Science has helped us progress in many aspects of our lives, whether that’s in advancing medicine, developing technology or helping us understand the world in which we live. Science utilises our senses to observe and investigate the physical world to determine how mechanisms function in our universe. “It deals with observations of phenomena that take place on a daily basis and makes an attempt at explaining the various relationships that exist between them through either direct or indirect means. The observations are empirical, i.e. they rely on the human capacity to use the senses to perceive them.” (Ghlian, 2019). We live in a world where materialism has become the norm and it has become increasingly accepted that the truth can only be derived through our senses.
Unfortunately, this has led many people to adopt worldviews that contain incoherent and false assumptions about science and what truths it can and can’t reveal. Worldviews such as philosophical naturalism.
Philosophical naturalism “is the view that all phenomena within the universe can be explained via physical processes. These physical processes are blind and non-rational. Philosophical naturalists reject all supernatural claims and some argue that if there is anything ‘outside’ the universe it does not interfere with it.” (Tzortzis, 2016) Many atheists have adopted philosophical naturalism as a worldview, although not all atheists are naturalists as they do not dismiss the existence of non-physical phenomena.
Some atheists are convinced that science is the only means or method by which truth can be attained and that all questions about the world we live in can be answered through science. Therefore atheists have no need for God to exist because all our questions can or have already been answered through science. Also, some would believe that because of the success of science, then it must be the only truth. Another false assumption is when something is a ‘scientific fact’ than that means it will never change. Therefore, if some new scientific discovery were to contradict revelation then this same divine revelation will be dismissed as the scientific discovery is perceived to be more factually correct.
All these points mentioned are problematic, and we will delve deep into why science alone cannot be used to establish the truth about our reality
The assumption that science is the only means to attain the truth is incorrect. Although science has helped us answer some questions, however, it does have some limitations. For instance, science can explain to us how something works, but it cannot explain to us why it works that way. Another limitation is that science is restricted to our limited observation and our perception of the world around us through our senses. This is a significant factor because what we know as non-observable today could be observable tomorrow. A relevant example could be the invention of the light microscope subsequently after that, the electron microscope. These technological progressions have revealed to us things which were previously considered unobservable or non-observable. Therefore we can say that we can never be satisfied with our current understanding of the physical world as it is constantly changing.
Science cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong. Some atheists have taken the position that morality stems from our biological conditioning. This would mean that different conditioning would result in different moral standards which are quite problematic. If we were to say that morals are based on our physical conditions then that would mean that morals are subjective. This contradicts the fact that some morals are undeniably objective, innately within us. If one takes the position that our moral standards are a result of our physical biological conditioning then this would make our moral values meaningless because our moral values could have been a lot different if we were ‘conditioned’ differently.
If we were to take the example of a mum baking a cake for her children and when they come to eat it, one of them asks ‘Why has our mother baked this cake?’ science cannot do much to answer this question. By employing scientific methods we can take the given data such as the ingredients and the oven temperature and hypothesis how she made the cake but this does not explain why she made the cake. This example helps us understand that science tells us the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but it does not give us the ‘why’. It does not give us the purpose behind physical phenomena that occur in our world. This leads atheists to inherit the false assumption that purpose as we know it, simply does not exist. To say that there is no purpose or that it quite simply does not exist is unreasonable as it contradicts most of our day-to-day reasoning. Imagine watching a film were a character works towards a goal throughout the entirety of its run time and then at the end the character is told that his actions don’t mean anything and that there is no goal. Any person would come to the conclusion that this would be a terrible idea for a movie and that it wouldn’t make any sense as meaning is loss as a result. Everything that was presented in the film wouldn’t have any significant meaning
Science has no doubt been successful in helping us understand more about the physical world in which we live in, however, just because it works doesn’t necessarily make it true. Infact, holding this view is logically incoherent. Many scientific theories in the past have been proven to be ‘true’ and have worked so well that it lead to reveal new scientific theories. After new evidence is revealed these same theories that were ‘true’ have been later proven to be false. Science and all the theories that arise from it are prone to revision and advancement if history has told us anything. To claim that any of these sub theories are ‘scientific facts’ is misleading and counterintuitive to the progress of science. It would mean that there is no need for any more scientific research in that particular field as it would be pointless. This is an absurd way of thinking that has happened many times throughout history.
We live in a time were traditional worldviews are heavily scrutinised and scientific theories are taken as ‘scientific fact’ and absolute. However any sincere scientist can tell you that science can help us understand how the world works and stops at that. Science is also subject to scrutiny and is eventually revised due to new evidence as history has proven time and time again. If Muslims feel pressured into thinking that they have to choose between scientific conclusions and Quranic verses then they shouldn’t. As Muslims we shouldn’t assume we know everything with our limited human knowledge, instead we should remember that Allah is Al-Aleem, the All-knowing. However we should not think that the Quran is a book of science. The Quran can highlight things that can be understood and verified with the naked eye but it does not explain scientific details. Allah mentions these phenomenons that occur in the natural world in order to show us that there is a metaphysical power at work and that there is wisdom behind it.
Muslims shouldn’t explicitly deny scientific conclusions, rather they should accept them as a model or framework that works for now and is probably subject to change over time, and Muslims should accept revelational truths as apart of one’s belief. We should have a balanced approach with accepting science and let the evidence speak for itself. If scientific conclusions and revelation cannot be reconciled then you do not have to accept the scientific conclusion. Remember science can change. Muslims shouldn’t feel pressured to believe in what mainstream thinkers, atheists and scientists say what is and what isn’t true.
Science is a wonderful endeavour and more Muslims should partake in it just as those Muslims did in the past. However, it’s conclusions should not be treated as the ultimate everlasting truth and we must recognise that it cannot answer all our questions nor can it be used to disprove the existence of a God.
Ghlian, M. (2019). Reason, Empiricism, & God Of The Gaps. [online] Mohamed Ghilan. Available at: https://mohamedghilan.com/2012/07/29/reason-empiricism-god-of-the-gaps/ [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].
Tzortzis, H. (2016). Divine reality. 1st ed. FB Publishing, p.22.
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