ISLAM AND SCIENCE (I)
Ground for Belief in God Today
By Dr. M. H. Durrani
For many years we have been familiar with the phrase “The conflict between science and religion”, and we know that the war has been waged with zeal by each contending party. We have not heard very much about peace. There has been no mutual acknowledgment of complete victory for the one side or the other. Nor is it quite true to say that there have been skirmishes, although it may be true to say that of late they have been very local, and have not been conducted by the greatest minds in either camp. I think it is true to say that so far as headquarters are concerned, in either camp men have been too busy with domestic problems to undertake aggressive campaigns beyond their own territory. Many of the old fighting men, who once tasted war and seemed to enjoy it, have passed away. Their place has been taken by younger men, who have grown up, indeed, with the knowledge that they are defending a territory – either for science or religion – but defending it from an enemy in the trenches whom they have scarcely ever seen. When they meet face to face they hardly feel that they are enemies at all, but just fellowmen. It is a pity to be in trenches if you are not attacked. It is serious to be responsible for defending a territory if you do not know the appearance of the enemy – if you have lost your sense of patriotism, or are uncertain as to the rights of your country.
The conflict between religion and science has certainly become less blood thirsty and somewhat more polite. In the meantime religion – even organized religion - has not ceased to exist. And the scientific world has not ceased to exist; some would say it flourishes and is quite sufficiently confident in itself. Religion, I say, has not ceased to exist, but many have given it up, and others only hold it, not with the triumphant note of ‘Allahu Akbar’ but with considerable misgiving whilst yet others seem to be unconscious that there is an enemy, or has ever been a conflict, or that there is anything in Islam which is likely to be attacked, or needs to be defended.
So, too, science has not ceased to exist. Indeed, it has made wonderful progress, though some have looked askance at it achievements.
Those who hold to religion, but with some misgivings, can hardly be said to be at rest in God, even if they say they believe in Him. They are poor representatives of the noble army of martyrs who, in other ages, have confessed the Faith, and cheerfully faced the lions, the fire, and the sword.
Doubtful of the defensibility of their Creed, they ever seek to avoid a conflict and often seem eager to pretend that there is no foe, or no foe worthy of their mettle. Looking askance at science and its achievements, they do not realize its greatness, its strength, and its nobility, and are therefore seldom likely to do it justice.
Some of us, I expect, have our misgivings about religion. It is safe to admit it if such is the case. Let us remember that there are others who have no very serious misgivings at all today, though once, perhaps, they had them. Let us one and all agree that we will not ignore or belittle men who occupy a camp which seems to be, geographically at least, opposed to the camp of the “Millat-e-Islamia”. When we meet these men, they no longer use the battle cry of their grandfathers; let us have the common sense not to meet them with an array of antique weapons from the showcases of our theological museum. Times change. New men have new ideas and a new out-look call for new treatment, and the “Millat” will show its wisdom if it brings out of its storehouse things new as well as old.
In the last forty years or so there have been great physical scientists who, like highwaymen, have held a pistol at the head of the theist, and the theist has often walked trembling. Men with a theory of materialism with reference to things that are thought to be dead, or with a conception of mechanism with reference to things that are said to be alive, have sometimes bullied society and at other times held it up to scorn. It is hardly too much to say that today materialism has been destroyed by the more enlightened physical scientists themselves, and that mechanism has been proved hopelessly insufficient in biology. These are two very important matters from the point of view of religion.
At first sight it is natural to think that the world as we know it is made up of matter and spirit. Common sense suggests it, but the philosopher has almost always failed to be satisfied with such a dualism. He has almost always sought for a unifying principle. He has usually come to feel that the reality of the world is spiritual rather than material, whilst the materialistic scientist has tried to solve the problem of dualism by treating matter as the all-important part of nature, and movement and life, and even mental and spiritual operations, as not merely resting upon a physical basis in everyday life, but as wholly and solely produced by it. It was even said in the last century that the brain secreted thought as the liver secretes bile. The soul and its religion would get scant sympathy from such thinkers. Belief in God, belief in the spiritual state, even in the limited degree that seems to be forced upon those who practice psychical research, would be viewed with suspicion. Ethics and moral responsibility would be criticized with a temper more unfriendly than that of a reverent and scholarly agnosticism. This stage of criticism is today very largely past, and its passing is due to philosophers and theologians. This is the outstanding marvel of the present situation. A deeper study of the world of physics than was possible to the men of the last generation has convinced some of the most expert physicists themselves that their world is not what their grandfathers thought it; indeed that, it is very much more like the world of the philosophers and theologians whom their grandfathers bullied or scorned.
In the last thirty years or so, in the face of the attack upon religion made by materialistic and mechanistic science, thoughtful religious believers have found some ground for rest in the assertion that the territory lawfully occupied by physical science, and the territory lawfully covered by theology, are so distinct that it is impossible for either to disprove the other without first committing an act of trespass. Physical science, it was said (and said truly, I think), was, at the time, according to its own conceptions, merely descriptive and conscious habit of observing phenomena – things as they appeared to the observer – a conscious habit of observing them and classifying them, but in no sense dealing with their ultimate reality, their ultimate cause, or their ultimate purpose; whereas it was said (and said truly, I think) that theology had no great concern with the phenomena as described, only with the ultimate origin of the phenomena, the underlying Force, and the spiritual purpose served by the series of phenomena. According to this view, the scientist could describe the apparent process of evolution with most painstaking detail, and if he described accurately, the theologian was not concerned to deny his statements. A theologian could still stand within his own territory and say, “The facts of nature are the acts of God.” He could say that theology teaches that God creates, whilst the scientist could describe as fully as he liked how God creates. This line of thought seems to have lost some of its attractiveness for some minds, useful as it has undoubtedly been to many harassed souls. I think it is still roughly true that the scope of physical science and the scope of religion are so different that the theologian and the scientist cannot touch one another so long as each remains in his own territory and attends to his own legitimate business; but that is precisely what neither has all times been content to do, and is not now content to do. Clever physical scientists have often been crude philosophers and ignorant of history, ethics, art, and theology, and yet they have made foolish little, bad-tempered, irritating excursions into discussion in which they were hopelessly at sea, talking a language and using methods and instruments which were manifestly unsuited to the subject-matter, or inaccurately applied. A man may be quite clever in one kind of subject and yet unusually ignorant or awkward in another.
Again, theologians and philosophers highly trained in philosophy, ethics and historical criticism, have often sailed forth in the dark, to oppose, annoy, or ridicule the chemist, the biologist, and the astronomer, and have made themselves a laughing stock by opposing a text of the Holy Scripture to an actual photograph of things in the world, or have misread the evidence of an experiment because of its supposed bearing upon the Creed.
The average physical scientist has not generally been a man whose opinion was necessarily worth very much in subjects which he had not made a matter of serious study, and the philosophical theologian has often, although not as often as many are inclined to believe, been insufficiently versed in physical science to be able to criticize, without prejudice, the works of descriptive science. These two groups of excursionists from one territory into the other have often brought discredit upon their own cause, and have seriously misled the man in the street, the man in the Millat and the man in the museum or the scientific workshop.
Where theologians and scientists have kept to their own territory, each has had considerable peace and liberty of late, and has made headway in domestic research. The theist, especially, has enjoyed rest in God by being able to see that the description of phenomena has no direct bearing upon what is not merely phenomenal.
But whilst it remains true that the scope of physical science is not identical with the scope of theology, and that some theologians ignore science, and some well-disposed scientists beg the theologian not to try to build his theology upon a scientific basis, and that some theologians are inclined to take the hint, and depend ever more and more upon spiritual and ethical intuition, it is becoming clear to many of both camps that there is a frontier between them which is very liable to trespass from the one side or the other. There are therefore border-line problems.
No one can tell what these border-line skirmishes will lead to. There may be temporary embarrassment for either party. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that scientific thought – at the moment often favoring a spiritual view of the universe – may veer round again, temporarily at least. At the moment much of the best physical science comes from those more prophetic scientists who are bravely recanting the materialistic and mechanistic errors of their predecessors, or are, to change the metaphor, restoring the lambs - now old sheep – stolen by their grandfathers in marauding expeditions into the Church’s territory fifty years ago. There should be nothing but sympathy and admiration for those who are thus engaged.
Islam and Science
BY: DR. M. H. DURRANI
(Contd. From pre. issue)
But in view of the marvelous change of thought which has come over physicists in their very study of physics, we may reasonably ask that, at all times, men who have reached an experience of God by methods other than those of physical science – if there are such methods – should not be:
- regarded as fools if they suspend their judgement upon the philosophical and theological implications of some new scientific theory, at least until scientists themselves are fairly agreed upon the scientific facts, or
- regarded as knaves if they temporarily fall back upon their own well-verified experience, and though only as something like a working hypothesis, find rest in a belief in God.
What is needed at the present day is that the balance should be held fairly, and withal friendly, between all seekers after truth of any kind – physical, mental, ethical, philosophical or theological. The atheist, in view of recent history, may quite rightly refuse to be bullied. But he should be scrupulous not to take an unfair advantage of the scientist, or throw dust in the eyes of any inquirer. The revolution which is taking place in the philosophical views of physical scientists gives every encouragement that we are entering upon a new era. We have better grounds, in the eyes of the thinking world, for rest in God today than we had, say, fifty years ago, or at any period since. To argue that because a man is a physicist, or a medical man, he must necessarily be an atheist, or even skeptical or agnostic towards religions, is simply to reveal the fact that one is not up-to-date in physical and mental science. The physicist himself is often groping in the spiritual world, if not basking in its sunshine, and the really expert medical man realizes the importance of psychical and spiritual therapeutics.
It is not always true today that it is only the fool who hath said in his heart: ’There is no God”. It is certainly not true to say that a man is a fool because he believes in God. Let us rest assured of so much at least.
In the modern age of science men of religion are greatly to blame for they have failed to respond to the call of the times and have not appreciated the spirit of the modern age. They have kept the truths of religion shrouded in medieval mysteries, mythology and selfish controversy. The spirit of religion has been confined within narrow sectarian conflicts and petty squabbles. Theses drawbacks can be remedied by dissemination of religious knowledge on a democratic basis and by cultivating a true perspective. It is necessary that people have a true idea of both religion and the development and scope of modern knowledge.
Science is the systematized knowledge based upon practical observation. Experiment is the foundation of the development of science. In fact, the aim of science is the formulation of laws behind phenomena it aims to study, because mere observation of isolated facts is no science. We have science only when we have discovered a proposition which includes all the possible infinite cases of the same class. The discovery of laws is in fact the discovery of the hidden element of unit in the apparent diversity of varied phenomena. A new theory aims at introducing a further element of oneness in our knowledge by showing a sort of oneness in apparently different types of phenomena. From this point of view, the aim of science is to show that the world of our common experience is not what it seems to be; it is not so complex as it appears,. On the other hand it is simple and one complete whole. It is in reality a universe and not a multiverse. Thus we see that science deals with only materialistic aspects of life, and the other aspects of life are absolutely beyond its scope. So it would be foolish to accept the lead of science in other equally important aspects of life, i.e. moral and spiritual, to which it is not at all related. We will have to seek guidance in these elsewhere.
Science has influenced our mental faculties to a great extent. With the advancement of our scientific knowledge our creative faculty has also developed. We have become more inquisitive. But, unfortunately, the development of our creative faculty alone cannot give a helping hand in the solution of our social and moral problems. We produce good things with the help of our scientific genius, and hence make ourselves financially more sound but the result obtained thereof is discontentment and dissatisfaction. And other more intricate problems are also likely to arise out of it.
Up till now the efforts of scientists to solve the eternal mystery and to understand the riddle of life have been futile. Many theories have been evolved by eminent scientists in this connection. But there is every possibility that their assumptions may be discarded today or in the near future. There is a great controversy among the scientists to accept such theories.
Science has not put before us a way of life. It has been absolutely unsuccessful in evolving a coherent system of thought which could form the basis of a complete philosophy embracing all the aspects of life. Eminent scientists have centred their attention on the material aspect of life without caring for the moral and spiritual. It can provide us everything for our comfort but it cannot help us in leading a peaceful and happy life.
The contribution of Islam in the realm of morality is its most distinctive feature. By fixing Divine pleasure as the object of human life it puts before us such high standard of morality as will provide limitless possibilities for the moral evolution of humanity. It furnishes through the belief in God and Day of Resurrection a motive force which impels a person from within to observe the moral laws.
Islam takes up all the moral qualities which are commonly known; it does not pick out only some of them. It assigns a suitable place to each with the sense of proper balance and proportion. In such a way it widens the fields of application of moral laws – so much so that not a single cross-section of moral life is left out.
The social system of Islam is based upon the assumption that mankind belongs to one race. Islam completely discards the discrimination based on race, colour, tribe, nation, language or any other such thing. Mankind is the offspring of the same parents. So all men are equal in their capacity as human beings. And hence the social structure, whose foundation stone is furnished by Islam, helps in maintaining peace and tranquility.
The most important feature of Islam is its representation of the spiritual aspect of life. According to the Islamic view point, the spirit is the representative of God. God has invested it with certain faculties and has laid upon it certain responsibilities and has endowed it with the best possible physical frame. So our body is meant to assist in the exercise of the authority of the soul and the fulfillment of its duties and responsibilities. And the spirit is intended to work the machinery of the body in this world, and not outside it, to develop its potentialities. The spirit is required to utilize to the greatest extent all its faculties and potentialities to gain the Divine pleasure.
It is the privilege of Islam to be free from such absurdities which might strengthen the scientists’ stand in opposition to Islam. Indeed there are certain things where the scientists hold a bit different views from those of Islam: but in those cases they have not been successful in providing rigid and concrete facts in support of their views.
No doubt, science has added much to our comforts and has enabled us to lead a luxurious life. But it has so ensured us by the multiplication of wants that in our constant struggle we can hardly get a way out; all through our life we hanker after money, wealth and power adding thus the base of worries to the small cup of life. Inspite of so much scientific progress and inventions, life is not nearer to contentment and peace than it was prior to the age of science.
(See Part 11)