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Two Different Fields for Science and Religion
Apr 1, 1998

Christianity did not develop as a comprehensive religion encompassing all fields of life but as a set of spiritual and moral values with some bearing on, but no directions for, the worldly’ aspects of life. This has had serious consequences for subsequent Western history. For example, Christianity condemned war and, although war is a reality of human history, neglected to lay down rules for it. However, as this attitude never sufficed to end wars, the lack of ‘religious’ rules and regulations about war has caused great brutalities in the wars which have taken place in the West and ruthless massacres by the Western powers throughout the world. Similarly, Christianity’s condemnation of the ‘world’ and nature as a veil separating man from God has been a major factor in encouraging the modern sciences to reject religious authority as irrelevant. Also, the sharp separation of this world and the Hereafter, religion and sciences, spirituality and physicality, led the thinkers and philosophers who tried to find a space for religion beside science to assign different fields to religion and science, reason and revelation, this world and the Hereafter.

Cartesian dualism

The name of Descartes, the French mathematician and philosopher (1596-1650), is most famously associated with this dualism in Western culture. His ideas contributed to the almost complete separation of intellectual and scientific activities from religion and, in later centuries, to the Enlightenment, the mechanistic view of life, positivism and materialism. Cartesianism provided a shelter for those who searched for religion in life beside science; it also gave rise to many misconceptions about the relationship between life, religion and science. The intellectuals or philosophers who did not want to forsake either religion or scientific reasoning appealed to Cartesian dualism to justify their position. This manner of defending religion against scientific materialism still prevails among certain Muslim intellectuals. According to them, there is a world of qualities separate from a world of quantities. Science has the authority in the world of quantities and uses observation, measurement and experiment, while in the world of qualities, where observation, experiment and measurement do not apply, religion has the right to speak. So, being religious can never be contradictory to being scientific, but then religion and science have nothing to do with each other.

Cartesian dualism gives science superiority over religion

Although intended to defend religion against science, Cartesian dualism gives science superiority over religion and primacy in practical life and thought, restricting religion to a set of blindly held beliefs not subject to research, verification and reasoning and practically irrelevant to the world and ‘worldly life’. This attitude misrepresents religion as only a matter of believing or unbelieving, with the consequence that there is not much difference between accepting a ‘true’ religion and believing in any religion whatever, even in myths and superstitions. It is this dualism which lies behind modern trends that see religion- without making any discrimination between God- revealed and man-made ones- as a set of dogmas inaccessible to reason, and quite cut off from science and the perceptible world.

However, religion, especially Islam as the last and perfected form of the God-revealed religions, demands, rather than believing blindly, both rational and spiritual conviction based on thinking, reasoning, searching and verification. Although it is acceptable to enter religion through the gate of imitation, it is never advisable to remain content with belief coming from imitating others. The verses in the Qur’an related to legal issues do not exceed 300, while there are more than 700 verses urging people to study ‘natural’ phenomena, to think, reason, search, observe, take lessons, reflect and verify. The verses concluding with Will you not use your reason; will you not think; will you not reflect; will you not take lessons; take lessons, O men of insight, and so on, and the Qur’anic condemnation of unbelievers as people having no intellects with which to think and reflect, no eyes with which to see and no ears with which to hear, are serious warnings for those who see religion as a set of blindly held beliefs and who are unable to discern the essential and unbreakable connection between religion and life, nature, reason and scientific activities.

Modern science takes the natural world as its field of study. The restriction of science by Cartesian dualism to the material, observable realm of existence, disallowing it to admit that there may be other realms of existence and fields of study, may well be regarded as a way of keeping scientific inquiry ‘factual’ and ‘objective’. However, this attitude frequently leads to the view that study of the realms or subjects beyond the material, and the conclusions drawn from that study, are unscientific’ and therefore require neither research nor verification but only belief. It also carries many into agnosticism, to either deny or not affirm the more profound and broader dimensions of existence beyond the material. Whereas what a truly objective science should do is either to accept that there may be many other truths and realms the existence of which it is unable to discover by its present methods or change its tactics and techniques and equip itself with the methods necessary to discover those realms. As long as science persists with its rigidly empirical approach and methods, it will never be able to comprehend the full reality of existence. It is quite unfortunate for science that it reduces man, as it does the universe, to his physical existence and tries to explain all his intellectual and spiritual activities in wholly physical terms.

Modern science deals with nature as structured but aimless or meaningless concurrence of material things. Basically, there is not much difference between this attitude toward nature and Christianity’s condemning it as a veil separating man from God. By contrast, Islam presents natural phenomena, not the supra-natural ones the existence and reality of which science either rejects or regards as unknowable by ‘scientific’ methods, as evidences of its truth or reality and calls people to study and reflect on them and thereby collect the nectar of belief. Nature, according to Islam, is the realm where God’s Beautiful Names are manifested and therefore a set of ‘ladders of light’ by which to reach God. Having originated from God’s Attributes of Will and Power, nature is the ‘created’ counterpart of the Qur’an, which originated in the Divine Attribute of Speech. So, nature is a book like the Qur’an, or it may be regarded as a city or palace, with the Qur’an being a sacred pamphlet explaining its meaning and how to dwell in and benefit from it. Man is the third counterpart of these two books, equipped with consciousness and will. This is why many Muslim scientists such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Zahrawi, Ibrahim Haqqi, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Ak Shamsaddin were practising Sufis and well-versed in religious sciences.

Nature is an exhibition of evidences of Divine Unity

As nature has a sanctity on account of its being the result of the manifestations of the Divine Beautiful Names and a collection of mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes, the order and constancy in it are two significant proofs of Divine Unity. It is this order and constancy to which science owes its existence. The perfect order observed in the universe is the result of the fact that with all its parts and minutest particles, the whole of the universe is the work of a Single Creator. This is why there is an interrelatedness, co-operation or mutual helping and solidarity among all the parts of the universe and the creatures in it. For example, in order for a single fruit, an apple, for example, to come into existence, earth, air, water, the sun and the properties of the seed of the apple-tree and the tree itself such as germination, growth, photosynthesis and bearing fruit, must all co-operate. This means that the existence of a single fruit depends on the co-operation of the whole universe. The order and constancy in whatever takes place in the universe is the origin of what science calls ‘natural laws’. That is, natural laws, the name that science gives to the elements or properties of the order and constancy in the universe on which science is based, have only nominal existence. What science calls laws may well be the works or activities of God through the agency of angels-through the agency of angels because the Dignity and Grandeur of Divinity requires the agency of some beings like angels or of causes in order that people do not attribute directly to God what is disagreeable to them and accuse the Almighty thereof. Because of its obdurate refusal not to make space for religion in its procedures, science attributes the miraculuous, purposeful creation and existence and the order, harmony and constancy prevailing therein, which manifestly require the existence of an absolute, eternal knowledge, power and will, either to blind, unconscious, ignorant and inanimate ‘laws’ with only nominal, not real, existence, or to nature itself, which is actually a passive and recipient, not an active agent, an object not a subject, and devoid of consciousness, knowledge and will. Or it attempts to explain existence and life with notions such as chance and necessity. The reason for this compound ignorance of science is that it regards religion as a set of dogmas requiring blind belief and therefore unscientific or irreconcilable with itself. This unforgivable attitude of science and its denial of the existence of the supranatural dimension of creation or its agnosticism are the result of separating science and religion.

Science separated from religion

When separated from religion, science loses its real identity and aim. The aim of science is or must be, studying existence in the light of Divine guidance to understand it, to use the universe as a collection of ladders to reach the ‘heaven’ of belief and, disposing things in accordance with that belief, improve the world, thereby helping man fulfil his function of Divine vicegerency on the earth. This is what the Qur’an teaches.

As we read in the Qur’an (2.30-31), when God told angels that He would appoint a vicegerent on the earth, since vicegerency requires will, knowledge and power, the angels inferred that he would do corruption, cause sedition and shed blood, and responded: We glorify You with Your praise and proclaim Your Holiness. The Almighty answered them: I know what you know not. He instructed man in the ‘names’, that is, the names and reality of things and therefore the keys of knowledge and the ways of mastery over things. As He made man superior to angels through knowledge of things, He regarded ‘scientific’ studies to understand creation and fulfil the role of vicegerent as equal to the glorification and praise of angels. This means that scientific studies done for the sake of understanding creation and thereby recognizing the Creator and improving the world, establishing peace and justice there, are acts of worship. So, Islam gives to science and scientific studies a sacred meaning and religious dimension.

Also, the revelation of the Qur’an began with the command Read!. Having come at a time when there was yet nothing written to read, this command is significant. This order continues, in the name of the Lord Who creates (al‘Alaq, 96.1), which means that man should study creation and do that in the name of the Lord. The original of the word translated as the Lord is Rabb, which means One Who brings up, educates, trains, sustains and raises. This signifies that creation is under the ‘Lordship’ of God and man should study it with all its aspects of coming into existence, growing and functioning. This is what science does.

The second, important connotation of the first revelation is that, as mentioned above, man should study creation in the name of God, that is, to please Him and in accordance with the rules He has established. This means that any scientific study should not be contrary to the religious and moral injunctions, and therefore not be made in a way to harm people, change creation and the order of the universe. When made to discover the Divine ‘laws’ in nature and dispose it within the limits of Divine permission, any scientific study will not cause the environmental pollution, the death of millions of people and destruction of cities and, in short, corruption on the earth.

Islam never prevents scientific studies; what it does is to appoint for science moral aims and put moral restrictions on it. It aims to urge scientific studies to be for the benefit of mankind as well as other creatures and, by ordering them to be done in the name of God, it raises them to the rank of acts of worship.

When science is separated from religion, although it has brought wealth and material well-being to a very small minority in the world, as especially the last two centuries have witnessed, it can cause, besides world-wide insecurity, unhappiness and unease brought about by scientific materialism, a brutal oppression and colonialism, wide rifts between the poor and wealthy, unending global or regional wars during which millions die or are left homeless or orphaned or widowed, merciless rivalry among the classes of people and dangerous levels of environmental pollution. The separation of science and religion has brought to mankind nothing but great disasters. 

Prophets were also masters and forerunners with respect to scientific discoveries and progress

It is another evidence of the inseparability of science and religion that-even if secular science does not admit it- as an historical fact, Prophets were forerunners with respect to scientific discoveries and mankind’s material progress. For example, some interpreters of the Qur’an infer from the verse when Our command was issued and the oven boiled... (11.40), that the Ark the Prophet Noah constructed through God’s guidance was a steamship. Sailors regard the Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, as their first teacher or patron. Similarly, the Prophet Joseph was the first to make a clock and therefore was considered as the first teacher of clock-makers, and the Prophet Enoch as that of tailors.

However, secular or materialistic science does not regard Divine Revelation as a source of knowledge or revealed knowledge as scientific. It considers, for example, the Flood, mentioned in all the Divine Scriptures and oral (unrecorded) histories of all peoples, as a myth. If this event cannot be established through ‘scientific’ methods, it will not be scientific and those who regard the methods of science as the only, reliable methods to arrive at truth will continue to approach the Divine Scriptures with doubts. This amounts to the denial of Divine Revelation and God-revealed religions. Also, this will also cause many historical facts and events to remain veiled. Furthermore, it is impossible to study and teach correctly the history of, especially, the Middle East-Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran, etc.-without considering the life-histories of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an. Despite this, by not admitting the ‘scientific’ reliability of Divine Revelation, secular or materialistic science causes many truths to be taught as though they were falsehoods and many falsehoods to be presented as truths, and many realities to remain veiled. For example, the Assyrians who lived in Iraq are presented as having been a pagan people. Whereas we read in the Qur’an (And We sent him to a hundred thousand or more-37.147) that more than one hundred thousand people believed in the Prophet Jonah, who, according to the account of the Bible, lived in Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrians.

The separation of science and religion and assigning to each a different realm of competence or relevance is responsible for religion being seen as a set of myths and dogmas-blind beliefs- and science remaining in the darkness of materialism. So, as it is absolutely necessary to ‘wed’ and harmonize mind and heart or the intellect and spirit, it is also of vital importance to harmonize science and religion.