Cultural, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political, Religious

Religion and Human Epistemology

With the evolution of human species over the past tens of thousands of years from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens to Modern Humans, human intelligence and skill continued to develop sequentially through the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and then on to Industrial Revolution.

At the earliest of times, human beings were subservient to some presumed superior intelligence or powers and that subservience was based on pure belief. That belief gradually transformed itself to faith. The faith is a collective, communal mental undertaking. Faith, once established, is difficult to root out as it comes as a joint undertaking, although each one individually holds the strands of that faith. The ownership of the faith is then taken up individually as well as collectively and it becomes part of their collective identity. A ‘faith’ can then easily transmute to a ‘religion’. When the group size becomes large enough or a significant number of groups coalesce together to form a community, the ‘faith’ becomes truly a ‘religion’. 

The German historian of religion, Rudolf Otto, in his book, The Idea of the Holy, stated that the feeling of ‘numinous’ was the basis of religion of devotion. This ‘numinous’ feeling placed human beings to subservient position and at the same time uplifted the mystical powers of the unknown to higher levels. This feeling predated the period of human knowledge and understanding and hence, any attempt to explain things such as the beginning of life on Earth and everything on Earth had been passed on to the superior, unknown powers.

Religions of bewildering varieties started to evolve in various parts of the world. Shinto in Japan, Daoism in China, Buddhism in India, Hinduism in India, Zoroastrianism in Persia, Paganism in Europe and other places, Abrahamic religions (all three mono-theistic religions) in the Middle East, the Sky-God in Africa and many more evolved at various times on Earth. It is estimated that altogether more than 10,000 religions evolved on Earth, but most of them went extinct or merged with the more dominant religion.  

The main point here is that there is virtually no substantiation that any of these religions originated from the presumed creator. However, Paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism and few more religions do not rely on single creator or divine authority as the source of the religion. Buddhism believes in eternal cycle of life and death until terminated by nirvana.

On the other hand, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and a bewildering variety of sects within these religions believe in Yahweh, God or Allah as the creator who is assumed to be all-powerful, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient and incomprehensible. God is ineffable, beyond any query, and any aspersion or derision of this powerful creator is blasphemous. All knowledge derives from Him and all praise to Him. However, Judaism and Christianity have gradually moved away from blind adherence to such theological doctrines. But Islam or more particularly the Sunnis have maintained total reliance of such narrative. Allah created human beings, there is a day of judgement, heaven and hell awaits life after death etc. Human beings are composed of body and soul – body perishes on death but soul returns to God!

As mentioned above, Judaism, the originator of monotheism through Abraham, had moved away from strict submission to scripture dealing with life after death. Rabbi Manis Friedman, dean of the Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies, said in a speech in 2012 that the question of life after death is non-sensical. But he believed that soul is a living thing which goes back to where it came from, probably to heaven; but body perishes and goes back to soil. He also held the view that heaven and hell don’t exist, but if someone wants to believe in these things, he has the right to do so.

The Christianity, particularly Catholicism, and Islam, both Shia and Sunni, believe strongly in life after death; because without it the whole edifice of the religion incorporating the final day of judgement; existence of heaven and hell etc would collapse. The question may be raised that how the body of the dead person would be revived, at what age and in what condition etc would that revival be and it remained unanswered in these religions. 

These two religions along with Judaism proclaim that the creator created the vast universe, made every animate and inanimate thing follow certain orders etc. The traditional creator had been assigned in these religions essential attributes – He must be present right from or even before the beginning and will last until or beyond the end of creation. He is all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent and He is not accountable to anybody; He can see past, present and future. Any derogatory or disrespectful remark or any question about God’s authority is blasphemous.

The Dutch philosopher, Baruch Spinoza’s (1632 – 1677), view of God was totally dismissive of all these gobbledegook. He showed through the power of logic that God and Nature are one and the same thing. He started from the fundamental logic that there must be a single self-subsistent entity that must be the creator and the creation. This unity of cause (source) and the consequence (creation) must be there to remove the inexplicable question that if creator created everything, then who created the creator? The creator and creation must be merged into one.

Thus, in one big swoop Baruch Spinoza dismissed the fundamental basis of monotheistic religions that there is a transcendent creator who created everything. He argued that the creator and the creation is one in Nature and it is infinite in its expanse and immanence. He held the view that human being is a composite entity of body and mind; body being the material object in space. The movement of the body is due to physical laws of motion whereas thought is a mental state.

Some years previously, French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) advocated mind-body dualism. Descartes’ (pronounced as Dekorta) philosophical view was that mind and body have separate existence within the body. This led to the belief that whereas body was material in character and would eventually decay away on Earth, the soul is subliminal and lives on eternally! It chimed or had been made to chime with the religious views. This philosophical basis remained extant until Spinoza vigorously opposed such un-scientific epistemology.

The most prominent German philosopher of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger, produced his most important contributions to phenomenology and existentialism in his book called ‘Being and Time’. In that book, he argued that ‘Das Sein’ meaning ‘Being’ is the reality of our existence here. After being ‘thrown’ into the world, we strive to move from inauthenticity to authenticity. We strive to gain freedom from social milieu, freedom from archaic prejudices and practical necessities that are not our own making and move away from ‘they-self’ into ‘our-self’. Getting the freedom of ‘our-self’ releases us to attain our ‘Being’ here. But all Beings are inter-connected and there is the ‘unity of Being’. Our authenticity arises from ‘unity of Being’ with all things, making the ‘common Being’ with the universe. So, Heidegger was saying effectively that the ontology (the sense of being that exists as self-contained individual) encompasses the ‘unity of Being’.

One may find a strong resemblance, almost an echo, of Tagore’s philosophical discourse, which he argued when he met Einstein in July, 1930 in Berlin that as individual atoms or molecules join up to form a smooth congruous substance, so does the humanity of individuals form the universal humanity and human universe. Truth of the universe is the human truth; without humans, beauty and truth are irrelevant.

Where does the religion fit in the epistemology of existentialism and human truth? Religion, any religion for that matter, is fundamentally dogmatic, sectarian and divisive. The edifice of religion is based on unproven axiomatic assumptions and social provincialism. It is no wonder that when Albert Einstein was asked whether he believed in God, he answered that he believed in Spinoza’s God “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind”.

Thus, he upheld the belief of God as the Nature itself that provides universal humanity.

– Dr Anisur Rahman is an author and columnist.

Cultural, Life as it is, Religious

Mendacious claims of scientific truths in Quran

There had been innumerable claims over the years, in fact over the centuries, by the Mullahs, Islamic apologists and pseudoscientists that Quran conveys deep scientific thoughts and facts, which non-believers and even ardent Muslim believers have overlooked and ignored them. After all, they claim, Quran is the final word from Allah, the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the whole Universe and it is quite logical that Allah will pass on some of knowledge to the people of the world through His beloved Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

Allah did send the deep secrets of scientific truths to his Prophet, as claimed by him, and those secrets were transcribed in the Quran. Now one may ask, why these Mullahs and pseudoscientists who were in the know, did not take full advantage of this secret store house of knowledge, one has to ponder for a rational explanation.

However, without further ado, let us try to decipher those scientific truths and knowledge that the Prophet transcribed in the Quran and examine them against the science that we the ordinary human beings have learnt through our education system. Only two very simplistic and almost mundane scientific issues will be examined here and, in the future, more challenging issues will be dealt with. The two issues considered now are (i) Quranic version of Sunset and Sunrise and (ii) Quranic version of resting place for the Sun. In the description below, the first number in the list is the Sûra number and the second and subsequent numbers are the Ayat numbers.         

Quranic version of Sunset and Sunrise

18: 84 – 86

84: Verily We established his (Alexander, the Great. In Quran he was referred to as Zul-qarnain, see below) power on earth. And We gave him the ways and the means to all ends.

85: One (such) way he followed,

86: Until, when he reached the setting of the Sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water; near it he found a People; We said: “O Zul-qarnain! (thou hast authority) either punish them or to treat them with kindness.”

18:90

90: Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We provided no covering protection against the Sun.

Comments

Is there any scientific basis, as claimed in the Quran, that the Sun sets in a spring of murky water and where it sets there were people (as if that was at the end of the world)? Moreover, does Sun rise at exactly the same place?

Scientifically these are total nonsense; only a totally ignorant person can say these things. The Sun does not set in a spring of murky water, although a wayward Bedouin may have viewed it at one point that it is setting in a spring of water or even in a sea or seen the reflection of the setting Sun in a sea. To find people where Sun sets is described as if it is an amazing thing; as it would be if it were at the end of the world (flat Earth). And then the Sun does not pop out (rise) over certain number of people always and hence the question of providing protection is totally irrelevant. The Sun rises over all the people of the world at various locations at various times.

From various references of Zul-qarnain in the Quran, one can make a good guess that Zul-qarnain is none other than Alexander the Great, although there are controversies. However, whether Zul-qarnain was Alexander the Great or not is irrelevant in the present context, except that he was empowered with authority to punish people or pardon people, as was Alexander in the conquest of Western Asia, Persia and India.

Quranic version of resting place for the Sun

36: 38 – 40

38: And the Sun runs unto a resting place for him (Sun); that is the decree of Him, the Exalted in Might, the all Knowing.

39: And the Moon – We have measured for her stations (to traverse) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk.

40: It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day; each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit.

Comments

The above Ayats are from Sûra Yâsin, which is considered to be “the heart of the Quran”, as it is the Revelation which Mohammad brought to this Earth. It is the central doctrine of Revelation and the Hereafter (meaning after death).

Now can somebody make any sense out of these totally nonsensical Ayats? If somebody tries to say that these are scientific facts which Mohammad brought as divine Revelation, then that man must be considered as barking mad. Admittedly, nearly 1400 years ago when Mohammad was trying to pass on these messages as Revelations, Earth was considered to be flat and at the centre of the universe and the Sun and Moon were considered to go round it in their own orbits. But to proclaim, in the name of divine decree, that Sun goes at the end of the day to its resting place and Sun and Moon were in a sort of race with each other are sheer lunacy. Even by the standards of knowledge at that time, these races and resting places etc would be considered as sheer stupidity. What is even more disorientating is that there are Mullahs and block-headed Muslim apologists now, at the present day and time, who try to claim that these are scientific truths given by the all-powerful all-knowing Creator of the Universe!   

Hadith confirmation of Sun setting

According to Sahih al-Bukhari Hadiths: Abzur Ghifari narrated: One day Prophet Mohammad asked me, “Abzur, do you know after setting where Sun goes?”  I replied, I do not know, only Allah’s apostle can say better. Then Prophet replied, “After setting, the Sun remains prostrated under Allah’s Aro’sh (Allah’s throne) and waits for Allah’s command for rising again in the East. A day will come when Sun will not get any more permission from Allah to rise again and Qeyamot (dooms day) will fall upon earth”.

Conclusions

Reading all these ‘Revelations’, one gets the distinct impression that he is reading the delirium of an ignorant egoistic man who was trying to sell his garbage as the dictum of the prophet of the Creator of the Universe. The most unscientific facts in the Quran are:  

The Sun and Moon are not going round the Earth.

The Sun does not set in a spring of murky water.

The Earth is not flat.

The Sun and Moon are not racing against each other.   

The Sun does not lay prostrated besides Allah’s throne from Sunset to Sunrise.

A Paxman is a freelance writer on socio-political and religious matters.