The Role of Science and Faith in the Development of Civilisations

Professor Adel Sharif

Professor Adel Sharif

talking to Guildford and Godalming Interfaith Forum

talking to Guildford and Godalming Interfaith Forum

Religion is a submission to God and services to His creations. — Prophet Mohammed

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. — Albert Einstein

What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. — Albert Einstein

It is the inspiration of my faith and the events in my home country Iraq as well as the opportunity given to me in my host country, the UK, that influenced and allowed me to apply the knowledge I acquired, and to focus my research on water and energy for the benefit of society and the wellbeing of mankind. — Professor Adel Sharif

Lord, I believe in you, and You believe in me. Let’s continue working together. — Paulo Coelho

Only mediocrity is safe. Take your risks and be the best. — Paulo Coelho

A talk given by Professor Adel Sharif at the Guildford and Godalming Interfaith Forum on 27 October 2010 at Saint Nicolas Church in Guildford.

The meeting was packed. It was also very diverse in terms of age, gender, faith and nationality.

Professor Adel Sharif, as well as being a professor of water engineering at Surrey University and founder and director of Aqua Osmotics is also a devout Muslim. Born in a village in Iraq, he has travelled a long way to his post at Surrey University. It is his faith that inspires his work.

It is a strongly held belief of Professor Adel Sharif that it is faith that produces great science and great scientists. The same is true in the arts.

I saw an example of this when the previous week in London I saw at the V&A the Sistine Tapestries by Raphael. I see it when I read the works of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, a devout Catholic whose faith inspires his work. On the day I was in London he asked for a global prayer to give thanks and that he would continue to write. I hear it when I listen to the works of Bach. Hildegard von Bingen saw herself as being ‘a feather on the breath of God’. Stone masons working on mediaeval cathedrals carved stone that no one would ever see, but they knew God would see their work.

The basic premise of the talk by Professor Adel Sharif was that there is no conflict between religion and science, that it is a symbiosis between the two that has advanced civilisation. Men are driven to achieve great things, not through greed or wealth or fame, but through faith. Those who say there is a conflict have no understanding of religion, no understanding science, it is an artificially contrived conflict.

Is there a human mission? Do we have a purpose in life? What are we here for, what is our role?

Scientists have not attempted to answer this fundamental question, as they thought it is of a philosophical nature.

Philosophy and religion, are interested in such a subject.

The States of Man can be plotted on an exponential curve against time. Each period that we can identify is of shorter duration, each building upon the knowledge acquired in the past. We can identify six states.

Hunter gatherer – physical strength, endurance, knowledge of the natural world.

Agrarian economy – understanding the soil, seasons and natural cycles.

Industrial age – skilled artisans, engineers, technicians and managers for the production line.

Technology age – technical abilities and skills, but applied to software, design and intellectual capacity.

Information age – turning information into knowledge, building virtual teams to share that knowledge and applying it to create value.

Sustainable age – unlocking the insight, intellect, energy, emotional and spiritual intelligence and value generation capabilities of everyone to address the problems to be solved and opportunities to be grasped.

The sustainable age is the future. Some of us are there but the rest still wallow in their ignorance. If we do not enter this age, recognise Gaia, the Earth as a living system where all the living creatures, ecosystems and geophysical process work to maintain the earth for life, then we have no future. Some may recognise this as similar to that described in the Culture novels by Iain M Banks.

Prophesy and Inspiration

Knowledge of the future (usually said to be obtained from a divine source).

A prediction of the future, made under divine inspiration.

Bible prophecy, or “biblical prophecy” refers to prophecies in the Bible, to passages in the Bible which predict future events, which are believed.

Islamic Prophecy is “Inspiration”.

Knowledge and Science

Knowledge, information, learning, erudition, lore, scholarship.

Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.

Science is organized knowledge. – Herbert Spencer

Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association and reasoning.

This brings us to the question: Is knowledge possessed only by humans and or God? Furthermore do we create or only acquire/discover knowledge?

We discover, we stumble upon, we find. We cannot create knowledge. If we did, we would have many different universes. We all inhabit the same universe. If not the laws of physics would be different depending upon who created them.

An interesting philosophical discussion takes place in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Were the Laws of Motion as discovered by Isaac Newton spring into being when he discovered them or were they lying around waiting to be discovered.

It is important that we distinguish between creating and making. This is not clear in poor translations of the Koran. To create is something out of nothing. When we make we are transferring, for example baking a cake.

There is a difference between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge.

Scientific knowledge

Scientific method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

Science, and the nature of scientific knowledge have also become the subject of Philosophy. As science itself has developed, knowledge has developed a broader usage which has been developing within biology/psychology — as meta-epistemology, or genetic epistemology.

Religious meaning of Knowledge

In Christianity (Catholicism and Anglicanism) knowledge is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Hindu Scriptures present two kinds of knowledge: second-hand knowledge is knowledge obtained from books, hearsay, etc. and knowledge borne of direct experience, ie knowledge that one discovers for oneself either through observation or experimentation.

In Islam, knowledge is given great significance. “The All-Knowing” (al-’Alim). The Qur’an asserts that knowledge comes from God (2:239). Islamic scholars, theologians and jurists as well as scientists are often given the title alim, meaning “knowledgeable”.

Knowledge is one of the three pillars of Islam.

Science and belief

Belief is a subjective personal basis for individual behaviour, while Truth is an objective state independent of the individual.

Philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as justified true belief.

The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true.

A false belief is not considered to be knowledge, even if it is sincere.

Science is organized knowledge. — Herbert Spencer

A True Belief, therefore, is Science.

I may sincerely believe the moon is made of green cheese or the earth is flat, but it is a false belief not upheld by empirical evidence.

Wave-particle duality of light – Light may not be either, we have a model that works in some circumstances but not in all.

Science and Religion

Science is a system where beliefs are derived from objective methodologies.

Religion is a system of beliefs based on faith.

If the beliefs are true; then science and religion are compatible.

Science is True Beliefs (submission).

Technology provides tools to serve mankind.

Science & Technology are therefore compatible with religion and are True beliefs too.

Miracles, Discoveries and Inventions

Miracle: an event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment. An extraordinary event which follows natural laws and principles that we have not discovered yet. For example prophecies.

Discovery: A making known; revelation; disclosure; Finding out or ascertaining something previously unknown or unrecognised. It is a new knowledge.

Invention: A new device, method, or process developed from study and experimentation. It is an incremental development of known knowledge. It is the making/converting process of knowledge.

In How to Know God, Deepak Chopra notes that sages, prophets, saints and mystics can cross with ease the transition zone, something the rest of us have the potential to do.

The Birth of Civilisation

The earliest civilisation arose in the Middle East in around 3,500 BC in what is now Iraq. The first cities, Ur and Uruk, were built in Mesopotamia on the banks of the Euphrates. Ur is mentioned in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham (2,000 BC). It was here we had the first religious temple, the first writing, the first government, people of taste who had table manners.

It was in Iraq we saw a flourishing of the arts and mathematics and the sciences. The Golden Age of Islam (750-1100). Islamic scholars were inspired by their faith. A centre of learning was established that drew upon Persian, Greek and Indian knowledge. Great works were produced in the field of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geography, geometry, algebra, chemistry, optics. Zero was invented.

Ibn al Haytham (965-1040) (Alhazen) was the First Scientist to test hypotheses with verifiable experiments, developing the scientific method. To discover the truth about nature, Ibn al Haytham reasoned, one had to eliminate human opinion and allow the universe to speak for itself through physical experiments.

Faith inspired similar progress in Europe in the Arts and Science.

We have seen an exponential development in the sciences, but not in religion, where too often we hear the voice of the fundamentalists, the bigots.

This is the face we see of Islam. We see intolerance. And yet that was not the view we heard from Professor Adel Sharif a devout Muslim. It is not the view Benazir Bhutto presents in Reconciliation, the book she was working on when she was killed.

The first word in the Koran is read. It is seen as a command. To be able to read we require education. It does not say men read, or only men read. It says read.

To learn, to acquire knowledge, is a fundamental precept of Islam.

One thing Professor Adel Sharif told me he had learnt in life is patience. If something happens it is for a reason. Pause and reflect. That obstacle you hit is to give you a chance to take a different path, maybe the path less travelled. When one door closes, another door opens. Some people are deemed lucky, others unlucky. No, it is is that some fail to take the opportunities that life offers us, do not dare take risks, then bemoan their ill fate and lack of luck.

At the end of the evening Professor Adel Sharif offered me a lift to the station. I was too polite to decline his kind offer, it was actually quicker for me to walk, and as a consequence I missed my train with an hour to wait in the cold for the next train. I cursed as I watched it pulling out, 30 seconds earlier and I would have caught it. I calmed down and slowly walked back to the station entrance. There patiently waiting for me was Professor Adel Sharif. We agreed we would go off to a Turkish restaurant at the top end of the High Street where we and his son enjoyed an interesting conversation.

Maktub: What will be will be. It is written.

Synchronicity: On my way home I found the two quotes by Paulo Coelho which had been sent to me earlier in the evening. The two quotes were pertinent to and summed up that which we had been discussing. Not only that, synchronicity and Paulo Coelho both got a mention in our conversation.

I arrived at the meeting early and whilst chatting with other early arrivals I expressed my concern at the sale of so-called Peace Oil at St Mary’s Church and the deception that was being practised. All agreed that it was a scandal and Peace Oil should be removed and it would be far better to have on sale the olive oil Holy Trinity and St Mary’s had brought over from Palestine.

Up coming events

Faiths in Harmony Guildford and Godalming Inter-Faith Forum at St Nicolas Church in Guildford. 3pm, Sunday 14 November 2010.

Israeli Apartheid: Hosted by West Surrey Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid and campaign co-ordinator of A Just Peace for Palestine, will talk of the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. 7-30pm Thursday 18 November 2010, St Nicolas Parish Centre, Guildford.

Woking Quakers as part of Interfaith Week are putting on a show from the Edinburgh Fringe On Human Folly by the Plain Quakers theatre company. Friends Meeting House, 41 Park Road Woking. 2pm Sunday 21 November 2010.

Also see

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Thinkers

Reflections of the Islamic scholar Ibn Sina

The Alchemist

The Valkyries

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Gospel of Thomas

How to Know God

God Is

Christian Theology and Gaia

The Tao of Physics

The Dancing Wu Li Masters


Where does religion come from?

Changing reality

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19 Responses to “The Role of Science and Faith in the Development of Civilisations”

  1. marie-christine Says:

    WOW! that looks most interesting.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. marie-christine Says:

    Thanks Keith.
    I have read it and I agree with everything said. It is the way I see it 2.
    I will ‘take my time” and read it again though.

  3. Priya Sher Says:

    Thank you Keith for this interesting and well written article.

  4. Carolyn Neogi Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your comprehensive notes from Adel’s talk. This is really useful as a record for GGIFF as well as for sharing…

  5. keithpp Says:

    GGIFF – Guildford and Godalming Interfaith Forum.

  6. Adriana Says:

    Really interesting. So grateful for sharing

  7. Adriana Says:

    In my opinion all religions lead to God, I formed this opinion long before reading it in By The River Piedra. All of them should work together to make mankind evolve towards a light I don’t understand , but I feel has to be there. One way of making this come true is following Paulo’s words from The Fifth Mountain: Let’s not talk about what separates us, but about what unifies us. I continue: Let’s leave bigotry and the false belief of owning The Truth out of our religous beliefs and spiritual quest. Let’s not be afraid of what is different and learn from it. Let’s make the world a better place with the power of our own religion without thinking it to be the ultimate truth.

  8. Dances With Crayons Says:

    The light is in your picture Keith.
    Great read, thanks again,
    Love, Jane xo

  9. mohammed tayar Says:

    thank you for sharing .
    Pro Adel makes things more clear and understandable, his deep sight to philosophical problems allowed him to makes them easy..

    God please him and give him health, time and inspiration to do more towards him.

    thanks to all people to bring this talk to public .


    • keithpp Says:

      Yes, I agree. Please pass to everyone you know. Help spread a little enlightenment in the world. Maybe it should be obligatory reading for all the bigots in the world. But then by their very nature with their closed minds, they would not read.

  10. Surrey Minority Ethnic Forum Says:

    Hi there,

    We are Surrey Minority Ethnic Forum, we support Minority Ethnic and Multi-faith community and voluntary groups in Surrey. My colleague, Suzanne Akram, attended this talk and passed me the link to your blog. Thank you for such a comprehensive and interesting write-up. I have re-posted this on our website, which you can see here If you have any objection to this please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Susie, Forum & Information Co-ordinator for SMEF

    p.s. I just placed and order for Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, thanks for the prompt

  11. Surrey Minority Ethnic Forum Says:

    All the links in the article are in place, including links to your other blogs. I’ve now also added a ‘Click to view the original article’ link

    Many thanks

  12. Says:

    It is good when you look for a post such as this which makes people think!
    Thanks for letting me leave a comment.

  13. keithpp Says:

    Thanks for kind comments.

    Please share with friends.

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