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Causality and the Qur'anic world-view
Oct 1, 1997

The universe has been made in the form of a book, intelligible, so as to make known its Author. The book addresses man. The aim is to make him read the book and its parts, and respond with worship and thanks to the will of the Author. Man attains to that worship by uncovering, through scientific study, the order in the book of the universe, and displaying the functioning of beings and the workings of the universe.

The universe is not passive. It is not neutral. We cannot interpret it as we wish. There is only one correct way of looking at the world, one universal world-view which is common to all humanity. This view is taught to us in the Qur'an as well as in the book of the universe by our Creator.

This does not mean that the Qur'anic world-view does not recognize that the perception of the world differs from one person to another. It allows for plurality within unity so that a universal dialogue is possible. In this world-view there is no fragmentation and no conflict. There is only harmony, assistance, peace and compassion.

The materialist scientific world-view is based on radical fragmentation. Materialist science takes nature to mean a mechanism with no inherent value and meaning. It isolates an object by cutting off its connections with the rest of the world and studies it within its immediate environment.

Whereas our perception of ourselves tells us that we are meaningful and part of the whole universe, and everything must have a meaning and must be part of the whole universe, materialist science has left the subject. i.e. man, out of the universe, and insofar as this science is taking over, people feel that they have no place in this world. They are isolated from other people. Their lives have no meaning, except in a very limited, egoistic sense. Man is alienated from his environment and from himself.

In the light of modern physics, the mechanistic view is an incoherent description of nature. The developments of modem physics call for a radical revision in our concept of reality. They shattered all the principal concepts of classical physics.

Many concepts, like the causal nature of physical phenomena and the ideal of an objective description of nature, changed with the advent of the new theories of modern science, quantum, relativity and, more recently, chaos theory.

However, these changes have not been matched by parallel changes in the world-view of science. The modifications took place only on a mathematical level. Because all that counts for scientists is the development of mathematical formulations of the behaviour of physical phenomena. Such a goal is not regarded merely for its technical utility; rather most scientists believe that prediction of this kind is all that knowledge is about.

They claim that our concept of reality is of little or no importance. However, it is clear that our concept of reality has a tremendous effect on how we behave in relation to nature and to other people, and also on the meaning life has for us as individuals. We cannot dispense with a world-view.

This attitude of the scientists is in contradiction with modern science. Classically it was thought that science could describe and explain everything in the world 'objectively' i.e. as it actually is in reality and that the 'observer' i.e. the scientist himself, could describe the world by means of mathematical models which were independent of his judgement. The discoveries of modern physics, however, point towards the unity of all things, an unbroken wholeness which denies the classical fragmentation of the world into separate and independent parts. In the quantum theory, every particle is linked to the rest of the universe and cannot be isolated from it. This oneness of the universe includes human beings as well. The quantum theory, together with abolishing the notion of fundamentally separate objects, has introduced the concept of 'participator' to replace that of the neutral observer. Modern science therefore restores man to his central position. It puts an end to the notion of neutral, objective description of nature and thus to impartial objective science.

Up to the present, materialist science has been based on a deterministic, causal view of the world. Although the latest theories like the quantum and chaos theories are leading to a world-view where there is no room for fragmentation and determinism, materialist scientists still insist on following the fragmented and causal approach. They have to be reductionist because they believe in causality. At the same time they do realize that their materialist world-view is collapsing. Theoretically they understand that, in order to explain one thing, they need to know its connections to all other things. This is obviously impossible because these connections extend in time and in space beyond human capacities; they are infinite and cannot be embraced by human beings who are also parts of those connections.

The materialist scientists understand that the unity of the universe points to an Absolute Creator. For the things we study do not bear meanings limited to themselves but testify to the Absoluteness of their Creator. But in order to be able to claim that their scientific studies produce knowledge, the scientists insist on denying the Absolute Creator. And because their scientific method is based on causality which cannot accommodate the unity of the universe, they ignore that unity and compartmentalize the universe so that they can study each compartment as the product of a limited number of causes. In this way, they can pretend the universe has no Creator and its meaning is limited to what they tell us about it. They thus claim their science to be the source of knowledge.

There have been many controversies over the conceptual foundations of modem physics. The mechanistic model of reality is not appropriate to modern science. Scientists avoid this issue by adopting the attitude that the paradoxes and contradictions of their science are inherent in nature, thus implying that those paradoxes and contradictions have nothing to do with the inadequacy of their world-view.

But how one can apply the reductionist scientific reasoning to the inseparable universe? It has been widely discussed by scientists and philosophers, but what hasn't yet been realized is that the nature of the materialistic approach to scientific reasoning is incompatible with the unity of the universe. Therefore, either that approach to scientific reasoning or the concept of the unity of the universe has to be reconsidered.

That the universe is an inseparable whole is not in dispute. Indeed, the unity observed in the totality of the universe including man is so manifest that no one can deny it.

Therefore the materialistic approach to the scientific method has to be reconsidered. This method is reductionist. It reduces every thing to fragments then attributes each fragment to causes. However, in reality, all things are interconnected and interdependent. For this reason it is impossible to attribute anything, however small it is, to causes which are themselves transient and contingent. Because whatever is responsible for one thing must be responsible for everything. We cannot have one thing without the whole.

Why can we ascribe a thing to its antecedents in time, but not to its neighbour in space? Why should a thing be able to produce another thing just because it happened before? All modern scientists know that space and time are fully equivalent. They are unified into a four-dimensional continuum in which 'here' and 'there' 'before' and 'after' are relative. In this four-dimensional space the temporal sequence is converted into a simultaneous co-existence, the side by side existence of all things. Thus causality appears to be an idea which is limited to a prejudiced experience of the world.

Causality leads to the vicious chain of cause and effect. For each cause is also an effect. Also the effect is totally different from the cause. Things and effects are usually so full of art and beneficial purposes that let alone their simple immediate causes, even if all causes gathered they would be unable to produce one single thing.

In short, in order for a cause to produce an effect it has to be able to produce the whole universe in which that effect takes place, for that effect cannot exist without the whole universe. They cannot exist separately. Causality is therefore the antitheses of 'There is no god but God,' the core of the Qur'anic world-view. Materialist scientists imagine powerless, dependent and ignorant causes to be responsible for the existence of beings and things and thus fancy them to possess absolute qualities. In this way they are implying (tacitly believing) that each of those causes possesses qualities which can only be attributed to God.

However, the latest discoveries of modern science, like the unity of the universe and the inseparability of its parts, exclude the possibility of all the explanations put forward by materialistic science. They demonstrate that all entities, whether in nature or in the laws and causes attributed to them, are all devoid of power and knowledge. They are contingent, transient and dependent beings. But the properties attributed to any of such entities need infinite qualities like absolute power and knowledge.

This shows that causality is by no means necessarily to be linked with 'objective' study, 'neutral' scientific investigation. It is no more than a personal opinion. Moreover, it is an opinion that is irrational, a non-sense. Nevertheless, there is still a widespread conviction that science can do without a Creator. This seemed possible in classical physics, but in quantum mechanics the situation is untenable.

Physics is full of examples of ingenuity and subtlety that exclude the causal interpretation and make known the All-Powerful, All-Knowing One. A few illustrations will, I hope, suffice to convince us that the universe with all that is within it is His product.

The idea that the universe began with a Big Bang is something of a paradox. Of the four forces of nature, only gravity acts systematically on a cosmic scale, and in our experience gravity is attractive, a pulling force. But the explosion which marked the creation of the universe required a very powerful pushing force to set the cosmos on its still continuing path of expansion. It is puzzling that the expanding universe is dominated by the force of gravity which is contracting, not expanding. Careful measurements show that the rate of expansion has been 'very fine-tuned' to fall on this narrow line between two catastrophes: a little slower, and the cosmos would collapse, a little faster and the cosmic material would have long ago completely dispersed. The materialist scientists can see that such a precisely calculated explosion requires infinite power and knowledge, and yet deny the act of creation. Therefore they are compelled to say, 'It just happened; it must be accepted as a special initial condition'

The initial condition, however, had to be very special indeed. And the rate of expansion is only one of countless cosmic miracles. But in their misguidance, they fancy those miracles of Absolute Power to be 'remarkable' coincidences, and imply that the universe is a random accident.

So, strikingly, the most fundamental theory of recent modern science is totally compatible with the notion of the Absolute Creator. Moreover, it is not compatible with causality. Thus, the need for God, the Causer of causes, enters science in a fundamental way.

Classically, it is believed that a measurement performed in one place cannot instantaneously affect a particle in another, very distant place. The basis for this belief is that interactions between systems tend to decline with distance. For according to causality a cause has to be in the immediate vicinity of its effect. Otherwise how can particles several metres, let alone light years apart, influence each other's position and motion?

Quantum mechanics, by contrast, predicts a greater degree of correlation, as though the two particles are co-operating by telepathy. This forces us to ask how it is possible to explain this remarkable degree of co-operation between different parts of the universe that have never been in communication with each other without mentioning their Creator. How can they achieve this miracle? Divine Unity is obviously the only reasonable, consistent and acceptable, to the point of being necessary, explanation of this miracle and indeed of the universe and all that is in it, including man.

To the materialists this situation is a paradox because it cannot be explained with causality. But to the believer in God, this is a beautiful aspect of His Unity. It envisions a universal coherence and points to all-encompassing principles that run throughout the cosmos.

When we break the vicious chain of cause and effect, the meaningless world of materialism gives way to a world illumined with meaning and purpose. The universe becomes like a vast book addressing man and making known its Author so that its readers take lessons and constantly increase in knowledge of their Maker and strengthen their belief and certainty in the fundamentals of faith.

In short, everything is full of art and is being constantly renewed, and, like the effect, the cause of each thing is also created. For each thing to exist there is need for infinite power and knowledge. Thus there must exist a Possessor of Absolute Power and Knowledge who directly creates the cause and the effect together, which together demonstrate the attributes of their Maker. They are proclaiming the Divine Power and perfection through their own powerlessness and deficiency. They are all announcing. 'There is no god but God.'

Just as the universe points to this truth of Divine Unity so does the Owner of the universe teach us this truth in the sacred books He has revealed. The phrase 'There is no god but God' is the fundamental of revelation and it is confirmed by the testimony of beings. It is the key to the Qur'an. A key that makes it possible to know the riddle of the creation of the universe, a riddle that has reduced materialist science and philosophy to impotence. The path of Unity is the path of Revelation. It is the only path that shows man his Master and Owner, and causes him to recognize his True Object of Worship who possesses an absolute power that will guarantee all his needs.

The Qur'an is the only source that teaches us that the universe and the beings within it do not bear a meaning limited to themselves but testify to their Maker's Unity. It teaches what the universe is and what duties it is performing.

For this reason, every Muslim should study the universe and see that all beings, through their order, mutual relationship and duties, utterly refute the false claims of materialist and atheistic reasoning. They affirm that they are nothing but the property and creatures of a Single Creator. Each rejects the false notions of chance and causality. Each ascribes all other beings to its own Creator. Each is a proof that the Creator has no partners. Indeed, when the Creator's Unity is known and understood correctly, it becomes clear that there is nothing to necessitate that causes should possess any power. So, they cannot be partners to the Creator. It is impossible for them to be so. Then the Muslim scientist will say through his investigations and discoveries, 'There is no god but God, alone and without partner.'

The universe is a document to be used by the believers. Believing in God is, as the Qur'an informs us, to assent with one's heart to the Creator with all His attributes supported by the testimony of the whole universe. The true affirmation of God's Unity is a judgement, a confirmation, an assent and acceptance that can find its Owner present with all things. It sees in all things a path leading to its Owner. It does not regard anything as an obstacle to His presence. For, otherwise, it would be necessary to tear and cast aside the universe in order to find Him. and that is impossible for us.

The universe is not the property of materialistic science which has used the universe in a destructive way precisely because it has been unable to find the meaning of the universe.

There is no dichotomy between true science and revelation. Rather true progress and happiness for mankind can only be achieved in the way of the Qur'an. All scientific and technological advances are merely the uncovering of the way the universe is created. When the universe is seen to be a vast and meaningful unified book describing its Author and the beings in it as signs of their Creator, all these discoveries and advances reinforce belief rather than causing doubt and bewilderment.

The most serious disease afflicting modern man in his search for happiness and the meaning of life is to regard science, the study of the created world, as separate and irreconcilable with revelation, the word of the Creator. But as man learns to heed the universe and his senses, rather than the materialist scientists, he will wake up to the contradictions of their scientific reasoning. More and more people are beginning to realize that their scientific reasoning is no longer valid. Faced with beauty, awesomeness and purpose, attempts to explain creation with causality are becoming increasingly untenable. Then they will feel the need and importance for true science and knowledge which yield knowledge and belief in God.