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Science and Religion in Islam Taner Edis Department of Physics, Truman State University www2.truman.edu/~edis/ Why Islam? Science and religion debate Complicated. Dominated by Christian background.

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Science and Religion in Islam

Taner Edis

Department of Physics, Truman State University

www2.truman.edu/~edis/


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Why Islam?

  • Science and religion debate

    • Complicated.

    • Dominated by Christian background.

  • Islam is a close cousin of Christianity and Judaism, but is also different enough in theology and history to be interesting.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Science and the supernatural

  • Our sciences have converged on naturalistic explanations of the world – physics, biology, neuroscience…

  • Casts doubt on supernatural realities.

?

Science and Religion in Islam


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Worrying about materialism

  • Mustafa Akyol, (liberal Muslim, ID proponent): “ID is indeed a wedge that can split the foundations of scientific materialism… For the first time, the West appears to be the antidote to, not the source of, the materialist plague.”

  • Symbolic enemy.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Responding to materialism

  • Technology is attractive to modern religious people. Linked to science. So can’t ignore science.

  • Need to appropriate science, and correct science if it disagrees with revealed truths.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Conservative, popular options

  • Science either

    • Supports traditional beliefs, such as those derived from taking scriptures at face value;

    • Or if it does not, “True Science” done by the devout shows the errors of the materialists.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Creationism

  • Christian version: often young-earth.

  • Muslim version: Quranic; often old-earth.

    • Widespread belief in special creation, linked to scriptural literalism;

    • Popular pseudoscience.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Islamic Creationism

  • Turkish origin, but internationally popular.

  • Deny common descent.

  • Borrows from Christian creationists.

  • Sees “Darwinism” as a materialist conspiracy.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Science-in-scripture

  • Christian version: Electricity, laws of physics in Bible; Behemoth = dinosaur.

  • Muslim version: Modern science and technology anticipated in Quran.

  • Very popular legends. 55:19-20 about barrier between two bodies of water. Mediterranean-Atlantic salinity barrier; Jacques Cousteau conversion legend.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Quranic Embryology

  • Scattered verses such as 39:6 “God creates you inside your mothers, in successive formations, in three darknesses.”

  • Authority of Western MDs: Bucaille, Moore.

  • Fragments of ancient Greek medicine.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Quranic astrophysics

  • Seven layers of skies/heavens in Quran.

  • H. Nurbaki:

    • Solar system

    • Our galaxy

    • Local group of galaxies

    • “radio magnetic sphere”

    • Quasars

    • Expanding universe

    • “remaining boundless infinities”

Science and Religion in Islam


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Why so popular?

  • Miracle: Proves divine source of Quran.

  • Like Biblical prophecy for conservative Christians.

  • Intellectually worthless.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Not defending medieval ideas!

  • Turkey: much pseudoscience tied to Nur movement.

  • Said Nursi: respected religious leader. Orthodox.

  • Nur adherents noted for modern outlook; pro-capitalism, pro-technology enthusiasm.

  • Do pseudoscience because they value science!

Science and Religion in Islam


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Reconstructing science

  • Christian version: “theistic science” ideas in ID movement.

  • Muslim version: Islamizing science.

    • Design-centered biology and physics;

    • Social science shaped by Islamic social ideals, Islamic law.

  • Serious ideas much debated by Muslim intellectuals. Affects policy.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Sophisticated creationism

  • ID in Turkey.

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    • Common descent OK;

    • No natural creativity;

    • Reconstruct God-centered science;

    • Revive medieval Islamic views.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Moderate options

  • Moderate, liberal Christians seek compromise with science, interpret Bible less literally.

    • Example: guided evolution (ID-lite).

  • Muslim case: there is some openness to metaphorical interpretation.

    • Some theologians adopt guided evolution, accepting much common descent.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Guided evolution

  • Even guided, non-Darwinian evolution is controversial.

  • Naturalistic process, particularly random element unacceptable.

  • Human evolution particularly unacceptable.

Science and Religion in Islam


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More liberal options

  • Christianity: the supernatural retreats to ultimate, metaphysical domain. Science deals with mere details, is autonomous.

  • Islam: much rarer. Science should be subordinate to revelation and moral concerns. (Even liberals think so.)

  • Exceptions: some defend autonomy of science. Abdolkarim Soroush in Iran.

Science and Religion in Islam


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What is different in Islam?

  • The religious and intellectual options Muslims face are similar to those for Christians.

  • But among Muslims, science is weaker and religiously-colored pseudoscience is stronger. Among intellectuals as well as the popular realm.

  • Why?

Science and Religion in Islam


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History

  • Past few centuries dominated by need to catch up to modern, especially Western world.

  • West has technological advantage  military and commercial power. Need science!

Science and Religion in Islam


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“Golden Age” exaggerated

  • Muslim science did not greatly decline. Europe surged ahead with a new way of learning about nature.

  • Medieval Muslim science embedded in religious, occult ways of thinking. Different from modern science!

Science and Religion in Islam


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Defending Islam

  • Borrow technology but guard against outside cultural influences.

  • Materialist aspects of science undesirable. External imposition, not indigenous heresy as in Europe.

  • Retain primacy of revelation; supernatural-centered view of nature.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Awareness of Christianity

  • European secularization seen as a disaster for religion; an example to avoid.

  • Separating science from religion is dangerous. Even liberals are reluctant to go this way.

  • Islam need not repeat Western history of science-religion accommodation.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Strong doctrinal conservatism

  • Liberal Muslim views much weaker than their Christian counterparts.

  • Reinterpretation, seeing religion as human strongly opposed. Even violence.

  • Even modernists, democrats can be cultural conservatives.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Creationism example

  • In education, commonly no evolution, or official support for creationism.

  • International popular, media-based creationism such as Harun Yahya.

  • Supported in intellectual circles, by academic theologians, by some science faculty in universities.

  • ID default in Muslim intellectual culture.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Weakness of science

  • Muslim lands very weak in science.

    • Applied science OK;

    • Lack of creativity.

  • Ineffective opposing creationism

    • Endorse pseudoscience

    • Tagged as secularist.

Science and Religion in Islam


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Secularism is discredited

  • Ideas with secularist associations suffer.

  • Secularism = despotic, elite imposition on pious populations.

  • Democracy  religious populism. Islam central to political legitimation.

Science and Religion in Islam


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No separate spheres?

  • Science and religion in West: intellectual friction, institutional accommodation.

  • Separate spheres. Science independent of religion.

  • Not in Islamic world?

  • How much of a practical problem is scientific backwardness?

Religion

Science

Science and Religion in Islam


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Plug

Taner Edis, An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam (Prometheus Books, 2007).

Science and Religion in Islam


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Web site

www2.truman.edu/~edis/

  • Contains many articles on science and religion, and science and Islam topics.

  • E-mail edis@truman.edu

Science and Religion in Islam


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Thanks for listening!

  • Any questions?

?

?

?

Science and Religion in Islam