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Science is systematic description and explanation of Reality at the level of human sense experience. The method of science is that of laws having progressively wider applicability. The function of a scientific law is to transform the brute data of experience into instances or exemplifications of intelligible patterns of event-sequences. Such an explanation not only satisfies the 'cognitive urge' of man, but is also essential for controlling or manipulating his environment for the satisfaction of his aims and purposes. But mere descriptive knowledge and scientific explanation are not enough for man, who yearns for an existential interpretation (E.I.) of the human situation within the total cosmic context. This quest is a deeply ingrained human personality need. It is sui generis, and different, though allied, from the quest of scientific explanation. An E.I. of the universe should, therefore, never be deemed to be a pre-scientific or pseudo scientific explanation of events, nor is it just a poetic metaphor. To confuse the two is like confusing ethical and perceptual or ethical and aesthetic statements, etcetera. Similarly, it would be futile to apply the peculiar logic of a scientific explanation to existential interpretations, just as it would be futile to demand that a scientific proof in the realm of, say, physics or chemistry should be as tight or rigorous as a mathematical or logical proof.

This, however, does not imply that existential interpretations need have no test or criteria of validity, since, in this case, their acceptance or rejection would depend upon cultural conditioning or an arbitrary choice.

What precisely is meant by an existential interpretation of man in the cosmos? It is far easier to give an ostensive rather than an analytical definition. To interpret man as a drop in the ocean of Divinity, or man's conscience as the Divine spark or ray, etcetera, or even as the child of a Divine creator are instances of an existential interpretation. It will be seen that they are nearer poetic metaphors than scientific explanations. But while the primary function of a poetic metaphor is to please or delight the listener or reader, the function of an existential interpretation, is to 'relate’ oneself to the cosmos, or to adopt an existential 'attitude’. This master attitude, as it were, is meant to serve as a stable basis for the total ordering of the individual's responses and attitudes in the course of his life. An existential interpretation is thus, as said earlier, sui generis. Like morality the task or enterprise of existentially interpreting cosmic situation has been historically a function of man's religion. Religion is thus (a) an accepted pattern or type of existential interpretation, (b) a concrete value system, (c) a precept system, and (d) an institutional system. When the basic existential interpretation or worldview of a religion is systematically formulated and developed by its intellectuals, it may serve as the thought system of that religion. If we reject the traditional thought system of a particular religion for some reason or other, we must fall back upon some other existential interpretation or thought system, which better satisfied our criteria of validity or truth. We cannot live or function in an interpretative vacuum as it were, in the belief that morality and science jointly suffice for the satisfaction of all human needs. This was precisely the mistake committed by many western thinkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The supposed self-sufficiency, of mere morality was an illusion born out of the western intellectual’s inability to accept the traditional Christian interpretation of man in the cosmos. This view was further reinforced by the gradual realization that no interpretation could be proved to be true either deductively or inductively. The western intellectual’s despair pushed them into a positivistic Humanism or pure 'Ethicism', in spite of Kant's view that basic religious concepts like God, life after death etcetera, were the postulates of morality.

The scientific outlook gradually veered to the view that morality was sufficient for man, and that religion was either a pre-scientific illusion, or at best a consolation for William Jame’s tender folk. This implied that the process of science and technology and the eventual eradication of social evils like poverty, exploitation, etcetera. would ultimately deprive religion of its function, as well as of its present appeal in the presence of widespread insecurity and injustice, etcetera. But this belief in the all-sufficiency of science and morality is only a version of man's incurable romanticism.

The history of Western Europe after the First World War shows the inadequacy or falsity of the belief in pure scientific morality without any interpretive support or base. The mono-dimensional fixation upon the peculiar methodology of the natural sciences, or in other words, viewing scientific explanations as the only model of valid interpretation generated a new variety of skepticism after the First World War. This variety embraces not merely particular religious beliefs, but all values as such. This total and all embracing skepticism or nihilism saps the springs of all human endeavor, generating in man a total despair and a sense of the futility or absurdity of life. The logical terminus of this attitude is the quest of death, which is judged as the only means of release from the tyranny of being aware of absurdity, but being helpless to overcome it. In some cases, this basic despair seeks to disguise itself in a total hedonism. The quest of pleasure, no less than the quest of destruction, are desperate attempts to overcome the creeping crisis of the spirit, through benumbing or killing the body. The phenomena of drug addiction, alcoholism, sexualism, and even such apparently disconnected 'ism' like extreme nationalism, religionism, 'scientism' and 'artism’, etcetera, are symptoms of an inner spiritual imbalance or ‘ontological deficiency'. They all betray an inauthentic human existence clinging either to escape mechanisms or fragmented loyalties instead of loyalty to an integrated value system. This inauthentic existence turns man into an insecure and anxious being. This breeds suspicion, aggression, intolerance, etc., and also an inner resistance to the promptings of man's creative conscience. This condition may aptly be termed as a hardening of man's spiritual arteries. Neither the reiteration of traditional creeds nor their intellectual defense cures this malady. Only a dispassionate self-confrontation, and more refined methods of philosophical analysis can liberate western man from his unfortunate nihilism.

Another basic mistake committed by some western science oriented thinkers was the tendency to reject the dimension of religious experience from their concept of the good life. This rejection of religious experience took place primarily due to ignoring the distinction between human experience and its conceptual interpretation. The advent of Darwinism, quickly followed by the sociological Darwinism of Marx, had exposed the difficulties of the traditional Christian or Islamic theistic interpretations. Many informed and self-consistent Christians were thus obliged to reject their traditional interpretation. But, unfortunately, they also rejected or were prone to reject the basic religious experience itself, which was part of the given data or the referents of their particular interpretations. This has led to a needless impoverishment of western man. Perhaps the swing towards or the fascination for 'transcendental meditation’ etcetera. is a compensatory trend. It is very significant that even Russian Marxists have become interested in paranormal phenomena.

Religious experience is the feeling or sense of the 'holiness of the oneness of the cosmos'. As man confronts or 'existentially interprets’ the universe as a totality rather than as an object of perception or of scientific knowledge, he may be impressed or carried away by the immensity, complexity, regularity, beauty, etcetera, of or in the universe, and experience an indescribable sense of 'nothingness', dependence, awe, etcetera, together with a deep yearning for 'melting' into the infinitude of the 'Holy Other'.  These vague and half articulated feelings, images and responses are sui generis, and cannot be reduced either to moral, aesthetic, perceptual or logical experience. The 'state of mind and body’, which we term 'religious experience', is a distinctive and unique organic whole of perceptual, aesthetic and moral 'experiential moments'. In other words, 'religious experience' has points of contact with the above described types or dimensions of experience, without being reducible to any one particular dimension. Religious experience has varying degrees of intensity, clarity, duration, etc. It may be accompanied by peculiar physical or bodily changes, like palpitation, sweating, an electric thrill running into the marrow of one's bones, spontaneous outburst of tears, strange visions or sense of 'the numinous' etcetera. Religious experience is, however, invariably cathartic and 'integrative', that is, leads to an inner integration of the individual. This integration brings about clarity and a sense of direction and supreme purpose to the individual. His doubts and perplexities or hitherto fragmented loyalties are healed, and he becomes a 'whole' man, ready to 'melt' his 'individual wholeness’ into the 'Cosmic Wholeness' of the 'Holy Other', of which he feels to be an integral part.

This sense of 'wholeness', however, is not a mere reflex or mechanical consequence of the religious experience. This integration is the fruit, which grows upon the tree of an existential interpretation of religious experience.

The activity of interpretation is normally carried on in terms of the categories or concepts of the society of which the individual is a part. But an exceptionally creative individual may reject, modify or transform the received set of categories and concepts in order to achieve a more consistent and satisfactory interpretation of his authentic religious experience. Thus, the concepts of a Creator God. prophecy or revelation, incarnation etcetera, are the concepts or categories of Semitic or Aryan Society that were traditionally adopted for interpreting the authentic religious experience of the line of prophets and seers. The Creator God as such is never experienced or encountered by the individual. But the concept of a Creator God is adjudged as the most satisfying or 'true' existential interpretation of the prophet's religious experience. The popular conception of Islam as well as other religions misses the organic connection of the traditional interpretation with the socio-cultural conditions and the inherited conceptual framework of the society in which a particular religion grows. Theism is certainly one of the many possible existential interpretations. In its traditional Christian, Hindu or Islamic forms, however, it raises some serious difficulties for the self-consistent and critically oriented person, who has outgrown the stage of dogmatic religion, and is committed to the basic value of spiritual autonomy or inner freedom in the Socratic, Buddhist or contemporary existentialist sense. However, many other interpretations are available, even within the wide connotative range of different major religions, such as, Vedantism in Hinduism, and Sufism in Islam. Unfortunately, many science-oriented intellectuals who detect serious inadequacies in traditional theistic interpretations tend to equate the genus 'existential interpretation' with one of its species, namely, belief in a personal God. And when they reject the concept of a personal God, they are very apt to reject the concept of E.I. as such. Similarly, most people equate religion with belief in and submission to an external Creator God. Hence, when they reject this notion of God, they are apt to think that they must reject religion as such. But the word 'religion' remains a mere variable in the logico-mathematical sense, until it is given a concrete value. Consequently, if the word 'religion’ be taken to mean exclusively 'submission to an external authority', the rejection of such an authoritarian approach ipso facto amounts to the rejection of religion. But then, why must the variable 'religion' be given this, or only this, and not some other value or concrete connotation?  I would personally prefer to give some such value as 'authentic existential commitment' or 'the quest of cosmic integration' etcetera to the variable 'religion'. Thus, whether one's response to religion is positive or negative would depend partly upon the value one chooses to attach to the word 'religion’.

After this clarification of the nature and function of science and religion, let us consider some further aspects of the relationship or interaction between science and religion.

Some hold that there is a complete discontinuity between the fields of religion and of science. But this conception is an over simplification of the nature of both science and religion. Science is viewed as purely factual, while religion as purely valuational. It is then held that there is no connection whatsoever between facts and values or between science and religion. Consequently, it is thought there is no need for a mutual dialogue between these two fields of human experience.

This approach completely ignores the complexity of both religion and science. It is highly misleading to say that religion has nothing to do with facts, which come under the domain of science, or that science has nothing to do with values, which come under the domain of religion. On the one hand, every religion has its distinctive thought system or world-view, apart from a distinctive value system. Every religion thus has a connection with the realm of facts. On the other hand, science generates its own distinctive values, even though it is admittedly not concerned with values, and is an enquiry into the nature and explanation of facts. Consequently, science cannot be said to be without a valuational temper of its own. For example, the scientific method of observation and experiment or suspension of judgment and formulation of verifiable hypotheses leads to a distaste for speculative metaphysics or a hairsplitting theology, both of which fail to possess any operational definitions or concepts. Similarly, a techno-centric society generates the new value of equality of the sexes or the value of speed, or the ethic of planning, etc. Moreover, science is not only relevant, but also crucial for the purpose of the realization of basic values. In other words, science has a bearing on instrumental though not intrinsic values. Consequently, science is absolutely unavoidable in the determination of our means for the realization of ends. The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that the slogan of a neat and clean demarcation between the domains of science and religion breaks down. It follows that we cannot combine a pre-scientific cosmogony or value system, or socio-economic structure with the scientific outlook or a techno-centric economy. This synthesis can of course be attempted, and may even last for a short period of time. But the inner tensions and strains would inevitably disintegrate and destroy such a synthesis.

Field tension means a tension or conflict between the 'directional functioning’ or pull of two or more fields of human experience. Thus, if the thought-cum-value system of a particular religion pulls us towards a man-dominated society, while a techno-centric economy pulls us towards a more or less complete equality between the sexes, a tension is generated between the religious and the scientific fields of human experience. Similarly, tension may develop between the fields of art and science, or art and religion, science and morality, etcetera.

The concept of field integration implies an antecedent awareness of field tensions, and the value of an inwardly unified, organized and autonomous human being, who functions without inner stress or strain. Field integration means a conscious and systematic confrontation or dialogue between the different fields of human experience with a view to the overcoming of any patent or latent tensions between them. The process of integration involves the pruning or the extension of the conventional connotation of basic concepts, or, in current analytical idiom, the alteration or revision of the persuasive definitions or uses of the basic words in question, like God, creation, justice, and beauty, etcetera.

The concrete reinterpretation of religious growth in our factual knowledge improved conceptual tools and our ever-growing insight into the complexities of things. This reinterpretation involves an ever-growing convergence or integration of the basic concepts of all the different natural, social, and humanistic sciences. This integration does not imply the creation of a super science or super philosophy sitting in judgment on the conclusions of the different sciences. All it means is that the basic well established concepts of the various fields of human knowledge cannot be viewed as irrelevant for the task of the concrete interpretation of the faith.  For example, the geological concept of time, that is, an enormous time span with many long periods, or concepts of biology, like the many long periods, gradual emergence of life, ceaseless variations, mutations, evolutionary 'blind alleys’, recapitulation, etcetera, or the concepts of sociology, like the impact of the means of production and modes of consumption on the total religious and moral beliefs of the society, the interaction between socio-political factors and moral and religious ideas, or the concepts of psychoanalysis, like man's fear of freedom, his sense of anxiety, his ontological loneliness and his flight into the arms of an external authority as a means of escape from the burdens of freedom, or the compensatory consolation and security generated by certain beliefs, or the concepts of Semantics, like types of meaning or use etc., all these basic concepts are relevant for determining or rather re-determining the concrete interpretation or understanding of one's faith.

The concept of field integration is supplemented by the concept of 'dimensional integration' of the individual, i.e. integrated human growth. The dimensions of human experience are the basic coordinates or categories of man's response to his environment, namely, perceiving, feeling, interpreting, explaining, morally approving, artistically appreciating, and spiritually 'melting’ or self-transcending. These are the basic capacities of the illustrative not exhaustive human essence. Every individual possesses all these capacities, but in infinitely varying proportions.

The ideal of dimensional integration is a much more inclusive and richer concept than of rationalism. Full integration includes the cultivation of reason but is not reducible to it. The hallmark of 19th and early 20th centuries was rationalism, which was a legacy of the previous age of reason and enlightenment in Europe. But this mono-dimensional approach must develop into a multi-dimensional approach, changes in Russia, etcetera, which give due recognition to all the facets of human life.

Science and Religion
BY Jamal Khwaja

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Jamal Khwaja studied Philosophy in India & Europe. He was elected to the Indian Parliament in 1957. He retired as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Aligarh Muslim University. He is the author of seven major books. 

Khwaja’s work seeks to answer three inter-related questions: Firstly, What does it mean to be an authentic Muslim? Secondly, How should a believer understand and interpret the Holy Quran in the 21st century?  And finally, What is the role of Islam in a pluralistic society? 

Khwaja believes in judiciously creative modernization rooted in the Quran and firmly opposes shallow, unprincipled imitation of the West. His mission is to stimulate serious rethinking and informed dialog between tradition and modernity in Islam. 

Khwaja’s work is the definitive contemporary discussion regarding the collision of Islam and Modernity. Readers of his work will be in turn, informed, inspired, and intellectually liberated.