Islam And Science Essays
"Science and Islam" redirects here. For the historical development of science in the Islamic world, see Science in medieval Islam. For the belief that scriptures such as the Qur'an prophesied scientific theories and discoveries, see Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts. For the documentary, see Science and Islam (documentary).
Muslim scholars have developed a spectrum of viewpoints on science within the context of Islam. The Qur'an exhorts Muslims to study nature and investigate the truth. Muslims often cite verse 239 from SurahAl-Baqara – He has taught you what you did not know. – in support of their view that the Qur'an promotes the acquisition of new knowledge. For some Muslim writers, the study of science stems from Tawhid.[page needed]. The Qur'an had, in many situations, mentioned science as very important and encouraged Muslims to learn science, whether natural or literature.
Scientists of medieval Muslim civilization (e.g. Ibn al-Haytham) made many contributions to modern science. This fact is celebrated in the Muslim world today. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the lack of scientific literacy in parts of the modern Muslim world.
Some Muslim writers have claimed that the Qur'an made prescient statements about scientific phenomena that were later confirmed by scientific research for instance as regards to the structure of the embryo, our solar system, and the creation of the universe.
It's generally accepted that there are around 750 verses in the Quran dealing with natural phenomena. Many verses of the Qur'an ask mankind to study nature, and this has been interpreted to mean an encouragement for scientific inquiry. The investigation of the truth is one of the main messages of the Qur'an.[additional citation(s) needed] historical Islamic scientists like Al-Biruni and Al-Battani derived their inspiration from verses of the Quran. Mohammad Hashim Kamali has stated that "scientific observation, experimental knowledge and rationality" are the primary tools with which humanity can achieve the goals laid out for it in the Quran.Ziauddin Sardar built a case for Muslims having developed the foundations of modern science, by highlighting the repeated calls of the Quran to observe and reflect upon natural phenomenon. "The 'scientific method,' as it is understood today, was first developed by Muslim scientists" like Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Biruni, along with numerous other Muslim scientists.
The astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum while being highly critical of pseudo-scientific claims made about the Quran, has highlighted the encouragement for sciences that the Quran provides by developing "the concept of knowledge.". He writes: "The Qur'an draws attention to the danger of conjecturing without evidence (And follow not that of which you have not the (certain) knowledge of... 17:36) and in several different verses asks Muslims to require proofs (Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful 2:111), both in matters of theological belief and in natural science." Guessoum cites Ghaleb Hasan on the definition of "proof" according the Quran being "clear and strong... convincing evidence or argument." Also, such a proof cannot rely on an argument from authority, citing verse 5:104. Lastly, both assertions and rejections require a proof, according to verse 4:174.Ismail al-Faruqi and Taha Jabir Alalwani are of the view that any reawakening of the Muslim civilization must start with the Quran; however, the biggest obstacle on this route is the "centuries old heritage of tafseer (exegesis) and other classical disciplines" which inhibit a "universal, epistemiological and systematic conception" of the Quran's message. The philosopher Muhammad Iqbal considered the Quran's methodology and epistemology to be empirical and rational.
The physicist Abdus Salam believed there is no contradiction between Islam and the discoveries that science allows humanity to make about nature and the universe; and that the Quran and the Islamic spirit of study and rational reflection was the source of extraordinary civilizational development. Salam highlights, in particular, the work of Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Biruni as the pioneers of empiricism who introduced the experimental approach, breaking way from Aristotle's influence, and thus giving birth to modern science. Salam differentiated between metaphysics and physics, and advised against empirically probing certain matters on which "physics is silent and will remain so," such as the doctrine of "creation from nothing" which in Salam's view is outside the limits of science and thus "gives way" to religious considerations.
The religion Islam has its own world view system including beliefs about "ultimate reality, epistemology, ontology, ethics, purpose, etc."Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God for the guidance of humankind. Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. It is a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation and methodological naturalism, as well as to the organized body of knowledge human beings have gained by such research. Scientists maintain that scientific investigation needs to adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge that explains observable events without recourse to supernatural notions.
In Islam, nature is not seen as something separate but as an integral part of a holistic outlook on God, humanity, the world and the cosmos. These links imply a sacred aspect to Muslims' pursuit of scientific knowledge, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur'an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine. It was with this understanding that the pursuit of science, especially prior to the colonization of the Muslim world, was respected in Islamic civilizations.
Classical science in the Muslim world
See also: Science in medieval Islam, Islamic cosmology, Astronomy in medieval Islam, Mathematics in medieval Islam, Physics in medieval Islam, and Medicine in medieval Islam
In the history of science, science in the Muslim world refers to the science developed under Islamic civilization between the 8th and 16th centuries, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. It is also known as Arabic science since the majority of texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these terms, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, who contributed to scientific studies in the Muslim world.
A number of modern scholars such as Fielding H. Garrison, Sultan Bashir Mahmood, Hossein Nasr consider modern science and the scientific method to have been greatly inspired by Muslim scientists who introduced a modern empirical, experimental and quantitative approach to scientific inquiry. Certain advances made by medieval Muslim astronomers, geographers and mathematicians were motivated by problems presented in Islamic scripture, such as Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 780–850) development of algebra in order to solve the Islamic inheritance laws, and developments in astronomy, geography, spherical geometry and spherical trigonometry in order to determine the direction of the Qibla, the times of Salah prayers, and the dates of the Islamic calendar.
The increased use of dissection in Islamic medicine during the 12th and 13th centuries was influenced by the writings of the Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, who encouraged the study of anatomy and use of dissections as a method of gaining knowledge of God's creation. In al-Bukhari's and Muslim's collection of sahih hadith it is said: "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment." (Bukhari 7-71:582). This culminated in the work of Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), who discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1242 and used his discovery as evidence for the orthodox Islamic doctrine of bodily resurrection. Ibn al-Nafis also used Islamic scripture as justification for his rejection of wine as self-medication. Criticisms against alchemy and astrology were also motivated by religion, as orthodox Islamic theologians viewed the beliefs of alchemists and astrologers as being superstitious.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib, discusses Islamic cosmology, criticizes the Aristotelian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe, and "explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary," based on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds." He raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." On the basis of this verse, he argues that God has created more than "a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has."Ali Kuşçu's (1403–1474) support for the Earth's rotation and his rejection of Aristotelian cosmology (which advocates a stationary Earth) was motivated by religious opposition to Aristotle by orthodox Islamic theologians, such as Al-Ghazali.
According to many historians, science in the Muslim civilization flourished during the Middle Ages, but began declining at some time around the 14th to 16th centuries. At least some scholars blame this on the "rise of a clerical faction which froze this same science and withered its progress." Examples of conflicts with prevailing interpretations of Islam and science – or at least the fruits of science – thereafter include the demolition of Taqi al-Din's great Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in Galata, "comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe." But while Brahe's observatory "opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science," Taqi al-Din's was demolished by a squad of Janissaries, "by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," sometime after 1577 CE.
Arrival of modern science in the Muslim world
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern science arrived in the Muslim world but it was not the science itself that affected Muslim scholars. Rather, it "was the transfer of various philosophical currents entangled with science that had a profound effect on the minds of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like Positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Muslim world and dominated its academic circles and had a noticeable impact on some Islamic theological doctrines." There were different responses to this among the Muslim scholars: These reactions, in words of Professor Mehdi Golshani, were the following:
- Some rejected modern science as corrupt foreign thought, considering it incompatible with Islamic teachings, and in their view, the only remedy for the stagnancy of Islamic societies would be the strict following of Islamic teachings.
- Other thinkers in the Muslim world saw science as the only source of real enlightenment and advocated the complete adoption of modern science. In their view, the only remedy for the stagnation of Muslim societies would be the mastery of modern science and the replacement of the religious worldview by the scientific worldview.
- The majority of faithful Muslim scientists tried to adapt Islam to the findings of modern science; they can be categorized in the following subgroups: (a) Some Muslim thinkers attempted to justify modern science on religious grounds. Their motivation was to encourage Muslim societies to acquire modern knowledge and to safeguard their societies from the criticism of Orientalists and Muslim intellectuals. (b) Others tried to show that all important scientific discoveries had been predicted in the Qur'an and Islamic tradition and appealed to modern science to explain various aspects of faith. (c) Yet other scholars advocated a re-interpretation of Islam. In their view, one must try to construct a new theology that can establish a viable relation between Islam and modern science. The Indian scholar, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, sought a theology of nature through which one could re-interpret the basic principles of Islam in the light of modern science. (d) Then there were some Muslim scholars who believed that empirical science had reached the same conclusions that prophets had been advocating several thousand years ago. The revelation had only the privilege of prophecy.
- Finally, some Muslim philosophers separated the findings of modern science from its philosophical attachments. Thus, while they praised the attempts of Western scientists for the discovery of the secrets of nature, they warned against various empiricist and materialistic interpretations of scientific findings. Scientific knowledge can reveal certain aspects of the physical world, but it should not be identified with the alpha and omega of knowledge. Rather, it has to be integrated into a metaphysical framework—consistent with the Muslim worldview—in which higher levels of knowledge are recognized and the role of science in bringing us closer to God is fulfilled.
In the early twentieth century, Shia ulema forbade the learning of foreign languages and dissection of human bodies in the medical school in Iran.
In recent years, the lagging of the Muslim world in science is manifest in the disproportionately small amount of scientific output as measured by citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals, annual expenditures on research and development, and numbers of research scientists and engineers. Concern has been raised that the contemporary Muslim world suffers from scientific illiteracy. Skepticism of science among some Muslims is reflected in issues such as resistance in Muslim northern Nigeria to polioinoculation, which some believe is "an imaginary thing created in the West or it is a ploy to get us to submit to this evil agenda." Also, in Pakistan, a small number of post-graduate physics students have been known to blame earthquakes on "sinfulness, moral laxity, deviation from the Islamic true path," while "only a couple of muffled voices supported the scientific view that earthquakes are a natural phenomenon unaffected by human activity."
Muslim scientists and scholars have subsequently developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam.
Muslim Nobel laureates
The relative lack of Muslim Nobel laureates in sciences in comparison to their population has been attributed to more insular modern interpretations of the religion, in comparison to how in the Middle Ages it was open to foreign ideas.
Abdus Salam, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his electroweak theory, is among those who argue that the quest for reflecting upon and studying nature is a duty upon Muslims.
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Whether Islamic culture has promoted or hindered scientific advancement is disputed. Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb argue that since "Islam appointed" Muslims "as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences," science cannot but prosper in a society of true Muslims. Many Muslims agree that doing science is an act of religious merit, even a collective duty of the Muslim community.
Others claim traditional interpretations of Islam are not compatible with the development of science. Author Rodney Stark argues that Islam's lag behind the West in scientific advancement after (roughly) 1500 AD was due to opposition by traditional ulema to efforts to formulate systematic explanation of natural phenomenon with "natural laws." He claims that they believed such laws were blasphemous because they limit "Allah's freedom to act" as He wishes, a principle enshired in aya 14:4: "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will," which (they believed) applied to all of creation not just humanity.
Taner Edis wrote An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam. Edis worries that secularism in Turkey, one of the most westernized Muslim nations, is on its way out; he points out that Turkey rejects evolution by a large majority. To Edis, many Muslims appreciate technology and respect the role that science plays in its creation. As a result, he says there is a great deal of Islamic pseudoscience attempting to reconcile this respect with other respected religious beliefs. Edis maintains that the motivation to read modern scientific truths into holy books is also stronger for Muslims than Christians. This is because, according to Edis, true criticism of the Qur'an is almost non-existent in the Muslim world. While Christianity is less prone to see its Holy Book as the direct word of God, fewer Muslims will compromise on this idea – causing them to believe that scientific truths simply must appear in the Qur'an. However, Edis opines that there are endless examples of scientific discoveries that could be read into the Bible or Qur'an if one would like to. Edis qualifies that 'Muslim thought' certainly cannot be understood by looking at the Qur'an alone – cultural and political factors play large roles.
Main article: Islamic views on evolution
The Quran contains many verses describing creation of the universe; Muslims believe God created the heavens and earth in six days;[7:54] the earth was created in two days,[41:9] and in two other days (into a total of four) God furnished the creation of the earth with mountains, rivers and fruit-gardens[41:10]. The heavens and earth formed from one mass which had to be split[21:30], the heavens used to be smoke[41:11], and form layers, one above the other[67:3]. The angels inhabit the seventh heavens. The lowest heaven is adorned with lights[41:12], the sun and the moon (which follow a regular path)[71:16][14:33], the stars[37:6] and the constellations of the Zodiac[15:16].
A faction of Muslims are at odds with current scientific theories about biological evolution and the origin of man. A recent Pew study reveals that in only four of the 22 countries surveyed that at least 50% of the people surveyed rejected evolution. For instance, a relatively large fraction of people accept human evolution in Kazakhstan (79%) and Lebanon (78%), but relatively few in Afghanistan (26%), Iraq (27%), and Pakistan (30%); a total of 13 of the countries surveyed had at least 50% of the population surveyed who agreed with the statement that humans evolved over time. The late Ottoman intellectual Ismail Fennî, while personally rejecting Darwinism, insisted that it should be taught in schools as even false theories contributed to the improvement of science. He held that interpretations of the Quran might require amendment should Darwinism eventually be shown to be true.
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- ^ abcHoodbhoy, Perez (2006). "Islam and Science – Unhappy Bedfellows"(PDF). Global Agenda: 2–3. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
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- ^Nidhal Guessoum. Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science. I.B.Tauris. pp. 132, 134. ISBN 978-1848855175.
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- ^Fancy, Nahyan A. G. (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame: 232–33
- ^Fancy, Nahyan A. G. (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (d. 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame: 49–59, 232–33
- ^Saliba, George (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, New York University Press, pp. 60, 67–69, ISBN 0-8147-8023-7
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- ^F. Jamil Ragep (2001), "Freeing Astronomy from Philosophy: An Aspect of Islamic Influence on Science", Osiris, 2nd Series, vol. 16, Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions, pp. 49–64, 66–71.
- ^Islam by Alnoor Dhanani in Science and Religion, 2002, p. 88.
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- ^Aydin Sayili, The Observatory in Islam and its place in the General History of the Observatory (Ankara: 1960), pp. 289 ff..
- ^ abMehdi Golshani, Does science offer evidence of a transcendent reality and purpose?, June 2003
- ^Mackey, The Iranians : Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, 1996, p. 179.
- ^Abdus Salam, Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (Philadelphia: World Scientific, 1987), p. 109.
- ^Nafiu Baba Ahmed, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, telling the BBC his opinion of polio and vaccination. In northern Nigeria "more than 50% of the children have never been vaccinated against polio," and as of 2006 and more than half the world's polio victims live. Nigeria's struggle to beat polio, BBC News, 31 March 20
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Islam and Science
Professor Ibrahim Kalin
The debate over Islam and science covers a wide range of issues and extends from political leaders and experts to the public at large. Revealing the ever-present tensions between theory and practice, this debate takes place at two levels: practical and intellectual. At the practical level, the challenge is keeping up with the technological civilization of our age and bridging the gap between the advanced societies of the West and Muslim countries. From Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, to the Islamic Republic of Iran and poor and rich Arab countries, empowering nations through science and technology is a top priority for all governments in the Muslim world, even though not all succeed in this goal. But it is not only governments and bureaucrats who think this way; the public at large is also fascinated by the power and magic of science and technology, which has penetrated all aspects of our lives. By will or by necessity, the vast majority of Muslims use science and technology in ways indistinguishable from the rest of the world.
While the practical application of science shadows everything else, the intellectual claims surrounding it raise serious questions. As a systematic way of studying nature, science operates within a framework of philosophical assumptions that overlap with theology and philosophy. Religious, cosmological, and metaphysical ideas provide a context of justification for the scientific study of the order of nature. These ideas and presuppositions may not always be explicitly articulated, but they underlie the conceptual foundations of all scientific traditions from the classical to the modern period. Contrary to the claims of positivists and scientific purists, scientific inquiry is shaped by socio-historical circumstances and preferences. Long before the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 and the postmodernist critiques of science that followed it, a number of studies—including Edmund Burtt's The Foundations of Modern Physical Sciences—had begun to probe into the tacit and explicit presuppositions of modern natural sciences. No matter how "objective" and precise it may claim to be, no science functions in a social or conceptual void.
The Qur'an, Islam's sacred text, contains an elaborate cosmology, makes regular references to natural phenomena, and implores its readers to ponder the world of nature as God's signs (ayat Allah, vestigia Dei). It is quite telling that a verse of the Qur'an is also called an ayah, i.e., sign. It deals with issues that are also studied by the natural sciences: creation, life, heavens and earth, animals, causality, order in nature, the argument from design, and the relation between the natural and human orders. The Qur'an presents natural phenomena as both the foundations of the physical order in which we live and the marvelous work of God as the great Artisan. By giving nature a religious meaning and a metaphysical function within the great chain of being, it offers a religious view of the universe which, in turn, lays the foundation for an Islamic philosophy of science. But this is not simply a religious philosophy superimposed upon a material entity. Rather, it is an integrated and holistic notion of the universe in which man and nature are placed as complements to each other.
Islamic Worldview and Modern Science
The notion of worldview is where Islam's holistic view of the universe runs into conflict with the secular, materialistic, and reductionist notions of the natural world. The latter is not science in any proper sense of the term but what some have called "scientism," an ideological construction of science as an alternative worldview. Scientism seeks to supplant the religious view of the universe and reduce religion to ethics without a claim over the nature of reality. This explains in part why modern atheism makes frequent use of scientism to substantiate its claims against religious faith. The debate as to whether Islam and science can be reconciled is not so much about science as it is about the unsubstantiated claims of scientism and its dubious philosophical arguments.
The secularization of the world-picture has been one of the most important outcomes of the scientific revolution. The scientistic worldview that has emerged out of this process has reduced nature to dead matter and divested the natural world of any intrinsic qualities. It has rejected the creationist account of traditional religions and purged all teleology from scientific nomenclature. The Darwinian theory of evolution, for instance, has come to symbolize the epic battle between religion and science in the West and has caused considerable consternation in the Muslim world, since the majority of Muslims maintain the creation story as the explanation of life on earth.
It is therefore not easy to reconcile the philosophical assumptions of modern scientism with the religious view of the universe espoused by the Qur'an and the Islamic intellectual tradition. These two perspectives represent not just two separate domains, i.e., religion and scientism, but rather different ways of looking at reality and the universe, with radically different and often opposing premises. The world-picture that emerges out of these approaches has far-reaching consequences for the theory and practice of science in any civilization. While the advocates of modern science and technology in the Muslim world emphasize the practical applications of science and consider them essential for the advancement of Muslim societies in the twenty-first century, their critics point to the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of scientism and offer an alternative philosophy of science.
Scientism on the Attack
Scientism's frontal attack on Islam came from Ernest Renan at a lecture at the Sorbonne in 1883. A famous historian of religion and devoted positivist of his time, Renan argued that Islam was inherently irrational, militantly intolerant, and essentially incapable of producing science and philosophy. Lacking the "scientific outlook" that made the scientific revolution possible, Islam prevented the development of science and the kind of "free thinking" that is independent of all metaphysical and religious notions. When there was progress, it was despite Islam's religious dogmas, not because of them. Renan's quasi-racist attack was not an invitation for a conversation on religion and science or on Islam and Europe, but a verdict that was to generate a flurry of responses from several generations of Muslim scholars, scientists, and activists. Published in book form as L'Islam et la science, Renan's lecture was a triumphalist announcement of the final victory of Eurocentrism and its new scientistic worldview over the Muslim world and, in fact, the rest of the globe.
Spearheaded by Jamal al-Din Afghani in Persia and Namik Kemal in the Ottoman Empire, Muslim men of letters took it upon themselves to respond to what they considered to be the distortion of modern science at the hands of some anti-religious philosophers, producing a sizable discourse on modern science and how it can be reconciled with Islamic faith. Afghani epitomized the zeitgeist of his generation when he based his historical apology against Renan on the premise that there could be no clash between religion and science, be it traditional or modern, and that modern Western science was nothing other than the original true Islamic science shipped back, via the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, to the Islamic world. By the same token, there is nothing essentially wrong with modern science, and it is the reductionist and exclusivist representation of science that pits scientific facts against religious faith. Afghani also believed that the Muslim lands that were once the trailblazer of scientific advancements in the world would one day recover from their current eclipse and catch up with Europe (see also Lecture on Teaching and Learning and Answer to Renan).
The prominent Ottoman intellectual Namik Kemal joined Afghani with a rebuttal of his own in his Renan Mudafanamesi (A rebuttal of Renan), focusing this time on the scientific achievements of the Arabs (part of Renan's racism was directed at Muslim Arabs). Kemal was more nuanced in his assessment of the relations between religion and science and hinted that the Islamic intellectual tradition had produced a healthy synthesis of religious faith, philosophical investigation, and scientific discovery. Acutely aware of the daunting challenges of modern scientism but not intimidated by it, he produced an interpretation of Islam and science that has sought to strike a balance between tradition and modernity—a balance that has been attempted by numerous scholars and intellectuals since then.
Religion, Philosophy, and Science
The search for a balanced synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science remains at the center of the Islam-science debate. Philosophy is a bridge, a mediator between religious truths and scientific facts, because it provides a conceptual framework in which the religious view of the universe is related to the scientific description of physical reality. Science cannot produce a "worldview" because, as Huston Smith argues in his Beyond the Postmodern Mind, "'world' implies whole and science deals with part, an identifiable part of the whole that can be shown to be part only." Scientific knowledge is a special kind of knowledge, precise in its details but extremely restricted in its scope. The boundaries of science are drawn by itself: it is an enterprise limited to the quantitative study of the physical world, for which specific methods are needed. In this undertaking, natural sciences excel and show great prowess. Science becomes scientism and turns into poor philosophy when these boundaries are obliterated.
The premodern Muslim scientists applied this principle to their hermeneutics of science and interpreted scientific data within the worldview and cosmological outlook of Islam. A case in point is the notion of God as the "clock-maker" and why it has not caused a religious outrage among Muslims. The mechanization of the cosmos is a hallmark of the modern scientific worldview and underlies much of the new atheism today, because it dispenses with the idea of a creator and a divine agent in the universe. The explanation of the order and balance of the universe through the metaphor of a well-functioning system, however, is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. The Qur'anic concept of mizan, balance, and the philosophical notion of nizam, order, has been utilized to prove God's absolute perfection and artisanship. In fact, one of the classical proofs for the existence of God is the perfection of God's creation: the order, balance, proportionality, beauty, and harmony that we see in the universe. One can study the universe in its physical aspects and marvel at its mathematical precision without turning it into self-sustaining matter and a self-regulating entity separated from God. This is where classical Muslim theology, or kalam, joined the work of Muslim cosmologists and physicists and produced a scientifically sound and philosophically integrated view of the natural world.
The controversies surrounding faith and reason in Islam were hardly between religion and science or religious faith and rational argumentation. Many scholars of religion were also scientists, philosophers, historians, and philologists, and vice versa. When the question of the compatibility of faith and reason was raised, it was raised not by secular philosophers, as in post-medieval Europe, but by religious authorities who did not feel comfortable with particular theories and interpretations of Muslim philosophers. Most of their objections pertained to the philosophical and cosmological system developed by the Muslim Peripatetics on the basis of Aristotle's core ideas. Science per se was hardly a matter of controversy. Al-Ghazali's attack on the Muslim Aristotelians in his Tahafut al-falasifah is a case in point.
Overcoming the Boundaries
Ghazali's criticism of Peripatetic metaphysics and cosmology has been interpreted as the death knell of philosophy and science in Islam—a point still raised in the Islam-science debate today. This is a simplistic reading of the intellectual tradition of Islam and fails to do justice to the long and complex history of science in the Muslim world. Philosophical and scientific studies continued after al-Ghazali and reached a climax in terms of accumulated scientific knowledge and advanced techniques in Andalusia, the Ottoman world, and the subcontinent of India.
More importantly, al-Ghazali makes it clear in his autobiography al-Munqidh min al-dalal that his primary objections were directed not at philosophy (falsafah) as such but at the philosophers (falasifah) and their metaphysics in particular. In a Kantian move, al-Ghazali's concern was to draw the limits of speculative (and Aristotelian) philosophy vis-á-vis Islamic metaphysics. Al-Ghazali held that the Aristotelian system, which the Muslim Peripatetics endorsed, was not adequate for an Islamic metaphysics of God and the creation of the universe because it reduced God to an Unmoved Mover, which hardly did justice to God's absolute power, infinity, mercy, and love.
Diverse Views of Science in the Muslim World
With this background in mind, three main positions can be identified in the present religion-science discourse in the Muslim world. The first is that science is a cross-cultural enterprise and that it does not take an "Islamic" or "Western" form. In simple terms, science studies the world of nature and is a tool to make people's lives better. It is not a philosophical project and does not need religious justification. What the classical Islamic civilization had in the past was a scientific tradition carried out in Muslim lands, which was then transmitted to the West, preparing the ground for the rise of modern science. Thus the Muslim world should import science and technology to solve its economic and social problems without fearing their religious or ethical implications.
This view has been generally defended by such figures as Jamal al-Din Afghani and Sayyid Ahmad Khan in the nineteenth century and is held by scores of Muslim scientists and engineers today. One of its most ardent defenders was Ataturk, who said in his usual crisp tone: "We shall take science and knowledge from wherever they may be, and put them in the mind of every member of the nation. For science and for knowledge, there are no restrictions and no conditions. For a nation that insists on preserving a host of traditions and beliefs that rest on no logical proof, progress is very difficult, perhaps even impossible." Today, governments in the Muslim world follow the same approach and seek to make the most of modern scientific and technological advancements. While many Muslim countries lag behind in scientific research and publication, they share the goal of transferring and owning science and technology to empower their military, economic, and societal development.
Science as Deciphering the Signs of God
In a pious religious context, a different version of this view has been produced to show the compatibility of the Qur'an and science. The proponents of this view, such as Farid Wajdi, Said Nursi, and the latter's follower Fethullah Gulen, both of whom have popularized the study of science among their followers, assign to the natural sciences the task of deciphering the signs of God in the universe. According to them, science reveals the divinely ordained codes built into the natural order and thus helps us marvel at God's creative act. The Qur'an describes the world of nature as a book to read under its guidance, and every sign in the cosmos points to God's power and generosity. This view of science as the decoder of the sacred language of the cosmos has appealed to generations of pious believers in the Christian and Muslim worlds. It has been deployed to show the unity of the three orders of reality: the divine who has created the universe, the natural world that bears to witness to God's creation, and the human order that is attached to both and thus occupies a unique position.
This view of science has also been used as a bulwark against the anti-religious claims of aggressive scientism and atheism. Those who hold a religious view of the universe reject scientism not only on philosophical but also on scientific grounds, and assert that scientism is not verified by the objective findings of natural sciences. The world of nature, when properly studied, reveals a remarkable structure of order, balance, and proportion, all of which point to a higher principle in the universe. God's "invisible hand" is seen most clearly in the cosmos, which humans must not only use for their practical, worldly needs but also understand in order to appreciate God's grace. Thus the sciences, which study nature, God's great work of art, can only enhance one's belief in God. The scientistic critics of religion misuse scientific theories and facts and create a pseudo-religion called scientism. Far from contradicting each other, Islam and science complement each other. Thus Farid Wajdi, one of the most prolific writers of modern Islam, states in his hefty work Islam in an Age of Science, published in Arabic in the middle of the last century, that "science in all ages supports and confirms Islam and Islam helps and backs its learning."
A more recent version of this view has been popularized by the work of Harun Yahya, the pen name of Adnan Oktar, a Turkish scholar and popularizer of Islam. Through numerous publications, videos, and Internet resources, Yahya has launched a major attack against Darwinism and evolutionary theory and defended monotheistic creationism as a scientifically proven doctrine. His work is also a typical example of what some have called "the scientific exegesis of the Qur'an."
The construction of science as a way of deciphering God's signs in the cosmos has led some Muslim scholars to interpret Qur'anic verses according to the findings of modern natural sciences. In turn, scientific discoveries have been interpreted to show their compatibility with religious belief. Some have gone even further and tried to prove not only that the Qur'an is compatible with scientific facts, but that it predicted new scientific discoveries fourteen centuries ago, and that this should be seen as a miracle of the Qur'an and demonstrate that it is the word of God. From the creation of the universe and the formation of clouds to the genesis of the fetus, Qur'anic verses as well as the sayings of the Prophet of Islam have been analyzed with a view toward explaining their scientific precision and truth.
Best exemplified by the French medical doctor Maurice Bucaille's The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, published in 1976, this approach has led to what is called "scientific exegesis" (al-tafsir al-ilmi, al-tafsir al-fanni) of the Qur'an. Its primary focus is to prove the miraculous nature of the Qur'an by using recent scientific discoveries. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this view has been largely accepted by various Muslim scholars including Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Iskandarani, Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Muhammad Abdullah Draz, and Said Nursi. Today, there are numerous publications in various languages advocating a pious interpretation of modern natural sciences.
The pietistic interpretation of modern science in the name of Islamic compatibility fails to address the deep philosophical differences between the Islamic scientific tradition and the secular outlook of modern science. As William Chittick argues in his Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World, it is misleading to think that the goals of the traditional natural sciences are the same as those of modern science. It is also wrong to assume that premodern science is different from modern science only in the advancement of techniques, methods, and the accumulation of scientific data. The qualitative differences in the overall outlook of classical and modern science are too obvious to ignore. As George Saliba discusses in his Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, the rise of the Islamic scientific tradition cannot be relegated to the Muslim encounter with the Greco-Hellenistic tradition and its appropriation by successive generations of Muslim scholars and scientists. A more complex set of circumstances were at work in the formation of the Islamic scientific heritage, and they were underlined by both philosophical considerations and practical necessities, which will be examined below.
Science as a Cultural Enterprise
The second view of science in the Muslim world, which we may call the "epistemic view," takes its cue from contemporary philosophy of science and focuses on the social and historical bases of scientific theories. Its proponents criticize modern Western science on epistemological grounds and make use of the postmodern critiques of natural sciences and their philosophical claims. The epistemic view of science considers the sciences of nature like any other human enterprise: historically grounded, socially bounded, culturally situated, and economically motivated.
Led by the work of T. Kuhn, P. Feyerabend, I. Lakatos, and others, the philosophy of science has gradually become a sociology of knowledge, unearthing the social circumstances, historical prejudices, and tacit assumptions that shape the outlook and practice of science at any given time in history. There is no such thing as '"pure science"' untouched by contexts of historical formation; sciences, no matter how objective or precise they may claim to be, cannot claim immunity. The natural sciences are both cultural products and intellectual constructs that seek to understand the natural world in certain specific ways. As a result, the exclusivist claims of modern science and scientism over other forms of knowledge, including religious, philosophical, and artistic knowledge, should be discarded and the validity of different types of knowledge should be recognized.
The epistemic and methodological critique of modern science and its exclusivist claims of epistemic dominance have been fully developed by a number of Muslim scholars and intellectuals, including Ismail Faruqi, Ziauddin Sardar, Zaki Kirmani, and M. Ahmad Anees. They have also attempted to give an Islamic content to the epistemic-philosophical architecture of natural sciences. The "Islamization of knowledge" project, developed by Ismail Faruqi and his followers at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), aimed at creating a new epistemic foundation for social and natural sciences from an Islamic point of view, and adopted an interdisciplinary approach. But Faruqi, since he believed in the essential neutrality of natural sciences and thought they needed no special attention, turned to social sciences and initiated a program to '"Islamize"' the existing forms of knowledge and social disciplines as they have developed in the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Ziauddin Sardar and a number of closely associated scholars known as the "Ijmalis" and the "Aligarh School" have also addressed the issues of science and scientific knowledge from an Islamic point of view. They have adopted a largely historical-cultural approach to science and interpret it as "a basic problem-solving tool of any civilization." As Sardar argues in his Explorations in Islamic Science, the natural sciences, just like any other human enterprise, operate within a certain historical-cultural context. Their tacit philosophical assumptions and scientific programs are shaped by the socio-historical settings in which they emerge and function. As the defenders of "postmodern science" hold, all scientific data are subject to such historical readings and cannot be considered absolute truths outside their socio-cultural contexts. This does not lessen the significance and reliability of scientific discoveries. But it does limit the degree to which the natural sciences can claim universal objectivity and applicability.
The epistemic view of science has led a number of Muslim scholars, scientists, and intellectuals to produce a sizable literature on the development of methods of natural sciences according to Islamic principles in such diverse fields as physics, astronomy, and biology. Several Islamic universities in Pakistan and Malaysia have implemented these principles in their curricula and have taught natural and social sciences from an Islamic and multidisciplinary point of view. Although they have achieved some success, they have so far failed to produce an integrated and coherent body of knowledge in either social or natural sciences.
The culturalist-historical approach to science has been further developed in relation to the practice of science in the Muslim world. In his Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History, Ahmad Dallal, for instance, traces the history of scientific activity in classical Islamic civilization by analyzing the cultural forces that propelled Muslims to take up natural sciences as a primary field of study. Toby Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West provides a comparative study of the history of science in Chinese, Islamic and Western traditions and focuses on legal and institutional foundations. Huff explores why the scientific revolution did not happen in China or the Islamic world when in fact they had more advanced science than Europe until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
A Metaphysics of Science
In addition to the neutral and epistemic-cultural views of science, a third view of science has emerged with a more substantial critique of the secular-materialist outlook of modern natural sciences and the philosophical claims of scientism. Led chiefly by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and defended by Naquib al-Attas, Osman Bakar, Alparslan Açikgenç, Mahdi Golshani, and Muzaffar Iqbal, the proponents of this view aim to analyze and deconstruct the metaphysical and philosophical foundations of modern science and propose a view of science grounded in the sacred teachings of religion on nature and the cosmos. They agree with the epistemic view that every scientific activity is carried out within a certain framework of principles, ideas, and assumptions about the universe. But these are not simply methodological principles; they pertain to the very nature of scientific activity. Our basic premises about existence precede the scientific descriptions of the physical reality. Thus a proper of study of the relation between religion and science has to start with the delineation of these presiding ideas and assumptions.
The task of a proper philosophy of science is to clarify these ideas and principles as they apply to the scientific investigation of the physical world. "Islamic science" refers to the kind of science produced within a framework of reality as envisaged by the fundamental teachings of Islam about the universe. It is both a metaphysical and an ethical framework, a way of looking at physical reality as part of the great chain of being that encompasses all beings and regulates their relations. According to its defenders, the concept of Islamic science operates on the principle of a conceptual unity and a holistic view of reality whereby everything in the universe is related to everything else. The Qur'anic view of the cosmos undergirds the scientific study of the natural world not only at the level of methodology but also at the level of "fundamental metaphysics," providing a context of meaning for all philosophical investigations and scientific discoveries. As Nasr states in his Science and Civilization in Islam, "the aim of all the Islamic sciences . . . is to show the unity and interrelatedness of all that exists, so that, in contemplating the unity of the cosmos, man may be led to the unity of the Divine Principle, of which the unity of Nature is the image." Thus the doctrine of tawhid, divine unity, applies to theology as well as to science; by means of this concept, the hierarchical interconnectedness and the inherent order and intelligibility of things are unveiled.
As Muzaffar Iqbal discusses in his Islam and Science, the great achievements of Muslim scientists in classical Islamic civilization were made possible within such a framework of understanding and thus extended the Islamic Weltanschauung into the field of practical sciences and technology. While operating within the religious universe of Islam, natural sciences also responded to the practical needs of Muslim societies. These included a wide range of issues: finding the direction of the qibla; determining prayer times; devising complex tax systems; developing new surgical methods; examining and discovering different aspects of the human body; producing new drugs; applying mathematical models and geometrical patterns to architecture and plastic arts; producing complex colors and coloring techniques; researching light and its movements; advancing optical sciences for various uses; building sophisticated and efficient windmills and watermills; developing the science of cybernetics; inventing new devices for measurement; advancing map making; and so on.
History of Islamic Science
While scientists and technicians met these practical needs and advanced the material well-being of their societies, states and political leaders supported and generously funded scientific activities. In some cases, rival states competed with each other to attract the best scientists in the world, from the Byzantine lands to China. Most scientific projects in physics, astronomy, chemistry, optics, and medicine were funded through public funds but also through endowments, schools, libraries, and research centers. The famous Bayt al-Hikmah, for instance, became such a center in the ninth century and functioned as a model for other institutions in the centuries to come. It was not only a center for the translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic. It was also a center for advanced learning, research, and study where Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs came together to pursue knowledge in the vast inventory of human learning that was available to them. It is still remembered today as a beacon of knowledge and as a memorable witness to the great achievements of Muslim scholars and scientists.
The contributions of Muslim scientists have been studied in various academic works, including those by Roshdi Rashed, N. Haq, E. Kennedy, and others. The Cambridge Journal of Arabic Sciences and Philosophy publishes scholarly articles on the history of science in the Muslim world. The journal Islam and Science, edited by Muzaffar Iqbal, engages the Islam-and-science debate through discussions on the theory and practice of science in an Islamic context.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr's Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study was the first major study of Islamic science with a view toward making it available to a general audience. Most recently, the major achievements of classical Islamic science have been presented in a major exhibition and study called 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. The exhibition brings together some of the important discoveries made by Muslim scientists and discusses their contributions to general knowledge.
A museum of Islamic science and technology with a similar idea has opened in Istanbul, Turkey under the direction of Fuat Sezgin. Considered one of the most prolific historians of Islamic thought and science, Sezgin's works, published in several languages, cover the major areas of Islamic science and technology. His science museum provides an engaging access to the workings of various technical devices and machines developed by Muslim scientists.
The Islam-science debate has its critics as well. The critics reject the Islamic science literature as conceptually weak, historically ungrounded, and scientifically unproductive. For instance, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Taner Edis, while taking different approaches, insist on a clear-cut distinction between the fields of religion and science, and see attempts at reconciliation or synthesis as unsound. They generally take a bifurcationist position and propose that religion and science be treated as two independent domains of study.
Issues in Physical and Biological Sciences
Today, Muslim scholars and scientists face a series of conceptual and practical challenges in the field of science and technology. The findings and application of modern science to various fields of life pose challenges to world religions including Islam. Issues in bioethics, human cloning, genetic engineering, organ transplantation, and stem-cell research have generated varying responses by Muslim scholars and scientists. This is a new area of intense debate in which Muslim jurists, biologists, and physicians have all been consulted for answers. The Darwinian theory of evolution remains a highly contentious issue, with both defenders and opponents arguing from the Islamic sources. Osman Bakar's Critique of Evolutionary Theory: A Collection of Essays brings together a number of essays that consider Darwinian evolution both unscientific and un-Islamic.
A similar set of issues has emerged in the field of physical sciences and cosmological theories. Quantum mechanics has substantially changed our concept of matter, and its philosophical implications have been applied to issues of determinism, measurement, chance, and necessity. Modern cosmological theories, the big-bang theory of creation, the anthropic principle, the argument from design, and models of the expanding and oscillating universe have also produced a sizable literature and have once again blurred the lines between religion, philosophy, and science. A number of Muslim scientists have written about modern physics and cosmology from an Islamic point of view.
Muslim thinkers and scientists have produced different perspectives on Islam and science. Their diverse responses attest to the possibility of different conceptualizations and formulations within an Islamic framework. The practical and conceptual challenges of science and technology remain pressing for Muslim societies. The debate over how to develop a coherent Islamic framework for science and technology continues with important implications for biological and environmental issues in the Muslim world. As developing Muslim nations continue to struggle with issues of science and technology, the Islam-science debate is certain to gain further momentum.
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