Science increasingly makes the case for God

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense.

It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).

Correction

An earlier version understated the number of zeroes in an octillion and a septillion.

A Discourse on the Colonized Muslim Subject

Today’s events in the Muslim world chaotic and incoherent if we fail to account for the past two hundred years of modern history and the entanglement with colonialism and then the emergence of post-colonial nation-states. Often, Muslims are instructed to let go of the past and stop complaining about colonialism and using it as an excuse to explain away the current state of affairs. The logic goes that colonialism has ended and the Muslim world has been independent for the last 40-60 years. Thus the argument goes to offer the conclusion that the Muslim world should take responsibility for its own affairs and inherent failures rather than continue to blame colonialism and the West in general.

Such argument, if accepted, also gives credence to the orientalist trope postulating the inherent inferiority of the Muslim world and the inability to deal with its serious problems. The thesis is centered on the assumption that colonialism has ended with the withdrawal of colonial troops and the achievement of independence across all parts of the Muslim world with the exception of Palestine (prior to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Russians and Americans also Iraq). This assumption hinges on a very rudimentary and ignorant understanding of colonialism and its multi-layered approach to control and domination. The military component is a small part of a larger and complex epistemologically entangled structure the intent of which was to achieve total control and domination with and, for sure, without the presence of boots on the ground.

The crudest control structures are those utilizing material chains to force the human physical form into confinement within a space and restrictions on movement. However, the most sophisticated structures operate on the mental sub-conscious level and attempt to achieve total domination over the mind and the intellectual capacity to conceptualize the self and its agency in the world. In these structures, the control is over the mental abilities to conceptualize and draw the needed mental maps of the world and the solution to its multi-faceted problems. The extent of colonial success can be measured by the level of mental adherence to colonial structures in the colonized population and its intellectual production that continues to replicate its internalized domination despite the removal of the physical chains.

Thus, one way to rationalize the colonization becomes a very simple equation that you are colonized because you are inferior and susceptible to external domination and control. Such a view assigns responsibility to the victim and colonization is rationalized in a Darwinian type of structure and the survival of the fittest being the operable logic. Furthermore, the argument only examines the outer form and visible outcomes rather than paying attention to the over-all structures that made it possible for the colonial project to register successes and to be transmitted over generations. Even when states advance on the material levels they are still structurally subject to colonial discourses since the measures of success are subject to a colonial typography and not outside of it.

A second aspect to rationalize continued colonial discourses is located in a religious debate offering Islam’s supposed backwardness as the reason or cause of colonial domination and control as well as the source of current problems. This produces the constant colonial demand for an Islamic reform epistemic that can/may transform Islam into a projected ‘enlightened’ modernity that is informed and measured by a colonial Eurocentric yardstick. To be modern and reformist is to accept Islam’s inherent inferiority as set per colonial discourses and then embark on a colonized reform mode that answers all the questions that are not asked by or for Muslims in the first place.

Certainly, the colonial epistemic is racial and material emerging out of specific European historical experience that is then universalized and transformed into the norm to be emulated across the world. The structure gets imprinted in the educational, development and ‘civilizational’ projects across the global south and made operational to reproduce and regularize inferiority with or without the presence of colonial boots on the ground. The colonial power asserts and maintains its superior nature because of an inherent biological and intellectual evolution that created the needed human pre-conditions for civilization, which is for sure found lacking in the colonized populations of the South, Muslims included.

In this context, the colonial project far from seeking to elevate the sub-human into a fully ‘civilized’ human is centered on maintaining the Eurocentric racial, intellectual and religious hierarchy intact while constituting the superior race as an object of material deification. The deification imprinted on the colonized mind is so powerful and all encompassing thus rendering the post-colonial period a mere reflective image constructed within the same mentally formed colonial epistemic. The more the colonial is the thought to be in the distant past the more it asserts itself in the present but in more complex and distorted ways. The past is never past as long as it continues to be reproduced and acted upon in the present. We are in the ‘present colonial’ despite hypothesizing of a colonial past.

A Muslim today is a byproduct of a colonial mental mapping that makes it possible for the person to see him/herself only through a projected colonially constructed imprint. To ask who is a Muslim today is a difficult question since self-identification and entanglement with an idealized past ‘tradition’ is navigated through a colonial topography that produces and reproduces a dynamically constructed inferiority matrix.

Seeded colonial debates about the Islamic ‘tradition’, ‘reform’, ‘interpretations’, ‘gender roles’, ‘power’, ‘state’, ‘economics’, ‘violence’ and rights are all colonial imprints and operate within the colonially crafted epistemic rather than being an expression of Muslim agency. Further, the constant demarcation between political Islam and Islam, Sufism and non-Sufism, modern and traditional, extremist and moderate are all shaped by colonially crafted binary epistemic relating to religion as theorized and experienced in the European context that is then universalized and constituted as the norm for all ‘sub-human’ colonized subjects and distant colonies to emulate. Islam in the colonial framework is the constant ‘sub-human and uncivilized marker’, rather than being representative of a coherent and fully developed system having its distinctive epistemology and meanings.

The mental colonial project fosters an imitative imprint on the mind of the colonized to be nurtured into producing a state of self-helplessness and exclusively remedied through constant intervention by the colonial master or his internally assigned and intellectually trained (miss-educated) agents. We have interventions in every facet of life, under all pretexts and rationalizations including humanitarian imperial projects and the new modes of utilizing the NGO’s industrial complex to push softer neoliberal civilizational projects.

You, the colonial subject, is unable to develop because it is you who is unable and not ready to do so and not I, the colonial master that is disrupting the progress so as to keep the flow of wealth to the north. Today, the colonial master/consultant/advisor says you can aspire to be ‘me’ once you let go of your backward ‘tradition’ and imitate what I have accomplished for it is the only road to become a superior and emerge out of your darkened inferiority. This colonial project is operative in politics, economics, social relations, media and religious discourses in the colonies. The outcome is an eraser of the mental framing and epistemic structures that existed and supported colonized societies for centuries to be replaced by a colonized knowledge rooted in structuring internalized inferiority.

‘I am inferior therefore I can’t’, would become the operable imprint on the colonized mind and needing the agency of the colonial master to start-up any initiative and draw meanings out of his/her life. Even when the colonized think on his/her own they are but recalling the colonial knowledge imprinted on the mind and become even more imitative despite thinking that they have achieved independence or asserted ones own agency. In this way, the colonized become doubly victimized in the colonial process, once through direct colonization and the second by dominating the sub-conscious to produce a false agency and a false self-identification. The world becomes colonial in the post-colonial and independence is shaped by the colonial epistemic and to never stray away from it. The first act of Muslim de-colonization is in the mind and it involves first emptying out the colonial, post-colonial and Eurocentric nationalist edifice then setting out to imagine a de-colonial Muslim world and through it shape the future.

The Problem With <i>Moderate Islam</i> and Why We Need to Redefine <i>Radical</i>

The Problem With Moderate Islam and Why We Need to Redefine Radical

The Problem With Moderate Islam and Why We Need to Redefine Radical

TIME

Last Tuesday morning we awoke to the horrific news that Taliban gunmen mercilessly attacked and killed more than 140 people, mostly children and their heroic teachers, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. It was the latest massacre to visit a region that has experienced so much violence and bloodshed for far too many years. The targeting and killing of children in particular has evoked a passionate response in Pakistan and beyond against the Taliban and those who engage in violent extremism in the name of Islam. The rage and resolve is palatable as funeral processions were organized to lay the precious innocents to rest.

Every time such incredible violence is perpetrated by people who claim the mantle of Islam, the same question echoes from the halls of academia to the talking heads in the medai: Where are the “moderate Muslims” and when will they stand up against all this murder…

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“Strategy, that’s a very important word”

“Strategy, that’s a very important word” I was reminded by a very sincere friend as we drove through Abu Dhabi today. I couldn’t help but reflect on what it really meant as we returned back to the hotel. It’s the art and science of planning and marshalling resources for their most efficient and effective use, the dictionary informs us.

Whatever we are aiming to achieve in life, there needs to be some sort well considered and thought through process of how we are going to get there. Failure to do this runs the risk of leaving us bitterly disappointed. This being more so pertinent as we seek the ultimate felicity of the life to come.

“We are here (in this world) and the Day of Judgement is where we are heading,” he concluded as we made our way through the chaos of rush hour traffic.

Decolonizing Our Career Paths: An Exploration beyond Medicine and Engineering

Decolonizing Our Career Paths: An Exploration beyond Medicine and Engineering

In order to understand why this is happening, we must acknowledge the philosophical and cultural context of the times we have lived in over the past two hundred years or so. Dr. Israr Ahmed describes the power of Western influence that we have been living under: “The dominance of Western culture and philosophical thought is so pervasive and universal that even the point of view of such people as are struggling against it in some countries turns out on closer examination to be itself greatly influenced by the West.” This has normalized an approach in which we view knowledge through a western lens, neglecting the fact that the Western lens is simply one of many, and not one that is necessarily superior to others. We are so entrenched in western ideology that even when we try to counter it, our approach is unintentionally influence by it.

A common occurrence within Muslim families, especially those hailing from the Indo-subcontinent and the Arab world, is the incidence of parents pressuring children towards the study of medicine or engineering. This can be attributed to the hands of British colonialism, as it was monumental in eroding the traditional religious education systems in the Indo-subcontinent and replacing them with English-standard school systems that promised to prepare students for “good” jobs within the colonial administration. Many Indian families were lured by the perception that the English-standard schools were superior and therefore demand for the traditional schools dwindled, leading to the collapse of the traditional madrasa system. There have been some positive externalities that came about from this but overall, religious education, and the Muslim Ummah specifically, suffered immensely.

On the positive, this helped to launch the people of the indo-subcontinent to the forefront of studies in medicine and engineering, and our parents and grandparents successfully capitalized on this. Today, Muslims are among the wealthiest minorities in the United States. As of 2007 data, Muslims possess $170 billion in purchasing power which means we effectively control 1.6 percent of total disposable income in America while only comprising of approximately .6 to .9 percent of the total population. What is even more astonishing is that Muslims account for about roughly ten percent of physicians nationwide according to some estimates. We reap the rewards of this each time we step inside of a masjid in this country because more likely than not, the construction of the masjid was funded in part by at least one doctor or engineer.

That said, American Muslims possess a significant amount of wealth and we have successfully allocated much of it towards building more places of worship. During the ten-year-period from 2000 to 2010, the number of mosques in the United States increased by 74 percent. But, much noise has been made recently regarding the lack of human resources to help guide Muslims in religious and family related matters. This is especially the case for our children, who are in serious need of full-time youth directors to facilitate programs within our communities.

The Unmosqued documentary film captures some of these harsh realities. “Only 44% of Imams are full-time employees and paid. Half of all mosques have no full-time staff and program staff such as youth and outreach directors account for only five percent of full-time staff.” We continue to pour money into the construction of first-class facilities but we remain oblivious to a growing issue: we are not meeting the needs of mosque attendees, especially for those among the youth population.

The physical foundation for our religion is being established but if we do not develop a strategic plan to face the challenges posed by modernity, we risk building a hollow foundation, devoid of spirituality.

This leads to my main point: it is essential that we institute a paradigm shift in the way we approach our perspectives, living in the United States as American Muslims. What I mean by this specifically is that we must hone in on the spiritual void within our general community, rather than focusing on financial security. We must take necessary measures to ensure that we develop a long-term foundation for grounding our youth in the Islamic spiritual and intellectual tradition.

Hamza Yusuf emphatically says in one of his public lectures: “How many doctors do we have? How many engineers do we have? Who is going to learn this deen (religion) to give it to the people who come after? We have ‘Ulama (scholars) dying in many places. Why are we so obsessed with the dunya (material world)? We need fuqaha (Islamic legal scholars) we don’t need doctors that bad. I haven’t been to a doctor in 10 years. I need a faqih (legal scholar)! I talk to my Shaykh, (Islamic scholar/leader), on the phone. I need a faqih everyday. People ask me questions everyday. They don’t ask their doctors questions everyday. People call me everyday.”

Hamza Yusuf’s point is not necessarily an outright attack of those pursuing studies to be a doctor or engineer. Rather, I believe he is pleading with us on a grander scale. He is asking us to think strategically about the bigger picture. As we pursue various career paths, we must ask ourselves, how can I help this larger American Muslim community by doing career X or Y, etc.? And the answer to this question is going to be different for everyone. It is going to be personalized to the individual. It is imperative that American Muslims move away from a linear mindset, focusing on becoming a doctor or engineer, and towards imagining their role as establishing the identity and prosperity of the larger Muslim community in America.

For some, this means pursuing a religiously permissiblejob in engineering or medicine in order to make money to support their parents and family abroad, etc. Some of these individuals might find colleagues who also pursue the field of medicine but with the intention of developing a non-profit Muslim hospital that provides free healthcare for anyone in need, reviving the tradition set by the first hospital ever established, which was invented by Muslims in Iraq. For others it may be pursuing post-graduate education within Islamic studies and entering the field of academia to produce research that will enlighten the world on the beauties of our religious and intellectual tradition. Some may go on to study traditional Islamic sciences domestically and/or abroad in order to become religious mentors and community activists who strive to guide Muslims in their daily lives. Others might enter the field of Islamic finance and develop funds to financially support the endeavors of fellow Muslims so they can avoid riba (interest). The list is virtually endless.

The common thread among these examples is that the individual understands the purpose behind his or her actions. And that purpose directly ties back to a spiritual aspect. She or he does not undertake a profession because it was forced onto them. It does not necessarily matter what you actually end up doing per se, because it is the intention of how you will utilize your education and skills that ultimately determines whether you will be able to positively impact the greater community or not.

And the one prerequisite for achieving this is having a deep, sincere connection to our Islamic religious tradition. Possessing this connection ultimately allows us to understand the dimension of morals and purpose to life. This is what we must be striving to achieve, because the further we deviate from our religious tradition, the more secularized we become – divorcing us from moral relativity and greater purpose in our career life. It is this modern secular humanism worldview that severs our connection to the One who we ultimately will return to: God.

That said, there is a reality to our current situation and that is we are saturated with doctors and engineers while we severely lack in religious leaders, community leaders, and organizers who can fill the human resources void within the Muslim community. In order to rectify this we need to be creative and work towards to following: 1) Establishing long-term foundations, such as schools, universities, hospitals, banks, etc. to support Muslims and non-Muslims in academic and religious endeavors and 2) Developing and financially supporting Muslim American leaders who are spiritually grounded in the Islamic tradition and competent in the western culture – this includes creating full-time paid positions for religious leaders / facilitators within our communities.

Recently there has been an influx of Islamic educational programs in America that are striving to develop graduates who will work towards solving this crisis. It is vital that we support these institutions as they are producing individuals who have the tools, knowledge, and passion to dynamically impact the future of our American Muslim community in a positive way. Some of institutions include: our very own Zaytuna College; Bayyinah Institute; Qalam Institute; Institute of Knowledge; and the ALIM Program, among others.

Furthermore, there are a multitude of Islamic Studies programs at public and private 4-year universities around the country that are often times underrated by our communities. These programs are filled with some of the foremost scholars of Islam in the world, including the likes of: Seyyed Hossein Nasr at Georgetown University; Dr. Sherman Jackson at University of Southern California; Dr. Hina Azam at University of Texas; Dr. Wael Hallaq at Columbia University; Dr. Jonathan A.C. Brown at Georgetown University; Dr. Ahmed El Shamsy at University of Chicago, among many others.

But for some reason, we do not have an infrastructure for supporting students who want to take any of these routes in the path of studying Islamic Sciences.

The Mormon community has been successful in their initiative of sending students on two-year missions throughout the world – an intense spiritual grounding. The missions are subsidized and if students are in need, financial aid options are available. Another example, Birthright Israel, is a non-profit organization that sponsors 40,000 Jewish students per year for fully funded ten-day heritage trips to Israel. The organization runs on a $46.9 million annual budget. Within our own Muslim community in other parts of the world – India, Pakistan, and South Africa to list a few – local students can attend seven-year scholar programs to master Islamic Sciences at minimal to no cost at all. Some universities even pay students a monthly stipend for food and living expenses.

If an American-Muslim wants to study traditional Islamic Sciences are there any financial aid options available? Are there many programs available for our youth to become grounded in their religious tradition? How about scholarships for Muslim-Americans in general? A quick search on scholarship.com revealed over 20 organizations offering scholarships specifically for Jewish students. Many of the scholarships available cover full tuition. In comparison, there are only two such organizations for Muslims. One is the Islamic Scholarship Fund which awards scholarships from $1000-$10000 and the other is the Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir Scholarship which awards 20 scholarships of $1000 each.

It is time for us to seriously be concerned regarding the state of the society that we leave behind for future generations of Muslim Americans. This is especially important now as the torch is passed on from a generation of Muslims immigrants to a generation of mostly American-born (and raised) Muslims.

We must not delude ourselves into believing that we are infallible to falling prey to modernity’s lack of morals or purpose in pursuing careers. In order to strengthen our community, we must encourage the development of individuals within various career paths, including doctors and engineers, but also Islamic scholars, philosophers, and theologians.

The onus is on our Muslim community as a whole to renew our intentions and tailor our approach to one that is pleasurable to God Himself.

How Muslim Theologians Saved Islamic Science‏

The conflict between science and religion has posed a serious threat to religious authority in the contemporary era. Many advocates of scientism have used the tremendous success of science in modern times to question the usefulness of religion as a means of seeking the truth. For example, Stephen Hawking recently stated in a Huffington Post article, “Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation.” More recently the harsh critique of religion based upon various forms of scientism by writers such as Richard Dawkins have escalated the conflict.

Their view assumes that both religion and science have the same purpose, namely of explaining the existence of the universe. Furthermore, the scientific method is considered a more reliable way to achieve this goal. This is primarily so because science deals with physical processes, which can be quantified and measured, whereas religion often resorts to metaphysical references, which cannot be “proven.” Professor Naquib Al-Attas, the celebrated Malaysian Muslim philosopher, summarizes the essential problem. He writes, “A gist of their [those who espouse science as the source for truth] basic assumptions is that science is the sole authentic knowledge; that this [scientific] knowledge pertains only to phenomena.” Excluded from science is anything that does not have a “physical” existence, anything that cannot be empirically studied. Therefore, implicit in a worldview that holds science as the highest authority of knowledge is a denial of God.

As the Nobel laureate Werner Arber, president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, writes, “The natural sciences are in a steady search for truth, and so is theology.” This naturally creates two apparently competing methodologies of seeking and determining the truth, which inevitably leads to conflict between theology and science. Although the Catholic Church did generally support science, when the conclusions of scientists came in conflict with church dogma, problems arose. This can be seen in the experiences of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin.

Islamic history, however, took a different course. Despite the existence of a sustained robust scientific enterprise in the Islamic world, an overt conflict between science and religion did not arise. Professor Walbridge of Indiana University points out that “the Islamic world produced no martyrs for science like Bruno and Galileo.” One of the achievements of Islamic civilization was the creation of a worldview in which both theology and science could be accepted in a comprehensive rational framework.

The Islamic tradition of scholastic theology is known as kalam. The two primary schools of kalam are the Ash`ari and its close cousin the Maturidi schools. Both are based upon a rational understanding of God and the Universe, which also seek to rigorously preserve salient features of the Islamic concept of God. This tradition, along with its larger place in the Islamic worldview, can best be understood through the works of one of its main proponents Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d. 1111 CE). Richard Frank, a scholar of Islamic theology, describes Ghazali as, “The most important Sunni theologian at a crucial turning point in the history of orthodox Muslim theology.” During his time Islam was emerging from a period of intellectual schism. Ghazali contributed to the development of a consensus on this issue, which was to largely become the dominant Sunni doctrine. Thus the Ghazali scholar and translator Walter Skellie writes, “With him [Ghazali] the religious philosophy and experience of Islam reaches its zenith.”

Demonstrative Proof (Burhan)

The triumph of Ghazali’s epistemology lies in its successful reconciliation of reason with revelation. One key element of this was the allowance of figurative interpretations of scripture, particularly when it relates to assertions that may conflict with what is known via reason. Ghazali sets the bar very high for a scientific proof to over-ride scripture, something he calls burhan. Burhan is demonstrative knowledge or definitive logical proof. According to Ghazali, it held an even higher epistemic status than even scholastic theology (kalam).

Professor Al-Akiti of Oxford writes, “For al-Ghazali, burhan [definitive logical proof], and not kalam, is what he considered to be scientific knowledge, the ‘gold-standard’ in the art of reasoning – a judgment expounded in his Mi’yar al-’Ilm.” The late professor Marmura, a Ghazali scholar, summarizes Ghazali’s attitude towards definitive logical proof as follows:

“A science whose conclusions are not demonstrably true and which are in conflict with the literal assertions of scripture must be rejected. On the other hand, if what is demonstrably true contradicts the literal sense of scriptural language, then the latter must be interpreted metaphorically.”

Having firmly grounded his worldview in rationality, Ghazali proceeds to point out that physical science does not meet the standards of definitive logical proof unless God is added to the equation. This is because science is based upon a flawed assumption, namely that of natural causation. Causation, Ghazali argues, can only guaranteed if God is there to secure it. And importantly, according to Ghazali, God is there to secure it. Belief in God then becomes a prerequisite to the successful pursuit of science.

Causation, God & Science

Ghazali was able to reconcile the most important principle of science (namely causation) with Islamic theological doctrines (as articulated by the dominant Ash`ari school). Ash`ari theology developed in response to certain heterodox formulations of Islamic doctrine (such as those adopted by the Mutazalites and the Philosophers) which had the effect of diminishing key Divine attributes. Some of these formulations share a belief in necessary causation with modern secular scientists. Therefore Ghazali’s critique of their view is particularly instructive in tackling similar issues in the contemporary era.

Some of the main articles of faith in Ash`ari theology are that God is all powerful, He is all knowing and all events occur due to His express will. The Ash`aris therefore believed that all events are directly caused only by God, and not by anything else. God is not merely the first cause but also the immediate cause of every subsequent minor and major event that occurs in the universe. This appears to run contrary to our contemporary understanding of secular science, which rests on the principle of natural causation. Namely, that things (or events) cause other things (or events). For example, we think fire causes cotton to burn when they are brought near each other.

Ghazali questions the principle of necessary causation adopted by certain philosophers. According to Ghazali, this relationship between cause and effect is not necessary. To use his terminology, there is no definitive logical proof (burhan) that it is the cause that is responsible for the effect. He argues that all we observe is a quick succession of events, cotton being brought close to fire and the cotton burning. But a relationship based simply on proximity in time or space does not imply necessary causation. Ghazali famously states, “The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary.”

David Hume in the Western tradition made a similar argument against causation. He asked, “Where is the causal glue” holding together the cause and the effect? Unlike Hume who was led to skepticism, however, Ghazali has an answer to this conundrum. For Ghazali, the causal glue is God. It is God who ensures that the relationship between cause and effect always holds. In doing so, Ghazali has made room for orthodox Islamic theology in which God is the direct cause of everything.

On its surface this line of thinking can be misunderstood to in fact undermine science, as several historians and scientists have thought. For example, the historian Tamim Ansary writes, “Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns?” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a preeminent Pakistani scientist, expresses a similar concern with the Ash`ari position, stating that in such a world, “even a speeding arrow might not reach its destination.” In other words, if the cause and effect relationship is not necessary then there would be no sure way to rely on our observations, predict natural phenomena or to do scientific experiments.

Conflict Averted, Science Flourished

This criticism, however, implies a dogmatic belief in science which sidesteps the very real problem of causation. Ghazali does not need to (nor does he) deny causation. He is merely denying necessary causation—namely, that there is no conclusive proof that things can influence other things by themselves. For Ghazali, God is required to ensure that the relationship between cause and effect always hold true. As Frank Griffel, a Ghazali scholar at Yale, writes:

“Trust in God (tawakkul) is a major condition for investigating the natural sciences. Such trust requires the certainty to know that God will not change books into horses or disconnect our knowledge from reality. Given that God habitually creates our knowledge to accord with reality, we can rely on our sense and our judgment and confidently pursue the natural sciences.”

According to this view God could suspend the laws of causation, but He never does and never will. So fire will always burn cotton but this is only true because in every instance of its occurrence God ensures that it is so. In effect, Ghazali has created a framework in which science can operate and the principles of Islamic theology (Divine power, knowledge and will) are also preserved.

Furthermore, Ghazali even located miracles – which he calls strange and wondrous phenomena – within the empirical world. Even miracles were then not Divine acts of suspension of the normal workings of the universe; rather they were unusual phenomena of nature due to causes not immediately clear to us at the moment. The possibility of additional causal chains other than those currently physically observed encouraged further exploration of the natural world. Ahmad Dallal, a historian of Islamic science at Georgetown University writes,

“The aspect that had the most influence on the development of science was the concept of multiple possibilities (tajwiz), the notion that specific natural philosophical explanations (or planetary models) are possible but not certain, and that there may exist alternative explanations for the natural phenomena… this idea was grounded in an epistemological criticism of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

After Ghazali, science in the Muslim world experienced a prolonged renaissance as documented by Yale historian George Saliba. His understanding had the effect of legitimizing science. Science was a discipline ensured by God. It also had the effect of effectively separating theology from physical science. Divine attributes are known through revelation, and science plays no significant role in informing us about these metaphysical matters. On the other hand revelation does not interfere with the workings of science; it is left as an independent discipline within the larger Islamic framework. Dallal explains,

“After Al-Ghazali, the need to invoke religion to vindicate science considerably decreased, not because science was not accepted but because it did not need vindication. Excluding final-cause explorations from science did not compromise the providence of God, which was simply assumed without questioning (bila kayf).”

This worldview rests on the premise that God exists and sustains the Universe. God is not the end goal of science, but rather the starting point. This created an organic and interdependent relationship between science and religion, which essentially eliminated the potential of conflict between the two disciplines. In fact, as professor Muzaffar Iqbal, a philosopher of Islamic science, writes:

“No one thought of them [science and religion] as two independent entities which needed to be related via an external mechanism… This relationship emerged naturally and because the scientific tradition was thoroughly rooted in the worldview created by Islam.”

This worldview was rational. It recognized the primacy of reason and in fact accorded burhan the highest epistemic status. Within this framework secular science is critiqued based upon logical fallacies assumed by its proponents. Science is then presented not as a competing force with religion, but rather as a viable enterprise, as part of a comprehensive worldview that encompasses God. In fact, it is grounded in the assumption of God. This delicate balance, which secured both science and theology, is one of the greatest achievements of medieval Muslim theologians.

Dr. Macksood Aftab is a neuroradiologist, and clinical assistant professor at both Michigan State University and Central Michigan University. He holds a Master degree in History of Science, and is an editor for the Journal of Islamic Philosophy. The author can be reached at: mackaftab@post.harvard.edu.