Leaving Islam






The soul in science: a case of unfuzzy sophistry?


Syed M. Islam



On the article below, titled “The Soul of Science,” Ms Sheema Khan seems to enjoy resorting to sophistry and fallacies. She opens her arguments with a quote from Issac Newton: ‘This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…He governs all things, and knows all things that are, or can be done…’ as a manifestation of harmony between science and faith. But does Islam consider Newton a believer? We’ll find out later on. 

Let’s evaluate Newton’s argument. That the planetary system’s design and order are indeed due to an ‘intelligent’ being governing it is a fallacious statement, because its premises are not explicated. A relevant fallacy might be audiatur et altera pars.  

In addition, his conjecture about a supreme entity while being a scientist hardly validates the existence of God in science. A related fallacy might be that of hasty generalization. Ms Khan’s relevant argument seems to follow the pattern: Newton was a scientist. Newton believed in God. Therefore, science and God are compatible. Readers can judge this pattern’s validity. 

Another flaw in Ms. Khan’s argument: While the Islamic notions of Allah may share some commonalty with Newton’s speculations about a creator, those hardly prove that Newton was thinking of the Muslim God, Allah. A relevant fallacy might be that of irrelevant conclusion. (a) In general, she argues that it has never been an issue to reconcile science to the Islamic faith. Quoting Newton in this context, however, might be a fallacy of appeal to authority. (b) Please read the first example at (b) that is often offered by many believers. 

Ms Khan’s contends that, according to the Quran, nothing is left to ‘fuzzy uncertainty’ and then cites a comment by Einstein, which hardly proves her point. This is also a repeat of (b). Relevant to wonder, why do some Islamic scholars call for reinterpretations of the Quranic verses, if everything is already unfuzzy and certain? Is she implying that the word ‘fuzzy’ changes its meaning for each generation? If she isn’t, wouldn’t any reinterpretation be a moot point? 

Let us evaluate the certainty of some Quranic commandments:


O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust. The Quran 5:51 

Whoso disbelieveth in Allah after his belief - save him who is forced thereto and whose heart is still content with the Faith - but whoso findeth ease in disbelief: On them is wrath from Allah. Theirs will be an awful doom. The Quran 16:106 

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. The Quran 9:29 

What possible ‘symbiosis’ could scientists, non-Muslims and Muslims achieve if the last group endorses the above statements, just as stated

Ms Khan mentions Abraham, a prophet according to religious mythology, but argues as if he was just as real as Newton. Effectively, she incurs a fallacy of presupposition. She writes: “Empirical research and deductive reasoning paved his way towards belief in God.” Let’s turn the table around and ask Ms Khan to utilize the same research and reasoning combo, to convince us that Abraham indeed existed.  

She states that Islam prohibits idolatry, curiously mentioning next that, according to ‘some’, the West’s fascination with technology is ‘akin’ to idol worship of ‘Abraham’s time’. Such conjecture of kinship is indeed unique. Without knowing the background and intelligence of ‘some’, this argument hardly adds salt to the topic: we remain fuzzy as to why this comparison merited a mention here. Interestingly, Ms Khan later suggests that the West can ‘assist with technological transfer to Muslim countries.’  

As we follow Ms Khan’s arguments on ‘idolatry’, could ‘technological transfer’ be viewed as its promotion among Muslims? Would Muslims be required to apply any ‘holistic paradigm’ to such transfer after it occurs, sanctifying and transforming it into a form totally compatible with Islam? Elaboration on that angle seems absent. 

Ms Khan states that, as ‘the empire waned, scientific progress shifted to the West.’ This is interesting. Did the ‘shift’ occur because the ‘empire’ waned, since science needed a torch bearer, after all? How related are these historical events? Consider the fallacy of post hoc ergo proctor hoc. Next, she lists some prevalent opinions as to the common state of abject poverty in Islamic countries; rather smartly, she offers no opinion of her own. It seems that, while the Quran left nothing to fuzzy uncertainty, as to why the countries that defer to it for guidance seem to have serious social and economic issues is slightly fuzzy and uncertain. 

While contending that Muslim scientists thrive in an environment that prizes hard work and ingenuity, Ms Khan remains fuzzy as to why such environment seems to be categorically non-existent among most Islamic countries that dictate the lives of their citizens based on Quranic principles. Does Quranic guidance not promote hard work and ingenuity? 

The paradigm of Islamic science, proposed by Ziauddin Sardar, contends that the accountability for scientific activities is to be derived from God-consciousness. This consciousness is of the Muslim God Allah, of course. How about working together with non-Muslims and unbelievers on a scientific project? How might the joint group determine its aggregate accountability?? 

Unlike Sardar’s Islamic science, Canada’s pending legislation that proposes to regulate stem cell research is presumably not based on interpretive faith in a God, whose existence cannot be proven and whose guide book seems to offer a plethora of fallacious commandments. Because some Islamic scholars recently proposed something similar does not validate the fallacious argument that science and Islam are compatible.  

Why does anyone need a paradigm of Islamic science? Do we have Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist science? If not, how are their believers working in scientific fields, without THEIR versions of God-consciousness dictating their scientific activities, but instead deferring to reason and rational considerations outside of blind faith? 

Overall, Ms Khan seems to have resorted to selective posturing, in order to establish Quran’s compatibility with science and technology. She leaves out many incompatibilities with science that seem embedded in it, which could jar our modern senses of women’s rights, logic and reason, for instance. Two women’s witness being equal to one man’s, and scourging wives if they don’t listen to their husbands—are but two unfuzzy and certain examples. Consider the following verses, for instance: 

call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth (through forgetfulness) the other will remember. The Quran; 2:282 

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them The Quran; 4:34  

Islam also declares itself as the final truth; no compromises. Forget pluralism, with equal respect for every faith as well as non-faith. No other truth is good enough. Consider, for instance, these Quranic commandments: 

If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good). The Quran 3:85 

These twain (the believers and the disbelievers) are two opponents who contend concerning their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, The Quran; 22:19 

Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; The Quran; 22:20 

listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the (Qur'an) The Quran; 25:52 

How could the presence of these communal and arrogant verses help any ‘symbiosis’ and not pave the way for a ‘clash’ between Muslims and non-Muslims, be it in science or outside of it, Ms Khan electively ignored.  

According to the Quran, 25:52, Newton is an unbeliever. While the Quran commands Muslims to ‘strive against’ any unbeliever ‘with the utmost strenuousness’, it is indeed hilarious to consider not only Ms Khan’s delusions of ‘common ground’, but also that she opened her essay with references to Newton’s conjectures of a supreme being.  

A PhD from Harvard, Ms Khan is presumably a faithful Muslim. It seems pitiful that she would present this set of banality and non-arguments; she did it perhaps because “[t]he alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind.” [Ayn Rand, Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 157; pb 128.]



The soul in science


The West may lead the world in research and technology, but Muslim scientists have much to contribute in integrating inquiry with ethics, says SHEEMA KHAN


Sheema Khan, chair of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Canada), holds a PhD in chemical physics from Harvard University.

Monday, June 9, 2003 - Page A13

Last November, while the world's attention was focused on Iraq, thieves stole a rare first edition of Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. A few weeks later, police announced its recovery to an uninterested world. Principia, first published in 1687, is a key work in modern science. In it, Newton proposed the three laws of motion and the law of universal gravitation, foundations of physical sciences and engineering. 

Less well-known is Principia's final chapter, in which Newton expounded on his beliefs: "This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being, . . . eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient. . . . He governs all things, and knows all things that are, or can be done. . . . We adore Him as His servants." 

While Newton's science propagated through time and space, his harmonization of faith and scientific inquiry did not. Instead, battles between Newton's persecuted contemporaries and the Roman Catholic Church left an indelible mark on Western thought, causing a dichotomy between science and faith that prevails today.

Reconciling the two has never been an issue in Islamic thought. The Koran invites contemplation of the natural world, pointing to signs of a wise Creator. Nothing is left to fuzzy uncertainty, or in the words of Albert Einstein: "I shall never believe that God plays with dice with the world." The study of the world is a means to attain faith, as exemplified by the Prophet Abraham. 

As a boy, Abraham observed the rising and setting of a star, the moon and finally the sun, each object more dazzling than its predecessor. He realized, like Newton, that no matter how awe-inspiring, each object had no inherent power but was subject to a far greater power. Empirical research and deductive reasoning paved his way towards belief in God. He also understood that it was useless to worship objects created through human agency, inanimate creations that could not respond to the innate spiritual calling of the heart. Some would argue that the West's infatuation with technical achievements is akin to the idol worship of Abraham's time. 

The exhortation towards God-consciousness impelled the nascent Islamic empire to learn from other civilizations, and to collect and translate works of the Greeks, Persians and Chinese. For 1,000 years, Muslims reviewed and refined prior thought, and -- remaining within the guidelines of Islamic principles -- established new frontiers in medicine, mathematics, astronomy and geography. The Muslim world was filled with universities, observatories, and hospitals, while Europe remained in the Dark Ages. Within Islam's moral framework, ethics and social responsibility intertwined with scientific inquiry.

As the empire waned, scientific progress shifted to the West. Today, Muslim countries are home to 1.3 billion people and three-quarters of the world's fuel reserves. Yet their combined GNP is less than half that of Germany; illiteracy levels are among the world's highest; and science spending is a meager 0.2 per cent of GNP. At a recent meeting of research ministers and academics in Trieste, delegates searched for the reasons. Some blamed governments that spent on arms rather than education. Others warned of excessive dogma. Yet others cited the lack of free expression and creative thinking in authoritarian regimes. 

Yet in environments that prize hard work and ingenuity, Muslim scientists thrive. It's no surprise that a Muslim woman, Dr. Tyseer Aboulnasr, is dean of engineering at the University of Ottawa, or that Egyptian-born Ahmed Zewail, now of Stanford University, won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 

London-based intellectual Ziauddin Sardar has formulated a paradigm of Islamic science in which God-consciousness leads to accountability for one's scientific activities. The scientist strives to use knowledge to promote social justice and public interest, and to avoid pursuits that lead to one's own destruction and that of the environment.

Such a model has implications for emerging technologies such as stem-cell research. Pending Canadian legislation forbids the creation of embryos expressly for research purposes. Only extra embryos discarded at fertility clinics can be used. The couple involved must give full consent; and no money can be exchanged for the creation or use of the embryos. The embryo can develop for a maximum of 14 days before use. 

Islamic scholars issued an almost identical ruling one year earlier, based on Islamic jurisprudence and consultation with leading scientists. The additional requirement of marriage between the couple safeguards the family unit, while a two to three-day limit for embryo development has roots in theological texts. 

This example suggests further exploration of common ground. The West can assist with technological transfer to Muslim countries; Muslim scientists can in turn help foster a holistic paradigm in which social responsibility and ethics are integrated into science policy. Perhaps scientists can work towards a much-needed symbiosis, rather than clash, of civilizations.


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