Introduction to Islam and Science 1/5

Bruno Guiderdoni

Bruno Guiderdoni

Let me start by uttering the traditional formula “In the Name of God the Compassionate the All-Merciful”. With this sentence, Muslims begin all the ritual actions of their lives, as well as the actions of their everyday lives that get the value of ritual actions. This formula opens every chapter, or sura, of the Holy Koran, the sacred book of Islam, as a key for the reading of the text, and for subsequent action inspired from this reading. The whole revelation of the Koran comes from God the One, through His names of love and mercy.

It sounds quite simple indeed. Unfortunately, one must admit that what actually happens is far from these principles. Of course, everybody would agree that there is a gap between principles and realities, between what religion should be and what the members of this religion make of it, between the realm of spiritual tenets and the vicissitudes of history.

But is there a specific issue with Islam? Many voices are heard that put the Islamic faith on trial. It is a fact that, in contrast with other cultural zones, the Islamic world seems to participate very little in the scientific pursuit of today, and to be struck by recurrent social and political disorders. Several authors have attributed these two facts to the same cause: the presumed inability of the Islamic faith to establish a sound relationship with the practice of reason, and consequently to enforce reasonable behaviours in societies. Islam is blamed for the following crime: it seemingly includes in its very principles the germs of its own, violent deviation.

Here comes the point I would like to address, with your permission, in this lecture, from the specific viewpoint of a Western Muslim, who happens to be a professional scientist. Does Islam, because of its very principles, face an insuperable difficulty with the methods and results of science? Has it a specific problem with the practice of reason that would entail the impossibility for Muslims to adopt reasonable behaviours in modern societies? In a single sentence, is it possible to be a coherent Muslim and to participate constructively in the endeavours of our common world, and, first of all, in science? I would like to hereafter argue that, although ignorance, hate and violence unfortunately exist in the Islamic world, the spiritual tenets and intellectual resources of the Islamic faith actually prompt Muslims to search for knowledge, love and peace.

My lecture will be divided into three parts: First I will summarize the basic principles of the Islamic faith that appear relevant to understanding the nature of knowledge in the Islamic perspective. Second, I will briefly review a few historical and contemporary positions about the relation between faith and reason, and between religion and science. Third, I will try to defend a viewpoint in which faith although it does not say anything about the specific content of science, offers a broad metaphysical background that helps me, as a scientist, find purpose and meaning in its discoveries. Finally, I will conclude by a new examination of the above-mentioned issue: the organization of societies and the dialogue of faiths and cultures. It turns out that this metaphysical background also helps us find purpose and meaning in the diversity of faiths, as well as it gives us guidelines for a peaceful coexistence in this world.

By Bruno Guiderdoni.