Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Islamic Science or Pseudo Science?

Oleh: Andiyansyah

It is important to note that the shining Islamic civilization in the past did not stand alone. It was the result of dynamic interaction with other civilizations such as Greek, Egypt, Persia, and India. Muslim scientists used to hold dialog with and learn from other civilizations. The image of open minded, tolerant and pluralist dominated the character of Muslim scientists in that time.

A unique tendency used to emerge from the religious fundamentalist perspective. Muslim fundamentalists for instance, keenly campaign about the syâmil-mutakâmil (complete and comprehensive) Islam. They like to show off that various scientific discoveries of the western scientist had referred to the Islamic history. We often hear that several scientific field such as astronomy, chemistry, physic, geography, and history has been associated with Medieval Muslim scientist such as al-Biruni, al-Kindi, Ibnu Khaldun, Ibnu Sina and others.

This attitude is asserting one thing: that the development of western science and knowledge totally depends or just a continuation of the shining Islamic civilization. In other word, western civilization’s progress owed upon Islam in the past. It is true that once west owed upon Islam and that Islamic civilization once was superior in science and knowledge because of Muslim scholar’s discoveries. But, the fundamentalists did not realize that western’s progress is not a mere duplication. It is accumulation of the never ending process of discovery and development.

Another tendency is claiming that the right/true science is the one derived from Quran, or at least compatible with Quran. This claim rejects secularization of knowledge. In other word, the right science is not ”in opposition to” the revelation. Therefore, they published books on relation between science and Quran or hadith. These are genealogist books which attempt to find the origin of knowledge among Muslim scientist.

Interaction of Civilizations

It is important to note that the shining Islamic civilization in the past did not stand alone. It was the result of dynamic interaction with other civilizations such as Greek, Egypt, Persia, and India. Muslim scientists used to hold dialog with and learn from other civilizations. The image of openness, tolerance and pluralist was dominant in the character of Muslim scientist. This is the opposite of fundamentalists who want to develop Islam by reclusion and confrontation.

We hardly ever find any piece among classic Muslim scientist’s literatures that attack other civilizations and regard Islam superior than them. In Hasan Hanafi’s perspective, the matter of anâ (ego) and al-âkhar (the other) was not an important division in knowledge. The most dominant feature in that time was the spirit of ecumenism and unity. Figures such as al-Farabi and Ibnu Sina attempted to bring great prophets close to the Greek philosophers.

Another anomaly from the fundamentalists’ thinking is that they only respect Muslim scientists’ scientific discovery, and ”demonize” their religious aspect. They often address the charge of mislead, heterodox and syncretic toward those Muslim philosophers and scientist. This is a weird contradiction. On one hand, they want to claim that the West has developed because of Islam. But when they find out that Islamic development is the achievement of the ”liberal” and inclusive philosophers, they withdraw their credit hastily and asserted that those philosophers were misled and deviated from the Islamic orthodoxy.

Afterward, they raised a new idea to answer this contradiction: it is that Quran is the source of knowledge developed by those Muslim scientists. They proposed various arguments to affirm that Quran had talked about astronomy, pharmacy, geography, physic and so on.

Those Islamic-Pseudo-science-apologists (that how I called them), attempted to dig up every aspect of Quran which they claimed contained of practical and theoretical element of knowledge. They forget that the scientific logic does not run as they think. Scientific logic is not a line of facts which is stagnant and valid for all times. Science lives and develops from the never ending accumulation, revision, criticism, and reformation.

I am with Luthfi Assyaukanie in this matter: it is very dangerous to see Quran as the encyclopedia of knowledge, since nothing is eternal in knowledge. On one occasion, a theory might be considered valid and compatible, but next time it might be criticized and substituted by another theory. If Quran is treated so, there might be clash between religious leaders and scientists such as in the age of renaissance.

I’m worried observing Harun Yahya’s works that ambitiously demonstrate the ”scientific” Islam. The Quranic verses were ”matched and adjusted” with natural and historical phenomenon. This scientific description is not as objective as the pure science. There is an ideological interest here: it is to show that science is compatible with the Islamic ”truth” and vice versa. Yahya attacked Darwin about creationism which regarded against Quran.

Such works started from the apologia spirit and almost have similar pattern. First, referring the scientific facts to the normative Islamic source: namely Quran and Hadith. Second, selecting facts which are compatible and not with Quran and hadith. Third, using the compatible facts to justify the Islamic truth as a pro-knowledge religion. Fourth, regarding things which are incompatible with Quran as wrong and setting up their antithesis.

Science and Pseudo-science

Indeed, these works were better to be called as pseudo scientific works rather than scientific ones. Once, I read a ridiculous pseudo scientific works of a Saudian ulema saying that earth is the central of universe.  This premise started from Quranic verse about the movement of celestial objects such as moon and sun. It is definitely dangerous to involve religion within scientific speculation.

We may believe that Islam is a pro knowledge religion. But we must not ” match and adjust” verses which are compatible with certain scientific facts. The right attitude is opening the reasoning widely to pursue knowledge from any sources. We must not differentiate technical and social knowledge.

I agree with separation between religion and science. This is important to uphold secularization and it is important for religion. Science talks about facts, both social and natural one. In this case, scientific verification is applied to prove which one is right or wrong. The religious task is apart from that. It does not involve scientific facts. Religion, as Ulil Abshar Abdalla said, does matter with meaning. The role of religion is giving the meaning into one’s life.

Therefore we must not be ambitiously searching compatibility between Quran and scientific facts. Because whenever clash between science and religion occur, we can remain following science and upholding religion. The right religion did not talk about scientific accuracy, but the real meaning to live a life.

Andriyansyah is student of Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies Ma’had Al-Imarat, Bandung, coordinator of discussion group Progressive Moslem Society (PMC), Bandung.

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