Sunday, November 2, 2008

424)Part 4, Peter McKnight: The tension between science and religion; Must they compete, or can they complete each other? Quotes of Aga Khan IV

"World and faith are inseparable in Islam. Faith and learning are also profoundly interconnected. The Holy Qur’an sees the discovery of knowledge as a spiritual responsibility, enabling us to better understand and more ably serve God’s creation.Our traditional teachings remind us of our individual obligation to seek knowledge unto the ends of the earth - and of our social obligation to honor and nurture the full potential of every human life...........The beauty of Creation is a function of its variety. A fully homogenized world would be far less attractive and interesting."(Aga Khan IV, May 2oth 2008, Dhaka, Bangladesh)

"The Qur’an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God’s creation"(Closing Address by His Highness Aga Khan IV at the "Musée-Musées" Round Table Louvre Museum, Paris, France, October 17th 2007)

"......The Quran tells us that signs of Allah’s Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation - in the heavens and the earth, the night and the day, the clouds and the seas, the winds and the waters...."(Aga Khan IV, Kampala, Uganda, August 22 2007)

" Islam, but particularly Shia Islam, the role of the intellect is part of faith. That intellect is what seperates man from the rest of the physical world in which he lives.....This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives. Of that I am certain"(Aga Khan IV, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, August 17th 2007)

"Of the Abrahamic faiths, Islam is probably the one that places the greatest emphasis on knowledge. The purpose is to understand God's creation, and therefore it is a faith which is eminently logical. Islam is a faith of reason"(Aga Khan IV, Spiegel Magazine interview, Germany, Oct 9th 2006)

"Our interpretation of Islam places enormous value on knowledge. Knowledge is the reflection of faith if it is used properly. Seek out that knowledge and use it properly"(Aga Khan IV, Toronto, Canada, 8th June 2005)

"A thousand years ago, my forefathers, the Fatimid imam-caliphs of Egypt, founded al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. In the Islamic tradition, they viewed the discovery of knowledge as a way to understand, so as to serve better God's creation, to apply knowledge and reason to build society and shape human aspirations"(Aga Khan IV, Speech, 25th June 2004, Matola, Mozambique.)

"In this context, would it not also be relevant to consider how, above all, it has been the Qur'anic notion of the universe as an expression of Allah's will and creation that has inspired, in diverse Muslim communities, generations of artists, scientists and philosophers? Scientific pursuits, philosophic inquiry and artistic endeavour are all seen as the response of the faithful to the recurring call of the Qur'an to ponder the creation as a way to understand Allah's benevolent majesty. As Sura al-Baqara proclaims: 'Wherever you turn, there is the face of Allah'.The famous verse of 'light' in the Qur'an, the Ayat al-Nur, whose first line is rendered here in the mural behind me, inspires among Muslims a reflection on the sacred, the transcendent. It hints at a cosmos full of signs and symbols that evoke the perfection of Allah's creation and mercy"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, Institute of Ismaili Studies, October 2003, London, U.K.)

"The Quran very often refers to nature as a reflection of Allah's power of creation and says: Look at the mountains, look at the rivers, look at the trees, look at the flowers all as evidence of Allah's love for the people whom He has created. Today I look at this environment and I say that I beleive that Allah is smiling upon you, may His smile always be upon you"(Aga Khan IV, Khorog, Tajikistan, May 27th 1995)

"Education has been important to my family for a long time. My forefathers founded al-Azhar University in Cairo some 1000 years ago, at the time of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. Discovery of knowledge was seen by those founders as an embodiment of religious faith, and faith as reinforced by knowledge of workings of the Creator's physical world. The form of universities has changed over those 1000 years, but that reciprocity between faith and knowledge remains a source of strength"(Aga Khan IV, 27th May1994, Cambridge, Massachusets, U.S.A.)

"Science is a wonderful, powerful tool and research budgets are essential. But Science is only the beginning in the new age we are entering. Islam does not perceive the world as two seperate domains of mind and spirit, science and belief. Science and the search for knowledge are an expression of man's designated role in the universe, but they do not define that role totally....."(Aga Khan IV, McMaster University Convocation, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, May 15th 1987)

"The Divine Intellect, Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this Intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dictated by the faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given him and that he should know himself. It is the Light of the Intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal, and developing that intellect requires free inquiry. The man of faith, who fails to pursue intellectual search is likely to have only a limited comprehension of Allah's creation. Indeed, it is man's intellect that enables him to expand his vision of that creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University Convocation Speech, Karachi, Pakistan, November 11, 1985)

“Muslims believe in an all-encompassing unit of man and nature. To them there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material while the whole world, whether it be the earth, sea or air, or the living creatures that inhabit them, is an expression of God’s creation.”(Aga Khan IV, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 13 April 1984)

"In Islamic belief, knowledge is two-fold. There is that revealed through the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) and that which man discovers by virtue of his own intellect. Nor do these two involve any contradiction, provided man remembers that his own mind is itself the creation of God. Without this humility, no balance is possible. With it, there are no barriers. Indeed, one strength of Islam has always lain in its belief that creation is not static but continuous, that through scientific and other endeavours, God has opened and continues to open new windows for us to see the marvels of His creation"(Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan University, 16 March 1983, Karachi, Pakistan)

"God has given us the miracle of life with all its attributes: the extraordinary manifestations of sunrise and sunset, of sickness and recovery, of birth and death, but surely if He has given us the means with which to remove ourselves from this world so as to go to other parts of the Universe, we can but accept as further manifestations the creation and destructions of stars, the birth and death of atomic particles, the flighting new sound and light waves. I am afraid that the torch of intellectual discovery, the attraction of the unknown, the desire for intellectual self-perfection have left us"(Aga Khan IV,Speech, 1963, Mindanao, Phillipines)

The above 15 quotes and excerpts are taken from Blogpost Four Hundred:

The following article is the fourth and final one in a series on Science and Religion by journalist Peter McKnight:

The tension between science and religion
Must they compete, or can they complete each other?

Peter McKnight
Vancouver Sun columnist
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Science and religion together can weave a rich tapestry of new meaning for our age.
- Philip Hefner

Let us end how we began. At the beginning of Part I, I noted Albert Einstein's famous quote "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." These words, which Einstein may or may not have believed, suggest that science and religion enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

And as we saw in Part I, there did exist a complementary relationship between science and religion throughout much of the history of Islam and Christianity. But as we discovered in Parts II and III, science and religion now appear locked in a battle to death.

So where does this leave us? Must science and religion compete with each other, or can they complete each other?

If one believes that Genesis 1 provides a literal account of the natural history of the universe, then the answer is clear: Science must always be at odds with religion, because the results science produces conflict with the Genesis account of creation.

But as we have seen, this practice of reading Genesis 1 literally is a cultural and temporal anomaly. While creationism and the Christian fundamentalism that spawned it currently enjoy considerable influence, they are artifacts of 20th-century America, responses to what adherents believe is the threat of modernity.

On the other side of things, those who subscribe to metaphysical materialism, to the belief that physical reality is the only reality, also view science and religion as necessarily in conflict since a materialist metaphysics denies the existence of anything non-physical.

But as we have also seen, science, while requiring that scientists limit themselves to material causes in explaining the world, does not suggest that material causes are the only causes that exist. Indeed, since science limits itself, a priori, to consideration of natural causes, it must remain silent about the existence or non-existence of a reality outside nature.

Two separate worlds

The conflict thesis is therefore sustainable only if one views religion as capable of making existential claims about the physical world, and science as capable of making existential claims about the spiritual world. If, on the other hand, one maintains that science and religion are concerned with two separate worlds, one can eliminate the conflict in short order.

This is precisely what the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould sought to do with his theory of science and religion as two "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA). In Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Gould argues that, "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap . . . ."

And since there is no overlap, there can be no conflict. Needless to say, this theory has proven highly attractive to people, from both scientific and religious communities, who seek peaceful coexistence.

So the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, in its 1999 publication Science and Creationism, states that "Scientists, like many others, are touched with awe at the order and complexity of nature. Indeed, many scientists are deeply religious. But science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience. Demanding that they be combined detracts from the glory of each."

Similarly Gould's NOMA theory seems in keeping with the "two books hypothesis" of Christianity - the idea, which we saw in Part I, that God created two books, the Book of Scriptures and the Book of Nature. And as the old nugget has it, the first tells us how to go to heaven, and the second, how the heavens go.

This theory is also attractive because Gould has identified a deep truth here: Despite some scientists' misuse of evolution to support their favourite social, political and moral programs, science remains a descriptive discipline - one that describes how things are - while religion is often prescriptive, as it tells us how things ought to be.

Yet there is also much wrong with this theory. First, it simply doesn't provide an accurate picture of the historical relationship between science and religion. While we have seen that there has long been considerable interplay between these two magisteria, Gould would have it that there is no overlap, that they are or should be safely enveloped in their own protective cocoons.

Further, whether Gould likes it or not, religions do make many existential (descriptive) claims, not the least of which is that God exists. One can argue that religions shouldn't make such claims, but they do, and we have to take religions as we find them, not as we wish them to be.

That religions make factual claims should be obvious, but which claims count as factual is another matter. As we saw, Gould describes factual claims as those that concern "what the universe is made of," in contradistinction to claims concerning "ultimate meaning and moral value." Hence for Gould, there is a sharp separation between facts and values, which dictates the separation between science and religion.

On this reading, factual matters are clearly objective - they pick out something real in the world - while values are subjective - they concern how people feel about something. This view of a sharp fact/value dichotomy, one of the last vestiges of logical positivism, is a view that is still held by many people.

Yet consider what it means. If value statements are not in any way factual, but are merely statements about how people feel, then ethics is necessarily subjective, relative to the person making the statement. Hence the statement "wanton cruelty is wrong" is really just an expression of one's feelings toward the matter. And if someone else feels differently - that wanton cruelty is A-OK - there is simply no way to adjudicate between these two views. At its extreme, this means that we have no grounds for decrying Naziism, other than because we don't like it.

This is the moral relativism that many Christians (and others) rightly fear, and that fundamentalist Christians wrongly believe is a natural consequence of science. (It isn't - it's a natural consequence of logical positivism and of a metaphysics that doesn't allow for the existence of non-material phenomena.)

If we instead accept that descriptions of the physical world are not complete descriptions of reality - that there is more to reality than matter - then we can accept that at least some ethical statements describe the real world, if not the physical one. So when we say wanton cruelty is wrong, we are saying something true about the world - we are making a factual statement - rather than just relating how we feel.

If this is the case, then ethics can provide factual statements, descriptions of the non-physical aspect of the real world, just as science describes the physical aspect of reality. And given religion's preoccupation with values, meaning and purpose, religious descriptions - descriptions that concern the meanings and purposes of our lives and how we should live them - should complement scientific descriptions.

Yet some scientists still eschew religious or ethical descriptions of the world because they're not amenable to scientific investigation. For example, as Ken Miller recounts, biologist Douglas Futuyama tells us that the message of evolution is that the human species "has no purpose." But of course there is no meaning of life according to science, because the meaning of life is not a scientific concept - science doesn't deal with that aspect of reality.

Indeed, for Futuyama, evolutionary biology tells us, not that humans have no purpose, but rather that biology is not the right place to look for purpose. Instead, when searching for meaning, which is something everyone does, we must turn elsewhere - not necessarily toward religion since, contrary to what many religious people proclaim, ethics isn't necessarily dependent on belief in God - but certainly away from science, to disciplines that concern themselves with non-material matters.

And religion, given its centuries-long concern with meaning and morals, is certainly a good place to start, if not the only place. The fact is, religion, and its cognate disciplines, such as normative ethics, add colour to the world - quite literally in fact, since colour as we perceive it doesn't exist in the world of science.

Religion and ethics might not be very good at investigating the physical world, but they do concern themselves with the real world, and they enrich that world immeasurably by giving us purpose, by describing, and prescribing, the human condition.

So much suffering

There is also a sense in which science can enrich our understanding of religion. As Georgetown University theologian John Haught has argued, science can actually help people of faith to understand the single most difficult theological problem: The problem of evil, of how an all-powerful, all-loving God could create a world with so much suffering.

This problem, which has vexed people of faith throughout history, and has led more than a few to lose their faith, was first explicitly described by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus around 300 BC.

Epicurus states the problem in somewhat syllogistic form: "If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to, then He is not omnipotent. If He is able, but not willing, then He is malevolent. If He is both able and willing then whence cometh evil? If He is neither able nor willing then why call Him God?"

Most discussions of the problem of evil begin with St. Augustine, who outlined two specific types of evil: Moral evil - that caused by humans, such as war, terrorism and murder - and natural evil - the pain of natural processes, such as disease and natural disasters. And it is the task of the discipline known as theodicy - a word coined by the great 17th century mathematician/philosopher Gott-fried Wilhelm Leibniz - to explain the existence of both of these types of evil.

The traditional argument for moral evil is known as the "free will" defence. In effect, the argument suggests that since humans have free will - we are condemned to be free, remember - some will likely behave in ways that cause other people to suffer. An all powerful God could prevent this by ensuring that human beings only engaged in virtuous behaviour, but in so doing, God would be eliminating free will, making us little more than robots.

The defence of natural evil is much more difficult. Some people, including Augustine, argue that natural evil is the consequence of sinful behaviour, as God visits calamities upon the world to repay humans for their disobedience. This is something we hear frequently from fundamentalist Christians today, with some claiming that God sent Hurricane Katrina to destroy a wicked city (New Orleans) and that HIV-AIDS is the divine penalty for living in an unnatural and immoral way.

This argument runs into serious trouble, though, when one considers that the victims of natural evil often seem all but blameless. Children suffer immeasurably as a result of hurricanes and earthquakes, and there is always the spectre of babies born with genetic defects that cause them to suffer and die. This seems an almost insurmountable problem for believers in an all-powerful, all-loving God, and perhaps it is insurmountable.

But perhaps modern science, and in particular, the theory of evolution, can provide an answer. To begin with, we know that natural selection is an enormously cruel process in that those organisms unfortunate enough to possess maladaptive mutations will suffer and die.

Hence if one accepts this evolutionary framework, one can readily see that it is not God who is responsible for the suffering associated with evolution (and we can use evolution in the broad sense here to include, not just natural selection, but the evolution of the universe.)

But this seems a dodge: After all, if God is all-powerful, then He must be responsible for putting into place this process known as evolution, and so we must ask why an all-loving being would sanction such a cruel process of development.

And here we arrive at a parallel with the defence of moral evil: By putting into place evolution, God gave His creation freedom to become itself. Of course God could have created everything in its present form, but that would mean denying creation the opportunity to become itself. Or as French Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it: "God does not make things: He makes things make themselves."

And when you think about it, this is exactly what we would expect an all-loving God to do. After all, if we really love someone, we give them freedom even if we know that they will use that freedom in ways that will cause them suffering. Or, as Haught puts it, "It is in the nature of self-giving love to refrain from the coercive manipulation of others."

Freedom of life

Of course, by engaging in coercive manipulation, God could prevent suffering, including the suffering of babies with genetic deficiencies. But to do so, God would have to eliminate natural selection, and hence the freedom of life.

Modern biology therefore does provide something of a defence to the problem of natural evil. It is not a perfect defence - "all theodicies inevitably fail," Haught admits - since it remains difficult to accept that innocent infants should be subject to such suffering. But it is certainly a more convincing defence than that offered by traditional, scientifically uninformed theodicies.

Consequently, modern science does help us to understand an intensely difficult theological problem, much as religion helps us to understand the world that science presents to us. And this reveals that science and religion need not be in conflict, locked in a desperate battle to the death.

More than that, it also reveals that science and religion need not be kept separated in their own protective cocoons to prevent the possibility of conflict. On the contrary, by cocooning these two magisteria, we risk seeing only half the world, living only half a life, a life without meaning or purpose.

In contrast, a philosophy that embraces both science and religion is one that experiences life in its fullness, in all its colours, like a chrysalis emerging from its cocoon, dressed in the sartorial splendour of the butterfly.

Video of Part 4:

Easy Nash

The Qur'an itself repeatedly recommends Muslims to become better educated in order better to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
The Quran tells us that signs of Allah's Sovereignty are found in the contemplation of His Creation: Aga Khan IV(2007)
This notion of the capacity of the human intellect to understand and to admire the creation of Allah will bring you happiness in your everyday lives: Aga Khan IV(2007)
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation: Aga Khan IV(2006)
The first and only thing created by God was the Intellect(Aql): Prophet Muhammad(circa 632CE)