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Christian and Muslim Views on Science and Religion

Tonight, the same group sponsoring last night’s talk sponsored a talk on science and religion. They had a Christian Religious Studies professor from the University of Houston, Dr. Lynn E. Mitchell, and a Turkish Imam from San Antonio, Zubeyir Safak.
Mitchell went first and then Safak. There followed a Q&A with only a couple of questions, most of which were fielded by Mitchell.  Nearly everything discussed has been pretty thoroughly covered in previous posts, particularly the “What is Science?” series a couple of weeks ago, and a few Vibrant Dance topics from last fall.

Mitchell is a clear NOMA supporter, a fact he confirmed to me explicitly afterward, though he seemed to respect the Concordist view I tend to hold, and is appreciative of the work of Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe. He correctly and at length explained that in spite of much belief to the contrary, there hasn’t really been a war between science and religion, again as covered in the highlighted post earlier in this paragraph. He also echoed Ross by describing how Genesis is unique among creation accounts in that God created, rather than creation creating some pantheon, like the Babylonian {and Greek} mythologies do.

I found Safak a pleasant, likable, soft-spoken gentleman, and very thoughtful. He holds a concordant viewpoint that the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture, when properly interpreted are in complete agreement/harmony. The key difference is that his Book of Scripture is the Qu’ran, not the Bible. I would enjoy sitting down with him over lunch or dinner and discussing theology, philosophy and/or science. One of the more interesting things he touched on was why the Muslim nations, which had an advanced scientific/technological understanding for centuries, stagnated. He stated simply that they stopped watching the sky.

As has been recently popularized by the DVD “The Star of Bethlehem,” The magi were likely Babylonian scholars descended from the school of scholars of which the Old Testament prophet, Daniel, was chief. One of the primary things this school of scholars did was astronomy.

Why did they stop watching the sky? I’m not sure, but I interpreted Safak’s statement as being both literal and figurative, in that for some reason, scholarly pursuits were simply not valued. There is a rather unflattering legend that in A.D. 640 when the Muslims conquered Egypt, they sent word back to the Caliph Omar asking what to do about the documents in the Library of Alexandria. He is reported to have replied, "they will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous." And thus they were burned. This legend, recorded 300 years or so after the event by a strongly anti-Muslim bishop, must be taken with a rather large grain of salt. Furthermore, it is sad to admit that a few of our brothers and sisters in Christ would agree with the Caliph, viewing any book other than the Bible as being unnecessary.

Before going to the lecture, I had mentioned it to some of my staff, and one commented that he expected that the Islamic view of science and religion would likely be comparable to the other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, and he was right. On the one hand that makes a lot of sense, but on the other hand, there has been such a long historical divide in the cultures of Western Judeo-Christianity and Islam, and corresponding difference in scientific development, that I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was there is a range of view that is very similar to the range among us.

Still the biggest surprise for me was the similarity. I have read precious little of an English translation of the Qu’ran (which must be read in Arabic to insure you’ve gotten the message correctly, I’ve been told), and have heard a fair bit of hearsay regarding the content of it. That small level of exposure has not left me with an expectation that Concordism between the Qu’ran and science would be feasible or significant. That an imam sees it as such is interesting.

During the Q&A, I was the first to raise my hand, and thanked them for coming, saying that as a scientist of faith, it was encouraging to hear theologians speak on the subject in similar terms to my own views, and got the chance to offer up this blog to demonstrate it. (Never pass up an opportunity for free advertising!) The unexpected result of that comment was to draw enough attention to myself, that afterward, three students accosted me with digital voice recorders, saying they were in a journalism class and wanted to interview me for an assignment. Sigh. (What was that about free advertising?) Fortunately, they said it would not appear in the student paper, as I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of publicity.

Admin note: it appears I have fixed whatever setting was causing the email subscriptions not to go out daily, and I think I have linked the blog to Twitter. Supposedly, when I post, it will send a tweet out to @ScholRed. It didn’t work last night, but maybe it is fixed now???? Stay tuned or tweeted or friended or…


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