I visited Brighton, once. I took a pleasant stroll down along the beach, dipped my toe in the water, and I liked it! Therefore, my current physiological state is entirely compatible with swimming the English Channel, and how dare anyone criticize my lack of swimming practice and stamina and strength as somehow incompatible with being a successful English channel swimmer. Didn’t you see in my first sentence that I liked it?
That’s how I read Sana Saeed’s article in which she declares that Richard Dawkins is completely wrong about the incompatibility of science and religion. Her reasons are remarkably superficial and trivial, and she manages to kill her own case midway through. Here’s why she thinks they’re compatible:
I spent my childhood with my nose firmly placed between the pages of books on reptiles, dinosaurs, marine life and mammals. When I wasn’t busy wondering if I wanted to be more like Barbara Walters or Nancy Drew, I was busy digging holes in my parents’ backyard hoping to find lost bones of some great prehistoric mystery. I spent hours sifting through rocks that could possibly connect me to the past or, maybe, a hidden crystalline adventure inside. Potatoes were both apart of a delicious dinner and batteries for those ‘I got this’ moments; magnets repelling one another were a sorcery I needed to, somehow, defeat. The greatest teachers I ever had were Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
I also spent my childhood reciting verses from the Qur’an and a long prayer for everyone — in my family and the world — every night before going to bed. I spoke to my late grandfather, asking him to save me a spot in heaven. I went to the mosque and stepped on the shoes resting outside a prayer hall filled with worshippers. I tried fasting so I could be cool like my parents; played with prayer beads and always begged my mother to tell me more stories from the lives of the Abrahamic prophets.
That’s all very good — it’s a great start to have a childhood in which she was enthusiastic about science, and perhaps she could have even gone on to be a practicing scientist when she grew up (she didn’t) — and she could have even continued to be a practicing Muslim. There is nothing in her story that rebuts any claim of the incompatibility of science and religion.
But here’s where there is an incompatibility: she could do experiments with magnets and potatoes, but did she ever ask herself if those long prayers really worked? Did she ask her grandfather how he knew heaven existed, and would she have been content if he’d simply said it was a tenet of their religion? Did she ever examine those stories of the Abrahamic prophets and ask if they were really true?
No, she did not. She comes right out and says it: magnets and potatoes, sure, but there are some things you are not allowed to question.
In other words: There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and artic
lesof faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.
She’s so blinkered by her faith that she doesn’t even realize that setting boundaries on what you may question is completely antithetical to science, and that her religion compels her to accept counterfactual nonsense. The only way she can say religion is compatible with science is by imprisoning a broken science within the limited boundaries of what the patriarchs of her faith will allow.
You may not question god, angels, the Qu’ran, Mohammed, the existence of the afterlife, or God’s will, but hey, as long as you unquestioningly accept everything the antique holy book says about the nature of the universe, it’s totally compatible with science.
She gives an example of how Islam and science are compatible, but it’s enough to make one cry in despair.
Muslims, generally, accept evolution as a fundamental part of the natural process; they differ, however, on human evolution – specifically the idea that humans and apes share an ancestor in common.
Well, then, that means you don’t accept evolution. There is no good reason to single out humans as exceptional — the science says one thing, religion defies the evidence, and Saeed accepts the religion.
In the 13th century, Shi’i Persian polymath Nasir al-din al-Tusi discussed biological evolution in his book “Akhlaq-i-Nasri” (Nasirean Ethics). While al-Tusi’s theory of evolution differs from the one put forward by Charles Darwin 600 years later and the theory of evolution that we have today, he argued that the elemental source of all living things was one. From this single elemental source came four attributes of nature: water, air, soil and fire – all of which would evolve into different living species through hereditary variability. Hierarchy would emerge through differences in learning how to adapt and survive.
This is a “theory” that is not founded on evidence and experiment, propagates archaic ideas about the structure of the universe (water, air, soil, and fire are not the fundamental attributes of nature), contains erroneous statements about biology (al-Tusi endorsed a hierarchical ladder of life, and also set humans apart as a special case), and completely lacks the population thinking that was the core of Darwin’s insight. He was a smart fellow who did some brilliant things, but he was also a person of his times and his biological explanations were most definitely not comparable to what Darwin came up with 600 years later.
That Saeed thinks they are is just another sign of her ignorance.
Al-Tusi’s discussion on biological evolution and the relationship of synchronicity between animate and inanimate (how they emerge from the same source and work in tandem with one another) objects is stunning in its observational precision as well as its fusion with theistic considerations. Yet it is, at best, unacknowledged today in the Euro-centric conversation on religion and science. Why?
Because it was wrong? Because it did not lead to greater understanding of how biology works? Because it was all tangled up in ridiculous religious beliefs that you were not allowed to question?
I think Saeed understands her religion very well. But despite some early promise in childhood, it’s clear that she doesn’t understand science at all.