As self-conscious beings we have an innate desire to know. We want to know about ourselves as well as our surroundings. Initially our knowledge comes from our parents and family. Then as we start to interact with individuals outside of our family, either at the school or in our neighborhood, we learn new things and different ideas. As we mature further we start to interact with the society at large. We learn to read, watch television, browse the internet and exchange ideas with others. As we make these interactions, our personal ideology and world view begins to take shape. Once we grow further to become a teenager and reach early adulthood, our personal ideology takes a firm root in our being. We live the rest of our lives consciously or unconsciously according to this ideology. This book gives a world view based on the ideology of monotheism.
Monotheism is an ideology which dates back as far as early recorded human history. It is centered around the concept of one supreme being called God, the One who created the universe - including us - and holds us responsible for our conduct.
But does God exist? If yes, why can’t we see Him. If we can’t see Him, how do we know that He even exists? Can we be sure of His existence without actually ever seeing Him? If He exists then why did He create the universe? If He created the universe, then who created Him? Is it possible for the universe to exist without a creator? These questions cross the minds of many of us at least at some point in our lives.
Our personal ideology is not only shaped by our social interactions, but also by which era of human thought we live in. Undoubtedly, the present era is dominated by science. In this era, science has taken a center stage and there is no area of our life which is not affected by science. Scientific method and knowledge is based on carefully made observations, empirical evidence and reason, and this method has helped us use nature for our benefit.
In this era of science, many have questioned the ideology of monotheism, rejecting it altogether, something which was part of human society before the scientific revolution, but today has no place in our personal lives. Faith in the unseen realities is considered similar to fairy tales with no rational foundation for accepting them. Major world religions are considered remnants of human thought from the pre-modern era and those who continue to practice them (a majority of the world population) are considered as being immature in their thought. Surveys of prominent scientists show that many of them do not believe in God at all.
Major scientific theories like the “Big Bang Theory” and the “Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection” can explain how the universe came into existence and how intelligent life evolved on earth. As for morality, some say that we can rely on reason and empirical knowledge alone to figure out what is morally right and wrong - we do not need to believe in God to be good to others.
In the busy modern life, our focus generally revolves around getting an education, employment, personal relationships, raising children and enjoying life with leisure activities. Even if God exists, what does He or religion add to our lives anyways? The role of God or religion in our personal lives seems less and less important.
If God exists, and He is all powerful and all knowledgeable, then do we have free will? If we do not have free will then how can He hold us accountable for our actions, and if we do have free will, then does that not challenge His authority?
Moreover, there is so much suffering, death and destruction and pure evil all around us in the form of diseases, crimes, natural disasters, wars, that the notion of a benevolent, all powerful God seems implausible. Is He really indifferent to all of this?
There are many world religions, some followed by billions of people. Most of the time people follow the religion of their parents. Is one religion better than others? If yes, then is it not unfair for those who are born into other faiths? If no one religion is better than others, then it does not make a difference which religion one follows. How does one resolve this confusion?
Some people believe that faith in God or following Divine revelation is fundamentally incompatible with the pursuit of life based on reason and science. However, at least in the context of Islam, pursuit of science or philosophy was never considered incompatible with following the teachings of the Qur’an.
Prominent Muslims scientists and philosophers like Avicenna and al-Tusi were men of science and reason as well as theology.
One of the most prominent scientists of all times, Sir Isaac Newton, also wrote a book on theology called The Philosophical Origins of Gentile Theology (see Chapter Ten) defending the idea of monotheism.
However, as the scientific understanding of the world has also increased, for many the compatibility between science and theology has become increasingly difficult.
In this backdrop I thought it was important to write a book about monotheism. I personally have many friends and acquaintances who no longer believe in God and consider religion obsolete. Similarly, there are many others who are believers, but religion plays only a peripheral role in their personal lives, lacking the insight as to why religion should be important to them.
In my role as a Thoracic Medical Oncologist (Lung Cancer Specialist), a Cancer researcher and a faculty member at a medical school in Houston, Texas, the scientific approach is part and parcel of my daily work. In my personal belief, I belong to the Shi’a school of thought within the fold of Islam. I have also taken short courses on Islamic theology, philosophy and mysticism.
My primary exposure to religious knowledge has been through attending the religious gatherings (majalis) dedicated to Imam Husayn (‘a), the 3rd Imam of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) (the Family of Prophet Muhammad (S) ) (see Chapter Four). These gatherings which are held across the globe every year during Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar, are a great source of infusing the community with religious knowledge. These gathering provide a gateway to expose ordinary people like myself to intellectual and academic discussions about various theological issues. If it were not for these gatherings I would have been wandering aimlessly as well, unable to resolve the conflict between science and religion like many of my colleagues.
When it comes to the importance of Imam Husayn (‘a) and his role in Islam, Prophet Muhammad (S) has been quoted as saying:
Indeed, Husayn is the lamp of guidance and the ship of salvation.
The Qur’an, the primary text of Islam, constantly reminds the readers to use reason and intellect, and invites us to ponder over the natural world. The Shi’a school of thought in its approach, lays great emphasis on reason and rationality, not only in the fundamental beliefs (usul al-din) but also in jurisprudential issues (fiqh). Moreover, the use of both philosophy and mysticism are emphasized greatly in addition to relying on the revealed text i.e. the Qur’an.
This book, God and god of Science, represents a synthesis of different branches of knowledge namely theology, philosophy, mysticism and science.
Chapter One deals with the epistemological description of various types of knowledge. It is important to have an outline of how knowledge is acquired before we can shape our world view. This chapter compares revealed knowledge - meaning the Qur’an, with other branches of knowledge like science and philosophy. Throughout this book, the Qur’an has been quoted to provide a basis of different opinions. This Divinely-revealed book is an argument itself and needs no other proof to be accepted. The validity of the Qur’an will be discussed in Chapter Four.
Chapter Two deals with the description of God as explained by the Divinely-appointed successors to Prophet Muhammad (S), namely the twelve Imams of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) (the Family of Prophet Muhammad (S) ), Muslim theologians, philosophers and mystics. It is important to know what is meant by God before answering the question whether He exists or not. We cannot prove or disprove the existence of something without first describing what it is.
Chapter Three deals with the philosophical arguments about existence of God. How, by using pure reason, not only can we show that God exists, but that in fact, God is the only reality which exists and everything else is just a manifestation of His existence.
Chapter Four deals with two of the greatest signs of God - the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (S) and his pure progeny (‘a). The uniqueness of the Qur’an, its language and how this speech could not have come from any human being will be discussed. The second part of the chapter will narrate anecdotes from the lives of Prophet Muhammad (S) and the Imams of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) (the Family of Prophet Muhammad (S) ) to highlight the nobility of their character and mannerism which itself is an argument for monotheism.
Chapter Five deals with questions about God’s knowledge and His actions. This chapter lays the foundation of how God plays an active role in nature and in our personal lives.
Chapter Six discusses the reality of this life and the life to come after death. Without a clear understanding of how the afterlife is linked with this life we cannot comprehend the philosophy of this life nor the role of religion in it.
Chapter Seven discusses the purpose of creation, our role in this world and what we are supposed to achieve from this life. What is the ultimate goal of our existence?
Chapter Eight discusses practical aspects of monotheism. Monotheism is not just for philosophical discussions, but rather, it is a practical ideology to live by. The degree of belief in monotheism is reflected in our actions.
Chapter Nine discusses how love, in addition to the intellect, allows us to soar towards our perfection. Sometimes it is the logic of love which supersedes the intellect to bring out the best in us.
Chapter Ten deals with the history of human thought from the time of the Babylonians, through the philosophy of ancient Greece, Islamic/Arab science and culminating in the scientific revolution of the West. It describes how some people have replaced idol worshipping done by the ancients with the worship of the god of science.
Chapter Eleven deals with the relationship between reason and revelation and it describes that when applied correctly, these guide towards the same reality. This chapter shows us how reason is insufficient for us to be moral and how revelation raises the bar for our morality.
Chapter Twelve deals with the non-believers and discusses reasons why some people end up losing faith even though they may have advanced degrees in science or philosophy.
Chapter Thirteen discusses the modern understanding of the universe in light of physics, and its inability to explain how the universe could have come into existence on its own. It also briefly discusses the metaphysical aspect of reality which lies beyond the physical universe.
Chapter Fourteen discusses the theory of evolution by natural selection and the evidence in support of it. A critique of scientific evidence is discussed to show how broad conclusions are drawn from this theory without actually having solid empirical evidence to back up these tall claims. This chapter also discusses philosophical and spiritual aspects of human existence and presents a viewpoint about the descent of Adam (‘a) and the start of the human race.
Chapter Fifteen discusses the relationship between religion and spirituality. It also touches upon religious pluralism in the context of Islam.
Chapter Sixteen looks at how revelation tells us about the existence of other intelligent beings besides humanity and how that changes our perspective about ourselves.
As described above, this book gives a monotheistic world view from the perspective of Islam. It is not a comparative study of different religions to show what they say about God, rather it covers many questions in relation to monotheism and gives answers from the viewpoint of Islam. It relies heavily on the Qur’an and the teachings of the twelve Imams of Ahlul Bayt (‘a) (the Family of Prophet Muhammad (S)). It also draws concepts from the philosophy known as “Transcendent Theosophy” or al-Hikma al-Mutaʿaliya, developed by the most prominent Muslim philosopher of the past four centuries, namely Mulla Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi (c. 1571/2-1640).
This book also contains many mystical insights and ethical points. It is a fast-paced book which covers a lot of topics, and at times the content may appear dense and complicated, and some of the points have been repeated at more than one place. If some areas are difficult to follow, then that reflects my inability to covey the meaning properly, for which I hope you overlook my shortcomings. Please attempt to read the difficult parts more than once or refer to the references for a more in-depth study.
I hope people can gain something from reading this book.
Syed Hasan Raza Jafri
Rabiʿ al-Awwal - 1439 AH