The soul in
science: a case of unfuzzy sophistry?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
possible ‘symbiosis’ could
scientists, non-Muslims and Muslims achieve if the last group endorses the
above statements, just as stated?
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.
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.’
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.
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
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?
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??
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.
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?
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
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
to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness,
with the (Qur'an)
The Quran; 25:52
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.
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.
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 West may lead the world in research and technology, but Muslim
scientists have much to contribute in integrating inquiry with ethics,
says SHEEMA KHAN
By SHEEMA KHAN
Sheema Khan, chair of the Council on
American-Islamic Relations (Canada), holds a PhD in chemical physics from
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
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
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
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
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.