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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Science and religion: Is there a conflict?

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My dear readers, before this question can be adequately answered, we must first of all find out what science is and what religion is. Science could be defined as the study of nature or of the natural laws that govern nature. To help study nature, the scientific community has developed a method or scientific process and observation, rationalisation, reasoning and logic are all part of the process. It will be observed that we are using science in its broadest sense. Religion on the other hand, is a code of conduct which originates from the divine. This code of conduct is rooted in nature. It serves to establish communion between man and his Lord and helps establish law and order in the world. In other words, religion is a way of life rooted in nature which is designed by the Creator of nature. Here we refer to religion in general and not any religion in particular, in as much as all religions originated from God, the Almighty, it is only due to the dynamism of time that they appear to change, but they all share the same basic principles. It will be observed that there is a common word in both definitions and that is ‘nature’. If science is the study of nature and religion is rooted in nature, the inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that there is no conflict between the two. Man, whom religion seeks to control and guide is part of nature, thus the Bible tells us that “man has been created in the image of God.” This statement has also been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an: “Follow the nature of Allah, the nature in which He created man.” Both religions and science therefore are centred on nature and originated from God. There cannot be any contradiction between the two. Religion is the word of God while nature or science is His act. His word and act cannot differ.

Thus, the apparent conflict between the two is due to the approach and misunderstanding of some of those who study science and some adherents of religion, but in essence, these two – science and religion- are the same in reality. At this point, a set of complicated questions arises and the most significant of them is: How can science be at peace with religion when the scientific process of observation and experimentation, otherwise called empiricism, disproves the existence of God – a concept on which religion’s foundation is laid? This is why I said earlier that the approach to science of some scientists creates the seeming contradiction. The fault of some scientist, not all, is the fact that they try to use the physical as an instrument for assessing the metaphysical. This however, is a subject of its own and it is not prudent to go into it here.
The question that matters therefore is: does God really exist? There is a misconception that all scientists are atheist. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, I can say without fear of contradiction, that there are more believing scientists than non-believing ones. Many philosophers and scientists believed in the existence of God. The Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato believed in the existence of a higher being. Aristotle believed in the ‘Ultimate cause of all causes’ as he described God in his words.
Rene Descartes, who improved the work of Pythagoras on geometry, was one such thinker and philosopher. He mathematically calculated the theory of the existence of God. He argued that just as the sum of the three angles of a triangle are most certainly equal to the sum of two right angles, so it was that the study of the complexities of nature showed the existence of God. Next, Rene Descartes brought another argument saying that any truth that does not need proof is certainty. And anything which fails to pass the criterion of truth immediately is worthy of doubt. In other words, anything one could believe to be true without any dialectical argumentation is acceptable as evident truth. Applying this logic to self-consciousness, he coined the following statement “because I think I am – and I accept this simple statement without supporting it with any logical deduction – so most certainly, I am. “Cogito ergo sum”- I think I am, therefore I am. The second truth which he recognised after the first was the existence of God.
Dear reader, I will not do justice to this subject if I were not to shed light on another aspect of this subject. Why do people who study science become alienated from and disinterested in religion? It could be said that if both science and religion originated from God then the study of one should not alienate a person from the other. But as earlier stated, it is not all scientists who are atheists. 
The present misconception arose when Professor Charles Darwin brought forth the theory of evolution. His followers took this theory to another step – the survival of the fittest and natural selection. People like Professor Richard Dawkins and those in his shoes will have us believe that the universe came into existence by accident, that is to say, life began as an accident. The Holy Qur’an agrees with the theory of evolution but not the evolution put forward by these people. From what did life evolve? What is the origin of life on earth? These are the questions agitating the scientific mind ever since the light of reason spread in the world. 
Islam, as a nation, has been affected most by this misconception of the incompatibility between science and religion, and for this reason, I want to look at the issue of the origin of life from the perspective of the Holy Qur’an and present-day scientific theories on the same subject.
The origin of life
Philosophers and scientists have struggled throughout the ages to solve the enigma of the origin of life. However, there is still no solution to this problem, but there are theories which seem to hold water and these theories are in agreement with the Holy Qur’an. There is now a general believe in the scientific community that some types of bacteria are the most ancient organisms before the pre-biotic organism. They assert that these organisms must have drawn their energy directly from heat. Of all types of bacteria classified as most ancient, only the ‘prokaryotes’ and the ‘eukaryotes’ were mentioned by earlier scientists. The difference between these two is that the prokaryotes have no distinct nucleus although it has a well-defined cell-membrane. The eukaryotes however, have well-defined and developed nuclei occupying the centre of each cell. Thus Professor Dickerson states that:  
“…these earliest forms of life would have lived on energy of lightening and ultraviolet radiation…”
(Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, Scientific American – 1978)
Compare this with the Holy Qur’an:
And the Jinn we created before (the creation of man) from blast of fire. (15:28)
At another place it says:
And the Jinn He created from the blaze of fire. (55:16)
Now, the scientific theory—and it’s fast becoming more than a theory—is in absolute agreement with this description of the Holy Qur’an.
Another important aspect that I wish to touch on before concluding is about the orderly fashion in which nature is governed. The Holy Qur’an claims that observing this an unbiased mind cannot thereafter deny the existence of God. It says:
Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things; it is He Who has created death and life that He might try you – which of you is best in deed; and He is the mighty, the most Forgiving. The same (God is) Who has created seven heavens in seven stages. No incongruity can see you in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again; do you see any flaw? Aye, look again, and yet again, your sight will only return to you tired and fatigued. (67:2-5)
In the above verses, the Holy Qur’an urges us to continuously study science and nature – that we will always find order and balance as the hallmarks of His creation. In fact, one Professor Abdus Salaam, a Muslim scientist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, said that one-seventh of the Holy Qur’an urges Muslims to study nature.
When we do that, we realize that the world has a creator and that creator is God, Allah, Jehovah, Jah or whatever name you may wish to call Him. Creation by accident is far from the truth.
I will now conclude this article by saying that there is no conflict between Science and Religion. The study of one leads to the other. Professor Edwin Conklin, an eminent biologist at Princeton University puts it like this:
‘The possibility of life originating from an accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop. (God Alpha and Omega)
Dr Winchester, another great biologist admitted that:
‘…………after many years of study and work in the fields of Science, my faith in God, rather than being shaken has become much stronger and acquired a firmer foundation than heretofore. Science brings about an insight into the Majesty and Omnipotence of the Supreme Being which grows stronger with each new discovery.’  Science undergirded my faith in the evidence of God in an expanding Universe, (1968). 
It is abundantly clear from the above that God, Allah, Jah, Jehovah or whatever name we may choose to call Him does really exist and that the study of Science instead of alienating one from Him or religion, makes one firmly belief in Him and have high regard for religion and religious values. Science and Religion therefore, are not contradictory but two sides of the same coin, as it were.
The writer is the author of The Sledgehammer and Midnight Call. He is an English teacher at Nusrat Senior Secondary School.
Author: Musa Bah

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