For millenia, science was a means to understand the workings of God’s creation. From the initial study of the cosmos for calendar-making and navigation, science has worked in concert with spirituality. This remained true from the earliest civilizations to the modern era. For Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein and even Charles Darwin, science exposed the mysteries of God’s creation. Even when the dramatic shifts in our view of the universe occurred in the early 20th century, when quantum mechanics was formulated, God was part of the discussion. Einstein said he ‘refused to believe that God plays dice with the universe’, to which Heisenberg replied ‘Who are you to tell God what he can do?’ Heisenberg’s response was not to dismiss the very notion of God or ridicule Einstein as a creationist, but rather he provoked us to avoid limiting God to our own feeble assumptions.
Spiritual and intellectual pursuits were still united into an interwoven fabric. But in the last century, a rift between the scientific and religious communities has gradually torn that fabric. A majority of scientists, perhaps for the first time in history, claim to be atheists or agnostics. In fact, there is an outright hostility toward faith that is often apparent in academic circles. Those who discuss God and science together are usually dismissed as ‘creationists’, and creationism is deemed mutually exclusive with science.
A few years ago, a movement to discuss the role of God in creation called ‘Intelligent Design’ was met with hostility and ridicule. Most criticisms were reactive rather than substantive, reflecting a dogmatic repudiation of the very idea of a supreme being. The movement has since died down, its proponents relegated to the fringes of mainstream scientific thought.
This perceived mutual exclusion between faith and science has taken a heavy toll on religious devotion. Young truth-seekers are forced to choose between their minds and their hearts, a tragic and false dichotomy. Devotees to Christianity are shrinking in number. Muslims are increasing, but sadly the gulf between science and Islam is often perceived to be even wider than with Christianity. The nature of Islamic devotion is often dogmatic rather than rational, an approach antithetical to its founding spirit. Scientific pursuit in the Muslim world is lagging far behind the rest of the world, even in wealthy nations. In 2013, Harvard University published more academic papers than 17 Arab nations combined.
This is truly heartbreaking, because there was no case in history where the birth of a religion has so dramatically re-ignited science than the advent of Islam. Within the Qur’an itself, God repeatedly calls on man to study and reflect on His creation. This reflection is a central theme of the Qur’an and a cornerstone of spiritual elevation in Islamic theology. The Qur’an even commands followers to travel through the earth searching for clues to the initial causes of creation. Strikingly, this call to initiate expeditions for purely scientific purposes seems out of place and time in a mostly illiterate Arabia in 600 AD.
Upon the birth of Islam, its call to scientific pursuit was heeded by the burgeoning Muslim community and the next few centuries saw a dramatic rebirth of scientific inquiry, gathering the fruits of earlier civilizations together in Baghdad and taking all the known fields to new heights. A new level of scientific rigor took shape, culminating in the codification of the scientific method itself by Hasan Ibn Haytham, the pioneer of optical physics.
Our decline from that Golden Age to our present quagmire is a long and bitter story. Many have likened the current morass of the Muslim world to the dark ages in Europe before its renaissance. Unfortunately, a few unscrupulous opportunists use the distress in the Muslim world to motivate negative and counter-productive outbursts of rage. This only serves to plunge us deeper into darkness.
What is needed rather is to rekindle the progressive, open-minded spirit of intellectual query that once flourished in Islamic society. This means to go back to that original call in Islam to study and reflect on the universe. We must look at the revelation and reality with fresh and hopeful eyes, seeing them as interwoven sources of truth, a perspective that is both genuinely Islamic and modern. The Divine Discovery Institute is founded to explore this perspective so that we can become closer to our Creator through His creation.
The universe is an ocean of miracles, teeming with signs pointing to its Creator and life lessons for those who dare to peer beneath the surface. The Divine Discovery Institute seeks to expose the meaning beneath the surface of reality, to breathe life into the cold heartless world of science as it has become, to find synergy between science and faith rather than conflict. It seeks to help every truth seeker to experience the peace and wholeness found in the unity of heart and mind.
Join us on this journey.