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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Religion and science: Two sides of the same coin? (part one)

Mohammad Jamal Ahmed explores the relationship between religion and science. He discusses how both have similar views on important concepts like the origins of the universe, distance, and time.

Religion and science have often been portrayed as two warring factions, two opposite ends of a spectrum which can never be reconciled. But is that really the case? Well, when one delves into the study of both, we can realize that they are both in essence two different windows that look upon the same world.

Science is the study of the process by which things operate, function, and come to be. It merely tackles the natural processes of the world. Whereas religion is not meant to take on the scientific processes of the world, it deals with the spiritual element and the meaning and purpose of human beings, on an individual and a societal level.

Read more: Islam and science: the truth about this unexplored relationship

Holding on to just one of the two outlooks dogmatically gives a very narrow-minded approach to the reality of this world. This can be best explained by the saying of the renowned physicist, Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is stupid.” Let’s have a look at how religion, in this case, Islam, is compatible with science.

Origins of the universe

One of the biggest mysteries of this universe and a widely debated topic in the scientific, as well as the religious community, is the origin of the universe. The Quran unveils this mystery in chapter 21, verse 30 saying, “Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity all sewn up, then We clove them asunder…” and in chapter 51, verse 47, “And We have built the heaven with Our own hands, and verily We go on expanding it.”

These verses revealed in the 7th century were at odds with the notion that the earth is the center of the universe refuted by Copernicus in the 15th century. Then they were at odds with the static infinite universe theory presented by Thomas Digges in the 16th century. For centuries, these verses would have been deemed as unscientific and conjecture. But what does science say now?

Read more: Remembering Muhammad Pickthall: Quran’s first credible English Translator

Just over 100 years ago, the scientific community including the most notable scientists like Einstein believed the universe to be static – it always was and always will be. The matter was put to rest when Edwin Hubble’s meticulous research bore fruit in 1929 as he proved that all the celestial objects were moving apart from one another.

The cosmologists, for the very first time, by observing the redshift, could see the universe expanding. These findings inspired the Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre in 1931, to theorize that the universe began from a single primordial atom – the big bang theory.

As more and more evidence supported this theory, it has now become a widely acclaimed premise for understanding the origin of the universe. The scientific community which mocked such verses for centuries has only ended up proving them to be true.

Read more: New map of universe shows 300,000 more galaxies

The phenomena of time

Often a time, when reading the Quran, one will come across certain phenomena that are deemed to be mystical or magical; that they may have no root in the scientific world. Take the quality of the omniscience of God. In chapter 49, verse 16, the Quran says, “…Allah knows all that is in the heavens and the earth. Allah has full knowledge of everything.“

This verse implies that the knowledge of Allah is not restricted by the dimension of time, rather it is outside of time, meaning His knowledge transcends the aspects of past, present, and future. Uncanny, I know. But what does science say about this?

This is where Einstein’s theory of relativity comes into play. If we look at the facet of velocity and time, the theory states that the faster the object travels, the more lag in time one will have. This is best exemplified by the superhero Flash. As he runs, his surroundings begin to slow down.

Read more: Would Einstein be considered ‘Einstein’ today?

Now, a fascinating experiment, by Hafele and Keating in 1971, was conducted to illustrate this. They took cesium beam atomic clocks, which are highly accurate clocks, and they synchronized them. They kept one on the ground and one on a commercial airliner. The result? The clocks were no longer synchronized but were off by mere nanoseconds. Which one was slower? You guessed it, the one on the airplane.

Now, if we expand this idea to the universal speed limit, which is the speed of light, the fastest thing in the universe, we see that it travels so fast that time actually ceases to exist. Time remains no longer a factor.

If modern science tells us that light can transcend the dimension of time, then we should no longer be surprised that God may also transcend the dimension of time.

Read more: Why religion is a widely misunderstood doctrine

Connections despite distances

In Islam, the omnipresence of God is described in the manner that although Allah is above the heavens and the earth, He is All-Seeing and All-Aware of His creation and not disconnected from them in any way.

Allah says in Chapter 50, verse 16, “…We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” and in chapter 58, verse 7, “…There is no private conversation [amongst] three but that He is the fourth of them, nor are there five but that He is the sixth of them – and no less than that and no more except that He is with them [in knowledge] wherever they are…”

How is it that God separated by some distance is able to interact with his creation expeditiously?

Read more: Aristotle’s God is not different from that of Islam or Christianity

This concept is not unprecedented in the scientific community. In 1935, Einstein with his associates Podolsky and Rosen introduced this captivating idea about Entanglement. It states, that say you have two particles, may it be protons or electrons, and if they are “entangled” or connected, then a change in one will have a change on another instantaneously irrespective of the distance.

In 2012, in the journal of nature, it reached its pinnacle where two entities were separated by 143km and they were still interacting with each other in an instantaneous manner. The distance was no longer a relevant factor. Now, if modern science tells us that particles can interact over considerable distances, then we shouldn’t be as surprised when we hear God can interact with His creation over variable distances.

Read more: The science of memories: Can they be predicted?

The final picture

You see, science and religion are actually quite integrated, and it is only when we incorporate the two in our perspective and look upon the world in a holistic manner, will we really understand the full picture of reality.

In short, if I were to ask you, “Why is the water boiling?” You might say, “When heat transfers to the molecules of water, they start to move rapidly. Soon the molecules start to break apart because of the excessive energy. When the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the atmospheric pressure exerted on it, gaseous molecules of water vapor start to form. They then float to the surface as bubbles and are released into the air. This is why the water is boiling.”

And I say, “No. It’s because I wanted to have chai.” Which answer is true?

The writer is a University of London graduate and a freelance writer. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.