Salman Ahmed Shaikh
In simple words, science is knowledge established by observation and experimentation through an objective process. Science tries to disentangle useful knowledge about the matter so that this knowledge can be put to effective use. For the physical world, this effective use encompasses understanding the nature of physical phenomena and using that understanding in applications of matter in developing and advancing technology.
As far as understanding the properties of matter is concerned with the objective of making our lives useful, religion does not oppose science at all. There is no inherent conflict between science and religion if the scope of both science and faith are duly understood and acknowledged. Islamic worldview does not oppose the use of various tools for obtaining useful knowledge and then using that knowledge for material ends both at an individual and at the societal level.
When one reads Qur’an, Allah is again and again inviting people to ponder over their creation, environment, ecology, design, variety and balance in the organization of matter in the universe in order to decipher the meaning of life amidst all these manifestations.
There is no restriction on planning or in using material resources provided to us by the Creator. In fact, Islam disapproves monasticism, encourages economic pursuits and asks us to choose the easier of available alternatives to provide comfort in our lives as well as for others. Both the intellect and the matter to which we apply our intellect are created by Allah.
The question of ‘why we exist’ is the focus of religion. The question of ‘what exists and how’ is the focus of science. The drive for mutual help, engendering compassion, respecting biodiversity, intergenerational resource equity and sustainability requires upholding values which are strengthened by religion.
Prof. Krauss explained that “’Why’ implicitly suggests purpose, and when we try to understand the solar system in scientific terms, we do not generally ascribe purpose to it.” The conflict between science and religion appears when a descriptive falsifiable scientific theory is presented as a substitute and evidence to support a godless philosophy of life. Theory of evolution attempts to describe the process through which life comes to exist in different varieties. All this theory can support is that different forms of complex life did not come to exist all of a sudden and at the same time. It merely identifies and explains intermediate steps in the long chain of events. The theory does not concern with the question of the meaning of life itself.
A descriptive theory might or might not adequately describe the physical process, but if it transcends boundaries of physical explanations and starts giving the philosophical meaning of the reality, then the latter endeavor is not within the scope of science. Theory of evolution might be an admissible scientific explanation of physical process if the evidence supports it, but the Darwinian View of Life is a philosophical conjecture. Prof. Richard Dawkins sums up the Darwinian of Life as follows:
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”[i]
Elisabet Sahtouris in her address at International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia stated:
“Western secular scientific cosmology gave us a creation story in which you have a non-living universe starting with a big bang running down forever afterwards through entropy and then life evolving as an endless uphill struggle against this entropic destruction in which you have to compete to succeed. Unfortunately, eventually, the whole universe washes away because entropy overpowers life. Now to me, that is the most depressing creation story that any culture has ever told. There is no life in it except a losing battle in competition.”
The aversion to science emanates from misplacing the scope of both religion and science in society. The disservice to promoting science comes from scientists who mix their personal views with Science. One well known Physics Professor in Pakistan wrote: “If Muslim societies are to develop technology instead of just using it, the ruthlessly competitive global marketplace will insist on not only high skill levels but also intense social work habits. The latter are not easily reconcilable with religious demands made on a fully observant Muslim’s time, energy, and mental concentration: The faithful must participate in five daily congregational prayers, endure a month of fasting that taxes the body, recite daily from the Qur’an, and more.”[ii]
Thus, it is important for the torchbearers of science to know their scope and highlight what they can offer to society in terms of curing diseases, improving food production and easing transport and communication systems, for instance.
[i] Dawkins, R. (1996): River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, UK: Basic Books.
[ii] Hoodhbhoy, P. A. (2007). Science and the Islamic World – The Quest for Rapprochement (Physics Today, 2007).