Science and Monotheism!


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!’

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

“If there had been in the heavens and the earth other gods besides Allah, then surely both would have gone to ruin. Glorified then be Allah, the Lord of the Throne, far above what they attribute to Him.” (Al Quran 21:22/23)

One of the interpretations of the above verse:

If there had been in the heavens and the earth other gods besides Allah, then there would have been chaos in the Universe. An organized study of nature would not have been possible. I propose that scientific development occurred because of Judeo-Christian-Muslim paradigm of Monotheism. To demonstrate what monotheism had to do for the scientific progress, here, I quote from Paul Davies from his book ‘the Mind of God.’ He writes:

“Much of this early thinking was based on the assumption that the properties of physical things were intrinsic qualities belonging to those things. The great diversity of forms and substances found in the physical world thus reflected the limitless variety of intrinsic properties. Set against this way of looking at the world were the monotheistic religions. The Jews conceived of God as the Lawgiver. This God, being independent of and separate from his creation, imposed laws upon the physical universe from without. Nature was supposed to be subject to laws by divine decree. One could still assign causes to phenomena, but the connection between cause and effect was now constrained by the laws. John Barrow has studied the historical origins of the concept of physical laws. He contrasts the Greek pantheon with the One monarchical God of Judaism: ‘When we look at the relatively sophisticated society of Greek gods, we do not find the notion of an all, powerful cosmic lawgiver very evident. Events are decided by negotiation, deception, or argument rather than by omnipotent decree. Creation proceeds by committee rather than fiat.’

The view that laws are imposed upon, rather than inherent in, nature was eventually adopted by Christianity and Islam too, though not without a struggle. Barrow relates how Saint Thomas Aquinas ‘viewed the innate Aristotelian tendencies as aspects of the natural world which were providentially employed by God. However, in this cooperative enterprise their basic character was inviolate. According to this view, God’s relationship with Nature is that of a partner rather than that of a sovereign.’ But such Aristotelian ideas were condemned by the Bishop of Paris in 1277, to be replaced in later doctrine by the notion of God the Lawmaker.

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.’”[1]

The contributions of the Jews and Christians are well known to the world but those of Muslims are lost in history because of political reasons. Here is a collection of articles to brush up that information, Al Islam eGazette Jan 2010 – Europe’s debt to the Muslim Empire?

Al-Khwarizmi’s book Al-kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wa’l-muqabala was translated into Latin in the 12th century, from which the term Algebra is derived. The tradition that had been started in Baghdad and Cordoba was picked up in Europe at the time of Renaissance.

Before the Arabs the Roman numbers were used in Europe.  There used to be experts like modern day accountants for simple additions and subtractions.  Now these are taught in the second grade.

Try adding Roman numbers:

See if you get the answer

Now add Arab numerals:


Precise and quick quantification was the first step in the development of nascent science.  No wonder, Carly Firoina, Ex CEO of Hewlett-Packard said, “Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to Islamic civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.”

In contrast to a concise and clear paradigm of Monotheism, polytheism did not provide the clarity of thought, which could jump start a detailed scientific enterprise.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, as it defines polytheism:

The belief in many gods. Polytheism characterizes virtually all religions other than Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which share a common tradition of monotheism, the belief in one God. Polytheism identified natural forces and objects as divinities:
Surya, the sun god.
Indra associated with storms, rain, and battles.
Agni the fire god.
Zeus use of lightning as his thunderbolt.

Galileo Galilei noted, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” Fifty years later, Sir Isaac Newton saw that there is no changing of the laws of nature and that the Universe follows the rules of mathematics. He published his Principia in 1687. According to Karen Armstrong polytheism was not conducive to development of science. Science is a process of reduction so that phenomena can be studied. It is based on the assumption that natural laws are not ever changing.


1. Paul Davies. The Mind of God. A Touchstone Book, 1992. Pages 75-77.

Suggested reading

How Islam has Influenced the Christian understanding of God

Is Isaac Newton a Part of the Muslim Heritage: His Religious Views?

How can Hindus think like a Muslim or a Jew, despite the mention of 330 million gods?

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5 replies

  1. Monotheism versus polytheism from the pen of a Hindu

    Quoting from the Theosophical Movement in India:

    The ordinary Hindu holds to his own caste or subcaste god. Worshippers of Shiva are pitted against worshippers of Vishnu; nay more, one kind of Vishnu-worshipper abhors another type of Vishnu-worshipper. Wrong polytheism among Hindus, wrong monotheism among Christians, is all too common. Religious customs and habits have their meaning, their influence, good or bad, and it is not our place as students of Theosophy to ridicule or to attack the faith of any person. But what Theosophy does require and does say is this: seek the meaning of religious customs and teachings, and discriminate between grain and chaff, between the light and the shadows that are cast.

    So let us examine these two concepts, monotheism and polytheism, away from the atmosphere of religious theologies. Let us study them by the help of modern science, to begin with. Science is said to be godless; it is, but in two senses only. It is godless because it rejects the degrading god—carnal, anthropomorphic, a god separate and distinct from his universe, who creates the souls of men and plunges them here on earth to suffer. Science is godless in another sense; it says, “From knowledge so far acquired we do not see any reason to posit any force or power independent of matter, and all that can be said is that we do not yet know the final basis of that which we call Matter.” That, too, Theosophy understands and accepts; but Theosophical philosophy goes further. The Occultist, the real Yogi, is the scientist par excellence, and he says, “Observation and experimentation carried on for millennia by my predecessors teach the truth about the One Reality and its myriad powers and aspects. They have solved the problem of the One in the many, and the many in the One.”

    In chemistry, in physics, in biology, modern knowledge has gone far enough to assert that the universe has as its foundation a single homogeneous something—call it matter, call it substance, call it form, or call it life. The physicist and the chemist are searching for that homogeneous substance. They are pursuing that which the old Indian scientific philosophers called Mulaprakriti, root of Matter, or Pradhana, primordial undifferentiated Substance. The modern scientist may be called a Svabhavika, belonging to that Buddhist school of thought which taught that nothing else exists in the universe save and except Svabhavat. So modern science is distinctly monotheistic—pursuing the One Substance-Principle, the One material basis, Upadhi. If the chemist and the physicist are seeking that One in the shape of Substance, the biologist is seeking that One under the name of Life. The biologist also says that all forms of life, organic, inorganic, human or sub-human, are but transformations, permutations and combinations of the One Life, and what that is, admit the biologists, they do not know. So the biologist is also a monotheist.

    Turn to the other aspect: Chemistry and physics teach that while it is true that the basis of the manifested universe is a homogeneity, the evolutionary process brings into existence forms of matter, with differing intelligences. Chemists classify the contents of the universe in one way, physicists in another way, biologists in a third way, and so on; but all agree that substance, force, life, divides, and sub-divides itself—the one becomes the many. If one studies ancient science as explained in Theosophy, one finds that the range of the area examined is vaster: Science of Yoga or Occultism covers the visible and the invisible, material and energic and spiritual universe, while modern science confines itself to the visible and the material, looking upon everything else as resulting from that visible and material.

    How did ancient science or Theosophy explain the problem of God or Deity? It of course rejects any personal god outside of the universe, but it teaches God as an infinite and invisible Presence. Theosophy calls upon us not to believe or to accept blindly, but to study and meditate with a view to learning the truth. The Yogis, the true Occultists, learned of this infinite and invisible Presence by scientific experimentation. The difference between the Yogi and the modern scientist is that the former develops his instruments of observation and experimentation within himself and thus acquires knowledge by experience, which knowledge is verifiable by repetition of the same experience.

    Theosophy teaches both monotheism and polytheism combined. Three propositions simply put are advanced in Theosophy: (1) There is One Life, omnipresent, eternal, boundless, omnipotent. (2) There is One Law inherent in that One Life, which is the Law of Progression, of Becoming. (3) There are myriads of forms of life resulting from the interplay of the One Life and the One Law. Life ever is, therefore it is named Be-ness. Law is ever at work, therefore it is named Becoming. Forms of life resulting from these two are many, millions upon millions.

    This article has been transcribed from the September 2001 issue of “The Theosophical Movement,” a publication of Theosophy Company (India).

  2. Scientific Method and Monotheism

    Quoting from a science discussion forum:

    Scientific method — the concept of inquiry based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence, — was formally defined in 17th century Europe, originated several centuries earlier. Most likely the first person to apply it consistently was Ibn al-Haytham in 10th/11th century Egypt. Whether scientific method COULD have been formulated at any time earlier is anyone’s guess, but it is notable that several highly learned societies, such as Athenian Greece, failed to do so. Here is my theory: scientific method could not (or at least was exceedingly unlikely to) originate without monotheism.

    One of the bases of scientific method is the assumption that identical initial conditions produce identical results, i.e. experiments are repeatable. If two seemingly identical experiments produce different results, some condition MUST have been different, even if it is not obvious. A polytheist would not make such an assumption — if two seemingly identical experiments gave different results, he would just assume that second time a different god was involved. A polytheist’s world is fundamentally chaotic; the idea of logical and predictable world, and hence of discovering truth by observation, is consistent with “one god” who set down specific (and knowable) laws of nature.

  3. Monotheism begets science and it in turn begets Monotheism

    Whereas the nineteenth century physics was about to frame God out of physical understanding of the universe, the twentieth century physics has turned the tables in favor of Monotheism.

    The article, Religion and Science: The Indispensable God-hypothesis, describes the Transcendent, yet Personal God of the Abrahamic Faiths in the present day scientific paradigm, the One God of Islam, Unitarian Christianity and Judaism.

    If my articles are boring to you, it may be that you need to read more of them, as was suggested by John Cage, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

    Please note in the above paragraphs, when it comes to Monotheism, I talk about Unitarian Christianity and not Trinitarian Christianity, because Monotheism in the latter is some what tainted. Richard Dawkins quotes Francis Crick in his book The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing:

    Heredity is all-or-none. That’s digital. But what neither Mendel nor anyone else before 1953 knew was that genes themselves are digital, within themselves. A gene is a sequence of code letters, drawn from an alphabet of precisely four letters, and the genetic code is universal throughout all known living things. Life is the execution of programs written using a small digital alphabet in a single, universal machine language. This realization was the hammer blow that knocked the last nail into the coffin of vitalism and, by extension, of dualism. The hammer was wielded, with undisguised youthful relish, by James Watson and Francis Crick.

    James Watson and Francis Crick’s famous one-page paper, describing the structure of DNA, appeared in Nature in 1953. In addition to being a biological epiphany, it also turned out to be an amazing religious epiphany. Trinity was no more! There could be only one creator of life on our planet earth. In the words of Allah:

    Allah has created the heavens without any visible pillars, and He has placed in the earth firm mountains lest it roll beneath you, and has spread therein all kinds of creatures, We have sent down water from the clouds, and have caused to grow therein every fine species. This is the Allah’s creation. Now show me what those others besides Him have created. The wrong doers are in manifest error. (Al Quran 31:11-12)

    Here Allah declares the unity of His creation as a proof of there being one God only. It is not only our biology but our physics and our chemistry points to an exquisite oneness at their foundation! Read further.

  4. In due course of time, I will write on how the concept of Transcendent God is pure in Judaism and Islam and adulterated in Trinitarian Christianity. So, for the study of scientific principles, Christian scientist had to borrow Monotheistic paradigm from Judaism and Islam.

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