Sunday, November 2, 2008

421)Part 1, Peter McKnight: Coupling of Science and Religion; Quotes of Prophet Muhammad, Aga Khan IV, Aga Khan III, Nasir Khusraw and Albert Einstein

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. "(Albert Einstein, circa 1950)

"There is a fundamental difference between the Jewish idea of creation and that of Islam. The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine Will"(Memoirs of Aga Khan III, 1954)

"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)

"The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being"(Aga Khan III, April 4th 1952)

"In fact this world is a book in which you see inscribed the writings of God the Almighty"(Nasir Khusraw, 11th century Ismaili cosmologist-philosopher-poet)

"One hour of contemplation on the works of the Creator is better than a thousand hours of prayer"(Prophet Muhammad, circa 632CE)

The above 6 quotes and excerpts are taken from Blogpost Four Hundred:

The following article is the first in a series of four articles by journalist Peter McKnight on Science and Religion:

Coupling of science and religion
FIRST IN A SERIES: History shows the two have often worked hand-in-hand, until now

Peter McKnight
Vancouver Sun
Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In May 2008, Bloomsbury auctions announced the sale of a letter by Albert Einstein, in which the famed physicist railed against religious beliefs as "childish superstitions . . . the expression and product of human weaknesses."

The letter was something of a curiosity, not because it suggested Einstein harboured a certain hostility toward religion, but because the sentiments it expressed seemed markedly at odds with Einstein's much friendlier public pronouncements about religion, including an exceptionally famous quote about the relationship between science and religion: "Religion without science is lame; science without religion is blind."

Since Einstein's letter was a private affair, it might well have been a more accurate reflection of his true attitude toward religion than his public comments. And the revelation of the great scientist's less than hospitable views toward religion served as a blow to people who maintained that science and religion are compatible, and who often quoted Einstein's words in support of that thesis.

Adherents of this view of science and religion were probably too enthused at the prospect of having the most famous scientist since Isaac Newton on their side. After all, Einstein clearly did not believe in theism, the theory of a transcendent, personal God promoted by the Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

At the very most, Einstein's views, like those of a not insignificant number of theoretical physicists, leaned toward a kind of deism - the belief that some form of impersonal intelligence set the universe in motion, but doesn't intervene in the affairs of creation and hence has no relationship with humans.

Letter was a sign of the times

In any case, the letter was a sign of the times, because it seems to lend support for the view that has become dominant today: That there is a necessary conflict between science and religion, that these two magisteria - these two bodies of learning and teaching - are and always have been locked in a mortal battle which will only be resolved when one triumphs over the other.

It might seem that such a view is throwback to less enlightened times, when science, still in its infancy, began to challenge the worldview embraced by the prevailing religion. And to be sure, one can find examples of the persecution of scientists, for ostensibly religious reasons, throughout history - from the exile of pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaxagoras for daring to suggest that the sun was a ball of fire rather than a god, to the Catholic Inquisition, which involved, most infamously, the persecution of Galileo, to the Scope's monkey trial, in which high school teacher John Scopes was convicted in 1925 of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which forbade the teaching of evolution.

Despite these and other examples, the notion that science and religion are fundamentally and inescapably at odds with each other is a relatively recent one, and has never been more dominant than today. And the main promoters of this conflict theory come, perhaps not surprisingly, from people at opposite ends of the spectrum - from Muslim and Christian creationists and intelligent design theorists at one end, and atheistic scientists at the other.

Hence if one looks at the matter ahistorically, one could easily come to the conclusion that science has no place within the worldview of Islam and Christianity. Yet history tells an entirely different story: In "less enlightened times," science and religion were not merely compatible, but complementary. Indeed, early Islam and early modern Christianity were fervent supporters of science, and the religious convictions of Muslims and Christians actually motivated the development of the scientific method.

And despite the state of the Middle East today, where science is often portrayed as a Western prejudice, the Islamic world embraced science long before the Christian West. From roughly AD 700-1200, while the West was feeling its way through the Dark Ages, the Islamic world was in the midst of a Golden Age, a period of scientific and cultural innovation not seen since the ancient Greeks.

During this period, the Muslims preserved and translated the Greek scientific and philosophical texts that would later prove so influential to Christianity and the West. When books were few and far between in the West, and when the vast majority of Christians were illiterate, the Muslims amassed impressive libraries containing hundreds of thousands of volumes, and added thousands more of their own works. And Baghdad became the intellectual capital of the world, with the Caliphs establishing a House of Wisdom, a kind of Islamic Plato's Academy, in the city.

Needless to say, this embrace of knowledge - of Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese and Indian science - led to tremendous advances in every field of endeavour, from astronomy to zoology. Jabir Ibn Haiyan (known as Geber in the West) became the father of chemistry, while Mohammed al-Khawarizmi (Alghorismus) developed algebra and gave us the word algorithm.

Abul Wafa made tremendous contributions to trigonometry, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), "the doctors of doctors" became arguably the most important physician since Hippocrates. Indeed, no less a figure than Sir William Osler, the great Canadian physician, considered Avicenna the father of modern medicine.

The extraordinary advances of the Muslims are still felt today, and many of the words that populate our sciences, including alchemy, alkali, almanac, cipher, elixir, nadir, zenith and, perhaps surprisingly, alcohol (al-kohl - the Muslims perfected distillation methods) came from Arab Muslims. Many stars also bear Arabic names, in honour of those who discovered them.
Although there are many reasons for this explosion of knowledge in the Muslim world, religion itself played a key role. In contrast to today, many Muslim scientists were religious authorities, and they believed that learning about God's creation was a way of glorifying the Creator, a belief reflected in the words of the Prophet Mohammed: "An hour's study of nature is worth a year's prayer."

Practical religious reasons also played a role in the development of science. Alghorismus's work on algebra was conducted partly to deal with Muslim inheritance laws. And the injunction that Muslims face Mecca while praying meant that they had to know where they were, and where Mecca was, and this need drove the development of cartography and astronomy, since one can orient oneself by the stars. (The city of Baghdad was, incidentally, mapped by two men - one Muslim and one Jewish.)

Religion therefore played a fundamental role in the development of the scientific method in the Islamic world. And it is possible to literally see this complementary relationship between science and religion, as the Muslims often constructed sophisticated hospitals and libraries directly out of mosques.

Yet given the sorry state of science in the Muslim world today, it's evident that the honeymoon between Islamic science and religion ended some time after AD 1200. Historians have offered many reasons for the fall of Islamic science, with some suggesting that Islam itself was responsible - that for all the advances during the Golden Age, the Islamic world was home to a war between science and religion.

In particular, these historians point to the influence of a 12th-century Muslim cleric named Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali. A member of a school of Ashari school of Islamic theology, which, according to historian Colin Ronan, "condemned the overzealous use of reason and its adulteration of religious dogma," al-Ghazzali issued a fatwa in the form of a book entitled The Incoherence of the Philosophers, in which he accused some scientists of heresy.

While al-Ghazzali's fatwa likely had some negative effect on the practice of science, it would be entirely inaccurate to suggest he provoked an all-out war between science and religion. After all, Islamic science continued to flourish after the 12th century, even if it was not quite as robust as during the Golden Age. And one of the most important Muslim scientists, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), prospered after al-Ghazzali, and even issued a fatwa against him, with the publication of The Incoherence of Incoherence.

The fall of Islamic science was more likely occasioned by real wars rather than figurative ones, and by colonialism, which led to, among other things, the destruction of many of the Muslim's great libraries. But perhaps the best explanation was not that the Christians destroyed Islamic science, but rather absorbed it.

Indeed, the Christian scientists of the early modern period were heavily influenced by the works of Muslim scientists. As just one example, McGill University science historian Jamil Ragep has noted the striking similarity between 16th-century Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus's arguments for the Earth's rotation and those of 13th-century Muslim polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

The tremendous scientific advances in the West during Copernicus's time, and in the centuries that followed, can therefore be explained in part by the influence of Islamic science. But there was another influence as well, the same one that drove development of scientific method in the Muslim world: The desire to understand God's creation.

Many Christians of the early modern period subscribed to the "two books hypothesis" - the belief that God wrote two books, the Book of Scriptures (the Holy Bible) and the Book of Nature - and believed that good Christians should try to understand both.

Given this belief, one would expect to find many religious figures, or at least religious individuals, among early modern Christian scientists. To test this hypothesis, Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark, in his book For the Glory of God, looked into the personal backgrounds of the "scientific stars" of the Scientific Revolution (the period stemming from the publication of Copernicus's De revolutionibus in 1543 to the end of the 17th century.)

Stark identified 52 top scientists, such as Copernicus and Galileo, in this period. Of these 52, half were Catholic and half Protestant. This isn't unusual, since most people belonged to a church at that time. But what is unusual is that 29 per cent had ecclesiastical careers as priests or ministers, a far higher percentage than that found in the general population.

Further, 61.5 per cent were devoutly religious, while 24.7 per cent were conventionally religious. Stark identified only two as skeptics - Edmund Halley, famous for Halley's comet, who was probably an atheist, and Paracelsus, who may have been a pantheist.

Stark's work confirms that religious figures and devoutly religious scientists played a large role in the Scientific Revolution, and should put to rest the belief that science and religion were constantly at each other's throats during this period.

Nevertheless, the Inquisitions, and in particular the persecution of Galileo, do raise the spectre of a war between science and religion. Yet in Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, molecular biologist Dennis Alexander, the director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge, argues convincingly that Galileo's quarrel with the church involved a clash of theologies rather than a conflict between science and religion.

Specifically, Galileo had discovered evidence which supported Copernicus's mathematical theory but conflicted with the Aristotelian cosmology that the church had incorporated into its dogmas. Galileo therefore criticized the church for its dependence on the authority of ancient philosophy rather than scripture. Needless to say, Galileo's very public critique of the church's theology did not sit well with Rome, and he soon found himself in deep trouble.

Conflict was more theological

Hence the conflict was more theological than scientific. This doesn't, of course, mean that there was never any conflict between science and religion during the early modern period, but it is clear that contrary to popular belief, science and religion often enjoyed a complementary relationship during the 16th and 17th centuries.

This relationship continued into the 18th and 19th centuries and even existed in 1859, when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the book that has become the flashpoint for present day cultural disputes between science and religion. Yet in 1859, most of the Christian churches that took notice of Darwin's magnum opus had little quarrel with it, because very few Christians at the time subscribed to a literal reading of the Bible.

Hence they believed that while the Book of Genesis explained that God created the world, it didn't describe how He did so. Darwin's theory filled in this gap, as it explained, not only how God created the world, but how He continues to create and recreate it.

We can safely say, then, that far from being engaged in an internecine war, science and religion enjoyed a complementary relationship throughout much of the histories of Islam and Christianity. Indeed, the conflict thesis, which maintains that science and religion are necessarily incompatible, has taken on a life of its own only in the last century and a half.

And two developments - one coming primarily from religious people and one mainly from scientists - are responsible for the rise of the conflict thesis: The development of young earth creationism and intelligent design on one hand, and the ideological use of the science, including theory of evolution, to promote various moral, social and political ideologies on the other. So damaging are these developments, to both science and religion, that we need to consider each in depth.

Video of Part 1:

Related Posts:

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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)