The Irony of Science

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

A lot of people claim to believe in science. I can understand why, because of how much progress has been made in the last few hundred years in terms of fighting disease, exploring the universe, and connecting the world. But I feel like this scientific progress has an ironic side to it, something I want to explore in this post.

Take, for example, the human brain. We’ve made incredible progress in terms of understanding how the various parts of the brain are connected with each other, which parts of the brain are responsible for which tasks, and which chemicals are used for communication etc. But the more we understand the brain, the less we understand the mind. Our conscious experience, something literally every human being experiences every day, remains a total mystery. In fact, I can’t even prove that another human being besides myself even has a conscious experience, even though I know intuitively that this is the case. This isn’t even something science can answer, because you while you can measure dopamine and oxytocin in a test tube, you can’t do the same with “consciousness.”

Another example is quantum physics. We’ve learned, in intricate detail, about the various particles which make up the subatomic world which exists everywhere. Yet this has also revealed that matter can be in two different places at once, that particles are also waves somehow, that the future can affect the past, and that 95% of the universe is apparently “dark matter” or “dark energy” which no one has ever seen or observed. This calls into question basic assumptions of how we think things work. When you read about it, you can’t help but wonder to yourself: what the hell, is this the nature of reality? And the more you think about it, the less it makes sense.

There are other examples I could go into. But the main point is: we’re learning a lot about the outward, materialistic nature of things, but we’re learning nothing about the true, deep, inward nature of reality itself (reminds me of Surah Rum ayah 7). Who are we? What is this universe? What is reality? The irony is that the more scientific progress we make, the less we’re able to answer these questions. Science assumes that the world is purely materialistic, and since the world does have material aspects, it makes some progress, but since the world is only partly material, it ends up at these strange dead-ends, with consciousness arising out of the motion of sodium ions and cats being both dead and alive at the same time.

From an Islamic point of view, the answer to these questions is pretty simple: this world is the creation of an all-powerful Creator, it’s temporary, and it was created for a purpose. Some might see that as kicking the can down the road, because while it might answer what the nature of this physical universe is, it doesn’t answer what the nature of Allah Azza wa Jall is.

This is where the necessity of revealed religion is important (“deism” just doesn’t cut it). Look, we’re never going to understand the Divine nature directly through science or reason, because Allah (Glorious is He) is completely beyond our understanding. However, we can rely on statements in the Qur’an and authenticated Sunnah to learn as much as we’re capable of. For example, the Qur’an states:

Know that Allah is severe in penalty and that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. [5.98]

Knowledge of the Divine Names & Attributes is an important knowledge which has been unfortunately de-emphasized in modern times in favor of politics, romance/marriage and other pedantries. If we want to understand the true nature of reality, we need to realize that this universe is God’s creation, and we can only know God by studying and understanding His attributes as revealed to mankind.

There’s another ironic aspect of science, which is that most of it is actually a fig-leaf for ideology. This is exemplified by the recent Google memo controversy, where all the sides in that debate were citing scientific papers and claiming that Science™ was on their side. But maybe I’ll explore that in a later post, In Sha Allah.

Salaam,

Yousuf

24 August 2017

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