Predominance of Science – Some Thoughts

As has been pointed out numerous times, Muslim scholars from the medieval and so-called “golden age” where practitioners of what we could call science today (something close to it) as well as being doctors in many of the various fields of religious studies. There is much speculation as to why the change in duality has occurred: being a person of science (i.e., dedicated to studying the natural world) and being a person of God. Many look at it as the degradation of society and the collapse of moral infrastructure; the pervasiveness of immorality. And while this may have contributed to it (though I feel this is more symptomatic than it is causal), I feel it has been the atrophy and lackadaisical attitude of religious thinkers and institutions that have been the greatest contributors if not facilitators of this modern demise. I say this because in those pre-modern times, science was mostly a way of exploiting the natural world to some benefit, and was never meant to be theology or even eschatology in and of itself. It was simply a method. But as the genius of religious thinking waned, technology, who was never born for this, was by proxy and de-facto, thrust onto stage as the ever-growing and only means of “knowing.” As religious thinking retreated, it became more and more comfortable in its own seclusion and surrendered its birthright to “tell us” and to “narrate to us.” So when I look out on the youth of today’s Ummah it is not coincidence that so many Muslims have continued to retreat to and swell the ranks of science-based programs (versus the humanities). This exodus is not only based on economic factors (though this does play an important role) but is also grounded in the stark reality that religion, as it is being articulated today, captures little of the imagination of young Muslims. In essence, religion has become boring.

I have been talking with a few colleagues for several years now for the need for a “fiqh of technology.” One of the greatest challenges facing humanity at this point is what is technology, does it have any limits, is it genuinely neutral, and to what ultimate purpose is its use? I can see no other way of answering any of these questions unless we consult religion. As technology pushes us to move faster and faster, fractures our capacity for deep and sustained thought, as its very short shelf life of usefulness makes an even greater quandary for its very long half-lives, as it increasingly wants to the thinking for us, we will increasingly run the risk of not only destroying our natural world, but may in fact be expediting our obsoleteness as Bani Adam. It is clear to me, and I have an itching intuition that it is for many others as well, that technology is not going to solve problems, or even make our lives better in and of itself, if people are not at the top of the thinking food chain. I saw the iPhone 5’s release as a prescient moment where for the first time in long while, a piece of technology truly failed to deliver on all its hype. Yes, people gathered around the block but it was almost as if a small but important balloon had been popped somewhere in the stratosphere (the Heavens?) And perhaps what troubles me the most about all of this, even with the balloon deflated, is what will replace that enthusiasm in technology’s absence? For if it is not a return to religion, I don’t even wish to imagine what awaits us around that corner.

Suggested Readings

  • The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman.
  • Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education, Neil Postman.
  • Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman.
  • The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul.

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