Thursday, 28 November 2013

The "Everything you ever wanted to know about Islam and Science" project

While showering earlier today, this idea of a super long-term perhaps even lifelong project hit me: a project of covering all research relevant to interaction of science and Islam. This is the crude structure in my mind at the moment:

1. Introduction- Defining what we mean by science-Islam interaction, addressing some superficial misconceptions about how science and religion are supposed to interact (i.e. the laws and rulings of a religion should be determined on the basis of scientific investigation, and the like) and zero in on the points of interaction that really and truly matter. Providing an outline for the remainder of the project.

2. Philosophy of science- A detailed section delineating the different issues caught in POS. This would be divided into two sub-sections: development of the scientific methodology, and different forms of antirealism adopted at science. Would be useful to provide the narrative in a historical framework: from Aristotle to Bacon to Hume to Popper to Kuhn in methodology, and the Vienna Circle and their logical positivism to Bas van Fraassen and other modern proponents of antirealism.

3. Natural Theology- Would discuss all the different bits and pieces of natural theology (arguments related to the existence or non-existence of God) related to science. Subsections:

a) Constructing a Natural theology on rigorous Islamic and Logical foundations. Would include much epistemological discussion, views of classical and modern scholars on Qur'anic epistemology and argumentation, a developed and fine-tuned version Richard Swinburne's construction of the project of natural theology, or other models if they are available.

b) Cosmology and the Kalam Cosmological Argument- relevance of Cosmology with the Islamic Creation, and delineating the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

c) Fine-tuning argument

d) Argument from biological complexity- origin of life, other features of biodiversity.

e) Teleology or Design in nature being directly understandable by means of the Fitrah as opposed to any specific argument, would discuss Fitrah models of Ibn Taymiyya and Alvin Plantinga among others

f) Bad designs- Negative apologetics, how to understand examples of bad/imperfect/suboptimal designs in nature, especially biology. Kinda like a scientific version of the problem of evil.

g) Argument from scientific intelligibility of the universe- alternatively called argument from reason, an epistemological argument for the existence of God based on the reliability of scientific methods in determining truths about nature

h) Argument from Consciousness- Argument for the plausibility of the existence of soul and free will in spite of advances in neuroscience and behavioral psychology. Will also contain a survey of cases relating to "religious experiences" like Near-Death Experiences because these can be used to martial empirical support for the soul. These surveys will form the premises for a scientific argument for the soul. Also, explores if an argument for the existence of God can be made using the existence of consciousness as a premise.

(Not all the arguments have to be rock-solid or even valid, "this is a bad argument" is still a valuable conclusion)

i) Plausibility of miracles given a scientific (not naturalistic) worldview.

4. Interactions between science and Islam- Would step specifically into Islam from the generalities of Natural Theology. Subsections:

a) Methodology- Two sub-subsections:

i) Interpreting Qur'an and Sunnah in the face of ostensible scientific difficulties- general guidelines
ii) Establishing a coherent argument on the premise of scientific prescience in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

b) Instances of scientific prescience in the Qur'an and Sunnah. Not only science, historical issues would need to be considered as well to see if the Qur'anic knowledge of this fact was found in prior history and if so, if it was possible for the 7th century Arab culture to have access to such information. Sub-subsections:

i) Embryology
ii) Cosmology
iii) Miscellaneous

(Not all sections may yield positive cases for Islam, but they still need to be discussed to address popular misconceptions about them)

c) Resolving ostensible contradictions between science and Islamic Scriptures. Sub-subsections:

i) Evolution (was there any doubt?)
ii) Anything else (geology- the mountain verse, scientifically problematic ahadith)

5. A big conclusion, wrapping all of this up. Every section would have its own mini-conclusion as well, though.

Although I wrote it all up in book form, this would definitely require several books. Or tomes.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Islamic epistemology

Exam the day after tomorrow, so I'm being as concise as possible on some thoughts on Islamic epistemology. Most of them resulted from a conversation with a friend.

As I see it, there are five things are relevant to acquiring knowledge (defined as justified true belief) about the truth of Islam:

1. The natural human constitution or Fitrah
2. Rational laws embedded in human psyche
3. Observation
4. Scriptural evidence
5. Guidance from God.

This is one way the five of them could interact.

Because of his fitrah, a person is able to know the existence and Lordship of God even prior to any evidence being presented to him. The fitrah doesn't enable one to come to know about the details of the Islamic creed (much less law), however. That's the function of the messengers: to delineate these concepts to people. Men with clear fitrah would recognize these truths on face value. Does this "pure fitrah" scenario preclude the use of observation or rationality? That's a tough question, I think. Ibn Taymiyya was probably of the view that fitrah works even without instigation from external signs (observations, rational proofs about God and His religion). Or maybe, the pure fitrah works on the instigation of external signs and evidences, in which case rationality and observation would not only be relevant but serve as a premise for the fitrah's functionality.

However, things are rarely this simple in the real world, because most of the time the fitrah is corrupted by this or that factor, most common of them perhaps being ignorance (this is equivalent to the epistemological results of the Christian doctrine of The Fall, I think). This is why God sends Messengers to make people know about the existence of God and proofs of His existence, as well as the proofs for the specific religion. This is where the rationality and observation really comes in. For someone with clouded fitrah, it may not be intuitively obvious that God exists and Islam is true straight off the bat. However, after some sincere rationalizing and observation, he would definitely come to this conclusion.

In the case of Islam, the proofs for the existence of God are chiefly the allusions to the cosmological and design arguments in the Qur'an, while the proofs for Islam are the Prophet's sincerity complexed with the Qur'an's literary inimitability, among others. So someone with working rational faculties, upon being exposed to these rational evidences would be expected to become a Muslim.

However, expectations often go contrary to reality, and this is where the hidayah factor comes into play. There is no such thing as "sledgehammer apologetics", when we're talking about truths of a worldview. What I mean by this can perhaps be illustrated with an example. Abu Jahl saw the moon being split as a miracle of the Prophet (pbuh). Now this is as strong as evidence gets. Did he accept Islam, or even feel somehow rationally compelled to do so? Nope, he just added an extra assertion to his anti-Islamic worldview- magicians are also able to do it. Truth to tell, one can never refute a worldview, one can only show that worldview X has better explanatory scope than worldview Y. Was the Aether theory ever "refuted" conclusively? No, we just found a far superior intellectual substitute and thought it rational to go along with that. The point being, just the evidence and callings of your fitrah cannot "force" you to become a Muslim. That would run contrary to the whole idea of this life being a test. You need to have a degree of sincerity to choose the true hypothesis over the false one. This is perhaps the level at which Allah's guidance steps in- it creates additional motivation for the sincere person to accept Islam. In this way, it is made sure that the people Allah guides to Islam are not only intellectually capable people, but are good, virtuous, sincere people.