Creation of the Universe in the Light of Islam
ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF CREATION OF UNIVERSE, BIG BANG AND SCIENCE-RELIGION INTERACTION
The picture of universe provided by the Big Bang Theory is fairly accurate. According to this theory our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago in a violent explosion. Quantum effects like quantum fluctuation caused the generation of energy from almost nothing. The energy was spread uniformly. Due to quantum uncertainty and other effects the uniformity was broken and there emerged the anisotropies. These anisotropies during inflation period expanded into galactic sizes. While the universe was expanding it was cooling as well. This cooling has caused the formation of different particles—matter formation. When the energy got sufficiently low, the particles like neutron and protons combined to make primordial gases. These gases due to anisotropies started to concentrate in some regions of universe giving rise to formation of galaxies and stars. This description of creation of universe is supported both by experimental discoveries and mathematical formulations. But there are some very interesting questions like what happened before the Big Bang and what determine the properties of universe or the initial conditions? These questions are partly answered by quantum gravity, to be more precise, the Hawking—Hartley’s ‘No Boundary Proposal’, which says that universe has no initial or final boundaries and the universe is self generated.
There is another key question. It has been evident since long that if our physical constants have been slightly different then the life on the Earth would not have been possible. Why the physical constants have the value they have, or what made it that physical constants have such values to make life possible in this universe. Moreover, the overall chemical composition of the universe was determined by the physical conditions during the first few seconds of the Big Bang. For example, the elements on which life depends such as Carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and Iron are the products of nuclear fusion reactions within the stars if the initial condition would have been different from formation of stars; nuclear fusion and supernova which distributed these would not have been possible. Also the processes by which the chemical elements are formed are governed very precisely by the strengths of four fundamental physical interactions: gravitation, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear interactions. If the relative strengths of these forces were different, the resultant universe would have been different. For example, increasing the strong nuclear interaction by 3 % relative to electromagnetic interaction gives a cosmological model in which none of the known chemical elements could have been formed. Conversely, decreasing it by just 1 % gives a model in which Carbon atoms would be highly unstable. Both scenarios would preclude carbon-based life. Other tiny variation in these forces might have given rise to a universe which contained 100 % helium or one in which supernova explosion could not occur (since these explosions are though to be chief way in which the chemicals necessary for life are ejected from stars), these scenario too preclude the evolution of life. These ‘precisions’ in the various parameters, such as to give rise to life, are known as the ‘Anthropic coincidences’.
Last but not least what caused these physical laws to be applied in the universe or in other words wherefrom these laws came?
There is no obvious physical reason, in the Big Bang theory, to the questions just raised. But one thing is quite certain that according to laws of nature we know today that very small changes in any of these key parameters would have resulted in a grossly different universe. So the chance of life permitting universe would be vanishingly small as compared to all theoretically possible universes.
Such enigmas can be responded either by appealing to God that the almighty God has set the values of the physical constants such that the life should be possible or by invoking the ‘Anthropic Principle’. The first option is referred to as Divine Action at Quantum Level. The other option though avoid direct appeal to God, maintains that according to quantum Gravity—No Boundary Proposal, they are millions of different quantum mechanically possible universes, each with different values of physical constants. Only those universes with suitable physical constants will contain intelligent life.
It is obvious from the above discussion that the cosmology, like all other sciences, has deep religious implications since it specifically deals with creation of universe and emergence of life which are central questions of every religion. Scientific discoveries always challenged beliefs of all religions. Let see what is the Islamic concept of creation of universe, and how have the challenges and implications, that have been posed by Big Bang Theory and modern science, been responded by Muslims and Christians scholars?
Let see, first of all, what is Islamic concept of creation of universe and how Modern Muslims thinkers and scholars tackle the question of Science—Religion interaction.
ISLAMIC CONCEPT OF CREATION OF UNIVERSE
One thing must be understood that The Quran is not a text book of Astronomy or Physics. As Dr Absar Ahmed has said in his paper on “Creation and Evolution in Quranic Perspective’ that the primary function and intent of the Quran is the detailed discussion of practical matters related to Guidance and the Straight Path. These matters are of immediate and common concern for every single human being so that he or she may attain salvation on the Day of Judgment. Consequently, the Quran keeps the needs of masses in focus and takes into account their intellectual capacities; as a result, the Quran relies upon only general Pointers to address issues related to specialized philosophical or academic interest, higher gnosis, and subtle spiritual realities. For those with sharpened intellects and heightened spiritual sensibilities theses general pointers should be more than enough to shed light on such matters”.
Now let’s see what picture emerges from the Quranic verses—pointers – referring to the creation of universe.
According to The Quran, the life containing universe is solely created by the Almighty God—Allah—and He is the Supreme Ruler of the universe. To this effect let me refer to few Quranic verses;
God is the Creator of everything; is the One, the Omnipotent. (13: 16)
God is the Creator of everything and He is incharge of everything. (39: 62)
Originator of Heaven and Earth, and whenever He decrees something, He says to it: ‘Be’ and it is. (2: 117)
Do they not see how God initiates the creation, and then reproduces it? Surely that is easy for God. Say: ‘travel in the earth and see how God initiated the creation’. Then God will create another creation; surely God has power over all things. (29:19-20)
Your guardian-Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six days and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun the moon and the stars (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds! (7:54)
There are many other ayahs (verses) which refer to the fact that all that is on the Earth and in the Heavens is created by Almighty God.
Second important fact according to The Quran is that this universe—Earth and Heavens—has definite life period and has some definite objectives like other creations.
Sura No 46, Ayah No 3 says:
“We created not the heavens and the earth and all between them but for just ends and for a term appointed: but those who reject faith turn away from that whereof they are warned”.
This Ayah clearly rejects any notion of eternal universe which other theories like steady state theory holds.
Next important question is creation of universe from out of nothing or creatio-ex-nihilo. To this effect we do see few direct references in The Quran, from which scholars have derived the creation ex-nihilo.
Sura 19 Ayah No 9 says: He said: "So (it will be): thy Lord saith `that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before when thou hadst been nothing!' ".
Also scholars quote ayah No 47 of Sura 3, which says: She said:
"O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?" He said: "Even so: Allah createth what He willeth; when He hath decreed a plan He but saith to it `Be' and it is! And many others used by scholars to infer the concept of creation ex-nihilo.
These Ayahs refer to the creation of human being and the birth of Christ but scholars that these creations show that God has power to create things out of nothingness. He faces no difficulty and does not need any material or resources in fulfilling this task.
Next thing is the concept of emergence of universe from a very dense state called singularity. To this effect we see in Sura 21 ayah No 30 that:
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of Creation) before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
In Sura 21 two words ‘Rataq’ and ‘Fataq’ have been used. According to Maulana Maudoodi the words ‘Rataq’ and ‘Fataq’ means that the universe was in a fused matter and God decreed it to separate to form the heavens and the earth. These words according to Maulana had different meaning for people of past, now, Physics and Astronomy has changed the meaning of these words. Similarly Tahir ul Qadri maintains that these words point to creation of universe from the initial singularity.
The Creation of universe started, Allama Tahir- ul -Qadri says, from initial state which is Falaq lets see Translation of Sura Falaq by Tahir Ul Qadri;
“Take the refuge in My Omnipotence from all created things, which have been formed by an explosion and ordered by My Lordship attribute. I am your lord, the ruler of the Galaxies, which I have scattered into the infinite reaches of the space through a magnificent explosion that started from initial singularity, and, through this explosion a lot of forces, energies radiations and reactions came into existence, which may be damaging for life, so take refuge from those evils. Because whoever takes refuge in Me is protected from all evils”.
Now as Anthropic principle and quantum gravity suggest that there could have been many more quantum universes in addition to our universe, these universes may have their own values of physical constants and nature of the physical laws. To this fact we refer to Sura 65 Ayah No 12 which says:
Allah is He Who created seven Firmaments (heavens) and of the earth a similar number. Through the midst of them (Allah) descends His Command: that ye may know that Allah has power over all things and that Allah comprehends all things in (His) Knowledge.
It should be noted that if the word ‘Samawat’ is taken equivalent to universe then there are at least 7 other universe (one above other like onion) each with its own sets of physical laws. And it is apparent from this Ayah that God created other worlds system and God’s commands descend (Keep in mind the use of present tense) in those systems. Use of present tense means that these systems exist today contrary to what Quantum Gravity theories suggest.
As to the formation of Galaxies and stars, The Quran hints at the formation of the heavens and the earth from the gaseous matter in Sura No 41 Ayah 11-12:
Moreover He Comprehended in His design the sky and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: "Come ye together willingly or unwillingly." They said: "We do come (together) in willing obedience. So He completed them as seven firmaments in two Days and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. And We adorned the lower heaven with lights and (provided it) with guard. Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might Full of knowledge."
These ayahs show that the lowest heaven or our universe is decorated or provided with visible objects like stars and galaxies, other heavens which lie above our system or universe may not contain the type of visible objects like we have in our universe. These universes may contain different types of objects and even laws if we consider the words ‘assigned to each heaven its duty and command’ means natural laws.
Referring to the uniformity of the universe on large scale Sura 67 Ayah No 3 says:
He Who created the seven heavens one above another; no want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of (Allah) Most Gracious so turn thy vision again: Seest thou any flaw?
Taken collectively, these ayahs—pointers—clearly demonstrate that the universe is created by Allah the Almighty, who did not encounter any resistance or needed any resources to carryout His plan. He only said Be and there started the process of creation of universe.
SCIENCE – RELIGION DEBATE: GLIMPSE OF MUSLIMS’ RESPONSE
Many Muslims believe that the historical conflict between religion and science was a conflict between a particular religion—Christianity—and science, and that while it is too bad that Christianity emerged from the engagement badly bruised, Islam has no fears of such a clash. The conclusion drawn about Islam needs to be further elaborated. Science can not cause problem for Islam but it has definitely influence the outlook and thinking of many Muslims scholars, theologians and even simple minded people. For example as we have just shown that Islam has its own concept of creation of universe so the scientific concept of creation of universe like Big bang theory has deep implications for Muslims. Thus this influence of science has given rise to, without coming into limelight, a kind of science-religion debate since sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Let us take only a few examples from our region and see how some leading scholars have taken science-religion relationship.
Let’s start with Allama Iqbal. He says in The Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam;
“The Quran recognizing that the empirical attitude is an indispensable stage in the spiritual life of humanity, attaches equal importance to all the regions of human experience as yielding knowledge of ‘Ultimate Reality’ which reveals its symbols both within and without….the naturalism of the Quran is only recognition of the fact that the man is related to nature, and this relation, in the view of its possibility as a means of controlling her forces, must be exploited not in the interest of the unrighteous desire for domination, but in the nobler interested of a free upward movement of spiritual life. In the interest of securing a complete vision of Reality, therefore, sense—perception must be supplemented by the perception of what the Quran Describes as Qalb.”
In another place Allama making his case for Ijtihad says;
“The teaching, of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems”.
Thus we can see Iqbal strongly advocates synthesis of Science and Religion such that this synthesis should be useful for spiritual development of man.
Strictly following Iqbal’s view came forward Ghulam Ahmed Pervaiz. He tried to inculcate a spirit of rationality so that Muslim should take maximum advantage of science but in doing this he went too far, according to Theologian, he tried to explain the Quran in modernistic terms using present scientific knowledge instead of traditional approach. In this attempt, he in fact, adopted a line which is purely a kind integration of Islam with modern values.
There is another track in the field of science – religion interaction. It is a form according to which science and scientific knowledge can be employed to understand the Quran and Ahadith but Science, as principle, occupies a lower place than the Sources of Islamic Traditions. This line can be seen in the work of Maulana Maudoodi. We can see, in the work of Maulana Maudoodi, especially in Tarjuman Ul Quran, that he uses scientific data extensively to explain matter related to universe and to clarify and elaborate the Quranic message that had been difficult to understand hitherto. But whenever there is a conflict between the science and religion, like birth control issue, Maulana quickly adopts orthodox line against the Science.
There is yet another line, according to which, the relation between science and religion is not question of only theology or science but it is a question of philosophy as well. Let me quote famous Iranian scholar and physicist Dr. Mehdi Golshani, he says;
“In my opinion, there are lots of confusion and fallacies concerning the problem of creation, especially among modern cosmologists. This, in my humble view, is the result of their lack of philosophical understanding. The problem of creation is not a matter of physics alone. It needs theological and philosophical reflection as well”.
He further recommends the following strategy:
“We should explore our universe, by science, as much as we can, but we must avoid making claims about the absolute origination of the universe on physical grounds. Philosophy and theology can save us from making unsound exaggerated scientific claims, and can give us a proper metaphysical framework for our science and a ground for our being. In this framework, the description of the physical aspects of the universe is left for scientific investigation, but the ultimate explanation of the universe is provided by God.”
There is yet another line advocated by Dr. Bilal Masood. He opines:
“A complete natural view of the world is not compatible with the Islamic beliefs as it is not compatible with beliefs of any other religion. So, here we have some concerns against materialism that we have to share with other religions of the world. The importance of balance in Islam is very relevant here: we have to avoid both extreme views of too much supernatural and of no supernatural. He also asserts that (in the preaching Islam) in spite of importance of (scientific) examples, it is important to keep in mind that there is an approach to the Islamic beliefs that does not rely on (scientific) example-as –arguments.
Despite different lines followed by Muslim Scholars the general pattern of thought is such that Muslims usually uses science as a means of knowledge like other branches of knowledge and at the same time Muslims uphold Revealed knowledge as well.
RESPONSE FROM CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS
Muslims, despite their present clash and mistrust with the west, share many common themes and Beliefs with Christians. For example the belief of Omnipresent and Omnipotent God Who constantly act in this universe. So the experiences of Christian theologians will be a good guide, to some extent, to appreciate and understand the challenges of modern sciences to religion. Let see how the question of science-religion relationship has been taken by Christians.
The science and religion are entangled with each other since 16th century. This entanglement had bruised both science and religion. Realizing the importance of both fields, it has now been felt that there should be some meaningful relationship/interaction between both fields of knowledge and aspiration. This has initiated the field of study known as science- religion interaction. The field has explored the influences which science exerts on the religion and vice versa. Ian Barbour, one the most respected scholar of science-religion debate, has proposed that there are four types of relations or ways of relating science and religion. These are conflict, independence, dialogue and integration. Similarly John F Haught, Professor at Georgetown University, also proposed Ian Barbour typology. Let me quote his own words he says;
“I see four principal ways in which those who thought about the problem express their understanding of the relationship of religion to science. (1) Some hold that religion is utterly opposed to science or that science invalidates religion. I shall call this Conflict position. (2) Others insist that science and religion are so clearly different from each other that conflict between them is logically impossible. Religion and science both are valid, but we should rigorously separate one from other. This is contrast position. (3) A third type argues that although science and religion are distinct, science always has implications for religion and vice versa. Science and religion inevitably interact, and so religion and theology must not ignore new developments in science. For the sake of simplicity I shall call this contact approach. (4) Finally, a fourth way of looking at the relationship—akin to but logically distinct from third—emphasizes the subtle but significant ways in which religion positively supports the scientific adventure of discovery. It looks for those ways in which religion, without any way interfering with science, paves the way for some ideas, and even gives a special kind of blessing, or what I shall call confirmation, to the scientific quest of truth.’
It is not necessary to enter into more detail regarding the ‘Typology’ of the relationships between science and religion. My aim is to present a general map of the ways of relating science and religion in Christian and Muslim world. Keeping this in mind let see how some eminent Western scholars deal with Big Bang and question of creation in religion.
One prominent reaction to Big Bang has been by those who saw Big Bang as a support for theism. As Paul Davies put it:
A singularity is the nearest thing that science has found to a supernatural agent.
He also says that ‘The possibility that given the laws of physics, a universe can appear spontaneously rests on the “prior” existence of these laws of physics. Given, the laws, the universe can take care of itself. But where do the laws come from?
There is another view held by agnostics like S. Hawking their view point in S. Hawking’s words is;
“There would be no singularities at which the laws of science broke down, and no edge of space-time at which one has to appeal to God or some new law to set the boundary conditions for space-time.”
“But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end. What place, then, for a Creator?”
There are some who are looking for a dialogue between the Science and Religion like Ian G. Barbour. Let me now quote Ian G. Barbour, he says:
“It is equally impossible to imagine a beginning of time or an infinite span of time. Both are unlike anything we have experienced. Both start with an unexplained universe. I will agree that the choice of theories could be made on scientific grounds alone, and that the difference between them is only of secondary importance religiously.”
Similarly R. J. Russell holds that:
“Whether the origin of the universe as we know it involves a previous quantum super space, or whether the universe had an absolute beginning 15 billion years ago, the universe is contingent: it does not seem to include the grounds for its own existence, it does not offer an ultimate explanation of why anything at all exists in the first place, and therefore it points to that on which all beings necessarily exist – God.
In brief there are three types of people in the west: the one who have ‘developed the system of idealism by compromising reason with faith’, the other group has ‘developed the system of materialism by clear separation from religious faith’ and third group hopes to integrate both through a dialogue between them.
Now if we compare the Islamic concept of creation of universe appears in The Quran and Current Big Bang theory, we can see that there are some features of Big Bang theory that are closely similar to the Islamic concept of Creation of Universe, for example, creation out of nothingness, initial singularity, concept of formation of galaxies from primordial gases, and uniformity of universe on large scale. Also there are a few features of creation where there is no uniformity of ideas between Islamic concept and Big Bang Theory, for example, notion of multi-universe/worlds. Second, if we compare the science religion relationship/interaction in Christian perspective and in Islamic perspective we see that there is a great deal of similarity in the type of ways of interaction/relationship and responses in both monotheistic religions. Third, that as we have seen that the Islamic concept of creation of universe is not contrary to the present scientific theories; in fact the theories have enhanced our understanding of the universe. This enhanced knowledge of the universe has improved our understanding of the Quran and Ahadith. So science, though it has provisional theories has become a key requirement in understanding Religion, as it explained several things like existence of other universes/worlds and fused status of heaven and earth, etc which our old exegetes were unable to explain. Thus science is not only a requirement of material comfort but also a key requisite for appreciation of religion. Fourth, science has provided us a universal language with which we can interact with the people of other religions and cultures.