Chapter 10: The god of science

Mankind is clearly uniquely distinct from the other life forms that co-exist with us on earth. We walk upright on two feet and carry a large brain which is capable of rational inquiry and abstract thinking. Our hands have opposable thumbs, and by using the extensor pollicis brevis and flexor pollicis longus (muscles of the forearm which move the thumb) we can do tasks that require fine manual dexterity such as spinning yarn from wool and weaving it into a fabric. Although, compared to many other animals we are physically weak, nevertheless we have learned to subjugate many creations for our benefit like horses and camels for transportation, and cows and chicken for producing milk and eggs. Skilled humans can even control very large animals such as elephants, and predators like lions, as is observed during circus shows.

أَوَلَمْ يَــرَوْا أَنَّا خَلَقْنَا لَـهُمْ مِمَّا عَمِلَتْ أَيْدِينَا أَنْعَامًا فَهُمْ لَهَا مَالِكُونَ وَ ذَلَّلْنَاهَا لَهُمْ فَمِنْهَا رَكُوبُهُمْ وَمِنْهَا يَأْكُلُونَ وَلَهُمْ فِيهَا مَنَافِعُ وَمَشَارِبُ أَفَلَا يَشْكُرُونَ

Do they not see that among the things that We have made with Our power are the cattle which We have created for them, and of which they are masters (now). And We have subdued these (cattle) for their use and benefit. So that some of them serve as their riding (beasts) and through others they obtain their food. They have many other uses in them. They provide them with drinks (of various kinds). Will they still give (Us) no thanks?(Qur’an, Surah Ya Sin, 36:71-72).

We have also developed language and writing skills which allows us to store tremendous amounts of knowledge to be passed from one generation to the next.

The impact of human activity on the surface of the earth is undeniable. From farming large swaths of land to building dams on mighty rivers, mining minerals from deep underneath the earth to developing large cities, traversing across the globe using ships and airplanes, communicating using electronic devices and satellites, venturing to the depth of oceans and walking on the surface of the moon, humans have transformed their surroundings like no other species.

This ability to conquer our surroundings and use it for our benefit is driven by our inborn inquisitiveness as well as our will power. We have an innate desire to know. We want to know about our surroundings and about each other. We want to inquire about ourselves. We want to know where this universe came from and how we ended up on this planet? What is our goal in this world? Why do we die and more importantly what happens to us after we have died?

When we take a look around us, we find ourselves in surroundings which are quite overwhelming. We are a tiny being living on a massive planet with a diverse landscape having vast expansive oceans. The environment and the weather can at times be harshly unforgiving. After nightfall when we look up, we see an unimaginably vast space filled with innumerable heavenly bodies, a dazzling and a mesmerizing sight to watch deepening the mysteriousness of the night. Our surroundings are a perfect fit for humans to apply their intelligence, will power and skill to explore, discover, understand and conquer.

In this backdrop, the human consciousness manifesting inside a sophisticated body interacting with a vast and complex universe trying to make sense of it has led to the development of three important disciplines: religion, philosophy and science.

The goal of the early humans was survival. Initially we used caves and large trees for shelter. We ate wild fruits, berries and small animals, and used animal hide to clothe ourselves. Gradually we learned how to utilize larger animals for our benefit - using them for transportation, food and clothing. We learned to develop small tools for hunting and building structures. We then learned to grow our own food. Farming allowed us to produce and store large quantities of food, freeing up time for other activities.

As we conquered the environment and were successful in surviving, we grew in numbers, formed communities and tribes which later transformed into large civilizations. This gradual movement from survival mode to building early civilizations was due to our ability to reason and experiment with nature, while in the process giving birth to primitive science and technology.

One example of early technology was the invention of the wheel by the Sumerians (living in present day Iraq) who existed some 5,000 years ago1 in the fertile crescent of the Middle East (near the Tigris and Euphrates River) - a place known as the cradle of human civilization.

Many other civilizations also appeared usually starting near a large river.

The Indus valley civilization developed near the Indus River in what is now Pakistan and Northern India; the Egyptians developed their civilization near the Nile River, while the Chinese civilization developed close to the Yellow River. In addition to primitive science and technology, a constant feature in all early human civilizations was the adoption of religion.

Religion is an integral part of human thought. Religion attempts to answer questions which come to any intelligent mind. Where did the universe come from? Is there a higher power or powers controlling the universe? Do we have consciousness beyond death? Is there a purpose or meaning to our existence? In day to day living, religion also gives us a code of conduct for guiding our behavior both individually as well as societally. Thus, it is no surprise that every early civilization developed its own religion and had a concept of a higher power/powers or a deity.

Major religious ideologies in different regions of the world were developed in what is termed as the Axial Age (800-200 BCE).2

Though the ideology of one Supreme Being existed early on, many early religions were polytheist, having many deities, gods and goddesses worshiped for various reasons. These gods and deities were thought to possess special powers or were linked to particular needs, such as worship of a goddess of fertility in the Indus valley civilization. Idols made of wood and stone were sculptured depicting the gods and goddesses for worship. Marduk, the sun god was important in Mesopotamia and it was thought that he was responsible for creating the world as well as humanity. The Canaanites (those who lived in present day Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan) had Baal-Habad, the god of storm and fertility, and El, the high god. The Egyptians had Amun, Horus and the female deity Isis.3

Greeks also had several gods, including Zeus, the king god; Athena, the goddess of wisdom; and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure.

Besides the mythical gods, heavenly bodies such as the sun, the stars, and even fire was worshiped as deities such as in the Zoroastrian religion.

One possible explanation of having various gods was the inability of early humans to explain various natural phenomenon such as lightning and thunder, or the motion of the heavenly bodies such as the sun and moon, or for the fulfillment of various personal needs such as food, security, fertility, wisdom, etc. Having various gods and goddess perhaps gave them a sense of understanding as to why things happen, or who can make things happen in our day to day lives.

In the early era of polytheism, another ideology emerged about one eternal, omnipresent and omniscient God, controlling not only the universe, but also involved in the personal lives of individuals. This ideology of monotheism likely existed in earlier eras as well, but it was best attributed to a man called Abraham (‘a). Prophet Abraham (‘a) is revered by the three monotheistic religions namely: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the primary source for the teachings of these religions is the Divine revelation (Arabic: wahi).

Prophet Abraham (‘a) was a young man who was born and lived in Babylon (in present day Iraq) and later in life, moved to Canaan (present day region including Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) and also traveled to the Arabian Peninsula (present day Saudi Arabia).

According to the Qur’an, he was a messenger of God, received revelation from God, and had a very high spiritual status near Him. He has been given the title of al-Khalil (The Friend of God), and also a much higher spiritual status of an imam (Divinely appointed Leader). He was a firm believer in monotheism and promoted this ideology wholeheartedly.

During the time of Prophet Abraham (‘a), many people worshiped idols made of wood and stones and the Qur’an describes how in one instance, he tried to reason with the idol worshippers about the futility of worshipping man-made idols who cannot even help themselves - let alone help others:

وَ تَاللّٰهِ لَأَكِيدَنَّ أَصْنَامَكُمْ بَعْدَ أَنْ تُوَلُّوا مُدْبِرِينَ فَجَعَلَهُمْ جُذَاذًا إِلَّا كَبِيرًا لَهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ إِلَيْهِ يَرْجِعُونَ قَالُوا مَنْ فَعَلَ هَٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا إِنَّهُ لَمِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا فَتًى يَذْكُرُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ قَالُوا فَأْتُوا بِهِ عَلَىٰ أَعْيُنِ النَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْهَدُونَ قَالُوا أَأَنْتَ فَعَلْتَ هَٰذَا بِآلِهَتِنَا يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ قَالَ بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَٰذَا فَاسْأَلُوهُمْ إِنْ كَانُوا يَنْطِقُونَ فَرَجَعُوا إِلَىٰ أَنْفُسِهِمْ فَقَالُوا إِنَّكُمْ أَنْتُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ ثُمَّ نُكِسُوا عَلَىٰ رُءُوسِهِمْ لَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ مَا هَٰؤُلَاءِ يَنْطِقُونَ قَالَ أَفَتَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللّٰهِ مَا لَا يَنْفَعُكُمْ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَضُرُّكُمْ أُفٍّ لَكُمْ وَلِمَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللّٰهِ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ

And by God, I will indeed plan a stern plan against your idols after you have left turning your backs. So he smashed them all into pieces, except their chief (idol), that they might return to it (for inquiry as he planned). (When they saw their idols broken) they said: Who has done this to our gods? He (who has done this) must be of the wrong-doers indeed. Some (of the people) said: We heard a young man speaking (ill) of them, he is called Abraham. They said: Then bring him before the eyes of the people so that they may bear witness (against him). (When he was brought) they said: O Abraham! Is it you who did this to our gods? (Abraham) said: Well, of course, someone has done it. Here is their chief (idol which witnessed all this). So better ask (him and) them, if they can speak. Then they turned to their leaders and to one another and said: You, yourselves are surely in the wrong. Then they were made to hang down their heads (in shame and said to Abraham): Indeed, you know very well that these (idols) do not speak. (Abraham) said: Do you then worship, apart from God, the things which can do no good to you, (who are their worshippers), nor can do harm to (those of) you (who are their destroyers). Shame on you and on the things you worship apart from God! Will you not then make use of (your) understanding? (Qur’an, Surah al-Anbiya’, 21:57-67).

In another instance, Prophet Abraham (‘a) tried to reason with the worshippers of heavenly bodies (the stars, moon and sun), and tried to showed them the futility of taking such beings as gods:

فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَىٰ كَوْكَبًا قَالَ هَٰذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآفِلِينَ فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَٰذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِنْ لَمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَٰذَا رَبِّي هَٰذَا أَكْبَرُ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

Then when the night darkened over him, he saw a star. He said (on seeing it to the idol-worshippers): Is this my Lord (as you assert)? But when it set he said: I do not love the setting ones (to accept as my God). Then when he saw the moon rise with spreading light he said (to the people): Is this my Lord (as you assert)? But when it set he said: Had my Lord not guided me aright I would have, invariably, been of the people who have gone astray. And when he saw the sun rise with spreading light (he said to them): Is this my Lord (as you assert, as) this is the biggest? But when it (also) set he said: O my people! I am surely (sick and) quit of that you associate (with Him). Surely, I have turned myself with devotion and in a most upright manner to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth. I have never been of the polytheists. (Qur’an, Surah al-Anʿam, 6:76-79).

Monotheism is best exemplified in the life of Abraham (‘a) and lies at the core of the three most important Divinely inspired religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), that have shaped human history. Religion clearly stands out as a very important ideology that has helped us make sense of our lives, as well as the meaning and purpose of our existence.

Besides religion, another very important discipline which has helped us to understand the nature of existence is philosophy.

Philosophy attempts to understand the reality of things through pure rational inquiry including both the tangible realities as well as abstract ideas. It covers topics such as ethics (ideal conduct, good and evil), politics (ideal social order), meta-physics (ontological reality of existence), epistemology (theory of knowledge) and logic (the proper way of thinking and reasoning).4

Ancient Greece can actually be considered the birthplace of philosophy though it developed independently in Ancient China (Taoism) as well.

In the beginning, philosophy was indistinguishable from what we now call the natural sciences such as physics, astronomy and biology. Even now the highest degree in sciences such as chemistry, physics and biology is called the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). It is only later on that the natural sciences based on empirical knowledge were separated from the pure rational inquiry of philosophy.

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are the most important philosophers of Ancient Greece whose teachings shaped human thought for thousands of years to come. In particular, Aristotle’s work produced a lasting impact both on the European, as well as Islamic philosophy and he is credited with the development of the rules for the proper and systematic way of rational inquiry also known as logic and syllogism.5

Logical thinking allows us to differentiate between a true concept and a false idea. It includes both deductive and inductive reasoning. For example: the streets get wet when it rains; the streets are wet this morning; thus, it must have rained last night – this is an example of deductive reasoning. Another example is as follows: An infection causes fever; a patient has a fever, therefore this patient must have an infection (although there could be other reasons for having a fever, so obviously it has to be looked at in the context of a clinical situation).

Inductive reasoning looks at certain observations and then makes a generalization about how things work. It is sort of pattern recognition – so as an example, if we state that most patients who develop lung cancer are smokers; then smoking must cause lung cancer. Much of the scientific inquiry is based on employing deductive and inductive reasoning to help understand data obtained both from observation and experimentation. Logic is also employed by lawyers in judicial arguments, as well as by common people in every day decision making - such as: flowers make my wife happy, and I want to make her happy, so I should give her flowers. (I know this may not work all of the time even though it may appear logical to men!)

Ancient Greece excelled in philosophy and they also made important contributions in the fields of mathematics, geometry, astronomy, physics and engineering.

Building on astronomical data gathered by the Babylonian, Ptolemy based in Alexandria, presented his astronomical observations in an important work called Almagest (The Arabic rendition of his original work called Megale Syntaxis).

Euclid wrote the most important work on geometry and numbers theory in his book called Elements.

Archimedes, in his work On Floating Bodies, described the physical law of buoyancy, which helped explain the principle behind the flotation of solid bodies in fluids.6

Aristotle, though more famous for his philosophy, described earth to have spherical shape giving both theoretical and empirical arguments in his book On the Heavens. He also helped classify a large number of animals laying the foundation for zoology.

However, the understanding of natural world in ancient Greece was still primitive and in many cases outright wrong. For example, believing that the Earth was considered to be the center of the solar system as opposed to the heliocentric model discovered much later on; or Aristotle’s assertions that women have less number of teeth than men.7 (When I was a child, my mother would explain the importance of science to me and would say that all that was required was for Aristotle to count the number of teeth in a sample of men and women to achieve the correct conclusion!)

With the decline of Greece, the intellectual epicenter of the world moved to the Middle East around the 8th and 9th Century and remained there for many centuries. The stimulus for this change was no doubt the birth of a new religion in that region called Islam.

Islam rose in the Arabian Peninsula when Muhammad (S), a direct descendent of Prophet Abraham (‘a), started to receive revelations in 610 ad. The very first word revealed to him was: “Read”. Learning and gaining knowledge was one of the most important messages making it obligatory upon all Muslims (men and women).8

For Muslims, one of the main impetus for learning was the Qur’an itself which was revealed in the most eloquent Arabic. It covers a wide variety of topics, and reading it no doubt broadens the vision, and enriches a person intellectually. In various ayat, the Qur’aninvites the readers to observe and ponder over the heavens and the earth and other natural phenomenon - encouraging the exploration of nature.

After Prophet Muhammad (S), the bearer and inheritor of prophetic knowledge were the imams, the foremost amongst them being his first cousin Imam ʿAli (‘a), about whom the Prophet Muhammad (S) has been quoted as saying:

I am the city of knowledge and ʿAli is its gate.9

Imam ʿAli’s (‘a) main teachings were focused on monotheism, ethics, morality, human psychology, spirituality, social justice, rules of governance and politics.

His sermons, letters and maxims were compiled by the renowned scholar, Sayyid al-Radhi in the 10th Century in a book called Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence) which is a masterpiece of wisdom expressed in extraordinary, and very eloquent Arabic.

Imam ʿAli (‘a) is also credited to have developed the rules of Arabic grammar which were very helpful in the adoption of the Arabic language amongst the non-Arabs as Islam began to spread to many non-Arab regions of the world.10

Arabic soon acquired the status of a scientific language of that era and major works in science, philosophy and medicine were written in Arabic language by both Arabs as well as non-Arabs.

Amongst the teachings of the Imams we find a book by the name of Risala al-Huquq or The Treatise on Rights written by the grandson of ʿAli (‘a) who was also named ʿAli – and was the son of Husayn (‘a). This remarkable document gives a detailed description of human rights for all possible human relationships. The rights of God, our body parts, our parents and other family members, our neighbors, teachers, students, leaders and even the rights of our adversaries and those who do evil to us are all mentioned.11

Amongst the descendants of Imam ʿAli (‘a), the two Imams well known for spreading knowledge were the 5th Imam - Muhammad al-Baqir (‘a) (677-733 ce) and his son the 6th Imam - Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (‘a) (702-765 ce). The name al-Baqir literally means “the one who splits open knowledge.” Compared to the other imams, these two had a greater opportunity to spread the prophetic knowledge and thus, they established the first public academy at the mosque of the Prophet (S) in the city of Medina. Their prime teachings were in the fields of theology, jurisprudence, ethics, spirituality and meta-physics and they trained thousands of students who energized the intellectual and academic movement in early Islam. Some of their students went on to become jurists themselves like Abu Hanifa and Malik b. Anas whose jurisprudence is followed by millions of Muslims even today. Amongst the students of Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) was the famous scientists Jabir b. al-Hayyan or as he is known in the West, Geber.12

Jabir b. al-Hayyan (721-815 ce) is one of the earliest scholars and researchers of natural sciences in the Arab world. He practiced alchemy and developed basic techniques of chemistry such as evaporation, sublimation, melting and crystallization. In the centuries to come, Muslims led the scientific and intellectual advancement and established an impressive civilization stretching from North Africa and southern Europe, to central and south Asia including Persia.

Among the dynasties that appeared during early Islam, the Abbasid caliphate patronized scientific work and established the Bayt al-Hikma or House of Wisdom in their capital, Baghdad. This became the center of much of the scientific learning, research and translation of Greek, Persian and Indian texts into Arabic. In particular, the Abbasid caliph Maʾmun al-Rashid (786-833 ce) - though a ruthless ruler who killed his own brother to seize power - patronized scientific and philosophic endeavors.

Maʾmun named the 8th Imam, ʿAli b. Musa al-Ridha (‘a) as his successor and arranged many debates in his court between Imam al-Ridha (‘a) and the leading scholars of his time – intellectual giants who belonged to different schools of thought including Islam, Christianity, Judiasm and even Atheists. Some of these debates in which Imam al-Ridha (‘a) clearly outshone every opponent have been compiled in a book, ʿUyun al-Akhbar al-Ridha by Shaykh al-Saduq.13

Unsettled by the rising popularity of Imam al-Ridha (‘a), Maʾmun went on to poison him leading to the 8th Imam’s death. The 8th Imam is buried in the northern-Iranian city of Mashhad which is a major center of pilgrimage for the Muslims.

Among the early Muslim scientists was al-Khwarizmi (780-850 ce), a Persian by descent. The term Algebra was coined from the title of his famous book on mathematics called Hisab al-Jabr wa al-Muqabalah. From him also comes the term algorithm, a method of solving mathematical problems and data processing used today in a variety of fields including computer science.

In the field of Astronomy, al-Battani (Albatenius), al-Sufi (Azophi), al-Biruni, Ibn al-Shatir, al-Zarqali (Arzachel) and al-Tusi made important and lasting contributions. Al-Zarqali who was based in Toledo, al-Andalus (The Arabic name of Spain) along with other astronomers, constructed the Tables of Toledo, describing in detail the apparent motions of the sun, the moon and the planets.

Similarly, al-Tusi (1201-1274 ce) who was a Persian polymath, established an advanced observatory in Margheh – the Azerbaijan area of Iran - for conducting astronomical observations. He also invented a geometric construction called the “Tusi Couple” to help explain the planetary motions which was later used by Copernicus in his work. Many astronomical terms like “zenith” and even the names of numerous stars like “Rigel”, and “Vega” have Arabic origins.14

In the field of optics, Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) (965-1040 ce) performed ground breaking experiments to understand the nature of light, compiling his work in a book called Kitab al-Manazir – The Book of Optics. He also wrote a critique on Ptolemy’s astronomy in his work called Shukuk ʿala Batlamyus (Dubitationes in Ptolemaeum).15

According to Professor S.M. Razaullah Ansari, through his work, Ibn al-Haytham demonstrated the scientific method of conducting inquiry by proposing a hypothesis and then carrying out experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis - laying the foundation of modern scientific discovery.16

In the field of medicine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037 ce) was a genius physician and a philosopher. His famous book Qanun fi al-Tibb – known as the Cannon of Medicine was used as a standard medical text book in the Middle East as well as Europe for several hundred years. Al-

Zahrawi (Abulcasis) (936-1013 ce), who worked in Andalusia (Islamic Spain), was the greatest surgeon of his times.

An Arab physician, Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288 ce) discovered the pulmonary circulation, in which blood moves from the heart to lungs for oxygenation.17

In philosophy, Muslims embraced works of Greek philosophers and made important original contributions. Famous names from the peripatetic school of Aristotle include Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) (1126-1198 ce). In particular Ibn Rushd was instrumental in explaining Aristotle’s work and dispelled the impression that philosophy and revelation are contradictory.

Shahab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1155-1191 ce), established his own school of philosophy called Hikma al-Ishraq - The Illuminationist Philosophy.

However the greatest philosopher of them all was definitely Mulla Sadra (Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi - 1572-1640 ce). He was contemporary of Rene Decartes and established his own school of philosophy called Hikma al-Mutaʿaliya - Transecendent Theosophy which combines rational inquiry, Divine revelation, and personal spiritual insight into a unique and comprehensive school of thought unmatched in the East or the West for the past 400 years.18 (His work has been quoted multiple times in this book).

During the Middle Ages, while the Middle East saw an advanced and sophisticated Arab/Islamic civilization, much of Europe was backward with no real intellectual or scientific achievement. The rich philosophical and scientific legacy left by the Greeks was lost, and in many cases actively discouraged from even being studied. This began to change as the Europeans started to interact with the Arab/Islamic civilization. In 1095, Pope Urban II at the council of Clermont in France, galvanized Christians from Europe to attack Muslim lands setting off centuries of wars known as The Crusades.

In the first of such crusades, the invading Christian army conquered the city of Jerusalem in 1099, which at that time was a center of learning and exchange of ideas between various ideologies and religions. The invading army was made up mostly of illiterate soldiers, who did not even know how to tell time, but nevertheless wreaked havoc in the city committing massacres such that “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”19

But not every European who travelled eastwards was a warrior. There were intellectuals like Adelard of Bath who was truly interested in learning from the Arabs and such men helped a great deal in the intellectual resurgence of the West.

The interaction of Europeans with the Arab and Muslim world was so crucial and transformative that according to many scholars, the very idea of modern Western civilization was impossible to envision without a preceding Arab/Islamic era of science and philosophy.20

Many terminologies and ideas that are in use even today like alkali, alcohol, Arabic numerals (which originated in India), algebra, algorithm, zero, azimuth, zenith, admiral, check, tariff, arsenal, customs and double account book keeping have come to the West from the Arab/Islamic civilization.

The stimulus for the rise of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages was the birth of Islam, and the stimulus for Renaissance in Europe was its interaction with the world of Islam.

The 14th Century saw great intellectual and cultural changes in Europe starting from Italy and then spreading to the rest of Europe, a period known as the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) produced great works of art in the form of paintings and sculptures.

This period also saw sea exploration by the Europeans to find new trading routes to the east resulting in the discovery of the new world. The intellectual and social change in Europe resulted in unprecedent scientific accomplishments in a period known as the scientific revolution.

In 1543, building on the earlier work of the Greek and Arab Astronomers, a Polish scientist by the name of Nicholas Copernicus published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres) giving a heliocentric model of the solar system as opposed to the prevalent geocentric model.

Johannes Keppler (1571-1630) explained the planetary motion proposing that the planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits rather than in a circular motion.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) revolutionized astronomy by using a telescope to make astronomical observations and was the first to discover Jupiter’s moon, thus giving validity to the Copernicus model of planetary motion around the sun. He was however prosecuted for his views by the inquisition of the Catholic Church, was put on trial, had his work banned and lived last part of his life under house arrest.

Perhaps the greatest scientist of all from that era was Sir Isaac Newton, who in 1687 published Philosophaie Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in which he stated his famous three laws of motion, explaining not only the motion of heavenly bodies but also the motion of small objects like the fall of an apple from a tree through a force called gravity. He is also credited to have developed calculus and a reflecting telescope. Acknowledging centuries of scholarly work preceding him, Newton is famously quoted to have said:

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

In 1859, an English biologist by the name of Charles Darwin published his famous work The Origin of Species, suggesting that different species of life on earth have evolved from common ancestors through the process of natural selection. This theory of evolution today lies at the heart of modern biology. (See more about this in Chapter 14)

Through the works of Michael Farady and James Maxwell the 19th Century also saw a better understanding of electromagnetism, as well as the nature of light as a propagating wave of electromagnetic field.

While Newton explained the motion of bodies through an invisible force called gravity, this motion was better explained by Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity published in 1905. Einstein proposed that heavy objects like the sun cause stretching of the fabric of four-dimensional space-time which in turn pushes objects like the earth to go around the sun on space-time curves which we feel as gravity. The same year, Einstein also described the relationship between mass and energy through the famous equation, e=mc², where e=energy, m=mass and c= the speed of light.

As the understanding of the atom and sub-atomic particles improved, the 20th Century also saw the birth of a new kind of physics called quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics states that objects at a sub-atomic level have both a particle and a wave form, and there are limits to which we can know the momentum and the location of a particle at the same time, also known as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Today, the existence of the universe is explained by what is called the “Big Bang Theory.” We know that the universe is not only expanding, but it is actually accelerating. Its beginning is thought to be from an infinitely dense point called the singularity containing all of the mass, energy and space-time of the existing universe. Some fourteen billion years ago this started to expand resulting in the appearance of the stars, galaxies and planets. (See Chapter 13 for further details)

The scientific revolution brought a new understanding of the universe based on verifiable, and empirical evidence. It seriously challenged the pure philosophical understanding of the natural world propagated by the likes of Aristotle, as well as a dogmatic understanding as proposed by the Christian Church. As the traditional understanding of God proposed by the Church started to be challenged, ideas like that of deism and pantheism began to gain acceptance.

Almost all of the Muslim scientists from the Middle Ages, and many eminent philosophers and scientists from the renaissance and the scientific revolution of Europe like Rene Decartes, Voltaire and Sir Isaac Newton were firm believers in monotheism. Their scientific pursuits did not seem to be in conflict with monotheism. In particular Sir Isaac Newton wrote an important work called the Philosophical Origins of Gentile Theology, narrating his belief in monotheism. He however rejected the doctrine of trinity or the divine status of Jesus, referring to it as ideas promoted by the Christian theologician, Asthanasius.

The scientific method has also given us a tremendous ability to manipulate the physical universe for our own benefit, transforming and improving the quality of our lives in an unprecedent way. In this scientific era when we can literally go to the moon and come back, use a hand-held device to talk to another person across the globe, understand the physical world at a sub-atomic level, and develop medical treatments which target specific molecular pathways, both philosophy and religion seem obsolete. In fact, the very idea of God is considered a figment of human imagination which is thought to have become acceptable in earlier human societies simply because we just did not understand the universe any better, therefore we invented God to satisfy our intellectual curiosity. The German philosopher Nietzsche even went on to claim that “God is dead,” and “We killed him.” Nietzsche later in his life suffered a complete mental breakdown.

While early Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages, and many prominent Western scientists during the Scientific Revolution did not find contradiction between their scientific work and belief in God, today we find many people have faith only in experimental evidence, and for them science has replaced God. A recent survey of eminent British scientists belonging to the Royal Academy of London showed that an overwhelming majority of scientists reject the idea of God (78%), as well as the belief in consciousness beyond death (85%). This rejection of God or a supernatural being was more common amongst those in biological sciences than those in physical sciences. There was less consensus on overlap between the domain of religion and science. Interestingly enough, only 23% of those invited for the survey responded, leaving a question mark on the belief of the rest of the 75% of the scientists.21

For many, only the knowledge obtained through the scientific method is considered accurate. Only scientists are considered to be those who are seeking the truth or reality. In particular, belief in God or practice of religion are considered false and dangerous ideas with no rational or scientific basis to them. Those scientists who continue to believe in God or practice religion are therefore considered not “true scientists”.

It is ironic that while science has broadened our horizons and given us a tremendous understanding about the universe, at the same time some of us have developed a tunnel vision, rejecting any form of knowledge that cannot be verified in an experiment. The paradox is that on the one hand, science has allowed us to uncover remarkable structures and mechanisms underlying the physical and biological systems, while on the other hand many have failed to answer the obvious question as to how these processes were put in order in the first place? The notion that this extraordinarily sophisticated universe has come about on its own and is operational without any outside factor or influence is not only absurd, but is statistically so improbable that it is impossible to be as such. Similarly, the idea that natural selection can give rise to complex forms from simple forms also does not have any sound rational basis nor is it backed up by strong experimental evidence. (See Chapter 3 and Chapter 14)

For many, the scientific progress has not been matched by an equal progress in their religious and philosophical understanding. Not everything can be blamed on the scientists as many dogmatic ideas held to be true in certain religious traditions have no rational basis and have failed to keep up with the evolving scientific world view (such as the age of the Earth). But what does not make any sense is to completely reject conviction in God just because we can now understand the function of the kidney a little better, or because we can make computer microchips.

There are many who continue to keep their faith as well as pursue science without having to choose between one or the other. But for many others, since science can now explain many natural phenomenon, therefore they choose to worship the god of science, like the ancients used to worship the false gods of Zeus and Apollo. For them, their god is now the “god of Science.”

One of the reasons for giving up on God is that many people are not exposed to the teachings of the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad (S) and the imams of the Ahlul Bayt (‘a), and have not had exposure to the correct understanding of monotheism, therefore they waver towards rejecting the very idea of God.

In earlier chapters, I have attempted to give a correct understanding of God as explained through revelation. I hope that with a clearer understanding of God, His attributes, His role in our personal lives, and the ultimate goal of our existence, some people will make an effort to return from worshiping the god of science to worshiping the one true God. In the next chapter I will explore the relationship between reason and revelation to see if they contradict each other or if they point towards the same reality.

  • 1. Woolf, Alex, A History of the World, Arcturus Holding Limited, 2016, UK.
  • 2. Armstrong, Karen, A Brief History of God, Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing, 1993, New York.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Durant, Will, The Story of Philosophy, Simon and Shuster, 2005, New York.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Weinberg, Steven, To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science, Harper Perennial, 2015, New York.
  • 7. Durant, The Story of Philosophy.
  • 8. Qazwini, Muhammad, S. b. Majah al-, Sunan Ibn Majah, The Book of Sunnah, Darus Salam Publications, 2007, vol. 1, book 1, tradition 224.
  • 9. Suyuti, Jalal al-Din al-, Tarikh al-Khulafa’, p. 17.
  • 10. Sadr, Sayyid Hasan al-, The Shiah and Islamic Disciplines, Ahlul Bayt World Assembly Publishing and Printing Center, 2007.Online at:
  • 11. Husayn, ʿAli b., The Treatise on Rights, Risalat al-Huquq, Creating Space Publishing, 2017.Online at:
  • 12. Mutahhari, Murtada, A Survey Into the Lives of the Infallible Imams, Ahlul Bayt World Assembly Publishing and Printing Center, 2010. Online at:
  • 13. Saduq, Shaykh al-, ʿUyun al-Akhbar al-Ridha. Ansariyan Publications, Qum, Iran. Online at:
  • 14. To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science.
  • 15. Saliba, George, Islamic Science and the Making of European Renaissance, MIT Press, 2011.
  • 16.
  • 17. To Explain the World, The Discovery of Modern Science.
  • 18. Mulla Sadra.
  • 19. Lyons, Jonathan, The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization, Bloomsbury Press, 2009.
  • 20. Islamic Science and the Making of European Renaissance; The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization.
  • 21. Michael Stirrat, R E Cornwell, Eminent Scientists Reject the Supernatural: A Survey of the Fellows of the Royal Society. Evoution: Education and Outreach 20136:3.