Scholars Discuss Religion and Science in Lyon

The Religion and Science Working Group, which is part of the Islamic Analytic Theology Initiative, held its first meeting at the Lyon Observatory in France on 7-8 June 2014. The meeting was organised by Kalam Research and Media in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation and the Lyon Observatory in France. Dr Bruno Guiderdoni, director of the Lyon Observatory, hosted the working group for the two full days and also participated in the sessions.  A variety of papers were presented at working group, each followed with robust discussion on the critical issues affecting the relationship between religion and science.

Dr Khalil Chamcham (Oxford University) presented that the contemporary “religion and science” discourse is an Anglo-American discourse rooted in Christianity. The challenge for Muslims is to first construct their own Muslim metaphysics and to then study this well-established discourse in light of these metaphysics, identifying which of the discourse’s elements are based on Christian metaphysical commitments and which are consistent with our own metaphysics, benefiting from these elements within the discourse, and then creatively inserting our own Islamic contributions. The challenges are: (1) to have an Islamic engagement with current discourse in which disciplines like cosmology are pushing the scientific method to its limits, not out-of-date discourses like that of Popper; (2) to have an engagement that is cognizant of the complexity and multi-disciplinary nature of contemporary science; and (3) to have an engagement that is both honest and sophisticated in terms of its Islamic underpinnings, not one that simply insists on clinging to the past.

Dr Rusmir Mahmutcehajic (International Forum Bosnia) presented that the contemporary “religion and science” discourse is a problem that has surfaced as a result of modern departures from traditional mores, that the very concepts of “religion” and “science” place artificial boundaries and are reductionist, and that a better way to engage the debate would be in terms of a God-centered ontology that transcends both religion and science. He also emphasized the importance of giving dignity to local traditions and of allowing a variety of responses to the debate that are context-specific and that arise from conversations within local communities.

Dr Basil Altaie (Yarmouk University, Irbid) presented on the historical evolution of the kalam tradition, the variety of perspectives that it comprised, and on the historical distinction between daqiq al-kalam, or an Islamic theory of nature, and between jalil al-kalam, or theological disagreements about God and His attributes. He emphasized that while there was great historical disagreement in the area of jalil al-kalam, there was great agreement in the area of daqiq al-kalam, and that many of the conclusions of daqiq al-kalam—such as the temporality and discrete nature of the physical universe—are in agreement with modern physics. By bringing daqiq al-kalam up to date with modern science, we can not only have a thoroughgoing religious engagement with science, but we can also renew the kalam tradition by building a new jalil al-kalam that transcends historical disagreements.

Dr Caner Taslaman (Yildiz University, Istanbul) presented on the need for Muslims to have a philosophical engagement with the pressing religion-and-science issues of the contemporary age, particularly evolution, the new atheism, and miracles. He said that Muslims should define “religion” in the religion-and-science debate in broad terms to facilitate broad-based cooperation that transcends sectarianism. These broad terms are a commitment to theism and a critique of scientism. In these broad terms, there is general agreement with Christians and we should benefit from their works. We should then focus on doing philosophy and science rather than bringing scripture-based theology into the discussion.

Mr Enis Doko (Koc University, Istanbul) presented a paper on the fine-tuning argument in light of Caner’s introductory remarks, in which he presented the fine-tuning argument, followed by a presentation of the multiverse objection to the fine-tuning argument, followed by a response to this objection and an illustration of how the multiverse theory supports the fine-tuning argument and theistic belief in general rather than undermining it.

Dr Bruno Guiderdoni (Lyon Observatory) presented the contemporary ingredients for an Islamic religion-and-science discourse, which included: (1) contemporary scientific discoveries about the awe-inspiring size of the universe and its beginning in time, (2) contingency and chance from an Islamic viewpoint, (3) basing our work on the kalam and falsafa giants of the past, (4) an Akbarian ontology of the universe as the revelation of God, (5) lessons from the new history of science that re-evaluates Muslim historical contributions, (6) modest post-modern conceptions of sciences, and (7) a healthy dose of “I don’t know”.

Mr Hamza Karamali (Kalam Research and Media) presented the relevance of the kalam tradition to the challenges of contemporary science to religious faith. He said that the mutakallimun held that scripture is like a light and reason is like the eye: scripture reveals reality and then allows reason to make its own independent way to that reality. He then introduced the hybrid religion-reason epistemology of the mutakallimun and illustrated how it could be used in contemporary philosophical discussions with scientists (focusing on causality), atheists (focusing on Bayes’ theorem), and the method that the mutakallimun might use to tackle the problem of evolution. He emphasized that the kalam tradition is important and has valuable contributions to make, and that it is vital for Muslims in the contemporary religion-science debate to have a conversation with it and not simply dismiss it as unimportant.

The participants are working on completing a volume on the papers presented. More information will be available on the KRM website.


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