Religion and Reason
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Advanced study has shown that there is more to life than meets the eye; all the great realities of life lie beyond our comprehension.
In ancient times, water was just water. Then with the 19th century came the invention of the microscope. When water was placed under it, the startling discovery was made that it contained countless live bacteria. Similarly, the stars that could be seen with the naked eye were supposed to be all the heavenly bodies that existed. Now the skies have been scanned with powerful telescopes and information has been sent back from space probes, with the result that the true immensity of the universe is at last being understood.
These two examples show the difference in thinking in ancient and modern times which has been brought about by modern technology. Other types of research in different fields have shown with certainty that there are many more realities than had ever been imagined by man when he was limited to the sphere of simple, unaided observation. But these new discoveries so excited the discoverers that they felt justified in claiming that reality was definable as that which could be directly observed, and that what we could not experience or observe was mere hypothesis and did not, therefore, exist.
In the nineteenth century, this claim, made with great enthusiasm, was most damaging to religion. The fact that religious creeds are based on a belief in the unseen, that their truths are neither observable nor demonstrable led many people to the conclusion that religious dogma was hypothetical and, therefore, untrue.
Twentieth century research, however, has completely reversed this position, advanced study having shown that there is certainly more to life than meets the eye: in fact, all the great realities of life lie beyond our comprehension.
According to Bertrand Russell there are two forms of knowledge: knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. Only things can be directly observed: truths can only be understood by indirect observation. Or in other words, inference. The existence of light, gravity, magnetism and nuclear energy in the universe is an undisputed fact, but man cannot directly observe these things. He knows them only by their effects. Man discovers certain things, from which he infers the existence of truths.
This change in the concept of knowledge which occurred in the twentieth century changed the whole situation so radically, that man was forced to accept the existence of things which he could not directly see, but only indirectly experience. With this intellectual revolution the difference between seen and unseen reality disappeared. Invisible objects became as important as visible objects. Man was compelled to accept that indirect, or inferential argument, was academically as sound as direct argument.
In our own times, divine reasoning has become truly scientific. For instance, the greatest argument for religion is what philosophers call the argument from design. Nineteenth century scholars, in their zeal, did not accept this reasoning. To them it was an inferential argument and not therefore, academically tenable. But in the present age, this objection has been invalidated. Nowadays man is compelled to infer the existence of a designer of the universe from the existence of a design in the universe, just as he accepts the theory of the flow of electrons from the movement of a wheel.
A statement made by Bertrand Russell throws some light on this matter. In the preface to his book, Why I am not a Christian, he writes:I think all the great religions of the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Communism - both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they disagree, not more than one of them can be true. With very few exceptions, the religion, which a man accepts, is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of environment is what has led him to accept the religion in question. It is true that Scholastics invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one argument that is not purely logical. I mean the argument from design.
This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin; and, in any case, could only be made logically acceptable at the cost of abandoning God’s omnipotence.
Arguing the existence of a designer from design is, as Russell admits, a scientific argument in itself. It is the very argument which science itself uses to prove anything. Russell then proceeds to reject this argument by citing Darwin’s theory of evolution. This rejection would be acceptable only if Darwin’s theory had itself been scientifically established. But scientific research has proved Darwinism to be mere hypothesis, rather than established scientific fact. It is Russell’s first statement, therefore, concerning the validity of the argument from design, that must prevail. His rejection of that argument on the basis of Darwinism is groundless.
All scientific theories are hypotheses - there is no such thing as an "established scientific fact". The Theory of Gravity is still an hypothesis. Being an hypothesis does not mean "therefore untrue". All theories are hypotheses, which remain the current working hypothesis until a better one comes along.
Intelligent design has not been proved scientifically to better explain the known data than the Theory of Evolution (which is somewhat more advanced than it was when Darwin proposed it, due to the collecting of further experimental data); in truth, there are many areas in which the Theory of Intelligent Design fails to explain the known data (the mammal eye? the fiendishly dangerous human birthing process? the appendix? postnatal psychosis? No intelligent being would knowingly create such flawed designs ...)
It is for this reason, failure to offer a better explanation of the experimental data, and this reason alone, that biologists treat the Theory of Evolution as their current working hypothesis rather than switching to Theory of Intelligent Design.
Just want to point out in conjunction with this--that the theory of evolution and belief in God are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Other than that, very well stated!
Human teeth. Cause nothing but trouble from babyhood onwards.
My back is killing me
No one actually thinks the "Theory of ID" is true or accurate. It is a last ditch attempt by the literalists to salvage a few shreds of their proven-false belief. Scary actually.
"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
The 'arguments' presented here are very flimsy and are based on a misunderstanding of the nature of scientific or objective knowledge. The philosophy of science has moved on considerably since Bertrand Russell. Let me know if you would like to read more.
I would like to hear more about the "nature of scientific or objective knowledge."
How is the revision going?
You could start with Thomas Kuhn - a pretty good overview.
When I have a little time (rare at the moment), I am trying to work through Feyerabend's 'Against Method'
He famously wrote 'Aristotle' on the blackboard, in three foot high letters, and then wrote 'Popper' in tiny letters underneath. I suspect that you will like Feyerabend
Edit: Put in the correct link!
Hi Sufi -
Personally, I think Thomas Kuhn adds a psychological and political layer on top of Popper's seminal work. It's valuable, but I think it's better to read Popper first, for a vision of the ideal epistemology. Approaching it first through Kuhn can be confusing. It's a bit like trying to bowl googlies before mastering line and length.
I am probably a little biased against Popper (unfairly!) - I think that we are going to back to one of the points that you brought up on one of my Hubs. Science is a very broad term, covering many different fields, all of which use different methods and customs. Developing a 'One-size-fits-all' methodology is very difficult. In the same way, 'religion' is a very vague term.
My dissertation supervisor was a fisheries science specialist and was a big fan of Feyerabend - I have been meaning to read his work for many years. Fisheries science cannot follow strict falsification - it is too unpredictable for the scientific method, and there is always a lot of personal interpretation involved.
I agree with part of your comment (the part where you say "unfairly"!). Popper's methodology was introduced in a strict form to apply to the physical sciences. The reason is that this is a clear-cut argument which gets the point across. But he makes plenty of space for probability and for statistics, and also for proto or pre sciences where the measurement methods are either not well developed or in some cases understood but wholly impractical. So even where you cannot follow strict falsification, you can still aim to approach it, rather than throw up your hands and say my science is a special case.
Agree with a lot of that - I made sure that I stated 'unfairly,' because generalising the beliefs of one scientific discipline to criticise all of Popper's philosophy would be very weak reasoning. For example, I also studied oceanography, and my dissertation involved biochemistry. In those disciplines, the principle of falsification provides a fine framework for research. The problem is with the demarcation of science - if fisheries is classed as 'scientific', then so are anthropology and economics, both lying firmly in the 'fuzzy area'. In fact, the methods used for archaeological research are probably closer to Popperian philosophy than many biological disciplines.
I would hesitate to call any of these a proto-science, because they are unlikely to ever be 'truly' scientific. For psychology, proto is a fair term, because that field constantly strives to prove itself as a true science, especially after the damage caused by Freud. I believe that quasi-science is a fairer term for some fields - many scientists working on the fringes of the demarcation line long since gave up on falsification. Not so much a case of throwing their hands up in the air, but realising that the pursuit is a fruitless 'blind alley,' and a waste of resources.
I suspect that a discussion between a physicist and a biologist will always revolve around Popper! One thing that we can certainly agree on, however, is that the original post is about 60 years behind the times.
OK. But rather than write a long forum post which would repeat a lot of what I've written previously, please could I refer you to this hub http://hubpages.com/hub/Freedom-from-Belief in which I outline the development of the Philosophy of Science up to the point where Falsification became widely accepted, along with the Criterion of Demarcation between what is and what is not scientific.
How about them 9ers? (You know, the San Fran. FB team the Forty-niners)
Don't report me please... I just couldn't resist. Deep, deep, deep conversation I see. in which I have no comment.
Although, should've this been a hubpage? Thanks everyone and have a good day.
Hi Julie - Go 9ers!
Always swung towards the Minnesota Vikings, myself
Edit: Probably would have been a good Hub, but too late now!
I thought it would have made a great hub too.
GO PACKERS! teasing. Julie
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