On religious pseudoscience

Enough is enough, please

I have been wanting to write on this topic for a while now. Other things kept me from doing it, although I have incidentally touched upon the issue while writing on related subjects. What proved to be the immediate trigger for this piece is a video clip that landed in my news feed the other day. The task could no longer be put off.

The clip features Sahil Adeem, a gentleman who appears to have, in a short span of time, accumulated a large viewership on and off the social media. I have not had the pleasure of listening to him before, so for all I know he may (and I hope he does) have some very sound views on other subjects. As far as the aforementioned clip is concerned however, it ranges, from appalling to outright cringeworthy. It is an 8-min excerpt from a Q&A session, seemingly at some college campus, in which Adeem is addressing questions from a crowd of youngsters.

Adeem starts by announcing without any fanfare that a Muslim ‘enters physics’ with the unshakable conviction that light is not the fastest thing going around. He ‘supports’ this by citing the example of supplication, which he says travels faster than light directly to God in the Seventh Heaven, a process that would take much longer – 50,000 years by one calculation – if an angel had taken it. His second example is the durood that also reaches the Prophet (peace be upon him) faster than light. He clarifies that he is citing these two examples together so that his audience knows that they are being told the ‘trajectory’ (trajectory of what? – sadly he chooses not to spell this out).

Moving on to the night journey of the Prophet (peace be upon him) Adeem says something unfathomable about the ‘fineness’ and ‘conversion capability of matter to go through these realms’. He claims that Jibril (AS) is light – he says that he has paraphrased this thought into the language of physics for the benefit of his audience. Lest there is any residual misunderstanding, he adds that ‘there is a little more to it than just physics’. He goes on to say that he ‘gets’ e equals m c-squared. (Well, whoever doubted that?) He goes on to graciously concede that it is ‘a good theory’ but ‘only for things which are according to [sic] the speed of light’. He complains that we are a bit too impressed by those holding PhDs in theoretical physics.

Responding to a question about the multiverse hypothesis, Adeem says that the answer is too sensitive to be given in public. That an Arab has asked the ‘exact’ same question of Abdullah Ibn Abbas (RA) but the latter had refused to answer it on grounds that the questioner would be led by the answer to unbelief. However, being a good sport, Adeem promises to reveal the answer in a ‘closed group’ but only to those who have had ‘more exposure’ (exposure to what? – again, one can only guess). At the end, like a courteous guest Adeem thanks the audience and commends their patience for he knows that ‘it is not easy to bear him’. Finally, a sentiment with which it would be hard to disagree.

This sort of gobbledygook, generated in response to questions about supplication, predestination and free-will, revelation and out-of-the-ordinary occurrences, is only one instance of the general problem of trying to figure out the mechanics of how God reaches down from beyond space and time and guides/interacts with man and universe firmly entrenched in time and space: in other words, how God can be Transcendent and personal at one and the same time. Mullahs have traditionally solved this so-called science-miracle incompatibility by asking what the scientists know about anything anyway. Muslims who appreciate the power of science have naturally found it hard to take this line of reasoning. Some of them have sought to explain away references to miracles in revealed texts as figurative, not literal. Others resort to pseudo-science to reconcile (in their own view) science with religion.

In the present age, religio-scientific mumbo-jumbo casts religion in a much worse light than anything possibly done by the traditional mullah. Here is an appeal to practitioners of pseudo-science to stop making a laughing stock of religion. If you cannot help a cause, at least do not damage it. 

The sensible position is– has always been– that the problem is purely imaginary. To believe ‘unscientific’ things such as God creating the universe from scratch, His recreating it into another one in future with a completely new set of laws, His raising of every man one day– from the first to the last– from his grave and His accounting (requiring information comprising trillions upon trillions of terabytes) of everything that ever was and that ever will be; and at the same time to claim that some things may be too ‘unscientific’ for the same God to pull off can hardly be called very smart, can it?

According to this view, once it is established (based on other considerations) that a report is sound, then there is no difficulty accepting it merely because it is ‘unscientific’. As for how it happened (its modality), in the first place God does not require a mechanism like we mortals do. And in the second place, even if He chooses to put in place a mechanism, He is under no obligation to arrange that humans know all about it. There are numerous things that man cannot possibly wrap his head around, the details of which are not required for man’s appropriate conduct in life.

What many fail to understand is that unlike physical agents, God does not require causal chains to accomplish things. This is why the theists’ first-cause argument for God’s existence as well as the atheists’ utilization of Hume’s blanket rejection of cause-and-effect against God’s existence are equally invalid, and equally childish. The one ‘proves’ God by putting Him inside the scheme of things while the other ‘disproves’ Him by making the same error. Neither side proves anything.

Science is nothing more than a description of the way events usually take place in the physical world. As long as the church remained powerful, there was this tendency to present science in such a way as to conform to the picture thought to be painted by religion. Carelessness in this regard was liable to be punished by isolation, incarceration or worse. Tables were turned after science had firmly established itself.

Now many of the religious folks, in order to escape ridicule or worse, made it a point to present religion such that it appeared to satisfy the scientific temperament. Though pragmatic, both approaches were faulty because either failed to realize that the domains of religion and science were distinct from one another; that any overlap was imaginary. That in its respective domain, each reigned supreme without having to accommodate the other. That it was totally unnecessary (in fact, foolish) to disparage one in order to benefit from the other. Sadly, the more zealous among the religious folks continue to preach a confused amalgam of religion-based ‘science’ to this day.

The Quran, when it comes to physical matters, emphasis observation, experiment and reasoning. Regarding matters such as the revelation, free-will and God’s interaction with the world, it makes it clear that Man has been given all the guidance necessary to act (but not anymore), and that he should know the limits of his knowledge and not waste his time in useless speculation about their mechanics. To paraphrase a wit, nothing in religion is beyond reason although some things are certainly beyond reasoning. This is what Muslim scholars from very early times meant when they said ‘Bila kayfa’ (without asking how).

In the present age, religio-scientific mumbo-jumbo casts religion in a much worse light than anything possibly done by the traditional mullah. Here is an appeal to practitioners of pseudo-science to stop making a laughing stock of religion. If you cannot help a cause, at least do not damage it. If you believe you have scientific talent, head to the lab, discover a law, come up with a hypothesis, invent a scientific theory. The whole world is yours to investigate; just leave religion alone.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

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