Friday, June 3, 2022

Dr Abdus Salam, Science, the Big Bang Theory of Creation, and the Quran

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam 3 June 2022 This is a supplement to my article, “Should Science And Religion Be Kept Apart?” In that article, I had quoted Dr Salam as follows: Dr Salam was sitting with his scientist friends among whom were those who had shared the Nobel prize with him and one of them was curious to know more about the verses in the Quran that say that the Universe came about the way the Big Bang theory says it did. The following is his verbatim response: “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 Big Bang 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: Islam Does Not Inhibit Science: Islamic Culture Has Produced Many First-Rate Scientists Who Were Also Devout In Their Religious Observances ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Mohammad Abdus Salam was a Pakistani theoretical physicist and a Nobel Prize laureate ----- What Salam Said Raises Two Disturbing Questions 1. 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. 2. The other question that bothered me was why did a great man like Salam who was a devout Muslim, lack the confidence to respond to his friends with equanimity, “Yes, the description in the Quran on the creation of the Universe coincides with the scientific thinking on the subject today. Isn’t that amazing?” He was however apologetic and dismissive when there was nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. Dr Abdus Salam is an iconic person for Muslim students. His life and extraordinary achievements are a source of inspiration to many. It is therefore important to understand Dr Salam’s reasons for what he said as those words have the potential to have far-reaching effects on young minds. The exploration will also help us to better understand his relationship with Science and Religion. Salam’s Love for the Quran Salam listened to a recitation of the Quran by Qari Basit every day and said that doing so “opened up his heart”. His Nobel Prize acceptance speech began with an apt quotation from the Quran. He had often said that the Quran was his inspiration. The following are the exact words he spoke “If you’re a particle physicist you would like to have just one fundamental force and not four. That’s the real unity between the forces. If you’re a Muslim particle physicist of course you will believe in this very, very strongly because unity is an idea which is very attractive to you culturally. I would never have started to work on the subject if I was not a Muslim.” Quranic Verses on Creation of the Universe The Quranic verses about the creation of the Universe are as follows: (21:30) Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (51:47) AND IT IS We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it Another Version of Creation in the Quran The creation of the Universe which includes the earth takes only two days (41:9 and 12). Making the earth fit for sustaining life takes another four days (41:10) or a total of six days. Verse 41:11 again speaks about bringing together everything before cleaving them asunder. The big bang theory confirms what the Quran said 1400 years ago. (41:9) Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in two Days? And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds. (10) He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it, and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measure therein all things to give them nourishment in due proportion, in four Days, in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance). (11) Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience." (12) So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days, and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge. The day here is not our 24 hour day but a cosmic day which the Quran describes in one context as our thousand years and in another context as our 50 thousand years. In different contexts, a cosmic day is defined differently. The concept of relativity of time is there bang in your face. In the context of the creation of the Universe, the cosmic day is not defined. This could be because the number is very large for which there was no name in the vocabulary of the 7th century Arabs. For men of understanding, it is sufficient to know that a day here is a cosmic day and not our 24-hour day. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Science Should Be Separated From Religion: No Point in Proving Changing Scientific Theories from Quran ------------------------------------------------------------------------ The Biblical Account of Creation Genesis 1:1 states: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:2 states: "And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters". Why Salam’s Argument expressing doubts about the BB Theory Was Rhetorical Salam shouldn’t have had doubts about the durability of the big bang theory because the theory is supported by theoretical physics as well as observational astronomy, astrophysics and experimental physics. For a very long time, astrophysicists and cosmologists had assumed a static universe with no beginning and no end, both in time and space. Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity in 1915. Alexander Friedmann, a Russian scientist, published a paper in 1922, on a range of idealized solutions including for a contracting and expanding universe, based on the mathematics of General Relativity. Friedmann did not pursue the possibility that one of them might actually describe the physical universe. In 1927 in Belgium, unaware of Friedmann’s work, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian cosmologist and Catholic priest, published a solution to the equations of General Relativity, for the case of an expanding universe, in which he had derived and explained the relation between the distance and the recession velocity of galaxies. Lemaître realized that his solution predicted the expansion of the real universe of galaxies that observations were only then beginning to suggest. ---------------------------------------- Also Read: Science and Religion ---------------------------------------- Hubble's brilliant observation that the redshift of galaxies was directly proportional to the distance of the galaxy from earth meant that things farther away from Earth were moving away faster. In other words, the universe must be expanding. Hubble’s finding in 1929 supported the theory of Georges Lemaître based on the mathematics of General Relativity. Many astronomers at the time were uncomfortable with the idea that the universe is expanding. Together with Hubble’s observations, Lemaître’s paper convinced the majority of astronomers that the universe was indeed expanding, and this revolutionized the study of cosmology. By 1930, other cosmologists, including Eddington, Willem de Sitter, and Einstein, had concluded that the static models of the universe they had worked on for many years were unsatisfactory. A year later, Lemaître explored the logical consequences of an expanding universe and boldly proposed that it must have originated at a finite point in time. If the universe is expanding, he reasoned, it was smaller in the past, and extrapolation back in time should lead to an epoch when all the matter in the universe was packed together in an extremely dense state. Appealing to the new quantum theory of matter, Lemaître argued that the physical universe was initially a single particle—the “primaeval atom” as he called it—which disintegrated in an explosion, giving rise to space and time and the expansion of the universe that continues to this day. This idea marked the birth of what we now know as Big Bang cosmology. That the entire observable universe of galaxies began with a bang from a very small size, however, still seemed preposterous to many. Lemaître was the first theoretical cosmologist ever nominated in 1954 for the Nobel Prize in Physics for his prediction of the expanding universe. He was also nominated for the 1956 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his primeval atom theory. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Unlike Most Muslim Scientists, God Speaks Same Truth in and out of Mosques ------------------------------------------------------------------ Lemaître’s idea was developed further by other cosmologists, including George Gamow, to become the modern Big Bang theory. There have been refinements to Lemaître’s earliest description of the universe as a “primordial atom” before the Big bang, and indeed refinements will continue, but fundamentally the theory will hold. According to Einstein's theory of general relativity published in 1915, the gravitational force is a consequence of bodies curving space around them. What caused or causes that curving? Stephen Hawking in the 1960s theorized that as the universe was compressed, the matter and the energy got more and more densely concentrated, causing space to be curved until a limit or a singularity was reached where the matter became so densely compacted, that the space became infinitely curved. At this point of singularity, the physicist Paul Davy said, an extremity was reached and before it, there was nothing - neither matter nor space, nor time or energy. They came into existence at that point. That is the Big Bang creation event. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) in 1965, which is the first and most important observational evidence in support of the Big Bang. The CMBR, is faint cosmic background electromagnetic radiation filling all space which is a remnant from an early stage of the universe, immediately after the Big Bang. It provides strong evidence of the Big Bang origin of the universe. This earned the discoverers the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics. You can see the interplay between theory and observation and the number of physicists, astrophysicists and cosmologists involved in developing the subject. The General Theory of relativity was published in 1915, the Big Bang theory was published in 1931, and the curvature of the space predicted by the General Theory of Relativity finds support from the Big Bang theory and further developments in theoretical physics that go on into the sixties. The observational evidence of the correctness of the Big Bang theory comes accidentally in 1965. The scientists were looking for something else. If I am not mistaken, they were looking for communication by aliens. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Science Is A By-Product Of Islam But … ? ------------------------------------------------------------------ When theory is fully backed by observations there is no room for doubt. The theories may get refined. For example, Newton’s laws are backed by observation and we didn’t know any better until Einstein came along. Newton’s physics has survived because it explains every observation except for the extreme ends of the space-time spectrum. Likewise, the BB theory will survive although it may get refined. The theory, accepted by nearly all today, was a radical departure from scientific thinking in the 1930s. So, I can imagine Dr Salam as a doubter before the seventies, but not after. From the standpoint of science, Salam’s argument that the Big Bang theory may not survive is only a rhetorical argument and a poor one as you can now very well understand and appreciate. That he resorted to such a poor argument to avoid endorsing the Quranic verses on creation although, the verses described in his own words, are quite accurate as to what did happen, is most surprising. Why did he do that? My best guess of the reasons is as follows: Why Was Salam Reluctant To Endorse The Accurate Description Of The Creation Event In The Quran? Muslims in general have very poor knowledge of the Quran and do not know which of the stories they have heard are from the Quran and which of them are from the Ahadith. The stories commonly told are all from the Ahadith and almost none from the Quran. Every story in the Ahadith is a concocted fable which is beyond belief for a thinking person. For example, if you ask any Muslim at random, about the story of Alam-e-Arwah, he is likely to say that it is from the Quran. This story and indeed every story numbering in hundreds from the Ahadith could be described using Salam’s words as “essentially allegorical, religious, spiritual experience which I think is a totally different dimension”. To be precise, the different dimension is the dimension of senselessness or of “suspended disbelief”. Salam was undoubtedly a firm believer in the Ahadith because the foundation of the Ahmadiyya sect rests on a few Ahadith. Firm believers in the Ahadith make no distinction between the Quran and the Ahadith and to them, Islam is the Quran plus the Ahadith with greater emphasis on the Ahadith. You will find many proud Sheikh-ul-Hadith but rarely a Sheikh-ul-Quran. Salam’s description fits the Ahadith but not the Quran and in all probability, Salam may have lacked deep knowledge of the Quran to know which of the stories are not from the Quran. It is therefore understandable why he may have had a general sense of discomfort with religious truths being compared with scientific truths. Another Possible Reason for Salam’s Reluctance to Endorse the Quranic Verses Lemaître who proposed the Big Bang theory was a Catholic priest with deeply-held religious beliefs. The Judeo-Christian idea of the creation of the Universe in six days was in contrast to the earlier belief of the scientists of a static universe without a beginning. The Judeo-Christian theologians felt vindicated when science discovered that there was indeed a creation moment before which nothing existed. Pope Pius XII referred to the new theory of the origin of the universe as a scientific validation of the Catholic faith. For Lemaître however, his catholic beliefs were not what led him to his scientific investigations and discoveries. His first discovery was that of an expanding universe on which the Bible is silent. The idea of an exploding universe from the “primaeval atom” is also not there in the Bible. He, therefore, made no connection between his religious beliefs and his science. Moreover, the Bible is very much like our Ahadith with verses that have been shown to be unscientific which makes keeping science and the Bible apart a very sensible thing to do. ------------------------------------------------------------------ Also Read: Darwinism is Consistent with Qur’anic Insights on Man’s Origin ------------------------------------------------------------------ Dr Abdus Salam may have been blindly following Lemaître’s example, which has become a ‘best practice’ for Judeo-Christian scientists because their scriptures contain many unscientific verses. However, in my opinion, there is no reason for Muslim scientists to follow that example. The Quran contains a far more detailed and precise description of the creation of the Universe and does not contain any verses that speak of creation, procreation, history and natural phenomena that have been proven to be unscientific. On the contrary, all of them have been proved to be right and precise by scientific discoveries in the last two centuries. In my opinion, therefore, Salam’s diffidence betrays a lack of deep and intimate knowledge of the Quran or an unthinking following in the footsteps of the Judeo-Christian scientists. Dr Salam’s Ahmadiyya Faith It is important to discuss this aspect and not ignore it because of the animosity and blind prejudice against Muslims of the Ahmadiyya sect, especially in Pakistan. The reaction to the Ahmadiyya calling their leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, a Nabi, is beyond reason, and their claims are not very different from: 1. The Mahdavis who believe in a Mahdi who has already come 2. The Sunni who believe in a Mahdi to come 3. The Shia who believe in hereditary Imamat and a Mahdi in hiding who will come one day. 4. The Sufi who believe their Pirs receive direct knowledge from Allah and/or the Prophet and in the power of the Pir to intercede with Allah. The overreaction to the Ahmadiyya is based on envy and jealousy because they are among the best-educated and most prosperous communities and have little to do with their beliefs. It is also a reaction because it was the Ahmadiyya who took the aggressive initiative and declared everyone who didn’t subscribe to their views “Kafir”. They did this in their mistaken belief in a hadith that predicts that Islam will triumph in the world and people will flock to the Mahdi who in their opinion was Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. Ironically, the Ahadith on which the Ahmadiyya base their faith, are the Saheeh Ahadith which all Sunnis believe in. The hadith also predicts the coming of a Mahdi towards the end of the 14th century Hijra and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian declared that he was the promised Mahdi at the end of the 14th century. This is another proof that all the Ahadith are concocted nonsense and anyone who believes in them will come to grief. In my opinion, the Ahmadiyya websites provide some of the best Tafseer on the Quran, and the Ahmadiyya are good Muslims, who honour the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Allah. Their beliefs do not dishonour Islam, and they are a people we can be proud of and be friends with. In any case, Allah has not taken a covenant from us to force others to believe as we do. (6:159) As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou hast no part in them in the least: their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did. While Allah asks us not to meddle in sectarian politics and leave the matter for Allah to decide, Pakistan has placed itself under a self-inflicted curse by doing the opposite by its: 1. Discriminatory Blasphemy Laws 2. Discriminatory Law Declaring the Ahmadiyya Non-Muslim and has given the sectarian bigots, the encouragement they needed to wreak havoc. The results are plain to everyone. Pakistan is weakened and is being torn apart by narrow sectarianism and will ultimately implode proving the following Ayat of Allah true: (6:65) Say: "He has power to send calamities on you, from above and below, or to cover you with confusion in sectarian strife, giving you a taste of mutual vengeance - each from the other." See how We explain the signs by various (symbols); that they may understand. Pakistan can get rid itself of the curse of sectarian strife that is ripping it apart, by repealing those laws for: (13:11) Allah does not change a people´s lot unless they change themselves. But when (once) Allah decides on a people´s punishment, there can be no turning it back, nor will they find, besides Him, any to protect. Hopefully, the people will come to their senses and change themselves by becoming tolerant of other people and their beliefs, before Allah completes His exemplary punishment. Conclusion A person who has intimate and in-depth knowledge of the Quran would have believed in the verses even before the Big Bang theory was proposed while the science current until then held the view of a static universe with no beginning and no end. He would have believed without a doubt that the science still had some way to go before the truth of the verses became clear to all. Such verses are a sign for the people of our times about the truth of the Quran as the word of God. To people of our times, the stories of the prophets and their miracles sound like fairy tales. Allah has provided incontrovertible signs for people of all times so that no one is left with an excuse for their disbelief in His scriptures which include all previous scriptures. Allah has provided His scriptures as a guidance to mankind, gave them the instinct for belief in God, and verses that provide evidence that the Book is indeed the word of God. This discussion also underlines the danger that the Ahadith pose to the correct understanding of the Quran and why they are best kept far away if you want to understand the Quran correctly. As I have shown in several of my articles, knowledge of science greatly assists in the correct understanding of the Quran while the Ahadith are the greatest stumbling block. So, if you want to become a good Muslim with an unshakable faith in the Quran, you need to have a very good knowledge of the sciences and the literally accurate (“uninterpreted”) meaning of the Quran which you will then be able to understand clearly with your sound and deep knowledge of subjects that have a bearing on the meaning of the verse. Keep away assiduously, the entire body of secondary Islamic literature such as the Ahadith, including the explanations and commentaries of past scholars. The earliest Muslims were the best Muslims but certainly, they couldn’t have had the best knowledge of the Quran. Far from it, they misunderstood many of the verses because they did not possess the required knowledge from science to correctly understand many of the verses. We can be the ones to have the best knowledge of the Quran if we make the right effort and in the right way. ----- 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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