Repairing A Damaged Relationship

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muslim_science_16

It would be fair to say that Mus­lims and sci­ence have shared an uncom­fort­able rela­tion­ship in the recent past. While the pre­vail­ing view amongst sci­en­tists is that God doesn’t exist, cit­ing numer­ous exam­ples from the var­i­ous sub-branch­es of sci­ence to back their claim, Mus­lims have not only con­test­ed this notion but gone fur­ther to claim that mod­ern sci­ence actu­al­ly proves the valid­i­ty of the Qur’an. Views that have been pop­u­larised range from the Qur’anic descrip­tion of embry­olog­i­cal devel­op­ment to the­o­ries of plate tec­ton­ics, much of which is expressed on dawah tables across the coun­try, and even in pub­lic debates with promi­nent athe­ists.

As a sci­en­tist who believes in God, I wit­ness this phe­nom­e­non with some degree of dis­com­fort. Arguably it is the zealot in me that mar­vels at the com­par­i­son of an embryo’s rhom­bomeres with teeth marks on a piece of chew­ing gum, but the sci­en­tist with­in me ques­tions this por­tray­al – is it real­ly ade­quate; how do we know that Allah was specif­i­cal­ly refer­ring to the arrange­ment of rhom­bomeres in this descrip­tion? Why can it not just be as the verse states: that the embryo starts of as some­thing with­out form, like a chewed lump of flesh, and morphs into some­thing with a com­plex struc­ture?

What becomes ago­nis­ing how­ev­er, is to see how those untrained in the sci­ences attempt to go into detail using weak sci­en­tif­ic argu­ments as sol­id proof of the ‘mirac­u­lous’ nature of the Qur’an, and espe­cial­ly when promi­nent Islam­ic apol­o­gists use these argu­ments against sci­en­tists who are renowned experts with­in their respec­tive fields. Not only do they dis­sem­i­nate fal­la­cious sci­ence amongst believ­ers, they also feed into the wider nar­ra­tive that peo­ple of faith are sim­ple-mind­ed unable to engage with com­plex top­ics with­out sim­pli­fy­ing it to the point of mis­con­cep­tion. The impact of such encoun­ters is also far reach­ing; many peo­ple either entered the faith or began prac­tic­ing it on the basis of these ‘sci­en­tif­ic mir­a­cles’, and once many of these read­ings were exposed for their weak­ness­es these indi­vid­u­als either ques­tioned (their under­stand­ing of) the faith or left it alto­geth­er.

Aside from these issues, there is the added prob­lem that in the con­stant­ly devel­op­ing world of sci­ence, using a sci­en­tif­ic argu­ment can prove prob­lem­at­ic since it lat­er becomes doubt­ful. Some of the ear­li­er schol­ars of Islam used the sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries of their time to explain cer­tain vers­es. How­ev­er, with time and sci­en­tif­ic advance­ment, these the­o­ries changed and so did our sci­en­tif­ic expla­na­tions of the vers­es. Whilst some Mus­lim apol­o­gists will argue that this in itself is a mir­a­cle, that the vers­es con­tain­ing sci­en­tif­ic mir­a­cles fit with sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries of all times, the sci­en­tist will right­ly argue at the fal­la­cious nature of such rea­son­ing and accuse the Mus­lim of mere­ly under­tak­ing hermeneu­tic gym­nas­tics to make the vers­es of the Qur’an some­how ‘fit’ with sci­ence thus dis­prov­ing the exis­tence of sci­en­tif­ic mir­a­cles in the first place.

So how should we engage with sci­ence? Well first­ly, the Quran is not a book of sci­ence and by treat­ing it so we do it a great dis­ser­vice; we opt to look for a ‘sci­en­tif­ic mir­a­cle’ in the words of God instead of unearthing the deep­er spir­i­tu­al ben­e­fits that exist with­in them.

That’s not to say that sci­ence can’t be a use­ful tool to appre­ci­ate Allah’s Lord­ship, to be in absolute awe of Him in such a way that we com­plete­ly sub­mit our­selves to Him and no oth­er, in every aspect of our lives, espe­cial­ly as He states,

Say: Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sac­ri­fice, my liv­ing and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.”

My deci­sion to spe­cialise in audi­to­ry neu­ro­science was great­ly inspired by ear­ly thoughts of sound waves being gen­er­at­ed from a dis­tant sound source, and although grad­u­al­ly los­ing ener­gy as they trav­elled through space, my ear was still able to pick up this sound. What I found through my study was that the phys­i­o­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms under­pin­ning this inevitably leads one to mar­vel at how sophis­ti­cat­ed the ear actu­al­ly is. Sound waves hit the ear drum and cause it to vibrate, to which are attached three micro­scop­ic sized bones work­ing like pis­tons to con­duct those vibra­tions to our inner ear, the cochlea. The cochlea is an extreme­ly intri­cate organ that con­tains three flu­id filled com­part­ments sep­a­rat­ed by thin mem­branes; the dif­fer­ing ion­ic com­po­si­tion of these com­part­ments cre­ates a pos­i­tive volt­age and ampli­fies sound ener­gy. As the vibra­tions of the bones of the ear hit the cochlea, a dis­place­ment in these cochlear flu­ids results, caus­ing tiny hairs with­in the cochlea to move, and as they do so, an elec­tri­cal sig­nal is gen­er­at­ed, which is then con­duct­ed by nerve fibres with­in the cochlea to the brain. The cochlea is also ‘tono­topi­cal­ly arranged’, mean­ing that dif­fer­ent regions of the cochlea pick up dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies of sound. Most inter­est­ing of all is that all com­po­nents of the ear, from the shape of the ear canal to arrange­ment of the cochlea, are opti­mised to aug­ment the fre­quen­cy range of spo­ken word.

Impor­tant­ly and more to the point, it is study­ing audi­to­ry neu­ro­science that has led to me be in com­plete and utter awe of my cre­ator. The Lord cre­at­ed a human hear­ing sys­tem that has allowed ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions to hear the words of Prophets – who would have then processed these mes­sages in their audi­to­ry cor­tices and then trans­mit­ted them to future gen­er­a­tions; a sys­tem in which they hear the words of God and then trans­fer these words into the mem­o­ry cen­tres of their brains; a sys­tem that allows us to hear the majes­tic call to prayer, which then caus­es activ­i­ty with­in our motor cor­tex result­ing in bod­i­ly move­ments that takes us towards the mosque. When I think of audi­to­ry neu­ro­phys­i­ol­o­gy with­in all these con­texts, I am quite sim­ply lost for words.

And how about the man­ner in which Allah describes those who reject his mes­sage, as being ‘deaf, dumb and blind’? Despite the fact that Allah has gift­ed his cre­ation with such a per­fect hear­ing organ, from micro­scop­ic bones to nanos­truc­tures with­in the cochlea allow­ing us to hear some of the most amaz­ing sounds, some of His cre­ation still reject the mes­sage even though they have heard it; it is as though they hadn’t these organs in the first place. When con­tem­plat­ing the cre­ation of God, awe (haibah) should com­pel us to bow our heads in utter sub­mis­sion, and raise our hands in prayer as an act of com­plete sur­ren­der. How then, can I not be of those who “hear and obey”?

As Mus­lims we need not feel threat­ened by sci­ence nor assume that it legit­imis­es the valid­i­ty of the revealed word, they occu­py dif­fer­ent spheres. One tells us how, the oth­er why. In this way both the Quran and sci­ence can strength­en our belief in God and our wor­ship to Him; it cer­tain­ly has done so for me.