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Saturday, April 13, 2024

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

Religion and science are often at odds with each other, however, Mohammad Jamal Ahmed thinks the divergent paths of religion and science both lead towards the same destination i.e the glory of God.

Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most eminent mathematicians and an influential scientist, once wrote in his essay, Scholium Generale, in 1687,” The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

Sadly, over time, we have abandoned such a point of view. The rigid dichotomy of religion and science has imposed upon us a parochial view of reality. However, a deep reflection upon the seemingly antagonistic topics shows how integrated religion, in this case, Islam and science really are.

The Holy Quran in Surah Yaseen verse number 38 states,” And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term (appointed). That is the Decree of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing” and in verse 40,” It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, but each, in an orbit, is swimming.” In the 7th century AD, the Quran proposed a radical notion that not only is the sun not a static entity, but all planetary objects are moving in an orbit.

Read more: Solar Orbiter launches on mission to reveal Sun’s secrets

Considering that, in the scientific community, since the 4th century BC, humanity believed in a geocentric model. According to ancient astronomers like Aristotle and Ptolemy, it was believed that the earth is at the center of the universe with other celestial objects orbiting around it.

This remained the dominant point of view till the 16th Century; when Nicolaus Copernicus challenged this notion with the revolutionary theory of the heliocentric model in his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) in 1543.

Even then, it was not until a century later, when in 1610, Galileo using far advanced telescopes discovered the orbits of satellites around Jupiter that the idea began to gain support. For his heresy in claiming that celestial objects do not in fact orbit around the earth, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Roman Catholic Church.

Read more: Chile investigating 158 in Catholic Church over sex abuse

Later on, when Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton discovered the basic physical laws regulating these orbits, this notion sent shockwaves in the scientific community. However, it was not until Minkowski formulated space and time as a single entity, rather than separate ones, leading to Einstein’s theory of relativity in the 20th century, that it finally became a widely accepted theory. After more than 2000 years, the heliocentric model revised with the idea of the expanding universe had finally emerged as the winner.

Quran poetically describing celestial objects

To describe the floating of celestial objects in orbits in verse 40, the Quran uses the words “يَسْبَحُونَ فَلَكٍ فِي وَكُلٌّ”. Here the very first letter ‘wa’ acts as a prefixed conjunction, meaning ‘and’. The term following it “Kullu fi falakin” means “all in an orbit”.

Now the beautiful aspect here is that this term is a palindrome. The first and the last letter is “kaaf”, the second and second last letter is “laam”, the third and third last letter is “fay”, and they all are orbiting around the central letter “yay”, which happens to be the first letter of the next word “yasbahoon”, meaning swimming or floating. Not only does the Holy Quran shed light on this comprehensive scientific discovery much early on, but it also does so in a poetic manner.

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

In the same vein, the Holy Quran in chapter 7 verse 54 states,” Indeed, your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and earth in six days…” and in chapter 41 verse 9,” Say: Do you indeed disbelieve in He who created the earth in two days and attribute to Him equals? That is the Lord of the worlds.”

On the surface, it looks like it defies logic as it mentions days and we know the universe was created billions of years ago. However, with just a little reflection on the words, we can deduce that this is not the case. The word used for days here is the Arabic word “yaum”. At one point in the Quran it has been equated with 50,000 years (70:4) and at another point with 1000 years (22:47).

Thus, it is understood that the word “yaum” refers to a period of time, an era, rather than the 24-hour day that we are accustomed to. Although the length of the period is not defined in the verses related to the earth and the universe, it does give us a very important clue. Since the age of the universe is mentioned as 6 days or 6 periods of time, and the earth as 2 days or 2 periods of time, then their ratio must equal 3. For 6 divided by 2 equals 3.

Read more: Why religion is a widely misunderstood doctrine

The glory of God

Thankfully, we are born in a time of unprecedented progress. Our technological advancements know no bounds; hence, we are aware of cosmological truths that were not available since the dawn of humanity. For centuries, humans believed that the earth was as old as we are. Later in the 17th century, Archbishop James Ussher declared the earth was created in 4004 BC.

However, these claims didn’t hold up in face of scientific scrutiny. From ocean salinity to the average rate of sedimentation, several processes were experimented with to find the age of the earth. The breakthrough came with the advent of radiometric dating in 1905. By 1913, “The age of the earth”, published by the geologist Arthur Holmes, was the first major method using radioactive dating revealing the earth to be 1.6 billion years old.

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

However, it was the radiometric analysis of the Canyon Diablo meteorite, that the scientists were able to conclude the best age of our planet so far – 4.54 billion years, give or take 70 million years, according to the U.S Geological Survey. Similarly, by studying the oldest stars in the universe and by assessing its rate of expansion and extrapolating it back to the big bang, scientists have concluded the age of the universe to be 13.77 billion years, give or take 40 million years.

Now if we were to divide 13.77 by 4.54, intriguingly we get 3.03. That is bizarrely close to the number 3.

Religion has often been considered an impediment to scientific progress. Humans have constantly used religion as a tool to oppress people and assert their control over the masses rather than cultivating it as a focal point of intellectual curiosity. Hence, it has often remained at odds with the scientific community. In reality, however, the divergent paths both lead towards the same destination – the glory of God.

Read more: Religious extremism : Pakistan’s deadly disease?

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.