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Need for Harmony between Science and Religion

Need for Harmony between Science and Religion Science and Religion

Muzaffar Hussain

The integration of science and religion is one of the major issues of our age. Some thinkers believe that their integration is possible and necessary while others contend that the two are inherently different. Much logic has been furnished by both sides but very frequently the issue has been confounded on wrong premises where one is reminded of Charles F. Kettering’s saying: ‘Beware of logic. It is an organized way of going wrong with confidence’. The issue, nevertheless, is so important and compelling that the disturbed minds of the sensitive younger generation cry for an answer that could console their agitated spirits. Whitehead has very rightly pointed out: ‘When we consider what religion is for mankind and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as the relations between them’.

Only those ideas that integrate vitally can evolve into beliefs. Huxley, who regarded beliefs as important organs of cultural evolution -- the only course of evolution open to man – believed that they cannot be imposed by force but it is possible to encourage and promote them by helping one belief with the aid of another. He also held that there is a constant and necessary interaction between our beliefs and our knowledge of facts. According to him, belief is a crystallization or fusion of emotions and feelings and knowledge into a system of ideas, which is ‘always to some degree operative or effective and tends to issue in action of some sort’ thus ‘giving a directional set to personality’ and determining an individual’s ‘general attitude or approach to life’. So beliefs can live and grow only if intellectual, scientific, artistic, practical and moral ideas are integrated biologically as virtual parts of an organic whole. On the other hand, they degenerate if one set of ideas constantly corrodes the other. It is, therefore, simply impossible to have two types of beliefs at one and the same time. For example, if Adam and Eve of science differ entirely from the Adam and Eve of religion, the two types of concepts would give rise to a conflicting situation from where there is no escape except to abandon either the clear teachings of religion or the clear teachings of science. Today the young generation finds itself in a similar dilemma, thrown at the crossroads, bewildered and perplexed. Those who profess to accept this duality of thinking in their adventure of practising scientific thought while still preserving religious faith are in fact divided personalities with little prospects of finding the right path, for, faith cannot take roots in a divided mind. C.P. Snow complains: ‘The intellectual life of the whole western society is being split into two polar groups, which had long ago ceased to speak to each other but they had at least managed a kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now even that politeness is gone; they just make faces’. The cultural disintegration of a society epitomized in ‘two cultures’ by C.P. Snow is a cause of great concern for the great thinkers of the West. Renes Dubos asserts: ‘Human culture, like organisms and societies, depends for its survival on their internal integration, an integration which can be achieved only to the extent that science remains meaningful to the living experience of man’. No wonder therefore that scientists like Seabourg stress the need of ‘integrating into our thinking and acting the full range of human wisdom’, so that ‘the philosopher, the social scientist, the writer, the natural scientist are all intellectual brethren under the skin’.

But in this age of ours ‘institutionalized science’ has stood up against ‘institutionalized religion’ as a rival establishing its own ‘sacred buildings, its monastries, its esoteric language, its priests and acolytes, even its incantations and mummies’. Thus science has become a ‘metaphysical mother’, a ‘superhuman thing’, and a ‘huge entity which has an independent existence of its own’, in which modern man believes in much the same way as his ancestors used to believed in religion. It has gradually spread its roots in all what we do and think and all what we feel and we cannot tear them out and if we do we would endanger our civilization.

In a cultural milieu permeated through and through with science, modern man has ‘developed habits of concrete thought which renders him less capable of that type of inner experience on which religious faith ultimately rests because he suspects it ‘liable to illusion’. And ‘no one would hazard action on the basis of a doubtful principle of conduct’. ‘Religion’, said Iqbal ‘stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than dogmas of science’. In these circumstances, the demand for a scientific form of religious experience is quite natural. It was the fulfillment of this need which prompted Iqbal to reconstruct religious thought in Islam ‘with due regard to philosophical traditions of Islam and latest developments in various domains of human knowledge’. He set himself to evolve ‘a method physiologically less violent and psychologically more suitable to a concrete type of mind’. He found the Muslims of the twentieth century in an ‘extremely critical stage which immediately demanded an attempt to reconcile religion with reason’. He firmly believed that the day was not far off when ‘religion and science may discover mutual harmonies’. His efforts at rationalization of faith but at the same time not admitting superiority of philosophy over religion made him undoubtedly the greatest of all the Muslims thinkers of the twentieth century whose appeal to the younger generation is sure and certain.

One of the basic premises, gone very deep into common religious thinking, which is responsible for the dichotomy of religion and science is the popular notion of ‘blind faith’. It is said that faith begins where reason ends and faith has nothing to do with reason. According to this view, faith in the Unseen (غيب) cannot but be ‘blind’. The argument of ‘blind faith’ leads one to the conclusion that the name of God has no relevance to the knowable and the known. This premise has done incalculable harm and has provide strong grounds for scientists to assume that faith is a white flag of surrender to the unknown or just another name for man’s contentment with ignorance which inhibits the inquisitiveness of the mind and spells doom to all scientific inquiry and endeavour. They also argue that since revelation issues from a region which is wholly inaccessible to man, the object of faith is something which is absurd to reason. Thus human reason (science) and divine reason (religion) do not touch at any point. Huxley’s assertion: ‘If events are due to natural causes they are not due to supernatural causes’, is rooted in the same reason. ‘The doctrine of a personal God’, says Albert Einstein, ‘can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not been able to set foot’. He calls this behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion ‘not only unworthy but also fatal’, because ‘a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in dark will, of necessity, lose its effect on mankind’. By enthroning God in the unknowable, as if He abhorred the light of human knowledge, we assign Him an extremely vulnerable position in the universe so that the ever-expanding frontiers of scientific discoveries correspondingly push Him further and still further back into the ever-retreating unexplored parts of nature. No wonder, therefore, that the Russian space scientists on their first entry into space rejoicingly declared that there is no God in the Universe. How may we hope to keep the flame of faith aglow if faith were just a sort of refuge in the nescience equating religion with darkness and ignorance.

Another wrong premise on which religion seeks to establish its superiority and priority over science is through its overemphasis on the limitations of science. The religious protagonists are in a habit of making pronouncements that science will never be able to achieve this or do that as these lie only within the competence of the ‘supernatural’, ie God. But as Randall points out: ‘What in the past, men have called ‘supernatural’ might better be called ‘superhuman’ – that in the world which man finds lies beyond man himself, which inspires man and condemns his inadequacies’. But man is a changing phenomenon in the realm of science. Ever-increasing additions in his knowledge give him more and more power over nature thus making him more and more ‘supernatural’ day by day. Science has been consistently breaking its limitations and eroding the ground from underneath the superstitions, wrongly taken up as religious beliefs. Even the strongest walls, built by men of religion for the protection of their concept of God, -- narrowed by their own limited imaginations – are being demolished one by one as science marches victoriously in her achievements. Had the imagination of the religious people been continuously broadened by new insights of science which it perpetually provides to man through new discoveries, the idea of God would have been correspondingly widened. The Qur’ān points out:

And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea were ink, with seven seas more to replenish supply, the signs of Allah could not be exhausted. Lo! Allah is Mighty Wise. (31:2)

The role of science in Islam is to help cleanse religious imagination of the dross of Shirk (polytheism) and gradually leading him to the pure Godhead (Tawhīd) of the Qur’ān:

We shall show them Our Signs in the expanses of the universe and within themselves until it will dawn on them that it is the truth. (41:53)

Had we allowed religion and science to intercommunicate and interpenetrate, most of the conflicts between them would have been solved long ago perhaps we would have arrived at different scientific conclusions, hypotheses and theories; or perhaps our religious beliefs had been rendered more scientific by new scientific insights into the nature of truth, as envisaged in the aforementioned verses of the Holy Qur’ān.

The God of Islam is both the Manifest (ظاهر) or the Known and the Hidden (باطن) or the Unknown in the vast expanse of the universe. In the Holy Qur’ān, God offers Himself to man as much within the fold of His knowledge as beyond the range of his conceiving. In fact, God would not be God if He could be fully known and God would not be God if He could not be known at all. Now when the Holy Qur’ān exhorts man to toil ceaselessly to meet Him (84:6) and man in turn determines to reach Him and be with Him (1:4), he prays to God to show him the right path (1:5) ie; a path which passes straight through this concrete material world and does not sidetrack it. Modern mind with its habits of concrete thinking demands exactly such type of concrete living experience of God. While inviting attention to some of the natural phenomena of the material world, the Holy Qur’ān proclaims in unambiguous words:

This is Allah! Where are ye then led astray? (6:96).

According to the Holy Qur’ān, all natural phenomena are ‘Signs of God’ indicating the activity of His Mind. In urging its readers to observe minutely and ponder deeply over these phenomena, the intent of Holy Qur’ān seems to be that by keeping a close contact with the behavior of Reality, man will sharpen his inner perception for a deeper vision of it. As Iqbal says: ‘It is the intellectual capture of and power over the concrete that makes it possible for the intellect of man to pass beyond the concrete’. Science – based on the observation of sense data – is thus a necessary preparation for man to see God and is thus a sort of prayer.

Numerous scientists have endorsed this view of Iqbal that scientific activity is a sort of religious activity. Iqbal prescribes prayer as ‘a necessary complement to the observer of nature’. Says Edmund W. Sinnot ‘Beneath nature’s surface beauties, there is a deeper beauty whose contemplation offers most profound satisfactions’. ‘Science’, declares Max Wertheimer, ‘is rooted in the will to truth. With will to truth it stands or falls. Lower the standard slightly and the science becomes diseased at the core…The will to truth, pure and unadulterated, is among the essential conditions of its existence’. Albert Einstein, too, is of the opinion that ‘science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with aspiration towards truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion’.

Another wrong premise on which some religious thinkers see the separation of religion from science is the idea that they come from and belong to different parts of the mind and are different kinds of mental activities. They say that the facts of religion can be comprehended only through intuition, love, wonder and appreciation while facts of science are learnt through observation, sensory perception, intellectual effort, reasoning and understanding. But human mind never works in such severally-isolated compartments as if it were divided into separate departments of thinking, feeling and willing. No type of mental activity can ever be imprisoned into its own confines to the absolute exclusion of others; rather they frequently walk into one another. Thus there is no such thing as pure thought or pure feeling or pure intuition. The world cannot be divided into classes like thinkers and feelers even though there are philosophers and scientists and poets and mystics. There have been great scientists like Galvani, Perkin, Roentgen and Fleming who made their great discoveries under the flashes of intuition which came to them spontaneously; whereas a number of scientists like Lecomte du Nuoy, Teilhard de Chardin, Edmund W. Sinnot, Heisenberg caught glimpses of God during their thinking over material problems. On the one hand, even great prophets having direct communion with God would, at times, need ask Him ‘My Lord! Show me how You give life to the dead’ (Abraham (sws)1, or ‘My Lord! Show me Yourself so that I may gaze on Thee (Moses (sws)2, or ‘My Lord! Give me the knowledge of things as indeed they really are (Muhammad (sws)3. On the other hand, an ordinary human being, like the present writer’s father, relates that when he was a student of physiology, he would often fly into rapt ecstasy of a mystic while attending a lecture in the class or working in the laboratory when he felt ‘as if they had a direct vision of God’. Thus the realms of religion and science, though clearly marked off from one another outwardly, have very strong reciprocal relationships and mutual dependencies inwardly, admitting of no departmental isolations in the human mind. A noted scientist, R.G.H. Sill, has gone to the extent of saying: ‘The sense-perception is the preception of the Absolute’, it is ‘pure suchness and no knowledge is possible unless symbolizing turns it either into (i) an intuition or (ii) an item of rational knowledge ie science’. However a deep feeling of no knowledge at the root of all knowledge makes one see God-in-the atom which in the words of Einstein inculcates in man ‘that humble attitude of mind towards the grandeur incarnate in existence, which in its profoundest depths is inaccessible to man’. Iqbal hits the same point when he says:

These are all but the stages of the seeker of truth

Honoured with the ‘knowledge of all the names’

The stage of meditation ‘scanning through time and space’

The stage of recitation: ‘All praise unto Thee, my Lord the Highest’.

References

1. Dubos, R. Quoted in Science and Man’s Nature, p.191

2. Einstein, A. (1955), Pattern for Living, The MacMillan Company, New York.

3. Huxley, J. (1959), New Bottles for New Wine, Chatto & Windus, London.

4. Huxley, J. (1969), Religion without Revelation, Mentor Books, New York.

5. Iqbal, M. (1965), Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore.

6. Iqbal, M. (1961), Stray Reflections, Ed., Javed Iqbal; Sh. Ghulam Ali & Sons.

7. Iqbal, M. (1963), Darb-i-Kalīm, Sheikh Ghulam Ali & Sons, Lahore.

8. Otto, M.C. (1945), The Human Enterprise Appleton century Croft., New York.

9. Randel, J.H. (1962), Patterns of Faith in America Today, Collier Books, New York.

10. Seabourg, G.T. (1963), Science – Meaning & Method, New York University Press, New York.

11. Sill, R.G.H. (1964), Tao of Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Massachusetts.

12. Sinnot, E.W. (1963), Science – Meaning and Method, New York University Press, New York.

13. Snow, C.P. (1963), Two Cultures & a Second Look, Cambridge University press, New York.

14. Whitehed, A.N. (1925), Science & the Modern World, A. MacMillan Press, New York.

Taken from:

http://www.monthly-renaissance.com/issue/content.aspx?id=506

 

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