Does Faith Constrain Progress and Use of Science

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Does faith require abandoning reason, reflecting on the matter, searching for physical answers and finding physical solutions? As per religion, using material means, experimentally proven knowledge and medication is not problematic. For instance, in psychological disorders and problems, the cure needs to be searched in medication rather than spiritual exercises alone.

Religion is not just concerned with psychological and spiritual medication and meditation. It is concerned essentially with the question of why life and for what purpose. The religious answer based on historically transmitted knowledge is that we are created by the Creator and Who will reward us justly in the afterlife. The afterlife will actualize the cause and effect in ethical matters and establish absolute justice which we desire for every action and intention. Qur’an repeatedly reminds of the blessings of Allah in the form of matter and mind which we use for our comforts and cures. After using the matter and mind which exists not because of our efforts, how rational and ethical it is that we remain not only thankless, but negate the one Who is to be thanked altogether.

The sole purpose of religion is not to be a psychological panacea or just a little bit more numerous, better and different social set of norms. It is concerned with questions of why life and for what purpose. Both matter and mind exist without us creating them. We merely use them without being the original creators of those things.

Internal to us, we have an urge to find meaning to life and our existence. Our consciousness asks for a suitable explanation. Have we come to exist by chance? It is highly unlikely given the extremely accurate conditions required in numerous factors for the life to exist. The human mind suggests that there should be a Creator for everything which is not its own creator. Therefore, faith in God is not based on speculative conjecture of ‘god of the gaps’. Taking a position that there must be a Creator of this universe is a logical answer instead of believing in existence due to blind random forces.

To complement our internal urge to believe in a Creator, we are also provided guidance external to us. Allah has introduced Himself through His books and messengers (pbut). Qur’an, the most authentic and the last divine book in presenting basic premise of Islam focuses our attention on some aspects of nature. Modern science instead of undermining faith has actually found nothing inconsistent about these statements with established facts of science.

Nowhere in Islam, is it said that one should replace physical efforts with mere supplication. Islam urges Muslims to explore and use nature for societal well-being and pursue economic sustenance. Tremendous advances in science happened in the heyday of Muslim civilization which stopped partly due to genocide and massacre carried out in Crusades and in the invasion of Baghdad by Mongols. Those who took science further in West were also mostly religious people for a long period of time.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a noted Physicist, asks that if Salat-e-Istasqa is performed, then why it does not rain often? He wrote: “The equations of fluid flow, not the number of earnest supplicants or quality of their prayers, determine weather outcomes.” The answer is that Salat-e-Istisqa is a voluntary prayer to ask Allah’s blessings. Collective performance of this prayer is not the replacement of physical efforts or understanding of physical phenomena. It only serves as a moment of reflection and reminder for the people who pray. For instance, when Qur’an says that Allah provides sustenance, it does not imply that we sit idle and do not engage in Kasb-e-Halal (legitimate economic enterprise). Likewise, if physical efforts or physical understanding can help in dealing with physical problems, then all efforts towards these ends shall be undertaken.

The real and fruitful jurisdiction of science is to understand matter for its effective use by developing working and functional hypotheses, testing them and refining them to achieve this objective. Stephen Hawking explains:

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.[i]

Norman Campbell in his book “What is Science” writes that at no time, can it be claimed that science has reached the final and conclusive stage of reality in the analysis. This is not even claimed in the most contemporary sciences. It is accepted that for any law, which seems plausible currently, it is still possible that the causal relation it explains is subject to change in future. He further writes that there certainly are problems and even practical ones where science cannot help us decide one way or the other. In serving people’s needs, one of the biggest hurdles is that these limitations of science are not well understood. When sometimes science has been undermined or overlooked, it has happened because the scope of science has been unduly broadened to areas where it does not belong to and this has caused damage to the cause of science.

Albert Einstein in his essay ‘Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?’ writes: “The function of setting up goals and passing statements of value transcends its domain”. He further writes: “The independent and fundamental definitions regarding goals and values remain beyond science’s reach.” Also, Norman Campbell in his book ‘What is Science’ states that like all bodies of knowledge, science has it limits and there are some external problems, whose nature is such that science cannot help in resolving them. This should never be overlooked. Despite helping us to understand the external world, science cannot give us even a clue as to how we should use a particular force or energy[ii].

Stephen Hawking once said: “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look around carefully before they cross the road.” Religious faith does not mean that after accepting faith, one can walk on water, fly in the air or defy physical limits in any other sense. Religion concerns moral content in choices made with free will. Repeatedly, Qur’an asks people to strive for knowledge, discovery, exploration and virtuous livelihood. Nowhere there is a restriction on planning or in using material resources bestowed by the Creator.

Islam and science are not at odds as commonly perceived. According to World Values Survey Sixth Wave results, 32.73% Muslim respondents completely agreed that science and technology are making our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable as compared to 24.89% non-Muslims citing the same opinion. The opinion was asked of respondents on a 10-point rating scale where 1 represented completely disagreed and 10 represented completely agreed. It is interesting to note that 80.13% Muslim respondents chose response between 6 to 10 on the scale as compared to 78.25% non-Muslims choosing the similar response.

References

[i] Hawking, S. W. (1996), “The Illustrated: A Brief History of Time”. London: Bantam.

[ii] Campbell, N. R. (1952). “What is Science?”. New York: Dover Publications.

 

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Non-Contradiction between Faith & Science 

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Qur’an is not a book of science. But, to present its basic message, it focuses our attention on different realities, both within our consciousness and in the outside natural phenomena. Modern science has not found any error in Qur’an’s descriptive statements about nature.

As a matter of fact, Islamic texts fourteen centuries back do not say that the earth was created a few thousand years ago. In fact, Qur’an mentions that at different places in the universe, the length of the day could be hugely different as compared to earth. When Qur’an discusses the material world, its descriptions are found to be consistent with established facts of modern science. In 650 A.D., those things could not have been conceived, observed and communicated by a person who did not receive any formal scientific education.

When Qur’an focuses our attention to nature, some of its descriptive statements about the state of early universe (Qur’an, 41:11), movement of mountains and continents (Qur’an, 27:88), human development in a mother’s womb (Qur’an, 39:6), non-mingling nature of seas (Qur’an, 55:19-20), rotation of planets, stars and celestial bodies (Qur’an, 39:5), expansion of the universe (Qur’an, 51:47), relative nature of time in the universe (Qur’an, 32:5), shining of moon by reflected sunlight (25:61) and determination of sex (Qur’an, 53:45-46) are not contradictory to what we now know through established scientific knowledge.

It is inconceivable to many modern scientists who have also studied Qur’an that how can a person without extensive travel, writing ability and attending modern universities of knowledge, could explain things about history, nature and make socio-political predictions that would appear perfectly correct afterwards.

Dr. Moore, former President of the Canadian Association of Anatomists and of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists remarked at a conference in Cairo:

“It is clear to me that these statements must have come to Muhammad from God, or Allah, because most of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later. This proves to me that Muhammad must have been a messenger of God, or Allah.”

The historical accuracy of Qur’an’s socio-political predictions, perfect transmission through ages of its text, the unique eloquent language it carries and its accurate description of humans and nature should compel one to give it a sincere reading and reflect on its basic message. The basic message for us is that we are not created without any purpose. As per Islam, the purpose is to excel in our duties to Allah with a thankful attitude and be kind to all of His creations including humans, plants and animals we interact and live with.

If a religious text is transmitted generations after generations with perfect historical accuracy and consistency and whose descriptive statements about history and future are verified perfectly and whose descriptive statements about what we see across nature and within ourselves is accurate and verified by established discoveries of modern science, then it is certainly a very serious candidate for us to consult in exploring the question of why life and for what purpose? As a matter of fact, Qur’an is such a book which comes true on all the above mentioned characteristics.

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Is Contribution to Science Only a Western Enterprise

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Ehsan Masood in his book ‘Science and Islam: A History’ writes that Muslim contribution to science is largely forgotten or at least neglected, except by a few diligent specialists[i]. Science is universal and is not just a Western enterprise. If we are to ignore all science produced by religious people, then we would have hardly anything completely unique and new to say. Muslim scientists pioneered many works in science, followed by people of contemporary times who were also not averse to religion. Nobel Laureate and seminal contributor in Quantum Physics, Max Planck once stated “It was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls.”

Quite a significant number of Nobel Prize winning scientists in the last century alone believed in religion and God and have also done pioneer work in modern branches of science. Despite the spread of misinformation about religion, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2009 found that just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power.

As a matter of fact, Islam does not negate critical inquiry. Muslim scholars who understand this viewpoint are supportive of stem cell research, genetic engineering and robotics within ethical bounds. Even traditional Muslim scholarship in early-twentieth century was not sceptical of evolution as a scientific explanation, which can be seen in the writings of Syed Qutb[ii] and Maulana Syed Abul-Ala Maududi[iii].

In history, we find that Muslim scientists were the first to break free from the axiomatic approach and introduced an observational approach to science. The paradigm shift with an observational approach which brought impetus to science has origins in early Muslim scientific work rather than in post-renaissance. Robert Briffault, in his book ‘The Making of Humanity’, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged from Muslim Middle East. He also writes: “What we call sciences arose in Europe as a result of a new spirit of inquiry; of new methods of investigation, of the method of experiment, observation, measurement, of the development of Mathematics in a form unknown to the Greeks. That spirit and those methods were introduced into the European world by the Arabs.”[iv]

Muslims took the Greek works, updated them and translated them for wider use in both the East and the West. In 763, The House of Wisdom was founded in Baghdad. For every translated book, the state used to pay quantity of gold equal to the weight of the book so as to provide state patronage and incentives. The University of Qarawiyyin, the world’s oldest university was founded by Fatima Al-Fihri. The Al-Azhar mosque library contained 200,000 volumes. In addition to that, there were hundreds of such libraries spread in the Muslim world. The first medical centre was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, founded in 872 in Cairo. This hospital provided free medical assistance to anyone who needed it without any religious, ethnic or other differences.

In those times, Muslims as well as people from around the globe with diverse religious backgrounds could carry out research under the patronage of Muslim civilization. Donald Campbell writes:

“In Europe,  the  unsettled  conditions  led  to the  discouragement  of  scholarship,  while  the  Caliphs of  Baghdad,  on  the  other  hand,  afforded  protection and encouragement to the scholars of all religions.”[v]

Francis Ghiles in his essay writes: “At its peak about one thousand years ago, the Muslim world made a remarkable contribution to science, notably mathematics and medicine. Baghdad in its heydey and southern Spain built universities to which thousands flocked. Rulers surrounded themselves with scientists and artists.”[vi]

In astronomy, Muslim scientists did pioneer work which connects them with the modern scientific age, both in terms of the substance of their research and most importantly because of their commitment to evidence based scientific inquiry. Omar Khayyam and also Al Battani determined the length of the solar year with only a minute error and they did not even have the modern equipment to work with. These scientists used an astrolabe, which was built by the Muslim mathematician, Ibrahim Al-Fazari.

Copernicus benefited from the observations and geometric models of Al Battani, Al-Tusi and Ibn Al-Shatir for his monumental breakthroughs. The criticism of Ptolemy’s models appeared in the work of Muslim scientists. Copernicus built upon that critical work. Al-Battani raised trigonometry to higher levels and computed the first table of cotangents. Al-Biruni laid the foundation for modern trigonometry. Al-Biruni discussed the theory of the earth rotating about its own axis. He determined earth’s circumference without modern telescopes.

UNESCO declared 2015 as the International Year of Light to celebrate amongst others Ibn Al-Haytham’s achievements in optics, mathematics and astronomy. He explained refraction and discussed gravity. He provided scores of experiments to verify his scientific work as well as performed the foundational work on building a modern camera. In essence, he promoted an experimental and evidence based approach to study the physical realities. Will Durant in his book ‘The Story of Civilization’ writes: “Muslim scholars introduced precise observation, controlled experiment and careful records.”[vii]

In describing the right attitude to science, Ibn Al-Haytham wrote:

“The duty of the man, who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content and attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.[viii]

Thus, the spirit of objective inquiry in understanding physical realities was very much there in the works of these Muslim scientists.

The seminal work on Algebra comes from Al-Khwārizmī and Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa) has quoted him. Al-Khwārizmī, the pioneer of Algebra, wrote that given an equation, collecting the unknowns on one side of the equation is called ‘al-Jabr’. The word Algebra comes from that. He developed sine, cosine and trigonometric tables, which were later translated in the West. He developed algorithms, which are the building blocks of modern computers.

In biology and medicine, there were several noteworthy contributions by Muslims. Al-Razi wrote the first book on smallpox, called, ‘Al-Judri wa al-Hasba’. Ibn-e-Sina’s Canon of Medicine was used as a standard medical text in even as late as the 17th century in Europe. Al-Zahravi was one of the pioneer surgeons and he developed various surgical instruments and methods, which were state of the art at that time and some are still used today. He is also reported to have performed the first caesarean operation. Ibn al-Nafis described the pulmonary circulation of the blood quite a few centuries before William Harvey.

In chemistry, Muslim scientists carried out perfume distillation, glass making, minting of coins and grouping chemicals based on chemical characteristics, which later on led to the modern periodic tables. In 780, Jabir ibn Hayyan, a Muslim chemist who is considered by many to be the father of chemistry, introduced the experimental scientific method for chemistry, as well as laboratory apparatus such as the alembic, still and retort, and chemical processes such as pure distillation, liquefaction, crystallisation, and filtration. Al-Jazari developed mechanical devices like watermills and water wheels to ease water management.

Even in social sciences, Muslims were modern and advanced compared to their age. The birth of capitalism as per Max Weber in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” began in Western Europe and spread to North America[ix]. Benedict Koehler in his recent book “Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism” argues that it is Islam, rather than Christianity that provided the organizational and ideological elements that combined and gave rise to some positive features of Capitalism.[x]

The author explains that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was Himself an established entrepreneur. The author further emphasizes that Mecca was not only a Holy place, but also a very significant trading centre at that time. The author contends that Islamic teachings provided extensive guidelines on fair trade. Islamic teachings also gave due importance to writing business contracts and honouring them, both as a religious and a civic duty.

Islamic venture capitalism based on Mudarabah and Musharakah was conducive to long distant trade and to match the skills and endowments of labor and capitalists respectively. The currency system based on commodities like gold and silver was also advanced enough at that time to avoid the problems of barter trade, such as indivisibility of tradable commodities and having to match double coincidence of wants. Benedikt Koehler writes:

In Baghdad, by the early tenth century, a full-fledged banking sector had come into being: exchanging gold and silver coins and lending money to government and to merchants who were able to pay money into accounts in one city and draw money in another. These drafts had several names – one of them was the Persian word ‘cak’ that has come down to us as check.”

The right to private property for men as well as women has also been duly recognized in Islamic law since fourteen centuries ago. Islamic institutions and business practices were later on adopted in Venice and Genoa. There were other Islamic institutions assimilated in Europe like Charities, Waqf and institutions of higher learning, like the Madrasah. The author argues that these higher learning institutions were models for the oldest colleges of Oxford and Cambridge.

Among the Muslim contributions to social sciences, Imam Ghazali and Ibn-e-Khuldun discussed the concept of the labor theory of value and division of labor in economics several centuries earlier than Adam Smith. The famous Laffer curve in economics was first discovered by Ibn-e-Khuldun.

In ancient history, people had regarded rivers, springs, and the sea as gods and worthy of worship. They held them to be objects of reverence rather than of conquest. Imbued with the philosophy of Monotheism, Muslims saw these phenomena of nature as God’s creations. Belief in Monotheism freed inquiry and made it possible to use materials as creatures rather than regarding them as objects of worship.

Muslims did not force Galileo to let go his discovery. In fact, most scientific discoveries found their way into Muslim areas without much opposition. When Mongols made Tigris River black with ink of thousands of books in the siege of Baghdad, it was not Islam holding back science.

Even after the Islamic Golden Age, the majority of scientists who did the ground-breaking work in major fields of modern science were religious. Doing science does not require faith. However, it would be a strange idea that one cannot believe in religion while simultaneously contributing to science.

References

[i] Masood, E. (2009). Science and Islam. Icon, London.

[ii] Siddiqui, M. N. & Islahi, S. A. (1991). “Qur’an Aur Science: Afadat-e-Syed Qutb (Qur’an and Science: Valuable Insights of Syed Qutb)”, 3rd Edition, Lahore: Islamic Publications Limited.

[iii] Maududi, S. A. A.  (1955). “Ta’alimat”. Lahore: Islamic Publications Limited.

[iv] Briffault, R. (1919). “The Making of Humanity”. London: G. Allen & Unwin.

[v] Donald  Campbell,  2002. “Arabian Medicine and its Influence on the Middle Ages”, Vol. I, London: Routledge.

[vi] Ghiles, Francis “What is wrong with Muslim Science”, Nature, 24 March 1983.

[vii] Durant, W. (2011). “The Age of Faith: The Story of Civilization” (Vol. 4). UK: Simon and Schuster.

[viii] Alhazen, quoted in “Muslim Journeys.” Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2013.

[ix] Weber, M. (1930). “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, London: Unwin Hyman.

[x] Koehler, B. (2014). “Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism”. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

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The Scientific Method & Faith-Based Worldview

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.

References

[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).

 

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Need for Meaning to Existence

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

The twentieth century can well and truly be regarded as the century of modern science. Science has made us understand the physical world better and to make the ever-more effective use of matter around us. The comforts of life that a common person takes for granted were not available to even the Kings and the Royals of the past.

Nonetheless, along with advancements in science and technology, over 200 million people died in the last century in wars. On average, if 5,500 people die every day of a century, only then it will reach the figure of 200 million. Is extinction merely a rearrangement of molecules, even if it happens to humans via nuclear weapons? We need better humans, morality, values and a social contract that can make us live better, meaningful and fulfilling lives. The technological advancements do not make right as wrong or wrong as right. In fact, if values are undermined, then the same technology can be used for more destruction rather than for social benefit.

Using free will, we can use the moral screening provided by conscience to act in good ways. But, if I believe that this life is the only life, then why shall I use my limited time, income and abilities to help others? How can absolute justice be provided in the crime of genocide? Even in other crimes, with perfect monitoring, prosecution and law enforcement, the suffering caused is irreversible.

Our outlook to the universe will be different based on the meaning we attach to our relationship with the universe. From Physics perspective, extinction is merely a rearrangement of atoms, even if it happens to millions of humans via nuclear weapons.

Stephen Hawking once said: “We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe.” Neil deGrasse Tyson also remarked that it is likely that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive and that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment. The physical appearance of life can be studied as biological and chemical processes, but is life just all that?

Humans live in society and exercise their free will in socio-economic relations. Unlike the dials in a well-functioning clock which do not intersect, humans have the potential to be compassionate or not to be. But, why should I part with my time to help some stranger I might never meet again or for someone who lives miles away from me? Why should I part with my wealth if it is scarce, legally belongs to me and so nobody could question about what I would decide to do with it in life?

Science seeks cause-effect relations in physical realities. Mathematics is one of the tools to guide this search in complex relationships. Scientists exclusively focus on material processes. So, they only extract the deeper meaning as regularity and algorithm itself. Science can only help us thus far. The reflection on nature and its regularity around us requires a philosophical underpinning for deeper meaning.

Cooking is not chemistry and chemistry alone. When cooking starts, what ingredients are involved at the most indivisible level and how they mix together is part of reality. The second set of reality is who is cooking, why and for whom? The cook and hunger as part of reality are as much important as the knowledge of how the ingredients mix to become eventually a prepared ready-to-eat food. We drink so that we quench thirst. ‘Why’ in what happens is part of reality as much as ‘how it happens’. If a person asks who made the computer, the answer is not sufficient if it only describes the material and processes through which it was created. Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes:

“The idea of reductionism which is innate to modern science could be described as the reduction of the spirit to the psyche, the psyche to biological activity, life to lifeless matter and lifeless matter to purely quantitative particles or bundles of energy whose movements can be measured and quantified.[i]

Science concerns with ‘how it happens’. That is not the complete description of reality until we also know ‘why it happens’. Albert Einstein in his essay ‘Science and Religion’ writes:

“Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.”[ii]

The intellect with which we discover knowledge about the matter in physical sciences to answer the question of ‘What is’ and ‘How it is’ and the conscience with which we differentiate between right and wrong, are neither our own creation nor have they appeared by themselves. Electrical appliances function in full compliance with the mechanical and electromagnetic principles, but their existence is not the natural result of such natural laws alone.

Prof. Krause once said: “We find ourselves on this remote planet in a remote corner of the universe, endowed with intelligence and self-awareness. We should not despair, but should humbly rejoice in making the most of these gifts, and celebrate our brief moment in the sun.” Scientists study the minute aspects of hospitality in our visit to the world and have reached the conclusion that life exists on a knife’s edge. But, should we not accept and thank the host? Should we just spend all the time and energy in looking at the facilities provided by the host and their immaculate discipline and order? The laws of nature that we study exist independent of us. As guests in this finely tuned earth which requires life-supporting systems, can we reject the host by knowing and enjoying all the facilities? All that we have done with science is to be able to use the matter existing in the universe to make our lives more useful.

Lawrence Krauss in his book ‘A Universe from Nothing’ suggests that the universe came about from nothing and which may one day return to nothing via processes that may not only be comprehensible but also processes that do not require any external control or direction[iii]. But, George F. R. Ellis aptly asks: Why the laws of physics exist? Why they have the form they have? Prof. Dr. Pervez Hoodhbhoy’s in his Urdu book ‘Muslims and Science’ writes that Science does not have any explanation for the origins of these laws and it cannot reject the claim that these laws might have been decreed by a divine God. Even Stephen Hawking admits:

Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.[iv]

Modern science has not created anything that does not exist in the universe. Rather, it has made use of matter which already exists in the universe. The properties in matter exist not because humans have created them.

Science is knowledge established by observation and experimentation through an objective process. Scientific knowledge substantiates that the design, variety and balance found in the universe is complex, intricate and detailed. Science tries to disentangle useful knowledge about the matter so that this knowledge can be put to effective use. But, science cannot be an arbiter in moral matters or a guide in identifying the purpose of life.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” What eludes us is to think about the meaning of our own lives. We would do research in distant galaxies, distant past of the universe and in the smallest particles of matter, but we remain ignorant about the meaning and purpose of our own existence.  Cecil Boyce Hamann aptly summed up this: “Natures does not explain; it is in need of an explanation”.

Nature and natural laws do not explain the deeper meaning of life. They are in need of explanation themselves for their origin, purpose and designer. Descartes said: I think, therefore I am. It is also important to think ‘why I exist and where will I be when I am not (alive).’

The ability to make machines can be used for more effective food production, distribution, clinical cures and better health. On the other hand, the same ability can be used to decimate species including human beings. The record of science taking a solo flight by discarding values in recent times has not impacted our technical progress, but it has resulted in the unprecedented loss of human lives in wars, extinction of species, ecological imbalances and irreversible damage to the environment.

Many scientists in the past did not posit scientific discoveries as a challenge to faith. They understood that what had been offered by modern science are better explanations of physical phenomena rather than finding a newer source of origin, creation and ‘will’ behind the physical phenomena. Isaac Newton aptly said that gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.

Richard Dawkins once said: “Darwin explains how we got here.” Nonetheless, rediscovering regularity in physical realities is not the end-objective of existence. How we develop as adults from birth as an individual and how and when homo-sapiens as a whole came to exist in this form physically is all besides the point from the basic premise of faith. Albert Einstein in his essay ‘Science and Religion’ states:

“The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.”[v]

Putting an ideology over a descriptive falsifiable theory is a different matter than just the scientific and physical aspects of the theory itself. Theory of evolution attempts to describe the process through which life comes to exist. This theory does not concern with the question of the meaning of life itself. It is erroneous to use it as an evidence to support a godless philosophy of life. Michael Ruse, even though an atheist, aptly writes: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion.”[vi]

Animals wake up, find food, eat, sleep and wake up again. Are humans also supposed to have the same purpose only? Conscience may not err in helping to differentiate between right and wrong, but the right ethical choice may not be chosen if it conflicts with self-interest. If I believe that this life is the only life, then why shall I use my limited time, income, abilities and resources to help others? If I am just part of an evolutionary process, why should good and evil matter? Why should conscience and ethics in any way be different from dust and air?

Richard Dawkins in his book ‘God Delusion’ states that we do not need religion to be moral. If we assert that moral values have only evolved genetically and that we do moral behaviour instinctively for ensuring survival only, then, there is nothing good and bad essentially.

Sam Harris writes that “most of what we currently hold sacred is not sacred for any reason other than that it was thought sacred yesterday.[vii] There are no objective morals then. Sam Harris is sceptical of free will. If that view is taken, then all judiciary and penal laws shall cease to exist. But, do they or would they? Seyyed Hossein Nasr aptly asks:

If the human being is nothing but the result of ‘blind forces’ acting upon the original cosmic soup of molecules, then is not the very statement of the sacredness of human life intellectually meaningless and nothing but a hollow sentimental expression? Is not human dignity nothing more than a conveniently contrived notion without basis in reality? And if we are nothing but highly organized inanimate particles, what is the basis for claims to ‘human rights’?[viii]

Palley and Voltaire used the analogy of Watchmaker for their perception of god. Explaining evolution by natural selection, Richard Dawkins modifies the analogy as ‘blind watchmaker’ by saying that “the only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics”.[ix]

Their perception of god is ‘god of the gaps’ which has to be invoked as an ad hoc presumption to bypass material explanations in certain instances where physical answers and explanations are absent for the time being. Their argument is that if a physical explanation can take us back to relying on some finite number of constant values related to forces and energy, then why to invoke god to fill the gap. Problem with this argument is that it misplaces the real point of religion and faith. These analogies reflect thinking and mindset to evade responsibility and they add nothing in terms of answering the questions about the meaning of life.

Faith in God or in religion is not concerned essentially with the steps and ‘how it is’ of and behind things. The things which we are able to explain through science relate to the physical phenomena. The existence of a being as a whole and with its physical parts and processes still begs the question ‘why’ and ‘for what end’? Charles H. Townnes – well-known for his invention of laser – explains: “Purpose implies structure, and structure ought somehow to be interpretable in terms of purpose.”

Big Bang can explain what happened afterwards, but not what was before it, who was behind it and why did we come to exist in this world in the first place. We can force the question of purpose out of sight, but not out of significance and importance to a thinking mind.

References

[i] Seyyed Hossein Nasr. “A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World”. Chicago: Kazi Publications.

 

[ii] Einstein, A. (1940, November). “Science and Religion”. Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion & Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life.

 

[iii] Krauss, L. M. (2012). “A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing”. UK: Simon and Schuster.

 

[iv] Hawking, S. W. (1996), op. cit.

 

[v] Einstein, A. (1948). “Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?”. The Christian Register, 127, 19.

 

[vi] Ruse, M. (2000). “How Evolution Became a Religion”. National Post.

 

[vii] Harris, S. (2005). “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason”. WW Norton & Company.

 

[viii] Nasr, S. H. (2004). “The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity”. New York: Harper San Francisco, p. 275.

 

[ix] Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. UK: Mariner Books.

 

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Complex Life on a Knife’s Edge

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

In his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, Stephen Hawking writes: “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size. On the other hand, if it had been greater by a part in a million, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for stars and planets to form.”[i]

We also know now that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Scientific estimates suggest that the age of the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years. As per scientific estimates, from Big Bang to origin of life, the numerous variables had to be accurately fine-tuned. By chance, it would take 10 [to the power] 243 [billion years] to obtain even one protein molecule on earth!

Steven Weinberg argued that the cosmological constant must be zero to within one part in roughly 10120 (and yet be nonzero), or else the universe either would have dispersed too fast for stars and galaxies to have formed, or else would have recollapsed upon itself before the emergence of complex life-forms.

Astronomer Fred Hoyle once said that the probability of life arising on planet earth by purely natural means is less than the probability that a Boeing 747 should be assembled by a hurricane roaring through a junkyard. Thus, life exists on a knife’s edge on this tiny planet in Cosmos.

Add to that the variety, design and sustenance of millions of different forms of life. The advancements in modern science have revealed how immaculately complex the material things and processes are in the universe. Thus, Fred Hoyle says that the universe is a ‘put-up job’. Allan Sandage finds it quite improbable that such order can come out of chaos. He asks the question which Leibniz posed earlier: “Why there is something rather than nothing”.[ii]

Nobel Laureate William D. Phillips shares his view as follows: “The observations about the orderliness of the physical universe and the apparently exceptional fine-tuning of the conditions of the universe for the development of life suggest that an intelligent Creator is responsible.”

Furthermore, Albert Einstein shares this view in one of his statements: “Everyone who is seriously committed to the cultivation of science becomes convinced that in all the laws of the universe, is manifest a spirit vastly superior to man, and to which we with our powers must feel humble.”

Prof. Krauss attempts to answer existence alternatively by redefining his notion of something as ‘nothing’ through the use of quantum mechanics. David Albert rightly contests this position. He writes:

“Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of simple physical stuff. The true relativistic-quantum-field-­theoretical equivalent to there not being any physical stuff at all isn’t this or that particular arrangement of the fields —it is just the absence of the fields!”[iii]

Our Sun could hold 1.3 million earths. There are around 200 billion suns in a galaxy like our own Milky Way. Now, scientists can see a great number of galaxies through powerful telescopes. We know from astrophysics that one light year equals roughly 10 trillion kilometres. The diameter of the observable universe is around 150 billion light-years. To explain this fine-tuning, a group of scientists also suggest that we might be living in just one of the infinite universes where life-supporting conditions just happen to be there in their most precise form for life to exist and evolve. In this context, Edward Robert Harrison presents a choice: “Chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one”.[iv] One of the seminal contributors to String Theory, Michio Kaku recently stated “We exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance.

It is pertinent to ask what Stephen Hawking also finds perplexing:

“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”

References

[i] Hawking, S. W. (1996). “The Illustrated: A Brief History of Time”. London: Bantam.

[ii] Wilford, J. N. (1991). “Sizing Up the Cosmos: An Astronomer’s Quest”, New York Times, March 12, 1991.

[iii] Albert, David (2012): “Book Review: On the Origin of Everything ‘A Universe from Nothing’” by Prof. Lawrence Krauss, New York Times, March 23.

[iv] Harrison, V. E. (2003). “Masks of the Universe: Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos”. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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The Potential Opportunities with Fintech for Islamic Banking

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Islamic finance can help in enabling access to financial services for people who want Islamic financial services. The key question is that can Islamic finance also provide access to financial services to the bottom of the pyramid population. Financial inclusion of the poor requires a different approach in product design, pricing and delivery. This requires innovation, flexibility, efficiency and committed leadership.

Islamic microfinance is yet to take big strides even though Islamic finance gives due emphasis to egalitarian financial structures and products in the Islamic economics and finance literature. Fintech offers an opportunity for Islamic financial institutions to efficiently reach the potential clients. Fintech can help in increasing Islamic finance outreach in regions where brick-and-mortar model of delivery will not be financially sustainable.

In the product structures, Fintech can assist in organizing completion of different steps involved in a typical Islamic finance transaction. A key issue is that whether Fintech would be welcome in Islamic banking institutions where the Shari’ah Compliance Auditors prefer more control and personal oversight in order to reduce the Shari’ah non-compliance risk. It remains to be seen whether Fintech increases or decreases Shari’ah non-compliance risk. To materialize the benefits of Fintech, it is important that there should be standardization in Shari’ah rules so that the scope of automation increases for integrating Fintech in product design and delivery.

If Shari’ah compliance can be done more efficiently with Fintech without requiring the day-to-day approval of the Shari’ah advisors, then it will be a welcome development and it will bring cost-efficiencies in Islamic banking. Furthermore, Fintech can help in cross-selling of financial products in Islamic banking and which can lead to economies of scope through integrated service delivery assisted by technology.

Fintech offers no choice as it will disrupt the traditional way of doing things by default. The best approach is to embrace it to withstand competition. Islamic banks need to cope up with the competition as Fintech would make the financial markets more competitive by enabling peer comparison and performance analysis at the fingertip of the consumer. Fintech might increase commercial displacement risk for Islamic banks which fall behind in integrating Fintech in their operations due to high cost or small scale of operations.

Islamic banking has made biggest penetration in Muslim majority regions which are not all well developed and which lack access to both financial services as well as telecommunication services. The key concern is that whether the increased use of Fintech would follow the advances in telecommunication services or could Islamic banks steer the growth by taking the first steps.

Around more than 400 million people in Africa are not banking clients. Fintech provides an opportunity to reach them cost-effectively. Same is the case in many Muslim majority countries where financial exclusion is significant. In Pakistan, less than 20% population has bank accounts. Thus, a great potential of the untapped market can be served with Islamic banking first and foremost by Islamic banks. Hence, Fintech can be a key catalyst in increasing the penetration and outreach of Islamic banking in Muslim majority countries.

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Science and Meaning of Life

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Stephen Hawking has recently died after living a difficult life physically, but one which was highly productive in terms of intellectual journey and contributions. While acknowledging the tremendous value of the contribution of Stephen Hawking in Cosmological Physics, an attempt is made to clarify the limitations of science in exploring the meaning of life.

Stephen Hawking explains:

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”

Nonetheless, Stephen Hawking did not believe in God the way religious people do and he had also raised some critical questions and passed some remarks which are respectfully answered below.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” What we do not often do is to think over the meaning of our own lives. We would do research in distant galaxies, distant past of the universe and in the smallest particles of matter, but are ignorant about meaning and purpose of existence. One Scientist aptly summed up “Natures does not explain, it is in need of an explanation”.

Stephen Hawking once said: “God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also said: “Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion.” It must be understood that rediscovering regularity in physical realities is not the end-objective of existence. How we develop as adults from birth as an individual or how and when humans as a whole came to exist in this form physically is all beside the point from the basic premise of religion. As per religious worldview, humans are created for a test. Their success in this test depends on moral excellence in matters involving free will. Science can never be an arbiter in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe.” The physical appearance of life can be studied as biological and chemical processes, but is life just all that? Why should good and evil matter? Warlords died as outlaws. So how our aspiration to see the establishment of justice actualize if it ever can be? Belief in afterlife accountability actualizes the cause and effect in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe.” As a matter of fact, the faithful people have lived in the most primitive civilizations as well as in the most recent times. Despite racism, bias, discrimination, genocide and decimation of their native lands, the faithful population would almost reach 86.2% of the global population by 2050 as per Pew Research Center.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” In answering this comment, it is important to understand that religious faith does not mean that after accepting faith, one can walk on water, fly in the air or defy physical limits in any other sense. Religion concerns moral content in choices made with free will. Repeatedly, Quran asks for people to strive for knowledge, discovery and virtuous livelihood.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” The universe exists as an act of Creation in which there exist living and non-living creatures. The Ultimate Creator has to be independent of the universe, physical laws and time and space. Even when the humans had not explored the World at large and crossed continents, the Quranic description of God is beyond human imagination and is what it should be of an Ultimate Creator. In Ayat-ul-Kursi, Allah introduces Himself “…the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth …” (2: 255).

However, Science is useful to understand physical phenomena, physical processes, behaviour of matters and to make use of matter and natural processes for developing creative and comfortable ways of living, transportation, obtaining food, communication, cures to diseases and performing tasks efficiently with programmed hardware and software. Nonetheless, values, morality and meaningfulness in life matter in all ages and require a worldview which can explain the deeper questions. It is pertinent to ask what Stephen Hawking also finds perplexing:

“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”

Even Stephen Hawking admits:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.”

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Future Sukuk Growth Depends on Overcoming Challenges

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

In the last few years, the growth in Sukuk market has been subdued. Sukuk market is mainly led by Malaysia now. It is important to have stable growth in the Middle East for the global Sukuk issuance to grow. In recent years, the governments in non-Muslim majority countries have also ventured in issuing Sukuk. It is important to have this trend continuing for the globalization of Sukuk market.

Sukuk issuance needs to be used in providing finance for diverse needs. Corporate issuances follow the trends in business cycles. Sovereign Sukuk for development finance can provide impetus to the Sukuk issuance in cyclical downturns. In addition to that, it can also provide long-term macroeconomic support to the governments and enterprises by building the infrastructure for tomorrow.

The development infrastructure related to meeting sustainable development goals needs to be prioritized. By default, the developing countries have to push towards achieving the sustainable development goals. Sukuk can be used to provide necessary funding which is required to purchase tangible fixed assets, technological infrastructure and real estate.

The recent default on Sukuk has fueled concerns in the market. Standardization and sound corporate governance are vital in building and retaining investors’ confidence. Lack of standardization across various global jurisdictions can act as an impediment for the Sukuk market to grow as impressively in other parts of the world as it has in Malaysia. Going forward, tax neutrality is vital for the increased penetration in the global Sukuk issuance.

Sukuk has the potential to be used in conducting monetary policy operations by replacing the T-bills. However, the Sovereign Sukuk market is still insignificant to realize that vision. Liquidity is immensely important for Sukuk to replace or be a viable substitute for T-bills. There is significant demand for more liquid Shari’ah compliant investment structures like Sukuk among banks and asset management companies for their treasury and portfolio management operations.

Innovation is also important to tap diverse markets and industries. In recent years, companies in the services sector including telecommunication, power and airline have also issued Sukuk where the underlying subject matter is a service which is made non-rival through coding and numbers, such as mobile cards and airline tickets, for instance. It is important to have such innovations in structures so that Sukuk market targets other sectors beyond just the manufacturing sector.

Sukuk can also help in developing infrastructure in Africa to meet the existing infrastructure deficit. Africa has abundant land and natural resources. This makes Africa and such developing regions a lucrative market for Sukuk issuance which can be backed up by real estate. Agriculture remains the mainstay in economic structures of many African economies. Thus, Sukuk can be used in financing new technologies and modernizing agriculture.

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Economics and Pro-Social Behaviour

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

A great number of empirical studies now challenge the position of conceptualising human behaviour only in the framework of a rational, utility-maximizing homo-economicus. Yet, this framework is used for the purpose of simplicity and tractability in situations where abstraction does not result in major loss of focus and information at hand. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to acknowledge selflessness resulting in sacrifices, pro-social behaviour and pure altruism. Excluding China, the Asian economies with rich cultural and religious values feature prominently in the World Giving Index 2016 despite having low per capita incomes. As per World Giving Index 2016, Iraq leads with the highest percentage of people helping strangers, and Turkmenistan, the highest percentage of people volunteering time.

Indeed, if preferences are amenable and social behaviour is learned like other behaviours, then we ought to acknowledge this. This could help in cooperative pro-social campaigns; lasting and fruitful social partnerships; and strengthening of social capital that could potentially relax pressure from the public sector. In weakly governed countries, social networks assume roles typically provided by market-based financial intermediaries or the public sector. In economics education, acknowledging these differences, experiences, success stories and alternate visions of policy, broadens the perspective and enriches the solutions toolbox to meet sustainable development challenges which require strong mutual understanding and efforts of diverse cultures towards a common vision of future.

The causal mechanisms through which culture and institutions mould and constrain human agents remain unexplored in neoclassical economics.  It is worthwhile to be cognizant of the role of cultural factors, social norms and spiritual stimuli in analysing and theorizing economic behaviour. For instance, Confucian beliefs affect one’s outlook about work and consumption habits in East Asia, where individuals tend to work harder and longer, with greater labor force participation rates. As per the Lifecycle Consumption Hypothesis, higher propensity to save depends on the proportion of working age people in a society. From growth theory, we know that savings is the most crucial variable affecting growth, along with other macro and institutional variables. Thus, remaining cognizant of the effects of values, cultures and norms will help avoid missing positive phenomenon.

Values and norms can be positively utilized in achieving development goals where commercial interests are not good stimulators. According to The Hunger Project, 2.4 billion people do not have adequate sanitation, and every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases. This is partly because sanitation is not good business as compared to cellular services and life’s other comforts and luxuries. Interestingly, according to the 2015 report of Food and Agriculture Organization, globally, per capita food supply increased from about 2,200 kcal per day in the early 1960s to more than 2,903 kcal per day by 2014. Thus, redistribution of resources is vital to enhance income as well as the capacity to earn sustainable incomes. This requires income support programs, basic health and education as well as microfinance to build small enterprises.

Overreliance on Pareto efficiency paralyses equity and ethical concerns of development policy change. According to Pareto efficiency, it is inefficient to help make millions of poor better off, if a single rich person becomes worse off. Sustainable development goals have assumed poverty, hunger and inequality as important goals. However, economics education by and large outsources the realization of these goals to development agencies and governments. If aid is inefficient as argued by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton, then the neoclassical toolbox is virtually empty. In a society where people regard ending hunger as the ultimate value to prioritize, then we can end hunger when the aggregate sum of endowments equals what is needed to feed everyone. Else, if we regard consumer sovereignty as the ultimate value to prioritize, like we do today, then no wonder we are setting goals for ending hunger by 2030 despite a global food surplus.

In economics education and discourse, our results suggest that expenditure can be on self-consumption as well as on consumption of others including dependents, family, neighbours, social circle and society in general. If an individual prioritizes certain ethical goals, e.g., contributing money and time in social causes over self-aggrandizement, then theorizing should not assume it away. Furthermore, leisure should not necessarily imply ‘non-work’. People can choose to donate more time in response to increase in wages since they may have a desire and inclination to help others. Situations often enable people to transform these traits into pro-social actions. Thus, leisure is better understood as non-market saving of labor hours which can be spent on self-entertainment as well as on volunteering.

Likewise, philanthropy should not be envisioned in the framework of reciprocity alone. It is not necessary that people dis-save lifetime endowments on self-consumption; they can leave philanthropic bequests and endowments, and are not necessarily following reciprocity in such actions. Rather, they may have a strong desire and willingness to help others even when not reciprocated. There are countless examples of people like Mother Teresa and Abdul Sattar Edhi who lived their whole lives serving humanity. Externalities between utility functions can create envy as well as compassion. Humans have the potential to be envious as well as compassionate. Even as neutral observers of the positive phenomenon, we should acknowledge supporting evidence that people help strangers, pay anonymously in charities, and sacrifice their wealth and even their lives in the pursuit of being a good person.

Published in Journal of Philantrhopy, Vol 1, Issue 1 – July December 2017

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