Islam and Science: Behisti and Bahonar’s Debate

Week 10. Write a review of the Behisti/Bahonar reading (10.5) that includes a summary of their argument and your evaluation of its efficacy. Also include comments about its broader potential significance.

The basic argument behind the essay is that there is no contradiction between science and religion. Of course they specifically frame the argument from the perspective of Islam which they attempt to present as a religion being very compatible with modern scientific theories, specifically the theory of evolution.  Their attempt to present all scientific discovery and development as being in line with God’s will is informed largely by rational deductions which are juxtaposed and analyzed with Quranic (and at times Biblical) references.

At the very onset the authors seem to be able to make a distinction between some living things as being created through the process of evolution and others as not, but even so both are ‘signs’ of God. (164)  But the Quranic references that are provided to fortify this argument are somewhat ambigious in that they talk about the  ‘signs’ of Allah but do not distinguish between such a discrepancy between living things and leave much to the readers interpretation. While they try to rationally correlate scientific knowledge with the theological debate they also seem to outline the limits of human agency within the debate by saying ‘human creativity does not mean the creation of new phenomenon or a norm’. For them such human activity can exist in the form of exploitation of material and energy available in nature already.(165) In the same way they place inherent limits on the power of science which can be seen as a phenomenon that is intrinsically and eternally subservient to God. Elsewhere they describe human history as somewhat being predestined and planned by God, leaving natural science to only corroborate with the ‘compulsions of history’.(504/B&B10.4)

They further place the rationally accepted timeline of evolution well within God’s domaing because for them it is a manifestation of ‘God’s will’ that  living beings comes into existence at a particular point in the phase of evolution. However within this natural progression of existence they allow for exceptions that could explain away any aberration which could jeopardize the stability of such argument. In this way they attempt to harmonize any conflict that could arise between theological precepts that uphold Adam to be ‘a creation as not evolved from previous living being’ and the theory of evolution which suggests human origins from primates. They also seem to be cognizant of the fact that this argument goes against the grain of theological norms and concerns in Islam as they assert that ‘When the Quran has such wide horizons, there is no reason why a Muslim who follows it, should be narrowminded’. (166)

What is differenent about Behisti and Bahonar’s argument is the stance that   but at times the way in which the authors articulate the argument by repetitive emphasis on the compatibility of rational theological thought make the entire exercise at times seems to be a little contrived. While there is some novelty in perceiving Adam’s creation or Isa’s birth as a ‘mutation’ or a supernatural event where ‘divine spirit was infused in a body of clay’ and which willed by God as the authors do (175) it does also seem like a  convenient explanation. By ascribing all inexplicable factors to unseen supernatural powers, they try to validate the theological points of view which does see the prophets as being specially privileged ones and which accept miracles as ‘signs of the power and wisdom of the creator’.  But obviously from the scientific perspective such creation is seen as an aberration. It is problematic also from the Quranic and also Biblical view point which sees all men as progeny of Adam.  In the authors argument this does not hold true for all mankind throughout history, but only for exceptions to the normative phenomenon. (174) However while the authors are dismissive of the textual basis of such belief they do not provide any meaningful explanation for the fact if Adam’s creation was an exception then whyd did human evolution follow a form that was so similar to that of the exceptional and specially priviliged beings.

It seems that at times the authors dwell on ambiguity and the inconclusive nature  of scientific  arguments to  make space for and present a case for religion. The authors take pains to repeatedly emphasise that ‘no decisions are ever conclusively or scientifically proven’ and that the ‘principles of evolution are still subject to further scientific critique and investigation’. (177) In a sense their argument concludes with the assumption that the present debate will remain inconclusive given that it is figuratively the dice is still in the air. Such a conclusion however makes the entire exercise seem a little futile given that the whole point of the argument here seems to be the reconciliation of science and religion. They do raise a pertinent point in such analysis that is, science really cannot explain everything and the inexplicable phenomenon leave a void in our understanding.

The potential significance of Behisti and Bahonar’s discussion is that it can unsettle scientific theory by proving it as inconclusive and arbitary on the one hand and neutralize  all contentious discrepancies within and between religion which they insist can be explained away as anomalies and exceptions. By doing so the authors make a somewhat notable contribution to the argument by creating a middle ground, however obtrusive, that can allow for further debate to take place outside the binary and opposing conception of religion and science.

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