Christian Perspectives on Religion and Science and their Significance for Modern Muslim Thought
Many Muslims believe that the historical conflict between religion and science was a conflict between a particular religion - Christianity - and science, and that while it is too bad that Christianity emerged from the engagement badly bruised, Islam need have no fears o f any such clash.2 The conclusion drawn about Islam requires comment. The modern scientific outlook, which is born o f a secular and materialistic worldview and in turn reinforces that worldview, constitutes a challenge to all those philosophies of life that take a supreme being, like the God of theistic religions, as their basic reference point in life, thought, and
conduct. Islam is one such religion.3 As such, it is a target o f the socalled scientific - or rather, scientistic - critique, the fundamental assumption of which is that the physical world, which is in principle amenable to observation and quantification, is the ne plus ultra of human inquiry and concern. Islam differs with a crucial aspect o f this assumption. Islam does grant that the physical world as we know it has order, stability, and integrity, implying that it is, consequently, observable and quantifiable. Thus, the Qur’an refers to the world’s order, stability, and integrity when it says, wa-huwa'l-ladhi JFs-samdH ilahun wa-ffl-ardi ilahun (43:84), “And He is the One who is deity in the heavens and deity in the earth” .4 However, the Qur’an also calls the world an aya, “ sign” - or rather, ayat, a series or multiplicity o f “signs” . By definition, a “sign” points beyond itself to something else to which it bears the same relationship as that o f a means to an end. The sign itself, therefore, cannot be an end in itself; there is, about it, a certain inconclusiveness that calls for conclusion, a certain incompleteness that calls for completion. This conclusion or completion must be sought outside the sign itself. Qur’anic verses - such as 2:164 - which refer to the world as containing so many signs, maintain that God, known as One and as possessing certain attributes, is the supreme reality to which the signs o f the universe point. Thus God, rather than the physical world, is the ne plus ultra - not only of human inquiry and concern, but also o f human devotion and worship; according to the Qur’an, recognition of God as the supreme reality not only alters our theoretical understanding o f the physical world, but it also draws from us a certain kind o f practical response or commitment. The Qur’anic invitation to human beings to reflect on the universe and the signs it contains demands, as its logical end, sajda and Hbada - fa's-judu Wl-lahi wa-cbudu (53:62), “Prostrate yourself before God and worship Him”.