By T.O. Shanavas. MD
Author of â€œIslamic Theory of evolution of Evolution The Missing Link Between Darwin and The Origin of Species.â€ Co-author of the book with Prof. Howard Van Till and Rabbi David Kay, â€œAnd God Said, â€œLet There Be Evolution!â€: Reconciling The Book Of Genesis, The Qurâ€™an, And The Theory Of Evolution.â€ Edited by Prof. Charles M. Wynn and Prof. Arthur W. Wiggins
Science been defined as, â€œa continuing effort to discover new knowledge 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.â€
Based upon this definition, physicians and all other professionals who utilize the scientific method are called scientists. Unfortunately, in their professional life Muslim scientists are true believers in science, but, when it comes to their religious lives, they reject many well-established scientific theories such as the theories of evolution and astronomy and its application. They have a truth tell in the mosques and another for their external professional lives. The old Latin expressions, â€œcontra evidential credo (I believe despite the evidence)â€ and credo quia evidentia (I believe because of evidence),â€ most accurately differentiate their dual lives.
What physicians, engineers, chemists, biologists, and other scientists learned during formal education is but a basis onto which new knowledge is added as they progress though their professional lives. Once, more advanced remedies and methodologies are discovered, one does not apply the same remedies and solutions learned during formal education. Yet unfortunately, Muslim scientists generally overlook new knowledge that sometimes challenges their faith.
In order to reconcile this between their religious and professional life, many Muslim scientists (oxymoronic term in this context) cite the evolving nature of scientific theories. Off course, â€œscience has truth with proof but without certainty.â€ On the contrary, the science-rejecting Muslims know that â€œreligious truth heard around the mosques has certainty without proof.â€ They argue human intellect is unreliable and religious truth is absolute.
Their rationalization is internally incoherent. They forget that humans must utilize their intellect to determine whether the Hindu Geetha, or Jewish Torah or Christian Gospel, or Muslim Qurâ€™an or all of them are to be acknowledged as holy books from God. If intellect is an unreliable human faculty for decision-making, then why should anyone accept their point of view in matters relating to any human affairs or their certainty about any specific holy book? Candidly speaking, these Muslim scientists must accept argument that Muslim faith is blind and they reject the following verse (8:22):
â€œThe worst animals before God are the deaf, the dumb, and those who do not use their reason.â€
Babies have only instincts and reflexes. They show their need by crying and attaching to those who feed them and comfort them. Mothers became the center of their universe. Gradually this restricted view evolves by adding 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 â€œfacts.â€ The more closely any particular fact is linked to the core of oneâ€™s world-picture, the greater its subjective meaning and importance to us.
In other words, everything that is in harmony with our appears to us as truth. This interconnection between world-picture and truth can create profound positive as well as negative impact in any community, particularly in religious communities. The significances and outcome of the interconnection between world-picture and truth are illustrated by the history of Muslims. The arrival of religion of Islam transformed ordinary Arab life of 14th century into one of the most advanced civilization in less than two hundred years. George Sarton, previously the professor of History of Science at Harvard University, most elegantly describes this miracle of transformation
â€œThe creation of a new [Muslim} civilization of international and encyclopaedic magnitude within less than two centuries is something that we describe, but cannot explainâ€¦ It is easy to imagine their doctors speaking of western barbarians almost in the same spirit as ours do of the â€˜Orientals.â€™ â€¦At that time Muslim pride would have been more… On the contrary only a few Christians were then aware of their inferiority;â€ [Ref: George Sarton: â€œThe History of Science and The New Humanism.â€ Page 87-90].
The story of Muslims that Professor Sarton described happened at a time, al-Biruni wrote â€œWe must clear our minds . . . from all causes that blind people to the truth–old custom, party, spirit, personal rivalry or passion, the desire for influence.â€ It was the time when Muslims and the religion of Islam celebrated and practiced science and scientific method proudly. That was the world-picture and the truth then. What was the result? In The Making of Humanity, British Robert Briffault gives the answer: While Europe wallowed in ignorance and barbarism, Muslim cities constituted â€œcenters of civilization and intellectual activity.â€
On the other hand, current Muslims have a different the world-picture and the truth. We reject science and scientific method in mosques by Muslims trained in science. Our traditional scholars parrot uncritically what they heard from their schools with almost no academic freedom for dissensions. So, the â€œtruth or tafsirâ€ reverberating all across Muslim world from the Muslim scholars and Imams whose world-picture is stuck in the past and who have very limited knowledge of science of natural world, the other Divine book, distort the meaning of the Qurâ€™an when the Qurâ€™an is meant to be timeless and ever-relevant.
I do not have to describe the negative impact of interconnection between world picture and truth on the contemporary Muslims world including in US. Currently, there is not much creative and critical thinking among Muslims. Experimental science is almost non-existent among them. A large segment of Muslim population lives in poverty. Muslims blow up all kinds of places of worships everyday. Totalitarian rulers are scared of their own people and seek outside help constantly to preserve and protect their reign over the people. Muslim extremists run amok blowing up themselves taking with them the innocent bystanders. Like Christians in the Middle Ages, Muslims are not even aware of their state of inferiority over Christians others.
We, Muslims, have to ask, what do we expect from the future generation of Muslims, when they hear about the unreliability of science in the mosques and from their parents trained in science? The answer is clearly written in the following true story. The most recent list of the semifinalists of â€œ2011 Intel Science Talent Searchâ€ in USA is a reflection of the Muslim communityâ€™s attitude towards science. There are 56 Indians and many more Chinese, with conspicuous absence of Muslims, in the august group of future scientific leaders. Similarly, we meet many Indian and Chinese scholars as guest lecturers in national scientific meetings, but Muslim scientists are conspicuously absent except a rare one here and there among scholars. Why?
Human progress occurs in places where there is an unrestricted welcoming conduit for new ideas. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders and scholars across America feel intimidated by science so that they avoid any honest discussion of science or new ideas in the community as well as in their mosques. Productive scientists who invent new technology or discover new laws or propose new theories are all critical thinkers. They question the soundness widely accepted concepts, theories, and facts. Most Islamic centers, Imams, and Muslim scholars, even 99.9 % Muslims at large discourage critical thinking making mosques as impervious fortresses against any fresh ideas including new approach to the interpretations of the Qurâ€™an.
I have listed here the major characteristics of critical thinkers in in bold letters and what happens in Islamic center and homes in pink within brackets. Critical thinkers are skeptical [discourage skeptical enquiries], open-minded [not open-minded], respect evidence [no respect for scientific or other evidences unless approved by Imams] and reasoning [reasoning is rejected if not in agreement with Imams], and will change positions when reason leads them to do so [never permit to change position when reason leads to do so].
When Muslim children grow up in an environment where critical thinking is not appreciated and generally discouraged, they grow up with a fear to think critically and become non-productive in scientific research.
How then do science-oriented Muslims best respond to science-rejecting Muslims? Should one reject the Qurâ€™an if further scientific discoveries replace the present paradigm with a new one? Definitely not! If the Qurâ€™an is the divine book in human vernacular, â€œthe universe is a â€œwritten scrollâ€ (Qurâ€™an 21:104) in the material medium of the natural world.
The Qurâ€™anic verses are called ayath. The phenomena of the material world, Allah similarly refers to as ayath:
â€œAnd in the earth are signs [ayath] for those who have firm faith, and in your own selves. Do you not discern?â€ (Qurâ€™an 51:20-21).
So, the Qurâ€™an and the universe are twin manifestation of the Divine Self-revelation. These two books come from the same source and so one cannot contradict the other. In other words, God, unlike most Muslims, speaks same truth in and out of mosques. According to the Qurâ€™an, God provides humans with ample evidence in the universe to serve as proof of His existence. If God told humans one thing in the Qurâ€™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 Muslims must always seek the most objective meaning that is relevant to any particular point in human history. The meaning from both books must be mutually complimentary.
As such, when we encounter contradictions between the two divine books, the meaning and the world-picture, that we have artificially created, are at fault for the conflict between the two divine books. Therefore, 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 Qurâ€™an:
â€œHe 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.â€ (67:3-4).
Therefore, the Qurâ€™an and the science demand repeated experimentation. When the meaning of the two divine books comes together without conflict, the genuine truth emerges.
Finally, we, Muslims, talk today about `Qurâ€™anic truthâ€™ 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 which has to be unraveled and restated harmoniously from both divine books. 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.
If Muslims want to participate and contribute in the ongoing scientific advancement a change in their mindset is necessary. They have to transform mosques into centers of intellectual discourse. Muslims have to take fear out of their mind in confronting opposing point of views and ideas, and re-define their world-picture integrating scientific method. Muslims need to re-read the divine books, the Qurâ€™an and the Universe, so that there is no conflict between the meanings of the verses from the two books. Mosques must be lead by open-minded Imams.
Whatever may be the field or job that a person is in, all Muslims must find out what research is going on in their field of study and try to find out the most advanced research going in that the field. They must persevere to reach next higher level of truth in every branch of basic sciences, humanities, and spirituality.
Every Muslim must try to with most revered thinkers in their field of interest. Steven Chu was trained as young man at Bell Laboratories. While he was working there, he was assigned to a team 20 elite physicists for a project. Out of these 20 young physicists, their association with brilliant minds led 7 of them to receive Nobel Prize. This is a beautiful example of spectacular rise due to the association with brilliant passionate truth seekers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-7gWsoXtUw
So, from Kinder Garden to University and also in their professional life, Muslims must try to surround themselves with the people who have a passion for the truth in the material and spiritual world in order to succeed in this world and the Hereafter. Finally, Muslims must always bear in mind that â€œ. . . Verily Allah never will change the condition of people unless they change it themselves,â€ (Quran 13:11) and so prayers without human action are worthless.
By T.O. Shanavas. MD