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Islam And Science

Y. Mermer

1994-10-01 00:00:00

We attain to that worship, in pan, by discovering through scientific inquiry the order in the book of the universe, its operative functions and relations. But we cannot interpret it any way we please. There is only one true way of looking at the world as a whole, only one truly universal world-view. That view, intelligible in the book of the universe, is also taught to us in the Qur'an.

The Qur'anic world-view allows for plurality within unity; it does not see the world as, fundamentally, an arena of antagonistic competitiveness and conflict between disjunct entities. Rather it sees the world as, fundamentally harmonized and balanced, with all its elements inter-related in their entirety; co-operative, compassionate.

The materialist scientific world-view, by contrast, is based on radical fragmentation. It sees nature as an assemblage of discrete, disjunct mechanisms with no inherent value or meaningfulness. It isolates its objects of study from their connectedness with the world as a whole and studies them within arbitrarily defined contexts. This contradicts our human intuitions and experience, for we see and feel ourselves to be meaningful and meaningfully part of the world as a whole; likewise, we sense that everything must also he meaningful and be meaningfully related to the whole. Because materialist science systematically leaves the subject, i.e. man, out of the universe, and insofar as its view is felt to prevail over human consciousness, people come to feel out of place in this world: they are isolated from others; their lives have no meaning except in a very limited, egoistic way; they are alienated from their environment and from themselves.

The materialist scientific or mechanistic world-view is based on the major concepts of so-called classical physics. The developments of modern physics have shattered those concepts and demonstrated the incoherence of the mechanistic view. For example, concepts like the causal nature of reality, and the assumption (or ideal) of an objective description of nature, have had to change with the advent of the new theories of the quantum, relativity and, mole recently; chaos.

Classically it was thought that science could describe and explain everything in the world 'objectively', in the language of mathematical models independent of the judgement of the 'observer'-scientist. The discoveries of modern physics, however, point towards the interconnectedness of all things, an unbroken unity and wholeness, which denies the classical fragmentation of the world into discrete and disjunct parts. In quantum theory; every particle is linked to the rest of the universe and cannot be isolated from it, not even 'for purposes of study'. This oneness of the universe includes human beings as weil. The quantum theory, as well as abolishing the notion of fundamentally discrete objects of scientific inquiry; has introduced the concept of 'participator' to replace that of the neutral observer. Modern science, therefore, restores man to his central position and, at the same time, denies the notion of an absolutely neutral, objective description of reality.

Such changes have not been matched, however, by parallel changes in the world-view of modern scientists. The changes have happened only at the level of mathematical formulation. What counts for the scientists, it seems, is only the development of mathematical formulations of the behaviour of physical phenomena. Such formulations are not valued merely for their technical utility; rather; most scientists believe that their predictive function is a defining criterion of what scientific knowledge is.

Furthermore, most scientists continue to claim that one's view of reality as a whole is of little or no relevance to science. However, it is clear that how we view reality has a tremendous effect on how we behave in relation to nature and to other people, as well as on the meaning life has for us as individuals. We cannot dispense with a world-view; it is not irrelevant.

The attitude of the scientists contradicts the findings of modern science. The mechanistic view is based on a deterministic-causal explanation of phenomena. The latest theories, like the quantum and chaos, tend to a world-view which rejects that kind of explanation. Theoretically the scientists accept that, in order to explain one thing, they need to know its connections to all other things - an impossibility because such connections extend infinitely in time and space and cannot be embraced by human beings who are also parts of those connections. In practice, they continue to look for 'better' deterministic-causal explanations.

The materialist scientists also understand that the unity of the universe points to an Absolute Creator. But, as scientists, they reject the concept of Creator because their method is based on causality which cannot accommodate the unity of the universe. They ignore that unity and compartmentalize phenomena so as to be able to explain them as the product of a limited number of causes. In this way; they make us believe the universe has no Creator and its meaning is limited to what their reductionist method can tell us about it. And that make-believe is the basis of their claim that their science is the authoritative source of knowledge about reality.

There have been many controversies over the conceptual foundations of modern physics. The scientists are aware that their model of reality is not adequate to explain the findings of modern science. They side-step the issue by explaining the paradoxes and contradictions that result from that inadequacy as inherent in the nature of reality; and not in the nature of their world-view.

But how can one apply the reductionist philosophy of causality to the universe as it is now known to be, unified and whole? Though widely discussed, the incompatibility between the materialistic approach to scientific reasoning and the unity of the universe has not been widely accepted. Either that approach to scientific reasoning or the unity of the universe must be reconsidered. 

Given that unity in the universe as a whole, including man, is a manifest reality that no one can deny; it is the materialistic approach that must be reconsidered. That approach is, as noted, reductionist. All things are in reality interconnected and interdependent. It is impossible to attribute any phenomenon, however small, to causes which are themselves transient and contingent. Because whatever is responsible for that phenomenon must be responsible for every other. For any one thing to be existent, it is necessary for every other thing to be so also, since that one thing is inseparably of the whole.

Why should we be able to ascribe a thing to its antecedents in time, but not to its neighbours in space? Why should a thing be able to produce another thing just because it happened before? Modern scientists know that space and time are fully equivalent; unified into a four- dimensional continuum in which 'here' and 'there', 'before' and 'after', are relative. In this four-dimensional space the temporal sequence (of classical physics) is converted into a simultaneous co-existence, the being side-by-side, of all things. Causality clearly appears to be an explanation of a severely limited and prejudiced experience of reality.

Causality binds scientific reasoning to the chain of cause and effect. Each cause is itself of course, also an effect; worse, the effect is totally different from the cause to which it is attached. Yet a real thing is so subtle and complex, so rich in positive potentialities, that - let alone the particular causes to which it is attributed- even if all causes whatever were combined, they could not produce it. For a cause to produce an effect, it must also be able to produce the whole universe in which that effect takes place. For that effect cannot come into existence without the whole universe. There is no being separate, no existence, outside of the reality of the whole.

Belief in causality is the antithesis of the belief that 'There is no god but God', the core of the Qur'anic world-view. Materialist scientists propose that impotent, dependent, ignorant phenomena are, as causes, responsible for the existence of beings and things. In so doing, they must necessarily believe that those causes possess the absolute, infinite power and knowledge needed to bring the whole of reality into being.

The latest discoveries of modem science, affirming the interconnected unity and wholeness of the universe, deny the validity of all the explanations put forward by materialistic science. They demonstrate that the concept of causality is not by any means the corollary of 'objective', scientific investigation. It is no more than a hypothesis which looks increasingly irrational and nonsensical.

There is still a widespread conviction that science can do without the concept of a Creator. Again, this may have been plausible in classical physics, but in the light of the discoveries in modern physics it is not.

Consider, for example, the idea that the universe began with a big bang. The idea is something of a paradox. Of the four forces of nature, only gravity acts systematically on a cosmic scale, and in our experience gravity is an attractive or 'pulling' force. But the explosion which marked the creation of the universe required a very powerful contrary, or 'pushing', force to initiate the path of expansion which continues to this day .It is puzzling that the expansion is countered by the force of gravity which is contracting, not expanding. Careful measurements show that the rate of expansion has been 'fine- tuned' to fall on an edge between two catastrophes: a little slower, and the cosmos would collapse, a little faster and the cosmic material would have completely dispersed long ago. Now; the materialist scientists grasp that such a precisely arranged explosion requires infinite power and knowledge that cannot be attributed to causes. But in their misguided commitment to causality they deny the act of creation and are compelled to say, 'It just happened; it must be accepted as an initial condition.' Some initial condition! And the rate of expansion is only one of countless cosmic miracles which, we may be sure, remain to be understood and described. But in their misguidance, the scientists make believe that miracles of Absolute Power are 'remarkable' coincidences, and attribute the universe to a random 'accident'.

Thus, one of the fundamental theories of modern science is totally compatible with the concept of the Absolute Creator. For the purpose of our argument here, the vital point is that that theory is most definitely not compatible with causality .Thus, the need for God, the Causer of causes, enters science in a fundamental way.

In classical physics, it was believed that a measurement performed in one place cannot instantaneously affect a particle in another, very distant, place. The basis for this belief is that interactions between systems tend to decline with distance. For, according to the explanation by causality a cause must be in the immediate vicinity of its effect. That two particles several metres, let alone light years, apart, influence each other's position and motion, should therefore he inconceivable. However, quantum mechanics predicts a great degree of correlation between two such particles, as though they were co-operating by telepathy Now; how is it possible to explain this 'remarkable' degree of co-operation between different parts of the universe that have never been in contact with each other without mentioning their Creator? How do they achieve this miracle Divine Unity is the only reasonable, coherent and acceptable, indeed necessary, explanation.

To the materialists this situation is paradoxical because it cannot be explained by causality. But to the believer in God, it is a beautiful aspect of His Unity affirming a universal coherence and all-encompassing principles that run throughout the cosmos.

When we break the vicious chains of cause and effect explanations, the meaningless world of materialism gives way to a world illumined with meaning and purpose. The universe becomes like a vast book addressing man and making known its Author so that its readers can take lessons and continually increase in knowledge of their Maker, and deepen their conviction about the fundamentals of faith.

Everything is full of art and is being constantly renewed, and, like the effect, the cause of each thing is also created. For each thing to exist there is need for infinite power and knowledge. Thus, there must exist One of Absolute Power and Knowledge who directly creates the cause and the effect together. All causes and effects demonstrate the Attributes of their Maker, proclaiming the Divine Power and Perfection through their impotence and limitations, all declare: 'There is no god but God'.

Just as the universe points to this truth of Divine Unity, so too it is taught by the Owner of the universe in the sacred Books He has revealed. The phrase, 'There is no god but God', is the fundamental of revelation and it is confirmed by the testimony of all existents, It is the key to the Qur'an, and makes the riddle of the creation of the universe intelligible, a riddle that has reduced materialist science and philosophy to incoherence. The path of unity is also the path of revelation. It is the only path that shows man his Master and Owner, and leads him to recognize worship) the One who alone possesses the Absolute Power that can meet the whole range of his needs.

The Qur'an is the only source that teaches us that the universe and the beings within it do not bear a meaning limited to themselves but testify to their Maker's Unity. It teaches what the universe is and what duties it is performing.

For this reason, every Muslim should study the universe and affirm that all existents, through their order, mutual relationships and duties, refute the false claims of materialist and atheistic reasoning, refute that they are anything other than the property and creatures of a Single Creator. Each rejects the false concepts of chance and causality. Each ascribes itself and all other existents to the One Creator. Each is a proof that the Creator has no partners. Indeed, when His Unity is known and understood correctly, it becomes clear that there is nothing to necessitate that causes have independent efficacy. So, it is impossible for them to be partners to the Creator. Then, the Muslim scientist will say through his investigations and discoveries:

'There is no god but God, alone and without partner'.

The universe is a document to be used by the believers. Because believing in God is, as the Qur'an informs us, to assent with one's heart to the Creator with all His Attributes supported by the testimony of the whole universe. The true affirmation of God's Unity is a judgement, a confirmation, an assent and acceptance that find the Owner of all things present with all things. It finds in all things a path leading to Him. It does not see anything as an obstacle to His presence.

There is no dichotomy between true science and revelation. Rather, true progress in science (with happiness for mankind) can only be achieved in the way of the Qur'an. All scientific discoveries and technological advances are merely the uncovering of the way the universe is created. When the universe is seen as a vast and meaningful unified book describing the beings in it as signs of their Creator, all these discoveries and advances reinforce belief rather than inculcating doubt and bewilderment.

The greatest impediment to man's search for happiness and the meaning of life is to regard science, the study of the created world, as separate from and irreconcilable with revelation, the Word of the Creator But as man learns to heed the universe and his senses, rather than the materialist scientists, he will wake up to the contradictions of their scientific reasoning. Faced, in the creation, with so much of beauty, utility, subtlety complexity's awesomeness, purposefulness, attempts to explain creation by causality are increasingly recognized as unproductive. People then feel the need for and the importance of, the true science and knowledge which can yield knowledge of God and belief in Him.

Your Glory is infinite! We have no knowledge save what You have granted us, You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

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