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God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Muslim Perspectives

Ted Peters, Muzaffar Iqbal, Syed Nomanul Haq


"God, Life, and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives" is the first book of its kind in which scholars and representatives of two major religious traditions reflect on the tensions, support, and overlap between science and religion with regard to the fundamental questions of the origin and purpose of life and cosmos.
All but three chapters in this volume are revised versions of the papers presented at the International Conference. God, Life and the Cosmos: Theistic Perspectives, held on November 6-9, 2000 at Islamabad, Pakistan. The conference brought together 23 scientists and scholars from various parts of the world for three days of presentations and discussions. It was jointly organized by the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, California, USA; the Islamic Research Institute of the International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan; and the International Institute of Islamic Thought,Islamabad.

The 14 chapters that make up this volume deal with the philosophical issues in the science-religion discourse, cosmology, and bioethics. Providing the context for the whole volume, the first section of the book explores the philosophical, historical, and methodological foundations of the relationship between science and the two religious traditions. It also presents various aspects of the Islamic scientific tradition and its relationship with the religious faith that is considered to have shaped and defined it. The second section focuses on cosmology, and the third on life, consciousness, and bioethics.

This book does not address all facets of the rich and intricate discourse on the relationship between science and religion; no single volume can. Neither does it attempt to establish an interfaith dialogue in the context of the science-religion discourse; it is still too early to make such an attempt. This collection of chapters does,however, attempt to present a broad overview of Christian and Muslim perspectives on the relationship between faith and science in general, and between the two religious traditions and some aspects of modern cosmology and bioethics.

This is a small beginning toward addressing some urgent concerns in the field of science and religion. They are urgent because, after all, science and religion are the two most important forces that make up the warp and weft of contemporary life as it is lived in various parts of the globe. Both have global impact, both are powerful, and both claim to provide answers to some of the most enigmatic questions that humanity has ever faced.

When these papers were written and presented, the world had not yet witnessed the shocking events which closed the first year of our millennium. Then we had a different kind of war and peace in our minds: the alleged war between science and religion and the peace we sought between these two powerful forces that shape our contemporary world. We hoped to ferret out consonance and dissonance between faith and science and explore various facets of science in the Christian and Islamic traditions. But since then, war and peace have attained completely new meanings.

In this changed global situation, there is an urgent need to pursue dialogue between various faith traditions. Such a dialogue has many forms and subject matters. The science-religion discourse involving different faiths is one such avenue. This can help in establishing new bridges through an enhanced awareness of God, life and the cosmos we all share. Thus it is our hope that this small volume will contribute toward this goal, leading to a peaceful sharing of our planet and its resources as well as to a deeper sense of unity.


Table of Contents:

S. Nomanul Haq
I. Philosophical, Historical, and Methodological Issues
Chapter One
Islam and Modern Science: Questions at the Interface; Muzaffar IqbalChapter Two
Three Views of Science in the Islamic World; Ibrahim Kalin

Chapter Three
Science and Faith: From War to Consonance
Ted Peters

Chapter Four

Christian Perspectives on Religion and Science and Their Significance for Modern Muslim Thought
Mustansir MirChapter Five
The Anthropocosmic Vision in Islamic Though
William C. Chittick

Chapter Six

Moments in the Islamic Recasting of the Greek Legacy: Exploring the Question of Science and Theism
S. Nomanul HaqChapter Seven
Metaphysics and Mathematics in Classical Islamic Culture: Avicenna and his Successors
Roshdi Rashed

II. Cosmological Issues

Chapter Eight
Islamic Paradigms for the Relationship Between Science & Religion
Ahmad Dallal

Chapter Nine

Creation in the Islamic Outlook and in Modern Cosmology
Mehdi GolshaniChapter Ten
The Impossible Possibility: Divine Causes in the  World of Nature
Philip Clayton

Chapter Eleven

Christian Theism and the Idea of an Oscillating Universe
Mark WorthingIII.Life, Consciousness, and Genetics

Chapter Twelve

The Contributions and Limitations of Christian Perspectives to Understanding the Religious Implications of the Genetics Revolution
Audrey R. ChapmanChapter Thirteen
Interface of Science and Jurisprudence: Dissonant Gazes at the Body in Modern Muslim Ethics
Ebrahim Moosa

Chapter Fourteen

Neuroscience and Human Nature: A Christian Perspective
Nancey MurphyIndex
S. Nomanul Haq

As a fully differentiated arena of thought and scholarship with its own independent set of methodological principles, the field of Religion and Science is just beginning to claim its own territory. And so the leading authorities in the field, authorities who provide the point of departure for practically everyone else, are all living contemporary pioneers. Pioneers speak not as expounders, but as discoverers; they do not observe rules that are already established, they seek to promulgate rules; to them questions are not given as such, questions are formulated by them. The science-religion divide is particularly difficult to traverse, and the science-religion dialogue is a very complex and time-consuming enterprise writes Audrey Chapman in her thorough and critical survey of Christian responses to the whole array of ethical, religious, and philosophical questions arising out of the genetic revolution. These words, taken from her chapter included in this volume, announce a pioneering spirit; and they also show that the field of religion and science is still in the making.
When we planned theIslamabad conference, whose revised and select proceedings make up this volume, we had no models to follow. The idea was to ponder the science-religion question in a pluralistic religious perspective, in particular to include the Islamic perspective whose minimal presence in fact, practical absence in this discourse is ruefully noted by Audrey Chapman. As I see it, and I say this emphatically, this effective absence is not simply a matter of neglect or apathy or politics of hegemony; it is a profoundly significant phenomenon and deserves very serious attention. At the planning stage, then, it was not at all clear how we ought to apply to Islam the emerging methodological framework of the science-religion dialogue whose builders happen to be largely on the Christian theological side, people such as Ian Barbour, Arthur Peacocke, or Ted Peters, who is a co-editor of and contributor to this book. We decided that while issues arising from and within cosmology and biology would be our specific focus, the very question of methodology and the fundamental task of defining the very terms of discourse, would themselves be a central concern for reflection, investigation, and articulation and this burden, let us note, is the burden of the pioneer.

Mustansir Mir takes up this question directly in his chapter. His position is that there exists, indeed, a community of concerns between the Christian and Islamic perspectives on religion and science. But more, Mustansir Mir feels that even contemporary Christian theological methods can appropriately serve today’s Muslim thought; he singles out with approval Ted Peters notion of hypothetical consonance between theology and science, a consonance considered to hold the promise of benefitting both. In its essential form, he says, this method seems to be correct, though it remains for Muslim scholars to work out its details ... Evidently, Mustansir Mir is seeking to set the very terms of the Islamic discourse on religion and science, and this is precisely what Ted Peters undertook for a theistic discourse in his chapter, Science and Faith: From War to Consonance, cited by the former. Both of these chapters prepare new grounds for a new synthesis, and both appear in the first and the largest part of this volume dealing with philosophical, historical, and methodological issues.
Muzaffar Iqbal’s chapter, with which the first section appropriately begins, also speaks in the tone of a discoverer. On a wide canvass, the chapter carries out an extensive historical excursus into the whole question of the relationship between the Islamic scientific tradition and the post-Renaissance science of Latin Christendom. In the opinion of this co-editor of this volume, though these are not his words, there was a metaphysical rupture between science as it was created and pursued in the medieval Islamic world, and as it developed in a secularized mode in the modern West. This thesis brings to bear a large body of historical data, and yields far-reaching consequences for the contemporary science-religion dialogue in the perspective of Islam. It also functions as a cautionary backdrop to Mustansir Mirs position, since it seeks a reformulation of basic questions. In this context, Ibrahim Kalin’s very useful survey of what he considers three different views of science in the contemporary Islamic world serves to highlight the gaps between historical narratives and contemporary perceptions.
The learned chapter of Roshdi Rashed, an outstanding historian of Arabic science, and my own chapter, fall roughly into the same genre. We both undertake historical case studies, focusing on the same grand figure Ibn Sn (Lat. Avicenna), discovering a cross-fertilization between science and what were extra-scientific disciplines and concerns in medieval Islam. Rashed also speaks of a highly creative interplay within various branches of science pursued in the Islamic world, in particular between different branches of mathematics. But in this specific instance, he rigorously demonstrates a double movement between metaphysics and mathematics, a phenomenon embodied in the exchange between combinatorial analysis and ontological doctrines. The latter involved the question of the One and many, of God and his creation, of intellects and angels and so, we may legitimately say, here we have a case of science-religion linkage. And this is precisely what I explicitly say in my own chapter in which I speak about the fateful Islamic recasting of the Greek intellectual legacy: Historical evidence teaches once again that the very doctrinal framework of science ... is conceived not in isolation from the religious context, but within it ...
Sitting quite literally in the middle of the first part of this book is William Chittick’s “The Anthropocosmic Vision in Islamic Thought”. Chittick, who was the keynote speaker at theIslamabad conference, operates here exclusively in a philosophical-speculative framework. Borrowing the expression anthropocosmic vision from the historian of Chinese philosophy Tu Weiming of Harvard, Chittick says that with minor adjustments Tu Weiming’s depiction of the Confucian anthropocosmism could easily be employed to describe the overarching world-view of Islamic civilization in general and Islamic thought in particular. What is anthropocosmism Chittick explains that in contrast to Western dichotomies between reason and revelation, or between Athens and Jerusalem, anthropocosmism is a mode of thought that understands human beings and the cosmos as a single, organismic whole. Evidently, Chittick’s thesis implies a fundamental incompatibility between the foundations of Islamic scientific tradition and those of modern western science; and this reinforces Muzaffar Iqbals position, but as does that position it also opens up a host of messy questions.

The second and third parts of the book contain expert writings on specific questions in the science-religion discourse. The former opens with Ahmad Dallal’s Islamic Paradigms for the Relationship between Science and Religion, a work with impressive historical richness, carrying the pioneers onus of recasting the basic framework of the science-religion question in the Islamic tradition. We need a different approach to the study of this question, one that examines both the cultural environment, and the interaction among different cultural dynamics at work, he writes. Dallal points out the nuances within the Islamic religious milieu and argues cogently that we cannot, without glossing over historical complexities, identify a unified, traditional Islamic attitude toward science. This is a profoundly significant message that redefines the whole field of Islam and science.
Mehdi Golshani’s Creation in the Islamic Outlook and in Modern Cosmology is a Muslim physicists impassioned response to contemporary science. He juxtaposes modes of thought that are often considered incommensurable: juxtaposing in a comparative analysis the hard science of modern cosmology with mysticism, theology, and philosophy. The position is clear; I do not believe that science alone can ever settle the problem of the absolute beginning of the universe, he writes, we should explore our universe by science as much as we can, but we must avoid making claims about the absolute origination of the universe on physical grounds. In a complex manner, Golshani reinforces both Ted Peters position of science-religion consonance, as well as that of Stephen Jay Goulds idea of science having no concern with ultimate questions.
The problem of causality happens to be a central concern of kalam, a discipline usually referred to as Islamic theology; and it was also the grand question for David Hume, trickling down from him through the Vienna Circle to Karl Popper in the 20th century. Philip Clayton, a philosopher, takes up this question again and presents a new doctrine of causation in his The Impossible Possibility: Divine Causes in the World of Nature. Clayton explicates the physicists presupposition of causal closure, embodied in the principle of conservation of energy, and the grand principle of causal or physical determinism, pointing out that theism and physical determinism are incompatible. The problem of divine agency therefore stands on the center court for theists today, he says. He takes up this challenging problem by proposing in detail and meticulously a metaphysical revision of our existing theory of causation.
Mark Worthing deals with the theistic responses, in particular Christian and Islamic, to the models of an oscillating universe that arise out of contemporary Big Bang cosmologies. His chapter, in addition to its cosmological interest, is striking in that it speaks of possible contribution of the Islamic tradition to the Christian world-view in overcoming the difficulties encountered in incorporating the oscillating universe model into this world-view. This makes Mustansir Mirs flow move in the other direction from the Islamic to the Christian.
The final part of this collection entitled Life, Consciousness, and Genetics takes up issues arising at the science-religion junction in the large domain of biology. I have already spoken of Audrey Chapman’s chapter at the outset, a chapter that lies at the beginning of this third section. Ebrahim Moosa, whose chapter follows, gives a very crisp and erudite account of the contemporary relationship between scientific developments in biology and Islamic law. He demonstrates, and by means of actual case studies places before us in full view the absence of what he calls a common epistemic vocabulary between modern science and the inherited perceptions of the Muslim legal practice today. Ebrahim Moosa feels that the very viability of the Islamic legal system lies in the dynamic process of updating and reconstruction in view of the ever-shifting boundaries of scientific theories and ever-growing body of scientific discoveries.
The volume closes with Nancey Murphy’s Neuroscience and Human Nature: A Christian Perspective. Murphy addresses the perennial questions of the human person, soul, resurrection, and immortality, and gives a synoptic view of how these matters have been handled throughout Christian history. She also examines contemporary arguments against dualism, and finally speaks strongly in favor of what she calls nonreductive physicalism that is, to show that neurobiological determinism does not threaten our self-image as free and rational creatures. It is most interesting to note that Murphys’ concerns coincide with those of Clayton, but they look at the issue from two different angles the former speaks as a Christian philosopher about neuroscience, the latter as a logician and metaphysician; together, they function as mutual reinforcement.
Again, note that in a newly emerging independent discipline concerned with science, whose contours by definition shift constantly, scholars and thinkers carry the particularly heavy onus of pioneers, innovators, and trend-setters. Evidently, all contributors to this volume have undertaken this onus with uncompromising integrity.

July, 2001
S. Nomanul Haq
University of Pennsylvania

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