How can science and the modern scientific approach be evaluated
especially from Islam viewpoint?
For many years, swayed by
Western dominion over their lands, a dominion attributed to superior science
and technology, some Muslim intellectuals accused Islam itself as the cause
of the backwardness of Muslim peoples. Having forgotten the eleven centuries
or more of Islamic supremacy, they thought and wrote as if the history of Islam
had only begun in the eighteenth century. Further, they made the deplorable
mistake of identifying the relationship between science and religion in general
in the specific terms of the relationship between science and Christianity.
They did not bother to make even a superficial study of Islam and its long history.
In contrast to this, some other contemporary Muslim intellectuals who, after
seeing the disasters�atomic bombs, mass murders, environmental pollution, loss
of all moral and spiritual values, the �delirium� which modern man suffers,
and so on�science and technology have brought to mankind and the shortcomings
and mistakes of the purely scientific approach in seeking the truth, as well
as the failure of science and technology to bring man happiness, follow some
of their Western counterparts in condemning science and technology outright,
and adopting an almost purely idealistic attitude. However, Islam is the middle
way. It neither rejects nor condemns the modern scientific approach, nor does
it �deify� it.
It is true that science has been the most revered �fetish� or �idol� of modern
man for nearly two hundred years. Scientists once believed that they could explain
every phenomenon with the findings of science and the law of causality. However,
modern physics destroyed the �theoretical� foundations of mechanical physics
and revealed that the universe is not a clockwork of certain parts working according
to strict, unchanging laws of causality and absolute determinism. Rather, despite
its dazzling harmony and magnificent order, it is so complex and indeterminate
that when we unveil one of its mysteries, as many more appear before us. In
other words, the more we learn about the universe, the more we grow in ignorance
of it. Experts in atomic physics say that no one can be sure that the universe
will be in the same state a moment later that it is in now. Although the universe
works according to certain laws, these laws are not absolute and, more interestingly,
they do not have real or material existence. Rather, their existence is nominal,
that is, we deduce them from observation of natural events and phenomena. Also,
it is highly questionable to what extent they have a part in the creation and
working of things. For example, scientists say that a seed, earth, air and water
bring a tree into existence. However, these are only causes for a tree to come
into existence. The existence of a tree requires exact calculations and ratios
and the pre-established relations of the seed, earth, air and water. Science
should also explain the beginning of this process and the diversification of
seeds into different kinds. What science does is only to explain how things
take place; it thinks it has got out of the difficulty of explaining the origin
of existence by attributing it to �nature� or �self-origination� or �necessity�
�Nature is, evidently, a design, not the designer; a recipient, not the agent;
a composition, not the composer; an order, not the orderer; something printed,
not the printer. It is a collection of laws established by the Divine Will,
laws which our minds can grasp but which in themselves have no power or material
reality.� Attribution of existence to self-origination or necessity and chance
is sheer delusion. For we evidently see that existence displays absolute knowledge,
absolute wisdom, absolute will, and absolute power. Chance, self-origination
and necessity are only concepts without such material reality that we could
attribute to them knowledge, wisdom, will and power.
The modern scientific approach
The modern scientific approach is very far from finding out the truth behind
existence and explaining it. Truth is unchanging and beyond the visible world.
Its relationship with the visible, changing world is like that of the spirit
and the body or the Divine laws of nature and natural things and events. For
example, the force of growth, which is a universal Divine law, is innate in
living things. While this law is unchanging, a tree or a man undergoes incessant
changes. Likewise, human beings, no matter how their dress or dwellings or means
of transport have changed during the course of history, remain unchanged in
respect of the essential purposes they serve and the impact of those purposes
on their lives and environment. As human beings, we all share certain general
conditions of life and value: we are all born, mature, marry, have children
and face death; we all possess some degree of will and common desires, we share
also certain values�we all know the meaning of honesty, kindness, justice, courage,
and so on.
Despite this fact, the modern scientific approach searches for truth in changing
nature, and in its search it bases itself on the impressions of the senses.
However, these impressions are relative, changing from person to person, and
deceptive. Also, people differ in respect of their capacity of reasoning. So,
it is impossible to arrive at one certain conclusion by deductive or inductive
or analytical reasoning of the data received by the senses. It is because of
this that the modern scientific approach resorts to experiment to arrive at
facts. However, without pre-established axioms or �premises�, it is not possible
to establish a fact through experiments. Since David Hume, it has been generally
accepted that it is not inevitable that, because an event has happened twice
or a million times in two or a million different places, it must happen again.
For this reason, since the collapse of classical physics, Western epistemologists
speak not of seeking the truth itself but only of seeking approximations to
it. Karl Raymond Popper says that we consider the theories of both Newton and
Einstein as science. . . both of them cannot be true at the same time; rather,
both may be false.
Through empirical methods, science will not be able to find the truth which
concerns the essence of existence. Therefore, as Guenon puts it (Orient et Occident,
Turkish translation by F. Arslan, Istanbul 1980, p. 57), science or scientists
have two alternatives before them: either they will acknowledge that the findings
of science are of no value other than as suppositions about truth and therefore
not recognize any certainty higher than sense-perception, or they will blindly
believe as true whatever is taught in the name of science. Doubting the findings
of science, modern scientists try to find a way out in agnosticism or pragmatism,
thus confessing the inability of science to find truth.
Science should recognize its limits and concede that truth is unchanging
and lies in the realm above the visible world. When it can do that, it will
find its real value. Evidently, without the absolute, it is impossible for the
relative to exist; what is changing can be possible through the existence of
the unchanging, and multiplicity is impossible without the existence of unity.
It is only when any knowledge reaches the point of immutability that it acquires
permanence and stability. What is unchangeable and permanent is above the human
realm. Truth is not something the human mind produces. Truth exists independently
of man and man�s task is to seek it.