The Muslim: not blinded by science

by Abdassamad Clarke

Although we were much cheered by one recent author’s brave moral call for an end to science (Understanding the Present, Bryan Appleyard) and even more so by another’s assertion that it has already ended (The End of Science, John Horgan), there still remain some matters to attend to and pertinent reasons as to why there may still be a role for the Muslim.

However, has anything that could identifiably be recognised as a Muslim perspective on science yet emerged? This essay is a move towards opening a door on to that possibility, but it cannot be done without considering science in relation to other historical elements that appear to have arisen along with it. The emergence of these apparently different matters is a single event: Protestantism, freemasonry, the current type of usury finance (usury being as old as Babylon), printing, the technique culture (often mistakenly seen merely as technological or machine culture), compulsory mass education, the state (once the nation-state and on its way to being a world state), the emergence of the jews as a historical power to be reckoned with, and the determinism which is the very essence of classical physics.

Some correlations between just two of those terms, science and usury, are, for example, Galileo’s patronage by the Medicis – and many people count Galileo as the distinct beginning point of modern science, and Newton’s accepting the posts of Warden and then Master of the Mint in the new order that emerged after the Glorious Revolution that saw in the Bank of England, and his setting the price of gold in terms of the new paper currency and thus validating paper money. All of that leads up to the situation we have today about which eminent geneticist R. C. Lewontin avers, “No prominent molecular biologist of my acquaintance is without a financial stake in the biotechnology business.”

We must first of all dispense with a mechanistic causality that suggests that usury causes science or freemasonry, for example. Rather, the closest we can come to a way of viewing it is to see these elements as emerging like the growth of a single plant as root, stem, leaf, flower and seed, each appearing at different times but not causing each other in this mechanistic way we usually see things ‘scientifically’.

Mechanical causality and determinism dominate science, the view that regards the universe – and thus the human being – as a machine, merely the interplay of so many causes and effects. This view was pegged to theology by the simple but disastrous expedient of making God the First Cause. As we have seen in European history that has only led to the chain of causes expanding so much that the First Cause receded so far back that He finally disappeared.

The correct view – restored in Islam – is that Allah, glorious and exalted is He, is alone the direct cause of everything without intermediary. Yet, He has created His creation such that it operates as if cause and effect were the true nature of things. It is this seemingness that has deceived superficial – and not so superficial – scientists.

That the universe itself is a single event and not merely a multitude of causes and effects is our basic insight and observation, and this is true of the creation at every level. Allah says, “Your (pl.) creation and rising is only like that of a single self.” (Surah Luqman: 27)

In respect of this creational unity, the observer is an absolutely fundamental part of it. However, the observer is doctrinally excluded from the scientific picture, except within the famous dilemma of the quantum scientists. Yet in reality, within our unitary view the observer disappears before the knowledge that he is observed by Allah, whereas in science’s ‘objectivity’ although theoretically absent the observer is ever present in theories which are paradoxically more his creation than they are observations. Newton’s mechanical universe is very much the product of his rigid and repressed nature. That his picture found a resonance with subsequent ages says much about the direction our world has taken.

It must then be that a science which is not based on there being an actual world out there which the scientist gazes upon from the outside will have an utterly different character from that with which we are familiar. Indeed Heisenberg, always perceptive and thought-provoking, saw this issue when in writing about Einstein he said:

“In his earlier physics, Einstein could always set out from the idea of an objective world subsisting in space and time, which we, as physicists, observe only from the outside, as it were. The laws of nature determine its course. In quantum theory this idealization was no longer possible.”

These words of Heisenberg are astonishing, not least to complacent materialists.

From what philosophical religious impulse does science originate? The answer which scientists themselve would give is ‘scepticism’. On his deathbed, Diderot is reported to have said in his last words to his daughter:

“The first step towards philosophy is incredulity”

i.e. disbelief or scepticism. Remember that until very recently science was known as natural philosophy. Here Diderot was clearly humanly wrong to say such a thing at such a moment to such a person. He was religiously wrong to go out of this life not facing forward to where he was going but still worrying himself about the things of this life. Finally, he was just wrong, since scepticism is a symptom of science, and science’s scepticism is merely scepticism of everything but the claims of science. However, sceptics never discover or invent anything. What drives science and scientists is of course the most ardent belief. Yet this passionate belief of science has as its natural consequence scepticism, corrosive acid disbelief. To understand that we must go to the essence of modern science: mathematics.

The first steps in mathematics, most famously in Euclid’s Elements, his setting forth the Greek heritage of geometry, are to define one’s terms and then set out the axioms, those statements that are deemed so obvious that no proof is required for them; they are self-evident. The reason the axioms are set out is to proceed on the construction of a building on their foundation, whose bricks are hypotheses, which unlike axioms do require proofs. When proven they become theorems, solid substantial bricks in the building of mathematics. The goal? To achieve absolutely certain knowledge, as religious a goal as it is conceivable for man to have. However, the natural consequence is that anything not established by such means falls into doubt, falls victim to science’s natural corrosive cynicism and scepticism. But worse still awaits: what when the axioms themselves and the entire procedure of definition, axiom, hypothesis, proof and theorem is shaken? Then there is both doubt without and doubt within. That catastrophe has already happened; the edifice of mathematical certainty has been badly shaken not once, but several times.

That story of mathematics is science’s story since modern science is nothing if not mathematical. Most significantly this vision of a set of absolutely certain statements of truth can be said to have been what drove Descartes (interestingly my computer’s spelling checker suggested that the right spelling might be ‘desecrates’) rather than the overwhelming doubt for which he is famous. Rather, Descartes had a vision of a philosophy – and remember that in his time philosophy and science were inextricably joined together – which would be utterly Euclidean in its remorseless and inexorable march towards some kind of certainty. However, the natural consequence of establishing some small domain of scientifically established certainty is that everything else must fall into doubt.

So at the root of science is this belief in axioms. For example, Newtons first Law of Motion is really his first Axiom. It is that an object will continue in uniform motion in a straight line or at rest unless acted upon by an external force. We know of no such object in the entire universe, and no one has ever seen such an object. Yet this is an axiomatic statement! On the basis of this axiomatic intuition has been erected the Newtonian model in which we are so thoroughly immeshed. So this is truly a leap of faith and yet what rich rewards they reap, and how apparently justified. We can say that the entire industrial age was erected on Descartes vision of the universe as a machine and Newton’s elucidation of that machine’s workings.

Again, Einstein’s Special Relativity is based on a postulate – and postulate is another word for an axiom – that the speed of light will be the same in all frames of reference, i.e. no matter how fast and what direction the observer is moving light will still appear to move at the same speed. This is absolutely counter-intuitional and hardly self-evident, and yet it is here a postulate, an axiom. As science proceeds and there is a need for ever new axioms, they become ever more counter-intuitive, and very far from truths that are self-evident and not requiring proofs.

Why should this concern the reader and the author, when, after all, science is a matter for scientists, and theories are either right or wrong, provable or disprovable by the reasoning of science? It matters because, whether we like it or not, we are all ‘scientific’ in our outlook; we talk of vitamins, polycarbonates, fallout, and global warming. Today, for example, the theory of evolution is used to underpin a society of rapacious greed, since falsely deriving a picture of human nature from Darwin’s thought we are being inveigled into believing that the human is intrinsically selfish, savage, greedy, dog-eat-dog, and the fact that we have such a society is inevitable. The reasoning involved in this is fallacious, even from the Darwinian point of view.

So we say that science is intrinsically utterly unobjective and committed to sustaining an unjust economic order. For an example of how science can be used to overlook actual causative factors in the interests of commercial forces, let us look at R. C. Lewontin’s examination, in The Doctrine of DNA: biology as ideology, of the causes of nineteenth century tuberculosis:

We return, then, to tuberculosis and the other infectious diseases that were such killers in the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. An examination of the causes of death, first systematically recorded in the 1830s in Britain and a bit later in North America, show that most people did, indeed, die of infectious disease and in particular of respiratory diseases. They died of tuberculosis, of diptheria, of bronchitis, of pneumonia, and particularly among children they died of measles and the perennial killer smallpox.

He examines the obvious fact that in every case of tuberculosis the tubercle bacillus is to be found, but then he writes:

Suppose we note that tuberculosis was a disease extremely common in the sweatshops and miserable factories of the nineteenth century, whereas tuberculosis rates were much lower among country people and in the upper classes. Then we might be justified in claiming that the cause of tuberculosis is unregulated industrial capitalism, and if we did away with that system of social organization, we would not need to worry about the tubercle bacillus.

Speaking of the decline in the death-rate from tuberculosis and other infectious diseases throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, none of which he argues can be attributed to modern scientific development, he writes:

As far as we can tell, the decrease in death rates from the infectious killers of the nineteenth century is a consequence of the general improvement in nutrition and is related to an increase in the real wage. In countries like Brazil today, infant mortality rises and falls with decreases and increases in the minimum wage.

We add as addenda to that, impoverished and malnourished African AIDS victims in the main die of tuberculosis, and yet research still proceeds towards finding a drug that will cure AIDS or even vaccines against the HIV virus, since drugs and vaccines can be sold, rather than doing something about a world economy which removes African resources and funds to pay interest to international banks on loans, remembering that the loans are based on the ability to create money out of nothing in the first place by the simple expedient of fractional reserve banking and other devices.

We are in a situation wherein scientists unscientifically exclude real data in order to pursue a line of reasoning that does not impinge on the actual power structures of the day and to come up with results that are commercially exploitable.

Science enters the picture in another way. Much of the criticism of science we have made could have been culled from the burgeoning anti-capitalist movement and is relatively well known among literate people. The question is, why are people so passive and why does the entire ramshackle process of global theft continue almost entirely unapposed? Here too science has a contribution, and that is the doctrine of determinism which we could characterise as the dominant religious belief of the age.

Determinism is the philosophy of classical physics, that science which is the base of all subsequent sciences, up until the quantum revolution. Determinism was the philosophy on behalf of which Einstein fought until his death. Determinism has the effect of making those who believe in it passive and convincing them that as this society is a part of a universe which is ultimately a massive machine grinding on inexorably to whatever conclusion is envisioned for it, that this society then is inevitably as it is, and it is useless and fruitless idealism to criticise it or do anything but reform its worst excesses, since things are mechanically determined from the very beginning of the universe in the big bang. How different from the liberating knowledge of the Muslim that Allah has decreed whatever has happened but that anything can happen tomorrow and indeed in the next instant, and that too has been decreed by Allah, glorious is He and exalted. In the former view, determinism is connected to the mechanical working out of a machine universe, and in the latter, knowledge is connected to the immediate and direct decree of a Merciful Lord, whose Last Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, told us that if anything could prevent the decree it would be supplication. This is very far from fatalism.

Thus, we are saying that science as it is issues from and is an intrinsic part of a rapacious and greedy society and that of its nature it colludes in that rapacity and greed, in spite of honourable exceptions among scientists. That collusion is inevitable because of the false religious base – although scientists would be shocked to think that there is any trace of religion left in their work – for example, a belief in determinism amounting to fatalism and a severely restricted form of causality whose effect is to distance God in man’s thinking both spatially and temporally. The Muslim intrinsically sees the same observations differently because he sees Allah as the direct cause of every thing, glorious is He and exalted, and because the Islamic view of destiny and the decree is liberating and not fatalistic.

To articulate even some small part of this is the not-insubstantial task before the Muslim scientist.