“Unlike Muslim Scientists, God speaks same truth in and out of Mosques”

T.O. Shanavas

Posted Mar 6, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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“Unlike Muslim Scientists, God speaks same truth in and out of Mosques”

by T.O. Shanavas

Science has been defined as, “a continuing effort to discover and increase human knowledge and understanding through disciplined research. Using controlled methods, scientists collect observable evidence of natural or social phenomena, record measurable data relating to the observations, and analyze this information to construct theoretical explanations of how things work.” 

Based upon this definition, physicians, engineers, chemists, pharmacists, sociologists, and all other professionals who utilize the scientific method are called scientists. An embarrassing reality is that many Muslims among the scientific community lead a double life. They acknowledge a professional life in which they truly believe in science and practice its theories, but within the context of their religious life, especially within the mosques, they will passionately reject many scientific theories. 

As most physicians (and people in other areas of human endeavor) knows, what they learned during formal education is but a basis onto which new knowledge is added as they progress though their professional lives. One does not apply the same remedies learned during formal education, once more advanced remedies and methodologies are discovered.

Yet, how do the Muslim scientists fare when regarding new knowledge within the context of religion?

Many Muslim scientists, relentless in questioning the validity of scientific opinions, will become submissive in accepting old and worn out, commentaries, tafsir, of the Qur’an. Such intellectual complacency and lethargy is demonstrated despite the fact that many of the commentaries written in the past, some in a very remote past, conflict with current scientific knowledge. It is an amusing contradiction that many of our Muslim scientists accept science at one level but reject it on another. Why don’t they apply the same intellectual curiosity to religion that they eagerly apply in other realms? 

In order to reconcile this contradiction, many Muslim scientists cite the evolving nature of scientific theories. It is a fact that science has truth with proof but without certainty. It must be noted, though, that the science-rejecting Muslim scientist accepts religious truth with certainty but without proof. Many offer defensive rationalization that the scientific theories are not absolute, that the human intellect is not reliable, and the religious truth is absolute. In this justification, they forget that humans must utilize their intellect to determine whether the Hindu Geetha, or Jewish Torah or Christian Gospel, or Muslim Qur’an or all of them are to be acknowledged as holy books from God. If science-rejecting Muslim scientists have determined that human intellect cannot be considered a reliable measure of discernment, then why should anyone accept their point of view in matters relating to human affairs or wellbeing including holy book?

At the time of birth, babies have only instincts and reflexes. They show their need by crying and attracting those who feed them and comfort them. Mothers became the center of their universe. As babies get older their world-view evolves, though still focused primarily on their mothers. Gradually this restricted view matures and broadens to include family, friends, community, and the natural world.  A world-picture is an echo of the underlining system of thought by which we process and harmonize our recurring experiences that we label as “facts.”

Generally, a fact is defined as something that is true, something that actually exists, or something having objective reality that can be verified according to an established standard of evaluation. The more closely any particular fact is linked to the core of one’s world-picture, the greater its subjective meaning and importance to us.

In other words, everything that is in harmony with our world-picture appears to us as truth. So, the truth or tafsir heard from Imams whose world-picture is stuck in the past and who have limited modern knowledge of natural world, distorts the meaning of a Qur’an when the Qur’an is meant to be timeless and ever-relevant.

To us,everything that is in harmony with our intellect appears to us as truth. Therefore, truth is relative.  In this, the following Qur’anic verse is most relevant:

“On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear…” (Qur’an 2:286).

How then do science-oriented Muslims best respond to science-rejecting Muslims’ who rally on the points that since science is always evolving, confirmed scientific observations could be proved wrong in the future? Should one reject the Qur’an if further scientific discoveries replace the present paradigm with a new one? Definitely not! If the Qur’an is the divine book in human vernacular,  “the universe is a “written scroll” (Qur’an 21:104) in the material medium or vernacular of the natural world.

Qur’anic verses are called by Allah, ayath. The phenomena of the material world, Allah similarly refers to as ayath:

“And in the earth are signs [ayath] for those who have firm faith, and in your own selves. Do you not discern?” (Qur’an 51:20-21).

These two books, one the Qur’an and the other the book of nature, come from the same divine source and so one divine revelation cannot contradict the other. According to the Qur’an, God provides humans with ample evidence in the universe to serve as proof of existence.  If God told humans one thing in the Qur’an and gave the evidence for another in His book of Universe, this would do the opposite of proving His existence. So, an occasional contradiction has nothing to do with these two divine books but all to do with the meaning extracted from the two books. As this meaning can be distorted by our subjective world-view, it is vitally important that we seek always to find the most objective meaning that is relevant to all times, inclusive of new discoveries within the modern era.

As such when we encounter contradictions between the two divine books, our meaning and our world-picture are at fault for the imaginary conflict we have created between the two. Muslims must go back and re-read the two books in order to reconcile the contradictory meanings and their world-picture arising from their previous reading of the books.  Such repeated experimentation, until the resolution of the conflict, is demanded by the Qur’an:

“He created seven heavens in layers. You do not see any discordance in the creation of the All-beneficent. Look again! Do you see any flaw? Look again, once more. Your look, return to you, humbled and weary.” (67:3-4).

Therefore, the Qur’an and the science applied to the natural world demand repeated experimentation and evidence so that they may come nearer to the truth until there is no conflict between the two divine books.

Finally, we, Muslims, talk today about `Qur’anic truth’ as the truest kind of truth, the kind we swear by, the kind we feel in our bones to be true, the last truth of all that we are not willing to give up. It is that kind of truth, a universal belief shared by all Muslims, which has to be unraveled and restated harmoniously with each new discovery of verses written within the divine book of the universe in order for this truth to remain true for all the times. We shall not be afraid to tell the truth as it appears to us. Indeed, if we truly believe in God, we should recognize that Allah gave us the brains to conduct scientific research. Not to do so—not to use the marvelous gift of intelligence with which He has blessed us—would not only be impolite, it would express a heinous ingratitude to God. The Qur’an cautions the consequence of the squandering of divine gift offered to humanity in verse: 

Behold! In the creation of heavens and the earth, and alternations of night and day,—There are indeed Signs for men of understanding,—Men who celebrate the praise of God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplating the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth: ‘Our Lord! Not for naught hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of fire.’ (3:190-191)