By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
10 August 2017
In this part, we will be discussing a few interesting concepts in the light of the scriptures, theology, philosophy and the sciences. Let us begin the discussion with the concept of an immortal soul. As brought out in another article, the Quran informs us categorically, that we do not have a soul that pre-existed our birth nor do we have a soul that does not die with our body. All that is needed to resurrect us on the Day of Judgment exactly as we were is information. We know how the physical body can be cloned. The genes in the egg fertilized by the sperm from our father have resulted in our conception and have given us our sex, form and body. The information is enough to recreate the body exactly as it was. What we made of ourselves in our lifetime is all recorded as the Quran informs us clearly. This information will be used to recreate our “Nafs” or “soul” and populate our memory and to create our old patterns of thinking. We will be recreated exactly as we were without doubt but this does not require an immortal “soul”.
The modern man knows that if all his apps and data are backed up including the settings and preferences, a lost computer or Smartphone can be “recreated” by buying the same model and downloading all the backed-up apps and the data. It would then be the same as if you never lost it. The analogy for resurrection is similar. All that is required is accurate information. This is in complete agreement with science as we know today, except the part of whether we will be resurrected, which is clearly outside the domain of science.
Upto the 19th century, the theologians and the philosophers lacking in accurate knowledge of our world, struggled with several concepts, and argued without proof and even against what the scriptures say clearly. For example, all the theologians and the philosophers (those who believe in a life in the Hereafter) believed in an immortal soul. Since the body disintegrates, or a person may be burnt to ashes in an accident or cremated, they had difficulty accepting that we are resurrected in our body although the Quran says so categorically. Even many of the Muslim philosophers such as Avicenna and al-Farabi argued against bodily resurrection and believed in an immaterial soul. The soul was therefore what was left and required to live a life in the Hereafter and this must not die and therefore must be immaterial or spirit. It must also have all our characteristics that made us a unique person and the capacity to see, feel, think and remember without the body, the brain, the nervous system and the organs! What impossibility and yet even the so called rational philosophers believed in it! The Quran is categorical about resurrection in body in complete detail right upto our finger tips or finger prints. It categorically rejects the idea of a soul that survives our death or that it existed before our birth. We know only now, how it is possible to resurrect without anything surviving our death using stored information which the Quran clearly says is done. Philosophy, for all its claims of rationality, has been speculative and the Scriptures trump philosophy each time but we get to know of it only when Science and Technological progress confirm by analogy what may be the truth in what the scriptures say.
Theology turns out to be even more speculative than philosophy and struggles with many more issues than philosophy and comes up with imaginative stories which are merely a figment of someone’s fertile imagination but with pretensions of having “mystical” knowledge from the contemplation of God! Islamic theology does not only support the concept of an immortal soul that lives on after we die, but insists that the soul pre-existed our birth and entered into a covenant with Allah in Alam-e-Arwah. This story is to explain the meaning of verse 7:172 which simply says that a belief in God is an instinct that comes to us through our parents’ genes that we have inherited. Genes carry an enormous amount of information that give us our form, shape, sex, nature and instinct which science informs us today but this knowledge did not exist in the 7th century. The verse was therefore explained as our soul which covenanted with Allah to believe in Him in Alam-e-Arwah where all souls were collected before our birth or rather before the first human was born. Such an explanation begs the question “does the soul come through our father’s loins and is contained in his sperm? If so what about the millions of sperms that perish?” What comes is only the seed containing the genes. Theology having adopted the concept of an immortal soul lets its imagination run wild. So, what happens to the soul after we die and until the Day of Judgment? It stays in Alam-e-Barzakh according to the theologians. At the same time, the soul is punished in our graves and they call this Azab-e-Qabar. It is the body that is buried and not the soul and so why should the punishment be in the grave? And what about those cremated? To make matters more interesting there is even a festival of the souls of the dead celebrated as Shab-e-Barat. Surely, this must be from our pagan past. Theology is never ever logical and theology therefore dumbs the believers. Interestingly, the Quran does not talk about punishment in the grave or any of the two Aalams or universes. “Islamic theology” is therefore an extremely imaginative ‘interpretation” of the Quran to the point of contradicting the Quran. To put it bluntly, Islamic theology is often un-Islamic or anti-Quran. It is high time the Muslims got rid of all their sources of Jahiliyah misinformation and remnants from their pagan past and pursue the study of only the Quran and the Sciences.
On Creation and Evolution
Science begins with hypothesizing before arriving at conclusive proof and you should learn to distinguish between a hypothesis and demonstrable truth. For example, before the discovery of the temporal nature of the universe, it was believed that it was eternal – always was and will be. Al-Fârâbî (d. 950) for example, had developed a systemic philosophy that challenged the Quran, most notably the creation of the world in time. Following Aristotle, al-Fârâbî taught that the world has no beginning in the past and that the celestial spheres, move from pre-eternity. There is also a law of physics that says that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed and a later theory which talks about the equivalence of matter and energy. These laws still hold good if you do not go to a point before time or after time. All the laws of Physics fail before the Big Bang or the beginning of time. This refinement to physics came only after acceptance of the Big Bang theory of creation.
Al-Fârâbî even cast doubts on the character of revealed religions and opines that the Prophets and the revealed religions articulate the same insights that philosophers express in their teachings. The prophets simply use the method of symbolization to make this wisdom more approachable for the ordinary people. In his opinion therefore, the Prophets were only philosophers, who used the framework of religion to make their ideas acceptable to the common man. He is only partially right, but mistaken when he appears to doubt that the prophets were receiving revelations from God. While he is right about the method of symbolization that religion uses, he is proved wrong because the Quran correctly talked about creation of the universe as a historical event and it correctly does not support the notion of an immortal soul. This false notion that the prophets are only philosophers, is what made philosophy usurp moral principles from religion, without acknowledging its debt to religion, since they make no distinction between the prophets and philosophers.
What about the theory of evolution? The theory is sound although some of its conclusions may be over ambitious, speculative and untrue. It is a fact that new life forms get created and others become extinct and this has been going on ever since there is life on this earth. Genetic mutation is also fact and this has enabled us to adapt to our environment without which we may have become extinct. The big question however is whether man evolved from lower life forms? This is conceivable because the low-level building blocks or cells are common to all life forms. There is a big difference however between a theoretical possibility and the extremely low probability of it being true. All books comprise words and rules of grammar. What is the possibility and probability that something like the work of Shakespeare can be created by mere chance or even through an algorithm and computer? We know for a fact that a computer algorithm can create grammatically correct sentences but to make a sentence that makes sense continues to be a challenge which is why we have a spell check and check of grammar but no check on whether the sentence makes sense. If creating one sentence that makes sense itself is a challenge then what about a paragraph, a chapter and an entire book? The difficulty increases infinitely and seems an impossibility as of today. Theoretically this is still possible since every book contains words and sentences following rules of grammar and we just must figure out how to make sense artificially in a consistent and related manner to create a sentence, paragraph, chapter and book that make sense as a single work with a consistent theme or story. Even if this is possible, there is still a human being designing the algorithm and he remains its creator. It cannot simply happen by pure chance.
Today, it is possible to visualize a completely automated plant to manufacture cars with performance data from existing cars being fed for continuous improvement in design. The plants can be designed to also use information on current tastes etc. for external and internal design improvements and information of new materials that can be used instead of what is currently being used etc. It can be engineered to continuously improve the design for bringing out progressively better cars and do its own tooling for the manufacturing process which also would keep changing. It will also do its own ordering, invoicing, accounting, banking transactions etc. Similarly, the manufacture of every other product can be automated. Looking at this scenario where everything we need is manufactured automatically without human intervention, people in the future generations may well think that all goods evolved on their own from matter to satisfy our needs in a progressively evolving manner. They would perhaps look at the picture of the first bicycle as the earliest prototype and what the car looks like in 2100 without apparent intervention or input from man. Since, it would have been some earlier generation who had created such a plant and the man in 2100 would have become completely spoilt by having nothing to do with such plants producing everything that he needs, the story that man was the creator of a car and of every other product that man uses, and of the self-regulating and evolving manufacturing plants and processes, would sound hollow and unbelievable.
Knowing man’s nature however, there would be a group of them controlling everything centrally and remotely. To prove to the ordinary man who is merely a consumer that man is both the creator and controller, they would have to do something out of the normal course of what is expected or perform a “miracle” to show that it is they who have created and have complete control over all the production processes.
The Creator created in an analogous manner. Not only did He create, but gave His creation the capacity and the intelligence to evolve and adapt to their changing environment. Evolutionary biology does not get invalidated even if it is proved that the scriptures are right on the creation of man. Neither do the scriptures get proved wrong if it is proved that man did evolve from lower life forms. The verses use similitudes to explain what is outside our experience or capacity to understand or put through a point based on a model of reality when the reality itself is complex or far beyond what was in man’s knowledge at the point of revelation. Adam we are told was created by the Ruh of Allah and was thus not an ordinary man but an inspired man. He was born adult without going through a learning process and apparently had the same faculties as the modern man. He represents man’s potential in the story and not necessarily what the first man was like. Otherwise, what do we make of the following verse:
Halataalal-Insan-I Hin Um-Min Ad-Dahr Lam Yakunshayan Madhkura
“(76:1) Has there not been over Man a long period of Time, when he was nothing - (not even) mentioned? “
The word Dahr means endless time, the beginning and end of which are unknown to man or a very long period. The verse says that during this very long period, man and his existence was not even worthy of mention. Now how long can this long period be? The largest unit of number used in the Quran is a thousand and the largest span of time fifty thousand years. So, this very long period was much longer than fifty thousand years or else the number of years would have been mentioned. At the very least, this verse speaks about the primitive existence of man for a very long period, when he was not very different from other animals and not worthy of mention.
The story of creation of Adam could therefore be pure allegory rather than historical fact for the Quran says:
(3:7) He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book: In it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical. But those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part thereof that is allegorical, seeking discord, and searching for its hidden meanings, but no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: "We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:" and none will grasp the Message except men of understanding.
Whether one chooses to treat it as fact or as allegory depends on one’s capacity to understand, but the fact that it is a reality beyond man’s experience and therefore the allegorical nature of the story is clear. It is therefore not a story on which one should take an inflexible position, argue and create discord.
People take one of the following three views of religion:
• It is opium for the people (Greek rationalists)
• It expresses Absolute Truth (The naïve fundamentalists)
• Its allegories are symbols of the Truth and present a simple model of a complex reality. The unsophisticated may take these as reality in so far as religion is concerned without becoming dogmatic about it, or quarrelling with science.
Clearly, verse 3:7 cited above, is affirming the last position as the correct one to take. The naïve fundamentalists who forbid all reasoning on religious matters and those who affirm that reason unaided by revelation can attain “religious” truths are both wrong. Philosophy has only been able to apply reason to the moral laws from religion but inadequate in framing even one original principle.
Revealed religion speaks about absolute Truths through symbols, allegories and models. It leads the masses towards wisdom. Science deals with observable truth in an absolute manner and of necessity keep growing in accuracy, sophistication and complexity over the years and are for the intelligent people and not for the masses. Civilization itself would however have been impossible without religious morality which the intelligent seem to easily forget having appropriated moral principles from religion under philosophy. It is such intellectuals turned atheists who are partially responsible for the opposition to science by the naïve fundamentalists. Without religion, there wouldn’t have been a civilization let alone the excellence man has achieved in the sciences and man would have been just another animal living the life it lived as a primitive. This fact however gets obscured because of the visible presence of the naïve fundamentalists who oppose reason and science. The atheists see religion with disdain as some appendage from the past, unable to acknowledge its contribution and relevance. Such intellectuals deserve being called ingrate rebels against God more than any other group of people, for they can surely ascertain the truth of a revealed Book such as the Quran.
On the question of evolutionary biology, there is no need to doubt either Science or the Scriptures. The question is not as it is unfortunately posed “do you believe in evolutionary biology or do you believe in religion? You don’t have to choose and can honestly believe in both with an open mind and be certain about what is certain and tentative about what is yet not certain. The scriptures are true in a symbolic or allegorical manner and Science is far more direct on all matters that are in its domain which is our physical world. Reason never errs but even the scientists can get carried away by emotion. On the question of whether man was created or evolved from lower life forms, Kurt Godel, a famous mathematician, whose incompleteness theorems are the most extraordinary results in mathematics, or in any intellectual field, has the following sobering thoughts for the over enthusiastic evolutionary biologists to consider.
“The formation in geological time of the human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of elementary particles and the field is as unlikely as the separation of the atmosphere into its components. The complexity of the living things has to be present within the material [from which they are derived] or in the laws [governing their formation].”
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to www.NewAgeIslam.com
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