Over the years, I have heard many people speak of science and spirituality as rivals. But are they? Science is the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. Spirituality, on the other hand, concerns itself with the human soul. What is the real relationship between the two?
I have a chat with Fareeha Arshad, a scientist by vocation who specialises in cancer research. Drawing on both her molecular biology background as well as her faith, Arshad dissects the rivalry between science, mythology and religion.
Dipa: You’re a scientist by vocation. Science and myth are often pitted against each other as archenemies. In your work as a writer at Mith Books, you reconcile these two opposites and portray them as friends. Tell us about your thought process.
Fareeha: For as long as I can remember, I have been a student of science. I always had questions. I could not shut down my brain from asking ‘when, why, where and what’ each time I learned something new. Scientists often invalidate previously known theories when a new one comes. But I can’t.
I cannot negate one bit of knowledge when I learn something one. There has to be a reason or a hidden meaning to any knowledge that one shares. And being a scientist, I feel it is my duty is to bring together those bits and pieces to understand the bigger picture. This is what happens when I learn of a new myth or a scientific fact. I try linking those to understand the thought processes of the people who came with those in the first place. There is always a link between the two. Always.
Perhaps that’s where we are wrong–portraying science and myth opposite to each other–neither can live while the other survives. When the opposite is true- neither can live while the other dies. I imagine science and myth to be two siblings–each trying to out-do the other. But at the end of the day, they are still related. And as a seeker of knowledge, I like knowing more about their relationship and why the rivalry.
Dipa: Spiritual beliefs and practices seem to precede scientific discovery and proof. Why do you think this is the case?
Fareeha: I believe that science is the foundation of everything–from existence to survival. But it’s the religion that gave birth to science.
We as Muslims believe that when God created Adam, He taught him the names of everything (Quran 2:31) from trees to mountains, from stars to skies, from planets to animals and others. God taught Adam about science, psychology, business, and everything that he needed to know to survive on Earth. I think that’s how we know how a mountain is a mountain and not a tree, or how a cat is a cat and not a dolphin.
According to Islam, God created Adam and perfected every detail in him–including his fingerprints and DNA. God created Adam in such a way that he could not survive without oxygen or food. I believe God already established the principles of science then and there.
Spiritual beliefs and practices come into existence only when they are ordained by God himself. Nobody would come up, on their own. They always hold some deeper meaning and something essential for the survival of humans, which eventually relates to science. Perhaps, there were relations between the two–science and spiritual beliefs–but we later became adamant about separating the two.
Dipa: Religions all over the world tell stories of miracles that cannot be explained by science. What is the source of these miracles?
Fareeha: Oh! This is an interesting question. Yes, there are many miracles that I have read and thought a lot about- especially about the miracles given to Moses or the virgin birth of Jesus. I have always been intrigued and awed whenever I read or heard about them.
As a Muslim, I believe that Adam was born without a father or a mother, and thus sculptured by God himself. Therefore, to me, Jesus’s birth without a father would have been a very easy task. I see Jesus’s birth as explainable. But how would one explain miracles of the splitting of the Red Sea by Moses’s staff or splitting of the moon by Muhammad (PBUH)? They certainly didn’t have any scientific explanation; they don’t have any even today.
Perhaps that’s the interesting part of it. We don’t understand the depth of these miracles because we, as humans, are limited in our way. Maybe, we are just not quite there yet.
You know, I sometimes wonder who formulated the scientific rules? For starters–like who gets to say that it’s the planets who are going to revolve around the sun and not otherwise? Then the answer hits me like a speeding train–the supreme being!
When He decides to go out of His way to show something in the form of miracles, then I think we should cut Him some slack.
Dipa: So much of the scientific community appears to try and discredit the existence of a higher power. Why do you think that is?
Fareeha: This question reminds me of one of the super-villains mentioned in the Quran over and over again–the Pharaoh–-yes, Moses’s Pharaoh. Though he is not named anywhere, it has been said that he was one of the most powerful rulers to ever live on earth. He had everything at his disposal. He was calculating, cruel, ruthless and emotionless, and possessed every trait that a super-villain would possess. This made him obnoxious to the extent that he claimed to be God himself. He even proved by sparing a bird and killing another–showing that he had the power to do something like that.
Crazy, I know.
Much later in the story, the Pharaoh died a tragic death by drowning in the sea. Strange, why could he not save himself when he had the supreme power?
It’s the same with the scientific community that tries to discredit the existence of a higher power. Why do we still not have a cure for death? Why death? What after death? I ask each time somebody tries discrediting the existence of higher power.
In Albert Einstein’s words, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Dipa: And lastly, did we create God or did God create us? Cheeky question, I know.
Fareeha: (Laughs) Of course, we were created.
You know, one single strand of our DNA is about 1.8 meters long–yes, more than my height. And we have double-stranded DNA, which are two DNA strands coiled together, everywhere. One cell has 46 chromosomes, each formed with two strands of DNA. There are more than 37 trillion cells in our body.
Now do the math. Oh, wait. The average size of one human cell is about 100 micrometers.
This fact baffles me always. If we created God (in some dimension), then who filled each of our cells perfectly with the appropriate amount of DNA, without spilling them out? Who would have that kind of intricacy, wisdom, power, knowledge, and patience?
Every time I learn something new in science, my mind goes poof! There is no way humans could have done that, or anybody with mediocre power could have done that. There has to be a supreme power, always looking down at us, loving us more than we could ever love ourselves.
We are just humans.
Perhaps, that’s why we with our limited brain capacity are unable to comprehend all of that.