ISLAM AND SCIENCE
The question is; What is the relationship of religion and science? Or more specifically, Islam and Science. Now there are several possible ways of relating religion and science, Islam and science. We can either see a conflict between religion and science as this is the case for neo-atheism, or one can put religion and science into watertight departments, you know one can construct wall between religion and science, and can say religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Religion is playing another game and science is playing another game. So let them do their own thing. And this is a useful strategy to avoid conflict between religion and science. But it also prevents a real dialogue between the two if there is that possibility.
And the third option aside from the conflict and independence is watertight department business. The third option would be a dialogue between religion and science. Here religion and science can talk to each other, you know all certain topics, can benefit from their accumulation, can construct a world view together. This is another possibility and a lot of people now are actually trying to build an authentic dialogue between religion and science.
There is also a fourth possibility that is more philosophical, maybe metaphysical what can do this. There are some apparent conflicts between religion and science on certain issues. If one can elevate himself to a level from which these apparent conflicts are resolved into compatibility, then there is that possibility too. But this requires deep philosophical and metaphysical thinking. There are some apparent conflicts but if you think hard enough, and if you think systematic enough, and if you know really what religion is about and science is about, if you truly master the two fields, then this apparent conflicts can resolve into compatibility. It’s about knowing the nature of scientific activity and nature of religious thinking.
So I gave you four possibilities here, conflict, independence, dialogue and integration of religion and science in a larger metaphysical framework. So a religious person, a Muslim in this case, can follow the last two options here. One Muslim can envisage either a dialogue between religion and science or an integration of the two in a larger metaphysical framework. And Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology and Islamic spirituality actually are giving us a lot of tools to construct that framework in which religion and science can co-exist, can actually help us to construct a really comprehensive world view.
Now this is the first aspect of the discussion. The second thing, and this is I believe is the most crucial part. When we read the Quran, and when we look at the Prophetic traditions, this is what we see. And I can say this as a physicist and mathematician, a former physicist and mathematician and a current religious scholar. There is in the Quran and in the Prophetic tradition no detailed, and this is a very important word here, detailed, there is no detailed cosmic story. Yes, the Quran teaches us how to read the cosmic science, cosmic ayat.
Say we look at the sun, we look at the moon, we look at a flower there we can extract the divine names. We can extract that divine, sacred content in the cosmos which is hidden in the cosmos. And Qu’ran teaches us how to do that. It teaches us the language that the cosmos speaks, and how to extract that sacred content from the cosmos. You look at the sun and you see Divine Majesty, Divine Power, Divine Knowledge. You look at a flower, you see the Divine Beauty, the traces of Divine Beauty, the traces of Divine Knowledge, the traces of Divine Subtlety, the traces of Divine Compassion and Mercy. You look at these objects and you can see the traces of Divine Names and Qualities. And the Quran teaches that.
But the Quran and the Prophetic traditions, they do not give us a detailed cosmic story. Say they do not talk about these chemical and physical reactions taking place in the sun or the physical nature of the moon. They do not talk about these details. And this is really important because science does talk about these details. It’s science’s business to fill these gaps as if the Quran leave this intentional gap, gives you the gist of the issue, the gist of the cosmos and leaves the details to human beings’ rational and empirical research and that is what science does.
Why this is important? Because if you understand this, there can be no real conflict between Islam and science. Because in the first place, Islam is not presenting you, is not forcing you to accept some agreed-upon cosmic detailed story. Since it leaves a gap, you can fill that gap with your scientific research and that is absolutely fine and there is no reason to be concerned about the data a scientific research produces, you know the conclusions of scientific research. Say this is quantum theory or chaos theory or evolutional theory even.
There is no agreed-upon, there is no agreed-upon cosmic detailed story. You can actually be comfortable with any scientific theory so long as you know how to extract that sacred content, how to read the divine science. All things according to the Qu’ran are signifiers, as long as you know their symbolic value, and as long as you know how to go from signifier to the signified, that is God, there is no problem. There is no reason to be concerned about the conclusions or teachings of any scientific theory.
And one last thing, any scientific theory also lands itself to multiple philosophical and theological interpretations. If you see a conflict between religion and science, this can mean two things. You are either looking at a problematic philosophical and theological interpretation of a scientific theory or you’re looking at a problematic interpretation of the sacred text. This seems to be the case in most cases.