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Science & Religion
Dr. Asad Zaman
Galileo was forced by the Catholic Church to recant his discovery that the Earth moves around the Sun; otherwise, he would be burnt as a heretic. This battle between Science and the Church colored European worldviews and continues to be significant to this day. Science operates on the material domain, while Religion deals with the spiritual. These are complementary, and the two developed harmoniously within the Islamic tradition. In contrast, the conflict between Science and Religion in Europe has led to many misunderstandings which persist to this day.
Peaceful co-existence is possible when the two stick to their respective domains. Science acknowledges that it has nothing to say about valor, dignity, sacrifice, or love. Excellence of conduct, and pathways to spiritual progress lie within the religious domain. Similarly, scientific and technological issues lie outside the principal concerns of religion, which teaches us the meaning of life, and how to be fully human. In the Islamic tradition, the Prophet Mohammad s.a.w. asked for advice and accepted use of foreign technology (the ditch from Persia) for use in battle. In another incident, he stated that revealed knowledge did not cover methods for planting date trees. Many Islamic source materials point to the separation of the two spheres of knowledge.
The persecution of scientists by the Church created a desire for revenge, and ruled out peaceful co-existence in Europe. Intellectuals in Europe asserted that science was the only source of certain knowledge; everything else — in particular, religious knowledge — was merely ignorance and superstition. David Hume argued that all books of religion should be burnt: “Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” The attempt was made to make religion redundant by deriving morality and principles of good conduct on scientific and logical grounds. However, in the early part of the twentieth century, it became clear to many that moral knowledge and values could not be derived purely from facts and logic. Morals, values and spirituality are beyond the scope of the scientific method. Since science became accepted as the only valid source of knowledge in the European tradition, this led to a gradual abandonment of morality. In her book entitled The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. Harvard Professor Julie Reuben has shown how universities in the USA abandoned the moral mission of building character of students, and confined their attention solely to the provision of technical knowledge. Because of Western hegemony, the vast majority of the educated people throughout the world go through this type of education, which does not cater to character development.
Over fifty years of abandonment of character building as a central component of education has led to tragic consequences. Previously sources of social ostracism, stigma and shame, infidelity and illegitimate children have become socially acceptable. Nearly half of the children are born out of wedlock, and infidelity leads to dissolution of nearly half of contemporary marriages in the West. Unwed mothers commit infanticide by abandoning nearly 12,000 newborns every year in trashcans in the USA. Studies show that children raised in broken families have seriously deficient social values. A 2008 survey of morality among US high school teenagers by the Josephson Institute showed rates of well over 30% for theft, cheating, and lying. When asked to testify about the effects of the atom bomb, physicist Oppenheimer described the brilliant light show that would result first and the carnage in terms of human lives later. It was graduates of the top universities in the US who created strategies for war leading to wholesale slaughter of millions of civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
As the tragic consequences of teaching physics without ethics have become clear, many voices from different disciplines have urged the need to re-integrate morality and values into the fabric of human knowledge. As our poet laureate Iqbal stated, even the memory of Islamic traditions has been lost to contemporary Muslims during the centuries of colonization. Among these lost Islamic traditions is tolerance, racial equality, and the integration and respect for all sources of knowledge. As even secular historians like Toynbee have acknowledged, the revival of these traditions is sorely needed by contemporary societies.