Is Gravity ‘Shirk’?
Posted by paulipoldie on June 12, 2010
Is Gravity ‘Shirk’?
EuropeNews 06 June 2010
By Henrik R. Clausen
At the 2010 Vienna Forum hosted by EICEE and the Hudson Institute, a very interesting session held by Robert R. Reilly, ”Status of Reason in Islam and Christianity”, illuminated the differences between Islamic and Western logic, differences that has significant implications for the respective world views, and as to what is considered heresy (‘Shirk’) in Islam. This essay is inspired by that session.
The idea that different (valid) kinds of logic can exist (an idea known as polylogism) would seem ridiculous to the modern Western mind. Yet, since the idea does exist and contributes to the formation of a separate Islamic identity, it is worth examining.
Core tenet: Allah’s will is all-pervading, all-upholding
One of the core tenets of Islamic philosophy is that everything in the universe is continously being upheld by Allah. Thus, a stone does not fall to the ground due to (secular) gravity, it falls because it is the will of Allah. Was Allah to change his will, the stone might just as well fly upwards tomorrow, for Allah is considered to be upholder of all things, and thus able to do anything he desires. The implication is that in principle it it futile to search for consistent behaviour and natural laws, for any such laws could be reversed by Allah without notice.
This is a significant difference from the Christian world view, where examining the workings of Creation is encouraged, that we may live life to the fullest extent possible. This difference has manifest consequences, as the Western world has forged ahead in science and technology, while the Islamic world has produced almost no scientific and technological advances, resorting instead to reluctant adaption of Western inventions such as the printing press, television and most recently the Internet, for a free flow of information could seriously undermine the authority of Islamic leaders.
To illustrate this difference, Robert R. Reilly took out a ballpen, let it fall to the table, and asked what was at work here. One participant responded ‘Gravity’, to which another participant Robert Spencer, who is well versed in Islamic thinking, respónded ‘Shirk’, the Islamic name for a preposterous rejecting of Islamic faith. In a genunine Islamic society, this accusation can easily be sufficient ground to halt any further investigation into the curious fact that until now, all objects on Earth have been falling to the ground in a uniformly systematic fashion.
This is unscientific
The idea that Allah continously upholds the existence and behaviour of each object, even each atom, does have some problems. For one, it’s unscientific. The idea does not lend itself to predict anything that can be measured and tested in the real world. Even if an experiment reproduces the same result a thousand times over, this can still be claimed by the Islamic scholar to be an expression of the arbitrary fact that Allah decided to let the experiment give this result a thousand times, and still could change it at his whim at the 1001st execution of it.
Now, Western science also has tools to handle the likelihood that a thousand experiments will, by pure chance, provide the same result every time. For a simple binary experiment, one that gives a result of Yes/No, Up/Down and the like, a thousand results of the same kind occurs with a probability of less than 10 to the power of -300, that is: Practically never. As all simple gravitational experiments on Earth has so far given the result ‘Down’; it remains exceedingly unlikely that we will ever see any practical evidence of the arbitrary will of Allah.
The lack of a mechanism
Experiments aside, there is a wholly different problem with the Islamic view: No mechanism is suggested for how Allah does the actual influencing of all particles in all of the universe at the same time. Surely, at the time of the Islamic scholars, we didn’t have good explanations for electromagnetism, gravity and the other forces of nature, but technology and science has moved on since then. Today, we know that the photon is the carrier of the electric and magnetic forces, that the more exotic nuclear forces, the so-called Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces, are carried by mesons and bosons. While the call is still out with regards to gravity, we have not only one scientifically viable theories, there are two: Either the graviton, which is yet to be found, or a distortion of space-time itself, as suggested by Einstein.
The problem of differentiating Allah from non-Allah
A distinct problem is the difficulty of finding any ‘Allah’ at all. While Allah is claimed to be absolutely trancendent, beyound any concept or limitation, this actually is problematic, for it is another unscientific claim, not subject to any form of test, verification or – most significantly – falsification. Looking at atoms and sub-atomic particles, we find no trace of any kind of god influencing all particles at all times according to his whim.
What we do find is a systematic set of particles, forces and transmutations, which can be described consistently and verified by further experiments. Even the uncertainty introduced at quantum mechanic levels can be described mathematically, as can curvature of space, time, and the behaviour of black holes. No distinct ‘Allah-force’ has yet been detected by the experiments, nor is any distinction of ‘Allah’ and ‘non-Allah’. While we still have to subject the black stone in Mecca for any Allah-traces, it can already now be safely assumed that any ‘Allah’, in any sense distinct from space and matter itself, cannot be found anywhere. This is a significant failure for a supposedly all-pervading god.
The lack of Islamic science
The strange statements of ‘scientific facts’ given in the quran and the hadith, along with Islamic fatalism, has caused a near-complete lack of scientific results in the Islamic world. Singular persons have made some inventions, but relative to the size of the Islamic world, in area as in population, the dearth of results has only one suitable label: Catastrophic Failure
This failure also translates into a failure to provide citizens in Islamic countries better living conditions. With no systematic Islamic science or technology, all progress is based on importing knowledge from the West. For although the fatalism of Islam states in principle that Muslims should be content with the circumstances ‘provided by Allah’, the reality on the ground is that most Muslims prefer the results produced by Western science over the fatalism of Islam, for the simple reason that science and technology provide for less suffering and better living conditions.
Could Islam pick up to speed?
Western science has advanced in strides, while Islamic thinking suffers a thousand years of going nowhere. And how could Islamic thinking even move, no matter how faulty a premise it would move from? If any experimental way was found to test, substantiate or disprove the ideas of the previous Islamic scholars, there are three possible outcomes:
- The Islamic idea is proven false.
- The Islamic idea is shown to have some kind of merit.
- The result is undecisive.
The first case would constitute a devastating blow to Islam, for another tenet is that Islam is flawless. In contrast with the Bible, where any flaws can be attributed to errors on the part of the (divinely inspired) persons who wrote it down, Islamic scripture and law is supposed to be flawless, and a proven flaw would destroy Islamic faith as unfounded and false superstition, replacing it with logic and reason,
The second case is more useful, except that it still would damage faith significantly. For if an item of faith is proven scientifically, it ceases to be faith and becomes knowledge, reducing the value of faith. That would be an open invitation to test more Islamic thinking by the yardstick of science, leading to an endless strings of hazardous experiments, where the failing of even a single one to uphold Islamic ideas again would be potentially devastating. Given the number of such statements in Islamic scripture [examples], this path of experimentation is too dangerous to thread. Each experiment would reduce one or more items of faith with ‘Fact’ or ‘False’, would diminish the area of life ruled by faith, and in turn the authority of Islamic leaders.
Thus, the third case obviously is the most desirable for Islamic scholars. Undecisive results leave the role of faith intact, and the very best way to ensure undecided results is obviously not to perform any experimenting in the first place, keeping the believers in a firm state of ignorance.
The battle between ignorance and freedom
The main tool for doing so is a systematic and widespread enforcement of Islamic rituals in daily life, frequently maintained through threats and intimidation on all levels, from suicide terrorism all the way down to the local society and single families.
And since Islam is perceived as being under attack (an interesting Internet tag line read: ”Islam is a lie, and the truth is killing it”), we can expect this exhortion to intimidation, threats, violence and terrorism to increase, until either Islamic rule is established everywhere, or Islam as a political force is so throughoutly discredited that it collapses.
Upholding a free society, even after the fact of Muslim immigration, requires protection from violent enforcement of religion, that the immigrants may freely choose between the barren faith of their past and the fertile results of logic, science and technology, as in particular the freedom to exchange views without fear, that we will remain able to judge statements on their merits rather than on implausible ‘religious authority’.
Gravity isn’t ‘Shirk’, it is gravity.
And, in contrast to Arabic superstition, it works.