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Why Religion?

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Out of the three famous papers that Albert Einstein published in 1905, On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light explicitly stated the quantum hypothesis for electromagnetic radiation, and On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in Stationary Liquids Required by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat developed the theory that led to the establishment of the sub-atomic nature of matter.

Following the classical Newtonian physics and under the spell of developments in science, physicists of the 19th century claimed that they could explain every phenomenon in the universe. E. Dubois Reymond, at a meeting held in memory of Leibniz in the Prussian Academy in 1880 was a bit humbler: ‘There have remained seven enigmas in the universe, three of which we are unable to solve yet: The essential nature of matter and force, the essence and origin of movement and the nature of consciousness. The three of the rest that we can solve although with great difficulties are: The origin of life, the order in the universe and the apparent purpose for it and the origin of thought and language. As for the seventh, we can say nothing about it. It is the individual free will’ (quoted in A. Adivar, Ilim ve Din (‘Science and Religion’), Istanbul 1980, p.282).

The sub-atomic world threw all scientists into confusion. This world and the ‘quantum cosmology’ which it introduces, rather than being a heap or assemblage of concrete things, is made up of five elements: the mass of the electron in the field where an action occurs (M), the mass of the proton (m), the electrical charge which these two elements carry, the energy quanta (h)-the amount of the energy remaining during the occurrence of the action-and the unchanging speed of light (c). These five elements or the universe can even be reduced to action or energy waves traveling through space in tiny packets or quanta. Since the quanta required for an action are special to it and exist independently of the quanta required for the previous action, it becomes impossible to predict the exact state of the universe. If the universe is in t1 state now, it cannot be predicted that it will be the same in t2 state. Paul Renteln, assistant professor of physics at California State University, writes (American Scientist, Nov.-Dec., 1991, p.508):

Modern physicists live in two different worlds. In one world we can predict the future position and momentum of a particle if we know its present position and momentum. This is the world of classical physics, including the physics described by Einstein’s theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. In the second world it is impossible to predict the exact position and momentum of a particle. This is the probabilistic, subatomic world of quantum mechanics. General relativity and quantum mechanics are the two great pillars that form the foundation of 20th-century physics, and yet their precepts assume two different kinds of universe.

The real nature of this sub-atomic world and the events taking place in it make it impossible to construct a theory to describe them, because they cannot be observed. One reason for their unobservability is that, as Renteln writes in an attempt to propose a theory which he calls quantum gravity to reconcile the two different worlds of classical and quantum physics, ‘the events take place at a scale far smaller than any realm yet explored by experimental physics. It is only when particles approach to within about 10-35 meter that their gravitational interactions have to be described in the same quantum-mechanical terms that we adopt to understand the other forces of nature. This distance is 1024 times smaller than the diameter of an atom-which means that the characteristic scale of quantum gravity bears the same relation to the size of an atom as an atom bears to the size of the solar system. To probe such small distances would require a particle accelerator 1015 times more powerful than the proposed Superconducting Supercollider.’

At the outset of this century, electrons surrounding the nucleus of an atom were thought to orbit the nucleus like planets in a miniature solar system. However, later researches modified that view. The electron is now understood to be more of an energy field cloud fluctuating around a nucleus.

The nucleus itself seemed to be composed of two smaller constituents-protons and neutrons. However, in the 1960s, physicists Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig confirmed by experiments that protons and neutrons were made up of even more elementary particles, which Gell-Mann called ‘quarks’. Quarks cannot be seen, not just because they are too small but also because they do not seem to be quite ‘all there’.

Quarks are better described as swirls of dynamic energy, which means that solid matter is not, at its fundamental level, solid at all. Anything you hold in your hand and which seems solid, is really a quivering, shimmering, lacy lattice of energy, pulsating millions of times every second as billions of fundamental particles gyrate and spin in an eternal dance. At its most fundamental level, everything is energy held together by forces of incredible power.

This is not all that makes us unable to predict even the nearest future of the universe. According to Werner Heisenberg’s theories, at just the time when we can know either where a particle is or how fast it is traveling, we cannot know both. This is because the very act of measuring the particle alters its behavior. Measuring the particle’s speed changes its position, and measuring its position changes its speed.

However, the unpredictability in the sub-atomic world does not change anything in our everyday, predictable world. Everything works according to the basic laws of classical Newtonian physics. (Groping in the Light, 1990, pp. 11-17).

Why is this so and how should our view of the world and events be?

Scientists who believe in the existence of God and His creation of the universe suggest that creation was not a single event. That is, God did not create the universe as a single act and then leave it to operate according to the laws He established. Rather, creation is a continuous act (creatio continua). In other words, roughly like the movement of energy or electricity and its illuminating our world by means of bulbs, existence continuously comes from God and returns to and perishes in Him. Through the manifestation of all His Names, God continuously creates, annihilates and re-creates the universe. Some medieval Muslim scholarly saints such as Muhy al-Din ibn al-’Arabi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi called these pairs of acts as the continuous cycle of coming into existence and dying. Because of the incredible speed of this movement, the universe appears to be uniform and continuous. Rumi likens this to the fast spinning of a staff on one end of which there is fixed a light. When spun at speed, the light on the end of the staff appears as if a circle of light.

Unable to explain the extreme complexity of existence and the events taking place, some scientists assert that everything is in chaos and attribute the formation of universe as it is to mere chance. According to them, other universes could have formed, they simply did not, and there is no reason that the universe is the way it is. Given that it is impossible for even three or more unconscious things moving at random to come together by themselves to form even the simplest entity, it is highly questionable whether a rational person can accept that the wonderful order prevailing in the universe according to which we can direct our lives can be explained without attributing it to a supernatural intellect. A. Cressy Morrison writes (Man Does Not Stand Alone, New York, pp.98-9.):

The proverbial penny may turn up heads ten times running and the chance of an eleventh is not expected but is still one in two, but the chance of a run of ten heads is very small. Suppose you have a bag containing one hundred marbles, ninety-nine black and one white. Shake the bag and let out one. The chance that the first marble out is the white one is exactly one in one hundred. Now put the marbles back and start over again. The chance of the white coming out is still one in a hundred, but the chance of the white coming out first twice in succession is one in ten thousand.

Now try a third time, and the chance of the white coming out three times in succession is one hundred times ten thousand or one in a billion. Try another time or two and the figures become astronomical.

The results of chance are as closely bound by law as the fact that two and two make four.

All the nearly exact requirements of life could not be brought about on one planet at one time by chance. The size of the earth, the distance from the sun, the thickness of the earth’s crust, the quantity of water, the amount of carbon dioxide, the volume of nitrogen, the emergence of man and his survival-all point to order out of chaos, to design and purpose, and to the fact that, according to the inexorable laws of mathematics, all these could not occur by chance simultaneously on one planet once in a billion times. It could so occur, but it did not so occur.

Attributing the impossible to chance is a trick of the human mind, its stubborn resistance, which confuses a theoretical possibility with the actual facts. For example, it is possible that the Pacific Ocean has now changed into milk, but actually it has not.

As it is impossible to construct a building on a flowing stream, God Almighty spread over the unpredictability of the sub-atomic world the veil of the speed of its movement and made the universe dependent on what we call laws. It is for this reason that everything in the outer face of nature works according to the basic laws of classical Newtonian physics. However, it is a matter of controversy between the two schools of Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama’a whether the universe has a continuous existence working according to established laws and things accordingly have perpetual properties or God continuously creates the universe and orders each component of it what to do at every moment. The followers of the Maturidi School assert that God created the universe and set it to operate according to certain laws which He established, giving each thing certain properties. For example, fire burns because God gave it the quality of burning. Whereas, the followers of the Ash’ari School maintain that the universe does not have a perpetual, established existence and reality. Nor do things have essential qualities of themselves. God creates the universe anew each ‘moment’ and directs it continuously by ordering each thing to do what it must do. For example, fire does not essentially have the quality of burning, rather, God gives it the order to burn and it burns. Since according to the dictates of life in the universe, He usually orders it to burn, we think that fire essentially has the quality of burning.

As we accept the ‘relative’ truth of both Newtonian and quantum physics at the same time, we can also accept the truth of the views of both schools. As a matter of belief and as life at the most fundamental level of existence as in the sub-atomic world points out, God is continuously active, creating the universe anew and directly administering it. While at practical level, life will be impossible for us if we do not accept or assume the uniform continuity or stability of existence. What would life be if we were conscious that the sun would not rise tomorrow morning or that we might not live a second longer, although it is theoretically conceivable both that the sun might not rise tomorrow and that we might not survive a second longer?

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Last Updated on October 26, 2000

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