Source: Muslim Sunrise, Summer 2012
Written by Zia H Shah
The Chinese tell of a time during the Hsia dynasty, in the third millennium before Jesus, when our cosmic environment suddenly changed. Ten suns appeared in the sky. The people on earth suffered greatly from the heat, so the emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the extra suns. The archer was rewarded with a pill that had the power to make him immortal, but his wife stole it. For that offense she was banished to the moon.[i] We in the West do not believe this and Chinese do not press this myth, but, for a moment consider, what will happen if a billion people believed it to be valid and literally true and their world view incorporated this myth, despite our twenty first century physics!
According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, in the beginning there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. In time the sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. But Bumba was still in pain, and vomited some more. Up came the moon, the stars, and then some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and finally man.[ii] Today, no one tries to harmonize these myths with our Newtonian and Einsteinian physics or science as we know it. But, are these myths any different from what many among us believe in the West. Consider for a moment, how much different or similar are these myths to those, according to which Grand Ma Eve was created from Grand Pa Adam’s rib and pain of labor was created only after Grand Ma Eve faltered and that our planet earth is no older than a few thousand years. Almost half of USA Christians believe in these ideas or shall we call them American myths.
Japanese have their own share of myths. According to them, Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female) were called by all the myriad gods and asked to help each other to create a new land which was to become Japan. They were given a spear with which they stirred the water, and when removed water dripped from the end, an island was created in the great nothingness. If our Western Navy personnel find these myths to be literally true our ships and fleets may begin to sink! But, no lesser damage is done to our understanding, when we assert the Bible to be literally true, strange things begin to happen and our sciences are completely shattered. If you read your book of Genesis carefully, the earth is created before the sun, we can have days and nights before the creation of the sun,[iii] our earth has a roof or a vault called the sky, plants and animals gain existence only after mankind and last but not the least, Grand Ma Eve was created from Grand Pa Adam’s rib, while he was sleeping. Additionally, there are only four rivers in the planet earth, if time and space were not a consideration, I could keep on reading Genesis over and over and keep on adding to this list. According to the second chapter of Genesis seas have been created, the whole of universe is in place, God has rested for a day also and yet there has been no rain at all on planet earth.[iv]
Let me remind you, in case you missed in your previous readings of the Bible, the serpent is more crafty than any of the other wild animals the Lord God had made.[v] It is not only physics, astronomy, cosmology and meteorology that are threatened but so is our biology and the field of medicine. Continue to read your Genesis, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. 4 After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 5 Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.”[vi] Our understanding of human body and aging process are shattered to say the least.
Now imagine those who believed in Chinese, Japanese, African or Hawaiian myths, what would have happened, if some of them developed genuine science, the believers would have tried to create metaphors to synchronize their myths and science. In so doing, at least some of their children and grand children would have received the indoctrination, in this pseudo-harmonization and a conflict would have been born between their religion and science. This did not happen to them but this is exactly what happened to the Trinitarian Christians of Europe and the Americas.
The Jews, the Unitarian Christians and the Muslims believe in the Transcendent God, who is the Law Giver. This was the paradigm in which science was developed in the Muslim Empire from eighth to twelfth centuries and then the plant of science was transplanted to Renaissance Europe over the next two to three centuries. The Trinitarian Christians with their belief of Jesus being God himself, denied the Transcendent nature of God, being beyond time, space and matter, at least in some respects. Additionally, their understanding of miracles implied suspension of laws of nature. So, Trinitarian Christianity did not provide an atmosphere conducive to development of science. However, fortunately for all of us, the Renaissance Europe borrowed the paradigm from Judaism and Islam, without formally acknowledging the debt. It was in this history of development of science that the seed was sown for the religion and science conflict, which should actually be understood as unscientific nature of the dogma of Trinitarian Christians and undue status of the Bible. If the Biblical myths are packaged with the Chinese, Japanese, African or Hawaiian myths, where they belong, the religion-science conflict magically disappears and an era of genuine understanding and harmonization of religion and science is ushered in.
Monotheism and understanding of Transcendent God did have a big role in the development of our sciences. Here I quote Paul Davies, who is a physicist, writer and broadcaster, currently a professor at Arizona State University, from his book ‘the Mind of God.’ He writes:
In Renaissance Europe, the justification for what we today call the scientific approach to inquiry was the belief in a rational God whose created order could be discerned from a careful study of nature. And, Newton notwithstanding, part of this belief came to be that God’s laws were immutable. ‘The scientific culture that arose in Western Europe,’ writes Barrow, ‘of which we are the inheritors, was dominated by adherence to the absolute invariance of laws of Nature, which thereby underwrote the meaningfulness of the scientific enterprise and assured its success.’
For the modern scientist, it is sufficient only that nature simply have the observed regularities we still call laws. The question of their origin does not usually arise. Yet it is interesting to ponder whether science would have flourished in medieval and Renaissance Europe were it not for Western theology. China, for example, had a complex and highly developed culture at that time, which produced some technological innovations that were in advance of Europe’s. The Japanese scholar Kowa Seki, who lived at the time of Newton, is credited with the independent invention of the differential calculus and a procedure for computing pi, but he chose to keep these formulations secret. In his study of early Chinese thought, Joseph Needham writes: ‘There was no confidence that the code of Nature’s laws could ever be unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read.’ Barrow argues that, in the absence of “the concept of a divine being who acted to legislate what went on in the natural world, whose decrees formed inviolate ‘laws’ of Nature, and who underwrote scientific enterprise,” Chinese science was condemned to a ‘curious stillbirth.’[vii]
Judaism and Islam provided the paradigm for scientific revolution, however, as a large number of practicing scientists came from Trinitarian background, they brought their biases with them and the stage was set for religion and science conflict. Centuries passed and in the middle of the nineteenth century we get the works of Sir Charles Darwin. The Catholic Church and the Protestants fought the ramifications of Darwin’s theory of evolution for decades. However, more than a century after the publication of On the Origin of Species, when evidence for Darwin’s theory became overwhelming, the Catholic Church yielded. Pope John Paul II revisited the question of evolution in a 1996 in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Unlike his predecessor Pius XII, John Paul was broadly read, and embraced science and reason. He won the respect of many scientists in 1993, when in April 1993 he formally acquitted Galileo, 360 years after his indictment, of heretical support for Copernicus’s heliocentric view. The Pontiff began his statement with the hope that “we will all be able to profit from the fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the Church and science.” Evolution, he said, is “an essential subject which deeply interests the Church.” He recognized that science and Scripture sometimes have “apparent contradictions,” but said that when this is the case, a ‘solution’ must be found because ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth!’ [viii] The Pope successfully built a smoke screen by expression of a truism and hid decades of irresolvable conflict between Christian dogma of Original Sin, which requires Adam and Eve to be the first human couple and Darwin’s theory behind this newly constructed screen, ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth!’ Pope’s one liner, ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth,’ is indeed true as words and actions of All-knowing God cannot contradict each other. But, if this litmus test of ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth,’ is applied to the Bible, it does not cut the mustard as we have already seen in several examples just from the book of Genesis, with more than 70 books to go yet! Incidentally, the Muslims do believe that many of the books of the Bible were revealed, but as these were not preserved over time, we have the inconsistencies and paradoxes in Genesis and other books, as noted above.
The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, wrote more than seventy books in defense of Islam and existence of God. He wrote: “The God of Islam is the same God Who is visible in the mirror of the law of nature and is discernible in the book of nature. Islam has not presented a new God but has presented the same God Who is presented by the light of man’s heart, by the conscience of man, and by heaven and earth.”[ix] It is only for the Divinely revealed, historically preserved and scientifically accurate Holy Quran that the compliment can be extended, ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth!’[x] The Quran says about itself that had it been from anyone other than Allah they would surely have found therein much contradiction.[xi] This, incidentally, also explains the contradictions in the Bible, both logical and the ones that contradict science. Only the precisely recorded and properly understood words of All Knowing God, the Quran, as learned Muslims understand it to be, which are free of contradictions and misinformation, can be fully in keeping with God’s ‘works,’ which are studied in science. Only such a theology can be free of contradiction with genuine science. I rest my case!
[i] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. Bantam Books, New York, 2010. Pages 87, 123, 149 and 163.
[ii] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. Bantam Books, New York, 2010. Pages 87, 123, 149 and 163.
[iii] Genesis 1:14-17.
[iv] Genesis 2: 5.
[v] Genesis 3:1.
[vi] Genesis 5:3-4.
[vii] Paul Davies. The Mind of God. A Touchstone Book, 1992. Pages 75-77.
[xi] Al Quran 4:83.