Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Islam Seminar: Science of Islam I
Sunday, 27th August 2008
Aiwan-e-Iqbal Complex, Lahore

Modern Science: Critique of the modern scientific method
Kamil Khan Mumtaz



- Science, ilm, literally means knowledge, but more specifically it is knowledge of the real, of nature or “the world”, the nature of reality or the reality of nature, or phenomenal existence. However, within the scientific community there are different views on the role and function of science. Two of the prevalent philosophies of science are Positivism and Realism.

o Realism: “Realists see the role of science to be to discover what the physical world is actually like.”

o Positivism: “Positivists see the role of science as being the reconciliation of observational data” not with “ontological questions (What is really there?)” [1]

- The modern scientific method is based on

o Observation;

o Logical deduction;

o Theoretical formulation and

o Experimental proof;

- The modern scientific method is premised on the following tenets:

o The world/cosmos exists;

o It is knowable;

o Bifurcation: The world is bifurcated into things that have extension: res extans, things that have concrete existence, can be measured; and things that are known: res cogitans, such as thoughts, mental images, etc. that have no concrete existence and can not be measured.

o Ratiocination: Truth is that which can be proven empirically, logically and rationally;

o Reductionism: Larger and complex entities are made up of smaller and simpler components;

- Physics

o This makes the quest for the fundamental particle the most highly prized scientific enterprise. The foremost science in this quest is physics.

o This science has led to some truly remarkable achievements and discoveries regarding the nature of the physical world. But the claim that the physical world is all there is, that there is nothing more to be known about the nature of reality or the reality of nature, is illogical and unscientific.

A practical demonstration

A small pencil mark on paper is seen as a point;

Extended in one direction it becomes a line;

Rotated around the original point it describes a circle.

Yet we will have to agree with the physicist who will point out the fact that the ink or graphite deposited on the paper is not a point, or line or circle.

Using various instruments: a tape, a scale etc. the physicist will measure the location, width, height, mass etc. of the first mark; the length of the second mark; and the area enclosed by the final shape.

Using more refined instruments the physicist will show us that the deposited material is composed of smaller particles which are composed of molecules which are composed of atoms which are composed of electrons and protons, and neutrons and so on.

Using even more refined instruments physicists have also measured the electrical charge, the momentum, spin etc. of each sub-atomic particle. Moreover, based on these measurements, the physicists have been able to calculate and predict the results of the interactions between the objects and forces within a given system with remarkable precision.

But as these physical objects, deduced logically from the instrument readings, are not perceivable by us, they have been variously described as solid spheres, as “plums in a pudding”, as orbiting planets around a sun, or as geometric and mathematical forms such as a sine curve.

These descriptions were adequate so long as they were represented in terms of perceivable objects located in an unbroken continuum of space and time. The first cracks in this Newtonian or classical paradigm of the physical universe appeared when Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that space and time are not an unbroken continuity, a universal absolute, but are relative to the observer and to the object observed. But a still more radical paradigm shift was required to explain the behavior of electrons and other sub-atomic particles as they were observed since the beginning of the last century. It appears that an electron behaves sometimes as a particle and sometimes as a wave; its position can not be predicted with certainty; it can be in two places at the same time; it jumps from one position to another without passing through any intermediate position; and finally, the act of observation collapses what is called its “state vector” so that it ceases to be the object we set out to observe;

Now quantum theory[2] deals with these strange phenomena, operating in an n-dimensional Hilbert space, and using complex numbers involving the ‘imaginary’ square root of minus one. While the sums with this quantum mathematics turn out to be extremely accurate, these (Hilbert) spaces and values of observables in terms of “state vectors” and the superposition of states etc. are impossible to visualize or represent in any imaginable form.


What does quantum theory tell us about the reality of nature or the nature of reality? For one, it is certain that the Newtonian or classical model is no longer tenable.

- Physical objects “are not so much ‘things in themselves’ as they are things in relation to specific modes of empirical enquiry.”

- Nature “is not to be conceived as a domain or ensemble made up of physical objects. To be sure, physical objects do exist; the point, however, is that these objects partake somewhat of relativity, and are to be viewed, not as so many independent entities, but as diverse manifestations of a single and unbroken reality.” [3]

- “Everything we know about Nature lies outside space-time… but generates events that can be located in space-time.”[4]

- Bell’s interconnectedness theorem: an observation, performed on photon A, seems instantly to affect photon B, traveling in opposite directions at the speed of light!


- “Microphysical systems constitute a kind of potency in relation to the actual world… an intermediary position between non-existence and actuality, and in this respect are reminiscent of the so-called Aristotelian potentiae.”[5]

- Microphysical system “is not in reality a ‘thing or fact’, but rather a potency, a kind of potentiae.”[6]

Hylomorphic Paradigm

- Hyle receives morphe, receives content – receives being, in fact; … in itself it is amorphous, empty, and indeed non-existent.

- Morphe has no concrete existence either. The morphe of an existent entity is precisely its knowable aspect. … its essence (esse, ‘to be’)

- Tertium Quid:

Back to our Practical Demonstration

Hierarchy of Existence

- Archetypal Form

- Corporeal Object

- Physical Object

- Subjective form



- “transition from the possible to the actual – or from potency to manifestation – entails invariably an act of determination”

- Euclidean geometry: the Euclidean “plane as such is void; … a mere potency, in which nothing has yet been actualized. And then one constructs a point or a line … these determinations can not actually be made on rational grounds …”


- Modern Science is an excellent tool for dealing with the physical world. It tells us how much, where, etc. a physical object is, but does not tell us “What” it is, and how we know that it is there, out there, as an objective reality.

- We gain knowledge of the real, of nature etc. through sensory perception; logical deduction; and intellection.

o sensory perception: we experience our surroundings, the phenomenal or corporeal world, through our organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

o logical deduction: we are able to relate specific and particular experiences to formulate conceptions in the mind through the faculty of logical and rational thought. This is a mode of operation central to the “scientific” method.

o Intellection: sensory perception and logical deduction are subjective processes of the body’s neural system and mind. The act of knowing, the process of “reading” the bits of data received by the senses is not as simple as it might appear. There is significant debate about what we perceive through the senses: do we perceive images in the mind, or do we actually perceive the objective reality “out there”? Traditionally, it is understood that the act of knowing is accomplished by the intellect, as distinct from the mind.

Hierarchy of the “Real”

- the Real: the totality of everything that exists. What we know, what is known, what can be known about anything is only, can only be a partial reality. There is a hierarchy of the absolutely real; the relatively absolute and the relative reality: what exists, what is knowable and what is known. The Real and its manifestation or presentation.

- Manifestation

o Corporeal: directly perceivable objective world that is known “through” the senses.

o Physical: the quantifiable, measured world that is observed through instruments and conceived known through logical deduction


A concept of the real, or an aspect or presentation of the real can be represented and communicated through:

- Image

- Symbol

- Metaphor

- Allegory

- Simile

- Abstraction

o Geometry

o Mathematics/mathematical form

Traditional sciences

- Traditional sciences are based on a creationist world view - in which the cosmos is viewed as a creation and manifestation of a higher reality –, and the belief that the higher realities can be known through contemplation of the manifested realities:

o Essence/Being/The Real

o Quality and Quantity: The answer to the question “How much or how many” does not tell us “what” a thing is, only its extent in time and space. What a thing is essentially, its essence, its quiddity, is manifested by its form, its qualities.


- submission

o to the will of God: Allah, al Haq, the Highest Reality

o Abdiat, submission of the “slave”

o Khalifatullah the vicegerent, agent

- science: knowledge of the Highest Reality as a pre-requisite to submission

o The Qur’an tells us to invoke Him by his attributes. “to Allah belong the most beautiful names, so invoke him by these names” (7.180). To worship is to glorify, to adore, to praise. The qualities of every artifact reflect the qualities of its maker. The Qur’an tells us that “He is the possessor of the most beautiful names: the creator, the originator, the evolver, the bestower of forms. Everything that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies/worships/praises the Lord” (59.24)

- Contemplation:

o of phenomena/manifestation/corporeal reality. Seek the face of your Lord in the mountains, the clouds, the seas and within yourself.

o The Akhwan al-Safa, or the Brotherhood of Purity was a group of “anonymous scholars in the fourth/tenth century who produced a compendium of the arts and sciences in fifty-two epistles. This they published for all to read and it contained a virtual condensation of all knowledge of the time. They placed the science of numbers at the root of all the sciences, ‘…the foundation of wisdom, the source of knowledge and pillar of meaning.’[7]

§ “Know, brother, that the Creator, most exalted, created as the first thing from His light of unity the simple substance [al-jawhar as basit] called the Active Intellect [‘aql] – as 2 is generated from one by repetition. Then the Universal Soul was generated from the light of the Intellect as 3 is generated by adding unity to 2. Then the hyle was generated by the motion of the Soul as 4 is generated by adding unity to 3.”[8]

§ “Know, oh brother … that the study of sensible geometry leads to skill in all the practical arts, while the study of intelligible geometry leads to skill in the intellectual arts because this science is one of the gates through which we move to the knowledge of the essence of the soul, and that is the root of all knowledge …”[9]

[1] Polkinghorne, John. “Quantum Theory – a very short introduction”, OUP, Karachi, 2007, pp 82.

[2] See Polkinghorne, John, “Quantum Theory – a very short Introduction”, OUP, Karachi, 2007.

[3] Ibid, p. 77

[4] Henty Stapp, “Are Superluminal Connections Necessary?”, Nuovo Cimento, vol. 40 B (1977), p191

[5] Smith, Wolfgang, “The Quantum Enigma”, Suhail Academy, Lahore, 2005. p 62.

[6] Ibid, p 65.

[7] Ibid, p 42

[8] Ibid, p 104

[9] Ibid, p 7

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