different dimension” ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Science Is A By-Product Of Islam But … ? ------------------------------------------------------------------ The Diffidence Betrays Insufficiency Of Knowledge And Faith In The Quran I can see many who hold the same opinion rubbing their hands in glee but hold your horses, dear reader. The words in bold we have heard before in the defence of the Bible when attacked for the unscientific verses in it. That problem in my opinion is because of mistranslations since these books have been translated and interpreted several times over. Salam is using the same words in the context of the Quran when no verse of the Quran contradicts facts established by science. There is nothing allegorical about the verses he cites. The word allegorical in the context of the scriptures is an overused and misused one. The word spiritual is also overused to cover up some woolly-headed nonsense which forms part of the explanations by those who did not understand the verses. The Quranic verses did and may contradict beliefs held by the scientists before and now, but never any fact established by science. Nobody has a spiritual experience from verses that contradict facts established by science. The problem with the Muslims is that they parrot the west thinking that what they say about the Bible must be equally true for the Quran also. Did Salam really have misgivings about the correctness and therefore the durability of the Big Bang theory? I doubt it. It is only a rhetorical argument, I think. The diffidence expressed by Dr Salam is common to most educated Muslims. What is the source of such diffidence? The diffidence comes from an imperfect knowledge of the Quran. While the verses on the creation of the Universe are striking in their correspondence with current scientific thinking, Dr Salam may not have understood the verses about the creation in six days and may have assumed that the Quran is speaking of our twenty-four-hour day and not of a cosmic day of an unspecified number of years. Being an honest man, he has to be consistent and not be selective. If he did not find such comfort with some other verses, then it is understandable that he preferred to keep the Quran and Science in different realms. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Islam Does Not Inhibit Science: Islamic Culture Has Produced Many First-Rate Scientists Who Were Also Devout In Their Religious Observances ------------------------------------------------------------------ The diffidence may also have been because, before the Big Bang theory was proposed in 1931, what the Quran said, differed from the scientific thinking current up to then. Many of the verses of the Quran were therefore not in sync with current scientific thinking until the scientific thinking caught up with what the Quran said. This to me is as it should be and should not be a cause for diffidence. It is a pity that even devout scientists like Dr Abdus Salam had a poor understanding of the Quran and although he said that he was inspired by it and found it inspiring, chose to keep it in a different realm. The Maulanas have a deep suspicion of science because historically science has proved to be corrosive of faith and would therefore like to keep science as far away as possible. The suspicion and antagonism or at the very least unease between the two therefore continue. The fact is that without science, the Quran is a dull unintelligible book but looked at through the lens of science, it glitters like a diamond. And without religion, we would have remained savages to this day but the Maulanas do not understand this great strength and position of religion in our lives. There is no need for them to feel insecure. Attributes Of the Quran That One Must Bear In Mind The Quran has another distinct attribute which should make us shed such diffidence. The Quran is explicit only about the phenomenon on which scientific thinking is certain to converge. The Quran uses indicative language about things which will remain a matter of speculation or continuous refinements. For example, it uses the word “Dahr” to mean "Time" which means a very long period the beginning and end of which are unknown or a matter of speculation. It does not tell you that the world began 13.5 billion years ago perhaps because there was no way to express such a large figure in the vocabulary of the Arabic language of the seventh century or because this number will remain a matter of speculation getting continuously refined with new discoveries and never converge. In the story of the people of the cave (Al-Kahaf), the Quran does not tell us how many persons were there in the cave but mentions that some believe there were x numbers and others y numbers while some others believe there were z numbers. The reason is two-fold. The correct number has no significance and giving the correct number will not end the controversy about the right number. The Jews who asked the question would have continued to hold onto whatever number they thought was right irrespective of what the Quran had said was the correct number. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Science Should Be Separated From Religion: No Point in Proving Changing Scientific Theories from Quran ------------------------------------------------------------------ The Quran does not and I am sure the Jewish and Christian scriptures do not talk about the number of years between the creation of Adam and Noah or the chronology of the various prophets mentioned in the Books. The Jewish and Christian theologians however do mention and the Muslims follow them. I am sure, the theologians have got it wrong from the simple fact that the Quran is silent on the subject. Why is the Quran silent? The reasons can be two-fold in my opinion. The first reason could be that the chronology does not matter and the second reason could be to prevent a needless controversy in the face of incorrect opinions already held by the people which would never get resolved but keep people engaged in wasteful debates and become a cause of misguidance for many. In my opinion, therefore, if the current scientific thinking has converged with what the Quran says on the same subject, then that is the truth as far as that subject is concerned and there is no need for any diffidence. On matters where the Quran is explicit but current scientific thinking is not in sync, then the scientific thinking has some way to go on that subject. On matters where the Quran uses indicative language, scientific thinking will be continuously refined based on new discoveries and evolving theories. Science and Religion Are Bound To Converge On the question of an Intelligent Designer at the back of all creation, there is growing evidence from developments in molecular Biology that indeed the Theory of Evolution fails to explain the life forms coming into existence in their timeframes based on mutations and natural selection. The inescapable conclusion is that there is an intelligent designer at work which the religious call God. Belief in a Supreme Being is not ‘irrational’ as people like Dawkins will have you believe. Its rational necessity and therefore possibility is supported by philosophy and by ontological proofs by Gottfried Leibniz and Kurt Goedel in mathematics. Observation in the context of what science can and, more importantly, cannot tell us also lends credence to the rational claims of religion. At some level, mathematics and physics are also belief systems with their axioms and postulates and the theoretical impossibility of proving every truth within its own system of axioms and postulates. Religion becomes science when we examine with the rigour of science, its truth claims. Atheists deny the existence of God and it is their denial without proof that is irrational and dogmatic. In other matters, they could be anything – rational or irrational. Agnostics, Since They Neither Accept Nor Deny, Could Be Rational. Theists can be dogmatic and irrational if they are blind believers but can be rational if their belief is based on reason. Surely Leibniz, Goedel, Einstein, and Salam were not irrational believers in a Supreme Being. They believed for their own reasons and based on their own conclusions and in their own unique way. As a matter of fact, every great man who was a believer, rejected the theology of his faith and was a unique person in the way he believed. To quote Ibn Sina (Avicenna), “It is not easy and trifling to call me a heretic; no belief in religion is firmer than mine own. I am a unique person in the whole world and if I’m a heretic then there is not a single Musalman anywhere in the world”– It is a logical impossibility that both a rational Atheist and a rational Theist exist together and since a rational theist is possible, an atheist can only be irrational in his atheism. Not irrational for his reasons for being an atheist, but irrational in ignoring the cogent reasons for believing in the Supreme Being. Science and religion are bound to converge and there is no reason for any unease between the two. The more the religious keep away from science, the more is the danger to religion. Science has historically proven to be corrosive to faith because the religious have shunned science and held unscientific views and became objects of ridicule. Suspicion of science betrays a lack of faith in God. Without science, the faith of the believer is weak and defective and without religion, we cannot have true morality. For me, the proof that God exists is that He gave us moral rules through His divinely inspired scriptures which we were incapable of on our own. These rules have civilized us and without them, we would have remained savages and not taken even one step on the path of civilization. What this means is that we wouldn't have had science, art, architecture, cities etc. without God's religion as our foundation. This topic is covered in my following articles: 1. Religion as a Civilizing Influence 2. Science and Religion 3. The Progression from Religious Morality to Secular Laws and the Danger of Regression of Religious Morality into Bestiality ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: A Quranic Vision of Scientific Knowledge ------------------------------------------------------------------ ----- 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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