Is Any Conflict Between Science and Religion?
Ayatollah Hasan Hasan-Zadeh Amoli
What is your definition of science and religion?
Science, in the real sense of the word, is true knowledge of the author of the book existence and the ontological words contained in this book, as is a kind of luminous being and an actuality, free from potentiality and materiality. Man perfects, himself and ascends in himself this until in the end he becomes a luminous being. As the famous Persian poet, Manouchehri Damaghani has eloquently said:
It is like a half-lit dying out lantern
Whose oil increases hour by hour.
Since knowledge and action are the two substances making the reality of man, in whom both as knower and as actor, the two substances are unified, in the ''divine science'' it is well said that acquisition of knowledge and due action - becomes an intelligible world like unto the objective world of reality''.
True science is the eye by which the rational soul of man perceives reality and by whose light discriminates between truth and error, and attains to the eternal bliss, wherefore the Messenger of God, Muhammad the last among prophets - upon whom be the blessings and the benedictions of God - has said:
''Science is the guide of action''
Religion, however, can be defined as the discipline and the real injunctions which safeguard the humanity of man and guide him to felicity and eternal happiness. All the rules and texts of religion are in accord with the sacred science and are, in the true sense of the word, real. Hence only God, the creator and the author of human beings is alone capable of compiling such a discipline. The same pen and the same hand which have written this Cosmological Book and have existentiated this inconceivable great and majestic order with unsurpassable beauty in which each ontological word has its proper function and in which there is not the least iota of deviation, discrepancy, inadequacy and disorder, the same pen has foreseen and provided for the needs of His grand creature called with sheer wisdom, so as to lead him to his ultimate goal and final perfection. Such a discipline foreordained by the absolute wisdom of God, we call religion.
It is most proper here to present to our dear readers a precious gem from the utterances of the Messenger of God, who said:
''Verily this Holy Quran is the banquet of God, so learn the manners of this banquet as for as you can.''
The Holy Quran has been revealed in order to cultivate the spirit of man and to rectify him. So the above utterance of the Holy Prophet means that the Holy Quran is the book of divine discipline and decorum by which man safeguards his humanity and by a right and righteous upbringing realizes his Divine nature. So the above statement means that the Holy Quran is the hand book of Divine decorum and the command of God: learn decorum from following the Divine commands, rectify yourselves and realize in yourselves the God - given potentialities. Again the Holy Prophet said "My Lord has taken upon himself my refinement and how well He has refined me''. Again he is reported to have said: ''My Lord cultivated in me the noblest moral qualities.''.
Do you see any conflict between your definitions of these two concepts?
Science, in general, and Divine science in particular, is like a beam of light which is identical with the reality of him who possesses that science and illuminates his being and enables him to see the path ahead. Sages have rightly said that science and the possessor of it are not two things but the one is identical with the other. The Holy Prophet - upon whom be the benedictions of God - said: '' Science is identical with the intellect, and the spirit of them both is right understanding''. Religion always induces one to acquire such a luminous knowledge and considers one's rank in the hierarchy of being and perfection to be the same as his rank in knowledge; because no religious injunction is conceivable without rational justification, wisdom and some kind of benefit for the ideal human commonwealth on the one hand and the perfection and felicity of the individual human being on the other. Most experts in the science of religion have written monographs on the religious injunctions as ''the mysteries of prayer'', ''the mysteries of fasting'' , ''the mysteries of the Holy pilgrimage'' and so on.
In the Holy Quran, the last among the divine scriptures we read: ''These parables we cite for common people, but none save the people of science'' are distinguished and set against the ''common people''. The ''common people'' is a reference to the ''multitude'' and the ''rabble of mankind'' and ''the people of science'' is a reference to those who have attained to the peak of absolute science; they are those who possess the intelligence and are able to intelligize the nature of things. This means that parables have both a shell and a kernel. The shell is meant for the common people who are not well - trained in the intellectual and scientific discipline and are not able to fathom the Divine mysteries. The kernel is meant for the ''people of science'' who through intellectual training and scientific discipline are able to penetrate from the outward to the inner reality of things. Molavi, the famous Persian poet, referring to the above Quranic verse, says:
O brother, the parable is as a corn measure
In which the meaning is hidden as grains
Seize the grain of meaning, O man of intelligence
Do not heed the measure if it changes into another.
The last of Messengers, Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be the blessings of God, in the following tradition has considered paradise to be the real wisdom: '' I am the city of wisdom - which is the paradise - and you are - O Ali - its gate''. In summary, science and religion not only are not in conflict, but being of the same substance and origin, corroborate each other.
Where do you think there may be a conflict between these two?
It is possible that a certain science which is of no avail, neither in the context of human life and civilization, nor of any significance in the knowledge of the mysteries of religion and which might cause the perdition of mankind or harm his eternal bliss, be rejected by divine religion, as are certain kinds of food and drink like eating carrion, and drinking intoxicants which are prohibited in
the Islamic law.
What have been the grounds for the development of conflict between these two?
This question can be answered from two points of view.
The first view - point is somewhat similar to our answer to the question number three.
The second aspect of the question is that in the past a certain group of people known in the traditional sources as Ashab al-Maarif '' people of learning'' believed wrongly that there is no need for revelation, prophecy and the Divine Law. They argued that the statements of the claimer to prophecy were either in accord with reason or not. If they were in conflict with the grounds of reason, they could not be accepted and if the tenets of faith and revelation were in accord with the exigencies of reason, so they would be superfluous and redundant, reason being the supreme judge and arbitor: so they argued that there is no need at all for prophecy and revelation.
But such a way of reasoning is in fact erroneous and extremely weak. It is only a pretext for shirking one's responsibilities, for human reason as such is incapable of comprehending the true essence of things which is necessary for positing laws which would ensure man's happiness. Only the inner after revelation can undertake legislature for man. Of course after the mysteries hidden in it, which could not be known prior to revelation. This problem is discussed in minute details in theological texts.
Here is must be pointed out that the term ''people of learning'' was not adapted in the traditional sources to refer to a special group of people who denied the institution of revelation and prophecy, and who believed that related to this life and the hereafter. The famous exegete of the Quran, Tabrisi in his Majma al - Bayan while commenting verse 103 of the second chapter: ''and if they believed and feared God would be better for them, if only they know'', says.
''In this verse, there is a manifest refutation of the opinion of the '' people of learning'' because God, the Almighty, denied them such knowledge''.
What has been the role of religion in the development of science in the Islamic civilization and in the west?
There is on doubt that the emergence of the great civilization of Islam had a great impact upon the progress of science, with all its ramifications, in the western civilization. This is a point which cannot be denied by any scholar well-versed in the subject. Many books and articles have been written in this regard of which I quote two passages. The first one is by Alfred Guillaume in his introduction to the book Heritage of Islam compiled by thirteen famous Islamologists, published by the Oxford University press and translated into Persian by Mustafa Alam and Sa'id Nafisy. He says:
''The Heritage of Islam seeks those European scientific, industrial, cultural and spiritual factors which are taken from the Islamic world and derived the from Eastern Arab lands…. It is Islam and the grand Islamic Empire have which combined the science and crafts of various lands and have introduced them perfectly and beautifully to the world of science and industry''.
There are several other science remarks by the same authors in the mentioned book.
The second book is entitled "The Islamic sciences and Their Impact on the World Scientific Evolution" translated into Persian by Messrs. Muhammad Reza Razavi and Asadullah Alavi and published by Astan Quds' Islamic Research Foundation. Moreover many other books and articles, such as those mentioned above were written by those who were both experts of science and adepts of contemplation and spiritual realization. I would like, to quote, as an example, a few lines ''the Impact of Quran on the Rise of the Islamic Civilization'' written by my beloved master, the late Allamah Sha'arani, May God have mercy on him!
''Those who have studied history and are well aware of the story of the ancient civilizations know well that until the rise of the Greek civilization, no nation was as able to attain the acme of culture and civilization. Those, moreover, who were before the Greeks were lower than them in rank in this regard. A short while before Alexander the philosophers and scientists proliferated and there appeared among them such great luminaries as Plato and Aristotle. After the world conquests and the hegemony of Alexander, Greek science and language disseminated in the Hellenized world, such that they became world - wide for a thousand years and Greek became the language of both science and religion. Even the followers of Jesus Christ wrote the Gospels in the Greek word Evangel meaning the good tiding. This, not withstanding the fact that Jesus Christ was not Greek, nor did he belong to the Hellenistic culture, since he spoke the Aramaic which is an offshoot of the Hebrew language.
Almost a thousand years after Alexander; there appeared Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the last among the cycle of prophets, upon whom be the blessings and the benedictions of God. Arabic superseded Greek as the language of science and even surpassed it in scope. Muslims adopted the Greek science. In their hands the science proliferated and multiplied as much as many times. Arabic for many centuries became the language of science and achieved a high status and sciences were written in this language which had never been written in any other language before.
In history books it is recorded that the library of Alexandria in Egypt which was one of the largest libraries in the ancient world contained only 25000 books in Greek sciences, but in the Islamic era, the number of books in Islamic sciences in huge libraries out numbered a million.
Jorji Zaydan, in his History of Islamic Civilization and also in his History of Arabic literature says that, two Fatimid caliphs of Egypt called Aziz billah (365-386 A.H.) and Hakim bi Amrillah (386-411 A.H) setup libraries in Egypt, which shelved over one million books, that is forty times as many as the books of the Greek library of Alexandria. Again he remarks he remarks that there were many great libraries in Egypt, Iraq, and Andalusia (Islamic Spain), each containing hundred thousands of books and they were all open to the public. So we can surmise that the books written in Arabic science were at least forty times as many as those written in Greek.
Greeks, no doubt had compiled books in literature, ethics, rhetoric, the science of law and jurisprudence, politics, history and geography, but without doubt, from the point of view of quantity, quality, depth and precision of research, they were not comparable to those written in Arabic. In mathematics, particularly in arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, algorithm and astronomy, Muslims far surpassed the Greeks. These accomplishments were all due to the blessings of the Holy Quran. What we say not an exaggeration and the history of science is our best witness.
Since in the Holy Quran, Muslims were enjoined to perform their ritual prayers five times a day, they had to acquire the knowledge of the time and the direction of the prayer, so in order to determine the precise direction of Makkah (qiblah) and also the times of the prayers, they were in urgent need of the science of astronomy, which again obliged them to learn the other branches of mathematics. The laws of inheritance and the distribution of shares among legal heirs is a very complicated affair in Islamic Jurisprudence and made Muslims to learn advanced arithmetic. In order to determine the rate of their lands, they again needed arithmetic. Engagement in Holy wars and performing the Holy pilgrimage, taught Muslims the science of seafaring and exploration and they came to know about the circumstances of other nations and countries and so they started to compile works on geography and so on.
Islam has emphatically prohibited Muslims from imitating their forefathers and ancestors and has invited all believers to true faith through rational investigation and has made knowledge about the articles of faith by means of rational analysis incumbent on all Muslims. The opponents of Islam and the detractors of religion were in constant debate with the Muslims who had to refute their opponents on the basis of argumentation and rational demonstration. Hence they came to discover the philosophical views of Greek philosophers and the sages of other nations, from whom they learned the science of logic and the art and methods of reasoning. So, on a careful analysis one can see that Muslims learned all these sciences in the light and through the blessings of the Holy Quran. … Thus we can conclude that the modern Western science and civilization are the continuation and protraction of Islamic sciences, rather than being derived from Christianity''.
This was a summarized account of the words of my master, the late 'Allamah Sha'arani - May God illuminate his proofs-taken from his book "The Path of Happiness".
Can we have a religious science?
The question as I understand it is as follows: Are human beings as such able, by themselves to unveil the mysteries of the Divine laws and the injunctions of the Divine religions or not.
Answering this question we say: As the Great book of Existence- that is the ontological order - is laid on the foundation of knowledge and wisdom, as the very word 'Alam (the world) in Arabic signifies, being derived from the root 'Ilm (knowledge) and so meaning the piled - up knowledge, so also the Holy written scripture, i.e. the Holy Quran is similar to the Book of Existence, that is, it is mere knowledge and sheer truth and wisdom.
For instance all the obligatory rules in religion are to the benefit and advantage of believers and all the prohibition on the contrary are to the their detriment and disadvantage. All the rules of religion as recorded in the books of Islamic jurisprudence, beginning with the book of purification and ending with the book of indemnity and blood-money are based on rational causes, and justifications.
The Islamic law, for example has not prohibited the eating of the sour grapes and its juice, grapes, grape juice, vinegar and raisins, but has prohibited the drinking of wine, because of the evils and harms which it incurs. In the Holy Quran we read. ''O believers, wine and arrow-shuffling for idols and divining -arrows are filthy abominable and part of Satan's work, so avoid them so that you may be saved. Satan only desires to precipitate enmity and hatred among you in regard to wine and arrow-shuffling end to deter you from the remembrance of God and from prayer, so will you not desist''? (Quran, chapter 5, verses 93 and 94).
Our compendia of Holy Traditions which are Household of Revelation and Inerrancy and which are in reality the best commentary ever written on the Holy Quran based on the highest spiritual realization, reveal to us many mysteries and secrets of the Divine laws, injunctions and prohibitions and contain many allusions Causes of the Divine Laws) and Ma'ani al-Akhbar (the Meaning of the Holy Traditions) compiled by the eminent Shiite scholar Sheikh Sadouq the latter book containing 426 chapters, from which I quote one or two examples:
The first Shiite Imam, the commander of the faithful, Ali ibn Abi Talib, expounding on of the mysteries of the Book of Existence is reported to have said: ''There is no living creature with non -protruding (hidden) ears, except that it is oviparous (egg-laying ) and no one with protruding ears (literally apparent) except that it is viviparous (i.e. bears children).
So snakes, lizards, fish, eels and turtles and most of the birds whose ears are not protruding and have no auricles are oviparous that is, they produce their young by hatching, whereas human beings, deer, horses, lions and bats with protuberant ears and auricles bear children.
Let me here mention a noble lady who was both a writer and great scholar, with an admirable single-mindedness and talent who made some research about this matter. The learned Qajar prince Farhad Mirza in his distinguished book Zanbil says:
''Amir Kamal-ad Din Husain Fana'i is reported to have said: the sixth Shi'ite Imam, Ja'afar Sadiq one day asked the lady Umm Jabir as to what she was doing. She answered that she was busy finding out among the living creatures which ones laid eggs and which ones gave birth. He said that would not need much thinking because those with prominent ears procreate and those otherwise lay eggs ''That is the ordaining of the Almighty, the All-knowing. ''(Quran, 6:96). So hawks which are birds with non-protuberant ears lay eggs; the turtle which is a grazing animal with the same qualifications again lays eggs but the bat which is a bird with protuberant ears begets''.
It must be pointed out that Avicenna in the first article of De Animalium Partibus of his book Shifa (Translated into Latin as Sufficientia) in the beginning of chapter five says:
''Among the bipeds only human beings procreate.''
He means that all bipeds except human beings lay eggs. We should add here that Avicenna's statement is not quite correct as bats and vampires, which are bipeds procreate rather than lay eggs. However our quotation from Imam Ja'afar Sadiq is completely and perfectly correct.
What we said, was only an example of the mysteries of the Book of Existence. Let us return to another example, this time chose from the mysteries of religious law. One of the inerrant Imams was once asked: ''if one finds an egg in the woods, how does one know whether it is ritually lawful to eat that egg or not.'' Where upon the Imam answered: ''every egg with two identical even ends is ritually unclean and eating it is prohibited, but if only one side even as in the egg of a hen, it is ritually clean and eating it is commendable.
Fayd Kashani, the famous Shiite scholar, traditionist and jurisprudent quotes several traditions regarding this issue in the eleventh chapter of his Wafi (Rahli edition, vol . s . p. 15)
A snake-egg, for example, is oblong and its two sides are equally even. The egg of a tortoise is round and so equally even from every side and hence both of them are ritually unlawful to eat. The eggs of partridges, doves, sparrows and hens, on the other hand, are conic in shape, one side being even and the other side elongated and hence ritually to eat.
Food - discriminating and ritually-clean-eating birds have wholly conical eggs. Some ritually clean birds, such as ducks, eat slime and worms, so their eggs, even if conic in shape, are not as perfectly conical the food - discriminating birds.
So in answer to your question ''Is such a thing as religious science possible?'' I would briefly say that even if there has been much wrangling concerning such problems in Islamic Jurisprudence, but it is an indisputable fact that all religious laws are based upon Cosmo-ontological causes which are alluded to in our compendia of Holy Traditions. And also in the books written by our religious scholars, many mysteries of the Divine law are divulged most of which are commendable and which can be used as guideposts for further inquiry. So religion has never been a hindrance on the way of scientific investigation and research, but on the contrary it has always encouraged and persuaded believers to pursue this enterprise. For example in Turayhi's Majm'a-al-Bahrain, under the Arabic root - stem far' the following holy Tradition is quoted from.
Imam Muhammad Baqir and Imam Ja'afar as-Sadiq, the fifth and the sixth Shiite Imams: it is incumbent on us to insinuate to you the principles and it is incumbent on you to deduce the ramifications.''
In the authentic Islamic mystical writings such as Misabah al-uns by al-Fanari it is explicitly stated that the injunctions of the Divine law all derive from the ontological context of reality. In the beautiful words of Avicenna in Danesh Nameh 'Alai'' to each and every thing unknown there is a path through it becomes known.''
Can science dispense with religion?
Certain sciences such as those concerned with crafts and professions and connected with the comfort and the welfare of human life are, so to say, independent of religions, unless they are taken into consideration from the point of view of ritual purity or impurity, licitness, or illicitness, or with respect to the intentions and aims for which they are performed. In any case the Holy Quran is the basis for the perfection and the eternal happiness his eternal bliss. Therefore man, whatever his social status or profession, is in need of it and cannot dispense with it.
Can one separate the domains of activity of science and religion completely?
As explained in our answer to the question number one, the luminous religion of Islam is in accord with sheer knowledge and is the Right path. The Holy Quran is the logic of God and also the last word of God. Its other name is furqan which means ''that which distinguishes truth from error''. A perfect savant in religion is one who knows perfectly well all the sciences which in one way or another are related to religion as is witnessed and well testified by the life and works of the great scholars of religion. The sciences which are essential for the scholars of religion to know are well indicated in their works.
Islam in not opposed to the sciences and crafts which cause the advancement of the perfect human social and political life and improve his welfare and mean of livelihood but supports and encourages them. Farabi's al-Madinah al-Fadilah and the other works written by Muslim sages are the best evidence for the matter. Even to talk about the separation of religion and science is a vain idle talk.