Saturday, April 7, 2007

155)"Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine Will."

Today's Globe and Mail(Canada's national newspaper) has an illuminating article on the link between scientists and religion and gives us the example of a Christian and a Jewish scientist and how their science interacted with their religion and vice versa.

For Shia Ismaili Muslims the link between science and religion is simple and cogent. Four posts I have made in the past should help to inform their approach to this important discussion:

In mysterious ways
Globe and Mail
Saturday, April 7th 2007

Science and faith have clashed from the days of Galileo to today. But the outcome is not always what you may expect: A biologist finds God. A biblical historian loses his religion. ANNE McILROY tells their tales


Bart Ehrman was a believer. An evangelical Christian, he learned Greek, Coptic and paleography -- the study of ancient handwriting -- to analyze New Testament documents. Today, he chairs the University of North Carolina religious-studies department, where he investigates the forgery of Christian documents in the second and third centuries. But he no longer has Jesus in his heart, and no longer goes to church.

Sharon Moalem was not religious when he began to study evolution in microbes, plants, animals and humans. Today, he is at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where he investigates the role bacteria play in Crohn's disease, a digestive-tract disorder. He found God through science. He has become an Orthodox Jew who attends weekly services, and doesn't use his computer, BlackBerry or any electric devices on the Sabbath.

Research and religion have collided in the public realm since Galileo was convicted of heresy in 1633 for teaching that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Similar clashes make headlines today -- the debate over teaching evolution in U.S. classrooms, restrictions on stem-cell research, or the meaning of archeological finds such as the "lost gospel of Judas" that challenge the story of Jesus as told in the Bible.

But the God-versus-science debate also can cause inner turmoil for researchers, especially when their discoveries challenge their own long-held beliefs. A study in the journal Nature found that mathematicians were the most likely among scientists to believe in a personal God and an afterlife, physicists and astronomers less so. Over all, roughly 60 per cent of the natural scientists surveyed were not believers, and 40 per cent were.

A new book, Practicing Science, Living Faith, reflects the growing academic interest in how scientists reconcile their spiritual life with their work. It presents interviews with a dozen researchers, including chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, who talks about the importance of recognizing the "spark of spirit" in all creatures.

But none of the 12 experienced as extreme a spiritual journey as Dr. Ehrman, the New Testament scholar whose work slowly chipped away at the foundation of his faith, or Dr. Moalem, the evolutionary biologist who was so awed and inspired by the complexity of life that he turned to a force he could sense, but not see or measure, for an explanation.

Dr. Ehrman was brought up in Kansas, where his family attended weekly services at an Episcopalian church. As a teenager, he felt what he describes as "an emptiness inside that nothing seemed to fill." He started attending the Campus Life Youth for Christ Club and was "born again" at the age of 15.

When he graduated from high school in 1973, he went to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Drinking, smoking, movies and dancing were forbidden, but there was plenty of Bible study.
At the end of his three-year diploma, he decided he wanted to be a Christian scholar, but in a secular university. He went to Wheaton College, near Chicago, where he learned Greek and got interested in New Testament manuscripts.

He had started his postsecondary education believing that the New Testament was the word of God. But he was troubled by the fact that the original manuscripts have not survived -- only copies, mostly made many centuries after Jesus died.

If God had wanted people to hear his words, he wondered, why hadn't he allowed the originals to survive? "Why would He inspire it if He didn't preserve it?"

From Chicago, he went to New Jersey and Princeton University, where his doctoral research forced him to accept that there were errors and discrepancies in the Bible. For example, different chapters offered contradictory accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the events being marked by Christians around the world this weekend with the celebration of Easter.

"What got me was the enormity of the differences that you find in the manuscripts. That started chiselling away at my faith. I didn't think that God dictated every word, but that I thought that God had guided the authors," says Dr Ehrman, now 51.

In 1983, Dr. Ehrman was teaching a class at Rutgers University on the problem of suffering in the biblical tradition, and brought in pictures of starving children in Ethiopia. But he was more affected by the images than his students were.

"My faith in the Bible had already been challenged by my research, and now I was confronted by the question of how there could be a God in charge of this world, given the state of things."
He continued attending church for another decade, joining an Episcopalian congregation when he moved to North Carolina. But work eroded what was left of his faith.

"The more I did historical research, the more I realized what I had always accepted as Christianity was something that had developed over time. It wasn't the form of religion that was there at the very beginning, and it wasn't the religion that Jesus himself had."

He was in church one Sunday in the early 1990s, reciting the Nicene Creed, a profession of Christian faith, when he realized that he believed only a small fraction of it -- the description of how Jesus was crucified by Pontius Pilate, died and was buried -- and nothing else.

"[For] the rest, I was just kind of mouthing the words, and I realized, 'I don't really belong here.' "

He has never been back and says he is an agnostic, unsure if God exists. It is a sore point with some family members who are still born-again Christians. "We talk about baseball or basketball," he says.

His children from his first marriage are now adults and have become atheists. But his present wife goes to church and wishes he would attend too.

He told a short version of his story as an introduction to his 2005 book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, which became a bestseller. Now, he's writing an entire book chronicling his loss of faith.

But Dr. Ehrman doesn't feel out of place in his department. He says none of his colleagues are religious: "Religious-studies departments are notorious. It is quite different from divinity school, where you have people who are believers training other people to be believers."

When Sharon Moalem was a teenager growing up in Toronto, he went to synagogue once a year with his father but had little interest in religion. He looked to science for answers to the big questions in his life, such as why his beloved grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, had been stricken with Alzheimer's.

He studied biology at the University of Guelph and then moved to the University of Toronto for graduate school, where he started investigating the evolution of genes that cause disease.
Why would genes that make us sick -- that contribute to Alzheimer's or high cholesterol -- be passed down from generation to generation? Is it possible that they have a dual nature and were somehow helpful to our ancestors, allowing them to survive plagues, ice ages and other calamities?

Those questions would guide a promising scientific career -- and lead to his first book, Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease, released this year. But they also would lead the young researcher on an unexpected spiritual journey.

"There wasn't, like, a flash. It was a slow process, sparked by long hours in the lab, and the realization that life is in a constant state of creation, and that there was a unifying force in the things I was studying -- whether you call it nature or God," says Dr. Moalem, who is now 33.

One of those connections was a link between Alzheimer's and hemochromatosis, an inherited condition that causes organs such as the liver and heart to hoard iron. His grandfather had suffered from it long before he got Alzheimer's. Dr. Moalem's research showed that the hemochromatosis may have put his grandfather at increased risk of getting the degenerative brain disease.

He wondered why those genes would be so common? Why would up to 40 per cent of the population in Europe be carriers?

He built a case that the hemochromatosis genes protected people from the bubonic plague, because it kept the iron in their bodies out of reach from bacteria, which need the metal to fuel their invasive lives. The gene first emerged 60 to 70 generations ago, around 600 to 1100 AD, when the Black Death was ravaging Europe.

But the medical community resisted the idea that the genes that cause or contribute to disease today might have been helpful to our ancestors through plagues and other calamities.

"The more I studied, the more it came across that disease might be protective. And I thought, if I got this wrong, if medical science got this wrong, what else aren't we understanding fully? Many things seem negative and awful, but there is actually a bigger picture to it."

The bigger picture, he came to feel, involves God. "Everything that exists is in essence a part of God, a universal creation that is still continually unfolding and evolving."

When he was 29, Dr. Moalem sought out organized religion and was attracted to Orthodox practices because of the discipline. He keeps kosher and attends weekly religious services, but has not settled yet on a synagogue in Manhattan, where he is finishing his medical degree and doing research.

He has to take the Sabbath off. "I think it offered that time to reflect on the bigger questions," he says.

He says he doesn't see God as a Zeus-like deity who throws down lightning but as the force that permeates all of existence, both the known and the unknown aspects of the universe.

He no longer questions why God would allow his grandfather to have suffered and died from Alzheimer's. "Some people may look at the genes linked to Alzheimer's or other serious diseases as a curse or divine retribution. A materialist would tell you, 'No, the body is a machine that is malfunctioning.'

"My view is, things are working exactly as they should. It is an evolutionary compromise that allows us to still be around."

It hasn't changed his work as a scientist. His colleagues don't treat him differently, although he can't talk to them on the phone or via e-mail on the Sabbath.

He doesn't see any conflict between God and evolution. "Evolution is just another way creation is continuously unfolding."

He dislikes the notion that scientists are either enlightened and don't believe in God, or are a throwback to a time of ignorance. He does not think science should take on the markings of a religion.

"If you are using science not as a tool, but as a world view, you run the risk of shutting out something you can't measure. Just because you can't measure it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
Journeys -- both spiritual and scientific -- are defined in part by their starting points. If Dr. Ehrman had not believed the Bible to be the unerring word of God, his scholarship might not have had such a profound impact on his faith.

Many Christians choose to focus on the messages in the Bible, to see it as parable, and are unperturbed by its contradictions, or by the heavy editing that has changed the gospels of the New Testament over the centuries.

But for Dr. Ehrman, having an historical understanding of where the doctrines and teachings of Christianity came from deprived them of their divine status. Did he learn too much?

"I don't think it is possible to learn too much," he says.

If Dr. Moalem had been brought up in an Orthodox household, he might have rebelled against religion, or kept that part of his life separate from his work, rather than turning to God to help explain the connectedness and complexity of life he discovered as an evolutionary biologist.

Becoming more spiritual has made him a better scientist, he says, more open to anything he may encounter in the lab. "It sparks the wonder and amazement that I have that keeps my work inspired . . . and not suffocated," he says. "It is the 'wow' factor: There is more to the world than how it appears."

Anne McIlroy is The Globe and Mail's science reporter.

Are you there, God? It's me, Einstein

"It is my belief -- and because it is a belief, you can discuss it but not disprove it -- that there is a great Spiritual Power and that there is a spark of that spiritual power within each of us. And I believe that there is a spark of the same spiritual power in all life."
-- Jane Goodall, chimpanzee-behaviour expert, environmentalist, animal-rights activist, author of Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey.

"You use the tools of science to understand how nature works, but you also recognize that there are things outside of nature, namely God, for which the tools of science are not well designed to derive truth. The middle-ground position is that there is more than one way to find truth, and a fully formed effort to try to answer the most important questions would not limit you to the kinds of questions that science can answer, especially the eternal one: Why are we all here, anyway?"
-- Francis Collins, geneticist, Christian, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

"The scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. . . . His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of his life and work. . . ."
-- Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist (1879-1955), did not believe in a personal God, is best known for his theories of relativity.

"Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe." Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy," then you can find God in a lump of coal."
-- Steven Weinberg, 1979 winner of the Nobel prize for physics, atheist, author of Dreams of a Final Theory.

"As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect."
-- Richard Dawkins, Oxford University evolutionary biologist, atheist, author of The God Delusion.

-- Anne McIlroy


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3