"Science and Islam" redirects here. For the historical development of science in the Islamic world, see Science in medieval Islam. For the belief that scriptures such as the Qur'an prophesied scientific theories and discoveries, see Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts. For the documentary, see Science and Islam (documentary).
Muslim scholars have developed a spectrum of viewpoints on science within the context of Islam. The Qur'an exhorts Muslims to study nature and investigate the truth. Muslims often cite verse 239 from SurahAl-Baqara – He has taught you what you did not know. – in support of their view that the Qur'an promotes the acquisition of new knowledge. For some Muslim writers, the study of science stems from Tawhid.[page needed]. The Qur'an had, in many situations, mentioned science as very important and encouraged Muslims to learn science, whether natural or literature.
Scientists of medieval Muslim civilization (e.g. Ibn al-Haytham) made many contributions to modern science. This fact is celebrated in the Muslim world today. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the lack of scientific literacy in parts of the modern Muslim world.
Some Muslim writers have claimed that the Qur'an made prescient statements about scientific phenomena that were later confirmed by scientific research for instance as regards to the structure of the embryo, our solar system, and the creation of the universe.
It's generally accepted that there are around 750 verses in the Quran dealing with natural phenomena. Many verses of the Qur'an ask mankind to study nature, and this has been interpreted to mean an encouragement for scientific inquiry. The investigation of the truth is one of the main messages of the Qur'an.[additional citation(s) needed] historical Islamic scientists like Al-Biruni and Al-Battani derived their inspiration from verses of the Quran. Mohammad Hashim Kamali has stated that "scientific observation, experimental knowledge and rationality" are the primary tools with which humanity can achieve the goals laid out for it in the Quran.Ziauddin Sardar built a case for Muslims having developed the foundations of modern science, by highlighting the repeated calls of the Quran to observe and reflect upon natural phenomenon. "The 'scientific method,' as it is understood today, was first developed by Muslim scientists" like Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Biruni, along with numerous other Muslim scientists.
The astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum while being highly critical of pseudo-scientific claims made about the Quran, has highlighted the encouragement for sciences that the Quran provides by developing "the concept of knowledge.". He writes: "The Qur'an draws attention to the danger of conjecturing without evidence (And follow not that of which you have not the (certain) knowledge of... 17:36) and in several different verses asks Muslims to require proofs (Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful 2:111), both in matters of theological belief and in natural science." Guessoum cites Ghaleb Hasan on the definition of "proof" according the Quran being "clear and strong... convincing evidence or argument." Also, such a proof cannot rely on an argument from authority, citing verse 5:104. Lastly, both assertions and rejections require a proof, according to verse 4:174.Ismail al-Faruqi and Taha Jabir Alalwani are of the view that any reawakening of the Muslim civilization must start with the Quran; however, the biggest obstacle on this route is the "centuries old heritage of tafseer (exegesis) and other classical disciplines" which inhibit a "universal, epistemiological and systematic conception" of the Quran's message. The philosopher Muhammad Iqbal considered the Quran's methodology and epistemology to be empirical and rational.
The physicist Abdus Salam believed there is no contradiction between Islam and the discoveries that science allows humanity to make about nature and the universe; and that the Quran and the Islamic spirit of study and rational reflection was the source of extraordinary civilizational development. Salam highlights, in particular, the work of Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Biruni as the pioneers of empiricism who introduced the experimental approach, breaking way from Aristotle's influence, and thus giving birth to modern science. Salam differentiated between metaphysics and physics, and advised against empirically probing certain matters on which "physics is silent and will remain so," such as the doctrine of "creation from nothing" which in Salam's view is outside the limits of science and thus "gives way" to religious considerations.
The religion Islam has its own world view system including beliefs about "ultimate reality, epistemology, ontology, ethics, purpose, etc."Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God for the guidance of humankind. Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. It is a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation and methodological naturalism, as well as to the organized body of knowledge human beings have gained by such research. Scientists maintain that scientific investigation needs to adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge that explains observable events without recourse to supernatural notions.
In Islam, nature is not seen as something separate but as an integral part of a holistic outlook on God, humanity, the world and the cosmos. These links imply a sacred aspect to Muslims' pursuit of scientific knowledge, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur'an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine. It was with this understanding that the pursuit of science, especially prior to the colonization of the Muslim world, was respected in Islamic civilizations.
Classical science in the Muslim world
See also: Science in medieval Islam, Islamic cosmology, Astronomy in medieval Islam, Mathematics in medieval Islam, Physics in medieval Islam, and Medicine in medieval Islam
In the history of science, science in the Muslim world refers to the science developed under Islamic civilization between the 8th and 16th centuries, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. It is also known as Arabic science since the majority of texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these terms, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, who contributed to scientific studies in the Muslim world.
A number of modern scholars such as Fielding H. Garrison, Sultan Bashir Mahmood, Hossein Nasr consider modern science and the scientific method to have been greatly inspired by Muslim scientists who introduced a modern empirical, experimental and quantitative approach to scientific inquiry. Certain advances made by medieval Muslim astronomers, geographers and mathematicians were motivated by problems presented in Islamic scripture, such as Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 780–850) development of algebra in order to solve the Islamic inheritance laws, and developments in astronomy, geography, spherical geometry and spherical trigonometry in order to determine the direction of the Qibla, the times of Salah prayers, and the dates of the Islamic calendar.
The increased use of dissection in Islamic medicine during the 12th and 13th centuries was influenced by the writings of the Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, who encouraged the study of anatomy and use of dissections as a method of gaining knowledge of God's creation. In al-Bukhari's and Muslim's collection of sahih hadith it is said: "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment." (Bukhari 7-71:582). This culminated in the work of Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), who discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1242 and used his discovery as evidence for the orthodox Islamic doctrine of bodily resurrection. Ibn al-Nafis also used Islamic scripture as justification for his rejection of wine as self-medication. Criticisms against alchemy and astrology were also motivated by religion, as orthodox Islamic theologians viewed the beliefs of alchemists and astrologers as being superstitious.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib, discusses Islamic cosmology, criticizes the Aristotelian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe, and "explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary," based on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds." He raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." On the basis of this verse, he argues that God has created more than "a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has."Ali Kuşçu's (1403–1474) support for the Earth's rotation and his rejection of Aristotelian cosmology (which advocates a stationary Earth) was motivated by religious opposition to Aristotle by orthodox Islamic theologians, such as Al-Ghazali.
According to many historians, science in the Muslim civilization flourished during the Middle Ages, but began declining at some time around the 14th to 16th centuries. At least some scholars blame this on the "rise of a clerical faction which froze this same science and withered its progress." Examples of conflicts with prevailing interpretations of Islam and science – or at least the fruits of science – thereafter include the demolition of Taqi al-Din's great Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in Galata, "comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe." But while Brahe's observatory "opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science," Taqi al-Din's was demolished by a squad of Janissaries, "by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," sometime after 1577 CE.
Arrival of modern science in the Muslim world
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern science arrived in the Muslim world but it was not the science itself that affected Muslim scholars. Rather, it "was the transfer of various philosophical currents entangled with science that had a profound effect on the minds of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like Positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Muslim world and dominated its academic circles and had a noticeable impact on some Islamic theological doctrines." There were different responses to this among the Muslim scholars: These reactions, in words of Professor Mehdi Golshani, were the following:
- Some rejected modern science as corrupt foreign thought, considering it incompatible with Islamic teachings, and in their view, the only remedy for the stagnancy of Islamic societies would be the strict following of Islamic teachings.
- Other thinkers in the Muslim world saw science as the only source of real enlightenment and advocated the complete adoption of modern science. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnation of Muslim societies would be the mastery of modern science and the replacement of the religious worldview by the scientific worldview.
- The majority of faithful Muslim scientists tried to adapt Islam to the findings of modern science; they can be categorized in the following subgroups: (a) Some Muslim thinkers attempted to justify modern science on religious grounds. Their motivation was to encourage Muslim societies to acquire modern knowledge and to safeguard their societies from the criticism of Orientalists and Muslim intellectuals. (b) Others tried to show that all important scientific discoveries had been predicted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition and appealed to modern science to explain various aspects of faith. (c) Yet other scholars advocated a re-interpretation of Islam. In their view, one must try to construct a new theology that can establish a viable relation between Islam and modern science. The Indian scholar, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, sought a theology of nature through which one could re-interpret the basic principles of Islam in the light of modern science. (d) Then there were some Muslim scholars who believed that empirical science had reached the same conclusions that prophets had been advocating several thousand years ago. The revelation had only the privilege of prophecy.
- Finally, some Muslim philosophers separated the findings of modern science from its philosophical attachments. Thus, while they praised the attempts of Western scientists for the discovery of the secrets of nature, they warned against various empiricist and materialistic interpretations of scientific findings. Scientific knowledge can reveal certain aspects of the physical world, but it should not be identified with the alpha and omega of knowledge. Rather, it has to be integrated into a metaphysical framework—consistent with the Muslim worldview—in which higher levels of knowledge are recognized and the role of science in bringing us closer to God is fulfilled.
In the early twentieth century, Shia ulema forbade the learning of foreign languages and dissection of human bodies in the medical school in Iran.
In recent years, the lagging of the Muslim world in science is manifest in the disproportionately small amount of scientific output as measured by citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals, annual expenditures on research and development, and numbers of research scientists and engineers. Concern has been raised that the contemporary Muslim world suffers from scientific illiteracy. Skepticism of science among some Muslims is reflected in issues such as resistance in Muslim northern Nigeria to polioinoculation, which some believe is "an imaginary thing created in the West or it is a ploy to get us to submit to this evil agenda." Also, in Pakistan, a small number of post-graduate physics students have been known to blame earthquakes on "sinfulness, moral laxity, deviation from the Islamic true path," while "only a couple of muffled voices supported the scientific view that earthquakes are a natural phenomenon unaffected by human activity."
Muslim scientists and scholars have subsequently developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam.
Muslim Nobel laureates
The relative lack of Muslim Nobel laureates in sciences in comparison to their population has been attributed to more insular modern interpretations of the religion, in comparison to how in the Middle Ages it was open to foreign ideas.
Abdus Salam, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his electroweak theory, is among those who argue that the quest for reflecting upon and studying nature is a duty upon Muslims.
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Whether Islamic culture has promoted or hindered scientific advancement is disputed. Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb argue that since "Islam appointed" Muslims "as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences," science cannot but prosper in a society of true Muslims. Many Muslims agree that doing science is an act of religious merit, even a collective duty of the Muslim community.
Others claim traditional interpretations of Islam are not compatible with the development of science. Author Rodney Stark argues that Islam's lag behind the West in scientific advancement after (roughly) 1500 AD was due to opposition by traditional ulema to efforts to formulate systematic explanation of natural phenomenon with "natural laws." He claims that they believed such laws were blasphemous because they limit "Allah's freedom to act" as He wishes, a principle enshired in aya 14:4: "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will," which (they believed) applied to all of creation not just humanity.
Taner Edis wrote An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Edis worries that secularism in Turkey, one of the most westernized Muslim nations, is on its way out; he points out that Turkey rejects evolution by a large majority. To Edis, many Muslims appreciate technology and respect the role that science plays in its creation. As a result, he says there is a great deal of Islamic pseudoscience attempting to reconcile this respect with other respected religious beliefs. Edis maintains that the motivation to read modern scientific truths into holy books is also stronger for Muslims than Christians. This is because, according to Edis, true criticism of the Qur'an is almost non-existent in the Muslim world. While Christianity is less prone to see its Holy Book as the direct word of God, fewer Muslims will compromise on this idea – causing them to believe that scientific truths simply must appear in the Qur'an. However, Edis opines that there are endless examples of scientific discoveries that could be read into the Bible or Qur'an if one would like to. Edis qualifies that 'Muslim thought' certainly cannot be understood by looking at the Qur'an alone – cultural and political factors play large roles.
Main article: Islamic views on evolution
The Quran contains many verses describing creation of the universe; Muslims believe God created the heavens and earth in six days;[7:54] the earth was created in two days,[41:9] and in two other days (into a total of four) God furnished the creation of the earth with mountains, rivers and fruit-gardens[41:10]. The heavens and earth formed from one mass which had to be split[21:30], the heavens used to be smoke[41:11], and form layers, one above the other[67:3]. The angels inhabit the seventh heavens. The lowest heaven is adorned with lights[41:12], the sun and the moon (which follow a regular path)[71:16][14:33], the stars[37:6] and the constellations of the Zodiac[15:16].
A faction of Muslims are at odds with current scientific theories about biological evolution and the origin of man. A recent Pew study reveals that in only four of the 22 countries surveyed that at least 50% of the people surveyed rejected evolution. For instance, a relatively large fraction of people accept human evolution in Kazakhstan (79%) and Lebanon (78%), but relatively few in Afghanistan (26%), Iraq (27%), and Pakistan (30%); a total of 13 of the countries surveyed had at least 50% of the population surveyed who agreed with the statement that humans evolved over time. The late Ottoman intellectual Ismail Fennî, while personally rejecting Darwinism, insisted that it should be taught in schools as even false theories contributed to the improvement of science. He held that interpretations of the Quran might require amendment should Darwinism eventually be shown to be true.
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August 10th, 2015 | by MuslimScience
By: Mehdi Golshani; Member of Muslim-Science.Com’s Task Force on Science and Islam
Modern science infiltrated the Islamic world in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But what affected Muslim intellectuals mostly was not science itself; rather, it was the transfer of various philosophical currents, entangled with science, that had a profound effect on the mind of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Islamic world and dominated its academic circles and posed some challenges to several Islamic theological doctrines. Some scholars attempted to reinterpret some of the Islamic theological issues in the light of modern science. But some Muslim philosophers differentiated between the findings of modern science and its philosophical underpinnings. They advocated the discovery of the secrets of nature through experimentation and theoretical work, but warned against its positivistic interpretations, advertised in the name of science. In the company of the last group, I believe that the source of the claimed conflicts between modern science and religion is to be found mostly in the philosophical attachments to science, rather than science per se. Here, we elaborate on several crucial challenges which are propounded, in the name of science, concerning the existence of God, life, spirit and purpose in nature.
- The Problem of Life and Spirit
According to the Holy Qur’an, human beings have a physical dimension and a spiritual one. The latter comes into being at a later stage in the development of the human body, and has non-material nature. It is a Divine Grace emanated to every human being:
“When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed I am going to create a human out of a dry clay [drawn] from an aging mud. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down in prostration before him’.” (al-Hijr 29)
The idea that human beings have a dual aspect, i.e. physical and spiritual, is an old one and has been a controversial problem since old times. In our time when empiricist philosophy is dominant, the primacy is attributed to matter, and life is considered as a byproduct of physico-chemical processes, leaving no room for the human soul. Francis Crick, who was one the discoverers of the structure of the DNA molecule, says this clearly:
The astonishing Hypothesis is that “you,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. (1)
The prevalent outlook restricts reality to what is detectable through physico-chemical processes. But this outlook cannot be derived from science per se; rather, it is rooted in the naturalistic philosophy ruling over contemporary scientific circles? Roger Trigg describes the matter beautifully:
“Why should not a transformed science one day even be able to accept the existence of ‘spiritual’ realities? Only a metaphysical decision now that such things cannot exist would suggest that that is impossible. The question is whether we are concerned with the nature of reality, or with the validity of a scientific method tailored to current human capabilities.” (2)
In response to the position of materialists concerning the problem of life and spirit, Muslim philosophers argue that:
(a) In addition to the material dimension, human beings own a spiritual dimension that appears when the conditions for its appearance is fulfilled. In fact, spirit is a special effusion of Allah to each individual human being. The denial of this spiritual dimension by materialists is not a scientific decision; rather it is a metaphysical decision not rooted in empirical science.
Mutahhari , a contemporary Muslim philosopher, describes the Qur’anic position concerning this matter:
“The Qur’an’s logic concerning life is that an effusion [of Allah], at a higher level than the sensible body horizon… This logic is based [on the fact that] sensible matter, by itself, lacks life and that life is an effusion and a light from a higher source” (3)
It is interesting that John Eccles, a Nobel Laureate in Medicine, says the same thing:
Since materialist solutions fail to account for our experienced uniqueness, I am constrained to attribute the uniqueness of the Self or Soul to a supernatural spiritual creation. To give the explanation in theological terms: each Soul is a new Divine creation which is implanted into the growing foetus at some time between conception and birth. (4)
Neville Mott, a Nobel Laureate in physics, concurs:
“I believe, too, that neither physical science nor psychology can ever ‘explain’ human consciousness … To me, then, human consciousness lies outside science, and it is here that I seek the relationship between God and man.” (5)
Furthermore, a number of eminent contemporary physicists, without any reference to metaphysics, believe that consciousness, which is a manifestation of spirit, is not explainable in terms of physics. For example, Schrödinger says:
“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” (6)
Even Richard Dawkins, who believes that science can ultimately explain everything, admits that consciousness is one of the most difficult problems. In an interview from October 2009, he says:
“Consciousness is the biggest puzzle facing biology, facing neurobiology, facing evolutionary biology. It is a very, very big problem.” (7)
Popper, however, believed that the origin of life will probably remain untestable for ever and that even if scientists create life in a laboratory, they can never be sure that life actually began in the same way. (8)
(b) Physico-chemical processes prepare the ground for life, i.e. they are necessary conditions for the emergence of life. But they are not sufficient conditions. Muslim philosophers do not deny the material ground for life, but they believe that at a certain stage of the physical development of a body, it is through God’s effusion that life is developed in human beings. In Mutahhari’s words:
“The synthesis, addition, subtraction and combination of the parts of matter are necessary conditions for the appearance of life effects, but they are not sufficient.” (9)
Materialists only see part of the problem, but they claim that they are seeing the whole. A radio is necessary to broadcast the signals sent by a transmitter, but it is not sufficient. There has to be a transmitter.
(c) Even if one day human beings bring about living organisms, theists’ claim for the existence of a spiritual element is not disproved. Because they can claim that when the material ground of life is ready, Allah will effuse life to it, as He is the owner of infinite effusion. As Mutahhari put it:
“If some day human beings discovered the law of creation of living beings … and discovered all conditions and material parts of a living creature … does that creature become a living one or not? The answer is that it certainly becomes a living one, as it is not possible that the conditions for the diffusion becomes available but it is not realized…
If some day human beings get this opportunity, what is essentially done is the preparation for the appearance of life, not the creation of life.” (10)
Mulla Sadra, an eminent Muslim philosopher of the 17th century, believed that the soul appears at a certain stage of transubstantial motion of the body. However, the body is not the cause of the soul, but it provides the ground for the emergence of the soul:
“In truth, the human spirit is material in creation and action, but it is immaterial in subsistence and intellection.” (11)
After emergence, however, the soul does not depend on the body and survives the body’s death, i.e. it is immortal. In short, soul has a corporeal ground, but a spiritual subsistence.
(2) Creation of the Universe
Modern cosmology started with Einstein’s 1917 article entitled, “Cosmological Considerations about General Relativity.” Einstein applied his theory of general relativity (GR) to the whole universe. Einstein’s equations have different solutions, but GR cannot choose a solution by itself. In 1929, Hubble noticed that the spectra of light reaching us from galaxies is red-shifted and this shift is proportional to the distance of that galaxy from ours. This was interpreted in terms of the expansion of the universe, and led to the big bang model of the universe that implies an initial time for the creation of the universe.
In the 1940’s, Fred Hoyle and his collaborators presented the steady-state model of the universe, which claimed that there was no temporal beginning to our universe. The steady-state theory had appeal for some physicists, because they thought that with this theory they can dispense with the idea of a Creator for the universe. Weinberg is very clear about this:
“The idea that universe had no start appeals to many physicists philosophically, because it avoids a supernatural act of creation.” (12)
Similarly, Stephen Hawking:
“Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention.” (13)
The discovery of the microwave background radiation in 1965 gave an impetus to the big bang model of the universe.
In the last three decades, atheist physicists have been after the elimination of the initial moment of time, as they considered this as an indication of the creation of the universe by an external agent. In Hawking’s words,
“So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?” (14)
But the assumption of no beginning in time, does not make the universe self-explanatory, as Paul Davies explains:
“The fact that the universe might have no origin in time does not explain its existence, or why it has the form it has. Certainly, it does not explain why nature possesses the relevant fields (such as the creation field) and physical principles that establish the steady—state condition.” (15)
Furthermore, as some Muslim and Christian scholars have indicated, creation does not mean creation in time. Rather, it means dependence on God. As Arthur Peacocke put it:
“The principal stress in the Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation … is on the dependence and contingency of all entities, and events, other than God himself: it is about a perennial relationship between God and the world and not about the beginning of the Earth, or the whole universe at a point in time.” (16)
Furthermore, in Philip Hefner’s view:
“Creation for Christian theology is by no means limited to protology. It is not limited by what happened at the beginning when time was first created. Creation also refers to God’s ongoing sustaining of the world. Every movement of the world’s existence depends on the ongoing grace of God.” (17)
This is similar to the view of Mulla Sadra, an eminent 17th-century Muslim philosopher, who believed that our world is recreated at every instant. Mulla Sadra, however, considered no beginning for the creation. In his view, the belief in the uninterrupted effusion of Allah requires eternality of creation. The argument, in Mutahhari’s words, goes as follows:
“They have thought that the theory of eternity of matter is inconsistent with the belief in God. But there is no inherent connection between this theory and the denial of God; rather, theist philosophers believe that belief in God requires belief in the eternity and continuation of His grace and creativeness , which requires the eternity of creation.” (18)
On this basis, Mutahhari concludes that there could have been other worlds before our world:
“On the basis of monotheistic principles we should say that there is no beginning for the universe. If [it turns out] that this universe has a beginning, there should have been another world, [possibly]in different form… In order for the world to have a God, who is inherently all-emanating and eternally graceful, there should have been always creatures existent”. (19)
Arthur Eddington was hesitant about the Big Bang theory on the same grounds:
“ As a scienti,st I simply do not believe that the present order of things started off with a bang; unscientifically, I feel equally unwilling to accept the implied discontinuity in the divine nature.” (20)
- Does the universe have a purpose?
In the Qur’anic view, God is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe. He has created everything in measure and has decreed for it a telos. The creation is in truth, not for sport or vanity, and everything has a definite term:
We did not create them, save in truth. (44:38)
We have not created the heavens and the earth and whatsoever is between them, save in truth and for a definite term. (46:3)
We did not create the heaven and the earth, and whatsoever is between them, as play … (21:16)
We have not created the heavens and the earth, and whatsoever is between them, for vanity … (38:27)
The above verses imply the creation of the universe by God as well as its guidance by Him. In fact, the Qur’an talks of a universal notion of purpose and a direction to the created universe:
[Moses] said: “Our Lord is He Who gave everything its creation, then guided it.” (20:50)
Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi, in his celebrated commentary on the Holy Qur’an, has elaborated on the distinction between the creation of a thing and its sense of direction. (21) This sense of direction is a mysterious dimension present in everything, directing it toward its proper God-assigned role.
Following the Qur’an, Muslim theologians have never ignored teleological considerations, and the silence of modern science about this point has not affected their view, though it has had a silencing effect on Muslim scientists.
Teleology played an important role in medieval science. For the scientists of that era, every created thing had its especial place in the hierarchy of the created world, because it was created by a God who had designed a telos to the universe. The founders of modern science, who were devoted theists, did not deny the presence of telos to the universe, but they did not consider the job of science to deal with teleological considerations. But the negligence of teleological considerations by the scientists of the last few centuries is partly due to their heavy involvement with mathematical manipulations and the predictive aspects of science, and partly due to the false assumption that questions of teleological nature hinder further development of science.
With further development of modern science and the dominance of empiricist outlook, teleology was considered as an avenue for theism. Therefore, atheists have been insisting on denying any kind of teleological considerations. In Atkins’ words:
A gross contamination of the reductionist ethic is the concept of purpose. Science has no need of purpose. All events at the molecular level that lies beneath all our actions, activities, and reflections are purposeless, and are accounted for by the collapse of energy and matter into ever-increasing disorder. (22)
Similarly, StevenWeinberg sees no visible purpose in the universe:
“The present universe had evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” (23)
But can one, on the basis of data obtained from chemistry or molecular biology at the level of atoms and molecules, claim that there is no telos to the nature? The answer is no, because this conclusion is not drawn directly from science; rather, it is rooted in the metaphysical prejudices of the scientists involved. It is, in fact, a jump from an epistemological statement to an ontological one, and is a direct result of restricting the whole of existence to the material world and the sources of our knowledge to sense impressions.
In response to Weinberg who denies any purpose in the universe, Paul Davies mentions two important points: if the universe has no purpose, then there would be two problems: (i) scientific effort would be meaningless, and (ii) the more we search nature, the more it seems incomprehensible:
“If [the universe] isn’t about anything, there would be no good reason to embark on the scientific quest in the first place, because we would have no rational basis for believing that we could thereby uncover additional coherent and meaningful facts about the world. So, we might justifiably invert Weinberg’s dictum and say that the more the universe seems pointless, the more it also seems incomprehensible.” (24)
Later on, Weinberg himself qualified his earlier statement about a pointless universe by saying that:
“I believe that there is no point in the universe that can be discovered by the methods of science.” (25)
But, contrary to what Weinberg says, some scientists and philosophers (both in the Islamic world and in the West) think that there are some clues to the teleological aspects of our universe in modern science. One has to be perceptive to discover such clues. For example the notions of purpose and design of the created universe has recently attracted much attention to the so-called anthropic principle, according to which the physical constants of nature are so-finely tuned that if they were slightly different, carbon-based life could not have developed and we would not be here. Anthropic coincidences call for an explanation, and there have been several explanations. In the monotheistic religions, one can take them as an indication that God planned the universe with human beings in mind. Other explanations carry heavy loads of metaphysical assumptions which, in my view, are much more involved than the explanation in terms of an a priori plan by an intelligent designer. For example, the most serious alternative to the design hypothesis, is the many-worlds hypothesis, in which one postulates infinite universes to explain the fine tuning of fundamental constants. In Stephen Hawking’s words:
“The multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our benefit.” (26)
But, as Paul Davies says, this carries too much baggage and the existence of many worlds is not scientifically disprovable:
“Not everybody is happy with the many-universes theory. To postulate an infinity of unseen and unseeable universes just to explain the one we do see seems like a case of excess baggage carried to the extreme. It is simpler to postulate one unseen God …
Scientifically, the many-universes theory is unsatisfactory because it could never be falsified: what discoveries could lead a many-worlder to change her/his mind?” (27)
It is interesting that the idea of the multiverse, which is used by atheists for denouncing God’s existence implied by the entropic principle, is used by both Muslim and Christian scientists and philosophers to secure the idea of everlastingness of God’s grace. In Mutahhari’s words:
“Maybe they are right that if we go back so many years, the world did not have the present order. But how do we know that there had not been another world before ours with a different order?” (28)
In addition, some theists have asserted that an all-powerful God could have created many worlds, rather than just one world. In the words of George Ellis:
“Does the idea of a multiverse preclude the monotheistic idea of a creator God?… I argue that the answer is no … the ideas can exist together. God could have chosen to operate via creation of multiverses. The multiverse proposal says nothing about ultimate causation (chance, probability, design): All the same anthropic issues arise as for a single universe: Why this multiverse and not another one?” (29)
- Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,1994),p. 3
- Roger Trigg, https://www.faraday.st-https://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/CIS/trigg_lecture.pdf
- Mortaza Mutahhari, Collected Works, Vol. 13 (Tehran: Sadra Publications, 1975), p. 56
- John Eccles, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self (London: Taylor & Francis, 2005), p. 249
- Neville Mott, Can Scientists Believe? (London: James & James Science Publishers Ltd., 1991) ,p.8
- Erwin Schrodinger, “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4 (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1984), p. 334
- John Horgan, The End of Science (Great Britain: Little, Brown and Company, 1997), p. 38
- Mortaza Mutahhari, Collected Works, Vol. 13 (in Persian), p. 38
- Mortaza Mutahhari, Ibid., pp. 58-59
- Mulla-Sadra (Ṣadr ad-Din Muḥammad Shirazi), al-Hikmat al-Muta’aliyah fi al-Asfar al-Aqliyyah al-Arba’ah (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, 1981), Vol. 9, p. 347
- Steven Weinberg, The New Yorker, 12 June,1997, p. 20
- Stephen Hawking, ABrief History of Time (London: Bantam, 1988), p. 46
- Ibid., p. 141
- Paul Davies, The Mind of God (London: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 56
- Arthur R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science: The Bampton Lectures, 1978 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), p.78
- Philip Hefner, “The Evolution of the Created Co-Creator” in Cosmos as Creation, ed. by Ted Peters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), p. 227
- Mortaza Mutahhari, Collected Works, Vol. 1 (Tehran: Sadra Publications, 1995), p. 524
- Ibid., p. 524
- David Layzer, Cosmogenesis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p.137
- Fakhr al-Din Razi, al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr, Vol. 31 (Beirut: Dar’Ihya’ al-Turath al-Arabi), pp. 138-140
- John Cornwell (ed.), Nature’s Imagination (Oxford: OUP, 1995), p. 127
- Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 154
- Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Great Britain: The Penguin Press, 2006), p. 16
- Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), 165
- Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Touchstone, 1993), p. 190
- Mortaza Mutahhari, Collected Works (in Persian), Vol. 10 (Tehran, Sadra Publications, 1976), p. 405
- George Ellis, “The Multiverse, Ultimate Causation and God”, https://www.faraday.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/resources/George%20Ellis%20Lecture/Ellis-Faraday.pdf
Mehdi Golshani is a contemporary Iranian theoretical physicist and philosopher and Professor of physics at Sharif University of Technology.