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Issues in Islam and Science

13 July, 2014 11:59

review of the book Issues in Islam and Science.

Issues in Islam and Science

(By Mehdi Golshani, published by Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran, Iran, 2004)

Book Review by Parvin Neginraz

There are some misunderstandings about the Islamic point of view on science in works of non-Muslim scholars. Writing the book “Issues in Islam and Science” Golshani aims at removing some of this misunderstandings and viewing a vivid portray of the relation between Islam and science. To do this he has used Quranic verses and traditions, besides quotes from some famous western scholars. 

In chapter one, the writer brings up fundamental questions about Islam and the science of nature. He tries to answer these questions properly. The main question which is addressed is,” what is knowledge (ilm)?”. In answer to this question the writer refers to two point of views. One that considers a limited definition for ilm which is Islamic science and the one that considers ilm a more generic term which refers to every type of science. In regard to the meaning of ilm he refers to verse 15 of Surah AL NAML (27) that Allah has used this word as a generic term:

“And certainly we gave knowledge to David and Salamon…”

(27,15)

The Islamic criteria he introduces for the legitimacy of science, which makes no difference in Islamic or natural science, is its usefulness and having the capacity to lead one to God through understanding the signs of Allah Almighty. Golshani narrates a tradition from Imam Ali (A.S.) in this regard which was interesting to me. Imam Ali (A.S.) has said:

“Knowledge is the lost property of a believer. Thus, seek it even if it be with polytheists.”

As I have mentioned before the writer introduces science as a tool to understand Allah’s signs in the nature and as a result of that get closer to Him. In this regard he mentions different verses from holy Quran that refers to this issue. Through Quranic verses he shows that study of nature (as one of the manifestations of Allah’s attributes) will teach one about the “origin and evolution of the world and the presence of order and harmony in the universe”, the verses which has been referred to in this part are (29,20), (25,2), (21, 16), (17, 70), (45, 13), (35, 9).

Other fundamental controversial questions that has been answered in this chapter are, “what is the relation of religion and science in the Islamic world view?, what are the ways of understanding nature (from an Islamic perspective)?, is the universe in its totality, comprehensible through (natural)science?, what are the limitations of (natural) science?, what is this things called “Islamic science”?, 

In answer to the first question Golshani refers to the same goals and metaphysical base of both science and religion. To answer the second question the writer introduces three legitimate ways in Islamic point of view to access science, which are sense impressions, intellection, and intuition. The answer of the writer to the next question is no. He has discusses his answer as the discussion proceeds. The next question is in close relation to the previous one. This two discussions complete each other. To answer the final question the writer refers to this controversial debate that science should be free of ideologies and values, so that Islamic science has no meaning. To remove this misunderstanding he refers to metaphysical presuppositions that cannot be proved by imperial science and at the same time cannot be ignored in any type of theory. 

Second chapter of the book is devoted to the ways of understanding nature from the Quranic perspective. In this chapter Golshani has focused on the three channels of cognition from Quranic perspective, which are external senses, intellect and revelation. The writer has discussed this issue in chapter one, and in this chapter he will elaborate on that. I would like to refer to some narrations and quotes the writer has used to prove his claims. Imam Ali’s quote on the observation and intellect: 

“the observer is one who reflects on what he has heard, reflects upon what he has seen, and makes use of his instructive experience in choosing to tread on clear path, wherein he can avoid falling into hallows and staying into pitfalls.”

About the inspiration or revelation the writer describes that this phase of knowledge is a gift that Allah bestows to his special people. As it is mentioned in Quran that:

“That is God’s Grace; he grants it to whom he wills.”

(62, 4)

In chapter three Golshani has brought up some questions. By answering them he aims at defining the Islamic science in its totality. In this regard he introduces the following features as the basic characteristics of Islamic science:

• Allah as the creator and sustainer of the universe,
• Not limiting the universe to the material realm,
• Attributing a telos to the universe,
• Accepting a moral order for the universe,

In this part he explicitly rejects some special misconceptions about Islamic science. For example he denies that for physic-chemical research one should refer to Quran or Sunnah, or that emphasize be put on so called scientific miracles of the holy Quran, or that for the scientific work we return, exclusively to the old scientific theories or experiments, etc. 

He also defends metaphysical presuppositions of science through quotes from, mostly, western scholars. For example Andre Linde (Russian cosmologist) has said:

“When scientists start their work, they are subconsciously influenced by their cultural traditions.”

Robert Young (editor of the journal science as culture) has said:

“Recent work has made it clear to those with eyes that there is no place in science, technology, medicine and other forms of expertise where you cannot find ideology acting as a constitutive determinant.” 

Another discussion that Golshani brings up in this chapter is the difference between Islamic science and empirical science. The writer insists that the difference between this two is in goal and result. The very goal of a theistic science is bringing peace and welfare for human being, though the goal of a non-theistic science is science itself so there is no guarantee for a good result of that. “According to Dr. Maurice H. Wilkins, the 1962 Noble Prize winner in medicine, about half the world scientific and engineers are now engaged in war programs.”

In chapter four the writer describes about the ideal Islamic society and the type of science in such a society, in brief.

In the next chapter Golshani addresses the values and ethical issues in science and technology from Muslim’s perspective. In this part he has covered issues just like as the relation of science and ethics at the metaphysical and practical level, the urgent need for ethical concern in our age, etc.

In chapter six the writer has discussed the different responses of Muslim scholars to modern science. After discussing the aforementioned topic Golshani, discusses the impact of modern science on Islamic theology, and Muslim philosopher’s resistance against doctrines which were considered harmful to Islam. For example resisting in front of a non- theological explanation of the world, or non-existence of God, etc. 

This book is a good introduction for those who want to find out about the relation of Islam and science, however, this is not a comprehensive book on this issue. As Golshani has mentioned in preface, “this book tries to shed light on some of issues concerning the relation of Islam and science.” That is why the reader may find some parts not to be satisfying enough. 

One of the problems in this work is that the writer does not describes about the types of ilm in Islamic point of view (although he describes the methodology). This can make some misunderstandings. For example when the writer talks about the limitations of science without clarifying what kind of science he means, this may come to the mind of the reader that other domains rather than natural or better to say empirical science is not science and is some metaphysical issues.

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