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‘Science and Religion’ according to Ayatollah Jafar Subhani

based on our definitions of science and religion, science is at the service of religion and discovers the hidden organization of the world.

Ayatollah Jafar Subhani has answered some questions about science and religion. Here is the full text of Q&As.

Question 1. How do you define science and religion?

Definition of religion

We first define religion (din) and then science (‘ilm )

The term “din” is Arabic and has various usages. The sense used in daily conversations denotes “belief in God” along with a set of ideas.

If we want to define it, we could define it as belief in a being with unlimited knowledge and power Who created celestial and terrestrial entities in an organized fashion, and chose human beings from among all those creations, and  sent educators to show them the freeways to salvation, activating all the potential merits hidden in their nature, and warning them against the positions of error. God has set rewards and punishments—for following, or not following, the religious teachings sent through special messengers—which human beings will face in their second life (the hereafter). In other words, religion (din) is belief in an unseen power which is unlimited in perfection, whose essence is unknowable to humankind, except through its features, namely, the attributes of its essence and deeds. We may refer to knowledge and power as the attributes of His essence and to purposefulness as an attribute of His deeds. Thus, the universe and human beings have been created with a purpose for which positive results affect those very creations, not that of the divine essence. From this, we may conclude that life in this world is not the goal [of creation], but a step towards a higher end and life. God has sent the following message to his worshippers through His last [human] educator:

“. “مَا هَذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

“This present life is nothing but a diversion and a play; but the abode of the Hereafter is indeed Life, had they known”. (29:64)

Since our aim here is to define religion, not to prove the truth of religion, this much will suffice for defining and making it known. The question of whether that unseen Being with those attributes really exists or not belongs to the realm of philosophy and theology. However, even those who do not have such knowledge can find the truth in simple ways, the clearest of which is through the guidance of human nature and thinking about the organization of this perceptible world, which indicates the role of knowledge and power in the creation of both human nature and this world.

Definition of ‘ilm (science/knowledge)

The term ‘ilm (science/knowledge), which is [also] rendered as “danesh” in Persian, has various meanings or so called “applications” , and even includes such areas of non-experimental knowledge as literature and law. In these questions, however, we are concerned with natural sciences, including celestial and terrestrial ones, whose objects of study exist outside and independently of the thinkers’ minds and conception, objects whose existence outside the mind is confirmed by everyone except skeptics and idealists. Thus, science can be defined as the discovery of the dynamics of the structure of the world and making known the laws and organization of the world, and that is why we now know that the system governing the atom is the same as that which governs the galaxies.

Here I am compelled to say that: from the first day that discoverers and inventors started doing research with extremely simple tools, they took one principle for granted: that the object of their investigation is governed by a certain order and organization which is to be discovered with patience and tolerance, and if had they not unanimously agreed on that principle, they would never have investigated anything or used simple tools, or what is now called a laboratory. This definite principle helped them tolerating the pains and ignoring the pleasures of life for the sake of discovering the unknown.

Question 2. Do you see any incompatibility between your definitions of science and religion?


If we clearly know the realms of science and religion and understand that these are not parallel areas but are collinear, we see that there is no conflict between them. Instead, based on our definitions of science and religion, science is at the service of religion and discovers the hidden organization of the world. If we want to explain their being collinear, we should say that religion concerns the things per se while science concerns proving or disproving their qualities, functions and features

Religion declares that this world has not been created accidentally but was created in an organized form by a knowing and powerful Being, with His unlimited knowledge and power, as He says in the Qur’an:

“وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَذَا بَاطِلاً سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ.”

“[Those] who remember Allah, standing , sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth [and say]: ´Our Lord, You have not created this for vain! Immaculate are you! Save us from the punishment of the Fire.’”. (3: 191)

In this way, scientists in all ages have sought to uncover with their special tools and words the hidden laws of the book of nature, referred to by religion.

Question3. Where do you think they can conflict with each other?


It is possible that they conflict with each other in two situations, but only apparently, not actually.

  1. A conflict may occur when the position of religion about the creation is not correctly presented; that is, when all sorts of cause and effect relationships between celestial and terrestrial phenomena are rejected and only one cause is recognized, i.e. the Creator replaces all other causes. For instance, when the [cause and effect] relationship between fire and the burning of cotton or between water and slaking one’s thirst is denied. In such a situation, science, whose function is to uncover the relations between entities, criticizes religion and calls it “anti-science.” This view of the role of religion in the world of creation is caused by a misunderstanding of the unity of God in the act of creation, which is stressed by the divine Book. These people have not properly read or comprehended the divine Book while the Holy Qur’an, as the last divine Book, describes the creation as being governed by cause and effect relations, recognizes material causes, and considers all of them as divine traditions. For the sake of brevity, we refer to two verses here:

” وَأَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الَّثمَرَاتِ رِزْقًا لَكُمْ.”

“and He sends down water from the sky, and with it He brings forth crops for your sustenance.”(2: 22).

This verse clearly speaks of water as the cause of the growth of trees and plants and their crops.

There are verses in the Qur’an which speak about the formation of clouds and rain and explicitly refer to interaction between substances, which cannot be further explained here. Only one verse and its translation will be given here, and we ask the readers to ponder over its content:

“أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللهَ يُزْجِي سَحَابًا ثُمَّ يُؤَلِّفُ بَيْنَهُ ثُمَّ يَجْعَلُهُ رُكَامًا فَتَرى الْوَدْقَ يَخْرُجُ مِنْ خِلاَلِهِ وَيُنَزِّلُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِنْ جِبَال فِيهَا مِنْ بَرَد فَيُصِيبُ بِهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَصْرِفُهُ عَمَّنْ يَشَاءُ يَكَادُ سَنَا بَرْقِهِ يَذْهَبُ بِالأَبْصَارِ.”

“Have you not seen that Allah drives the clouds, then He composes them, then He piles them up, whereat you see the rain issuing from its midst? And He sends down from the sky hail, out of the mountains that are in it , and He strikes with it whomever He wishes , and turns it away from whomever He wishes. The brilliance of its lightening almost takes away the sight.” (24: 43)

These two verses and many others explicitly refer to the cause and effect relationships in the world of creation, and all of them are divine traditions, created by power and knowledge in the nature of the created entities. If anyone or any group rejects the order in the world of creation, he has helped the generation of conflict between science and religion.

  1. The second situation in which conflict may appear between science and religion is where those who claim to possess scientific knowledge take theories as certain knowledge, and then claim that there is conflict between science and religion, while the relevant scientific data are shaky and uncertain. When Darwin proposed his theory of the “evolution of species” and extended it to include human beings as well, the emerging materialists were absolutely exited and thought that Darwinism, which was founded on four principles, was a decisive discovery. Before long, however, all those principles were rejected, and a theory called “Neo-Darwinism” emerged, which didn’t last long either and was replaced by a third theory called “mutation”, and so on and so forth.

Therefore, conflict between science and religion could arise in two situations: either a researcher’s understanding of religion is wrong or the scientific, ideas which are still theories and have a long way to consolidate into facts, are taken as definite principles.

Question 4. What made for the growth of conflict between science and religion?   

Response: Here We should differentiate between two things:

1) The reasons for the development of materialism in the west

2)The reasons for the growth of conflict between science and religion.

We have intensively talked about the first issue in The Way to Know God, but we shall briefly explain some of the reasons here. . Such descriptions of religion and God lead to results which are contrary to what one expected and make people avoid and deny religion.

A:Misleading and fanciful explications of God. For example, on the basis of the Old Testament’s reference to Jacob’s wrestling with God (1), some Christians, in their early life, believe in an anthropomorphic God, but when they learn and practice science, that anthropomorphic image of God does not agree with logical reasons and scientific concepts. As a result, after a while, their hope of any compatibility [between science and religion] is lost, and the concept of God is thoroughly abandoned and forgotten

B: Lack of right philosophical schools in the west. Bertrand Russell, for instance, says that he believed in God for a long time but changed his belief altogether later because he thought if everything were supposed to have a cause and creator ,God, too, should have a cause and creator(2).

C: Replacement of thinking by experimentation. Because metaphysics does not belong to the realm of experiments, it was naturally denied, and, of all means of gaining knowledge, only experiments were trusted.

D: Revenge on inquisition. Scientists who proposed new theories were frequently prosecuted [by the church]. Galileo’s trial is well-known in the history of science. These issues and similar ones led to the spread of materialism in the west.

Here we present two reasons for the growth of conflict between religion and science.

The tumult of Darwinism

Darwin’s theory of the evolution of flora and fauna was an important factor in the appearance of the idea of conflict between science and religion. The evolution of species, the so-called “transformism” ,was not Darwin’s exclusive achievement. Before him, Lamarck, and, before Lamarck, two others had briefly presented this issue in Greek philosophy. Darwin’s role in the dissemination of this idea was effective because he proposed it at a time when the scientific world was ready to accept it.

1.The Bible, King James Version, Genesis, Chapter32 (Oxford University Press,1997),pp. 39-41.

2.Russell, Bertrand, Why I am not a Christian? ( Routledge: 1957) p. 4.

Darwin generated a great controversy in the scientific circles of the west by publishing his Origin of Species. However, while he called himself an agnostic in the final years of his life, the enemies of religion abused his shaky theory against religion. The theory of the evolution of species, whether gradual or sudden evolution, was incompatible with the contents of the Bible, which takes all human beings as the descendants of Adam and explicitly declares that Adam was created of dust. For some people, this theory created a conflict between science and religion.


Collapse of many scientific theories

Ptolemy’s theory of the creation of heaven and earth powerfully worked for about 1500 years, and the ideas of Greek scientists were taught in the scientific centers as was the contents of the Bible. These ideas had penetrated so much the hearts of scientists that some Muslim interpreters [of the Qur’an] came to believe in the authenticity and strength of Ptolemy’s theory and interpreted many Qur’anic verses on its basis. But with the start of Renaissance in Europe, this theory was undermined by four famous scientists. So, those who had taken that theory as a religious and divine idea, started to talk  about the conflict between science and religion.

These two factors were given as examples of the causes of the growth of conflict between science and religion. But other factors were also involved in creating a distance between science and religion which we won’t explain here.

Question 5. What is the role of religion in the development of science in the west?

Response: There are two theories about the creation of the world. We need to see which one could help the development of science.

First Theory

The material world or nature has been created by the will of a knowledgeable and powerful Being and continues to exist on the basis of a series of traditions and secret laws which can be partly uncovered by researchers. Also the creation of this world, as God says in the Qur’an, was purposeful:

أَفَحَسِبْتُمْ أَنَّمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ عَبَثًا وَأَنَّكُمْ إِلَيْنَا لاَ تُرْجَعُونَ

“Did you think that We created you aimlessly, and that you will not be returned to Us?” (23:115)

Second Theory

The beginning and end of the world of nature are not known, and the origin (i.e., occurrence and emergence) of the creation is completely unclear, as is its end. The world is like a manuscript whose first and last pages are missing and is ambiguous, and whose author cannot be specified.

Now the question arises as to which of these two theories stimulates the researcher’s sense of curiosity to forget about resting and eating and working around the clock. Definitely, the first theory, because discoverers and inventors, before starting any debate or investigation, admit that a natural object has its own secret and organization which could be found with patience , while there is no such assumption in the second theory.

Now we are not concerned about which of these two theories is right and which group of scientists have the right thoughts. What concerns us here is to see which one of these thoughts stimulates our sense of curiosity to discover the secrets of nature: the idea that the creation of the world was governed by thinking and that nature was created on the basis of a plan and measurement or the idea that the world was created by the collision of countless atoms, involving no thinking and not even a little foreknowledge and measurement, and its assumed order is just an accident.

It goes without saying that it is only the first thought which could help the attempts to discover the secrets and laws of nature. Unless a discoverer believes deep in his heart that the creation works on the basis of an order, a plan and a chain of cause and effect relationships as well as regular laws, he will never tolerate the pains of research and study. Such a belief is created only as a result of faith in God, but this belief is not possible in materialism.

Therefore, it could be said that some of those materialists who spend their lives in laboratories to discover the laws and secrets of nature and have no goal except the discovery of the unerring laws of nature are theistic people deep in their hearts even though they claim to be materialists. Based on this, it is clear why Einstein considered religion as the generator of science and theories when he says:

“I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research.” 1

He also believes that the idea of the intelligibility of the world originates in religion:

“To this [sphere of religion] there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” 2

What necessity and conception of the organization of the world and what zeal gave power and energy to Kepler and Newton to take pains on their own in silence for years in order to explain and demystify gravity and the celestial system? We believe that it was divine religions that primarily caused the emergence of modern science. As the prominent physicist Paul Davies puts it:

1 Einstein, Albert. The World As I See It. (Citadel, 2001), p. 21.

2 Schilpp, A. P. Albert Einstein: Philosopher–Scientist. (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1970), p.285.

“It was from the intellectual ferment brought about by the merging of Greek philosophy and Judeo-Islamic-Christian thought that modern science emerged, with its unidirectional linear time, its insistence on nature’s rationality, and its emphasis on mathematical principles. All the early scientists, like Newton, were religious in one way or another. They saw their science as a means of uncovering traces of God’s handiwork in the universe. What we now call the laws of physics they regarded as God’s abstract creation: thoughts, so to speak, in the mind of God. So in doing science, they supposed, one might be able to glimpse the mind of God-an exhilarating and audacious claim.”

This wide-ranging argument reveals that belief in God has played an effective role in the development of science in the west and across the world.

Question 6. Can we have a religious science?

Response: In order to answer this question, we should clarify the meaning of science. If by science we mean all sorts of awareness and knowledge, including the contents of divine Books and the teachings of infallible educators, we could classify science and call part of it religious. This kind of religious knowledge, however, has no conflict with science and should not be considered as opposition to science.

As we noted earlier, however, by “science” here we mean natural sciences, whether dealing with celestial objects or terrestrial. Therefore, we cannot classify science into two types. Physics and chemistry, which both concern the external and internal effects of matter are science: they have neither a religious nor a nonreligious character. The multiplication Table of Pythagoras and other tables are part of the science humankind has acquired and have no particular character.

What we may say here is that divine Books and the words of divine educators expressed a series of truths about human beings and nature which had not been accessed by science before. Fortunately, this fact has received attention by Muslim scientists for more than a century. I give two examples here.

A: Universal pairing

In the past, scientists believed that pairs existed in the world of animals only while the Qur’an says that this fact of creation (i.e., male-female pairing) applies to plants as well:

وَمِنْ كُلِّ الَّثمَرَاتِ جَعَلَ فِيهَا زَوْجَيْنِ اثْنَيْنِ.” “

“and of every fruit He placed there two kinds.” (13:3)

[1] Paul Davies, “Physics and the Mind of God”: The Templeton Prize Address”, First Things, 55, August/September 1995, p. 32.

In another verse, God says:

“سُبْحَانَ الذِي خَلَقَ الأَزْوَاجَ كُلَّهَا مِمَّا تُنْبِتُ الأَرْضُ وَمِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَمِمَّا لاَ يَعْلَمُونَ”

“Immaculate is He who has created all the kinds of what the earth grows, and of themselves, and what they do not know.” (36:36)

And, in another verse, He extends the notion of pairing to everything:

وَمِنْ كُلِّ شَيْء خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

“And in all things We have created pairs so that you may make admonition.” (51:49)

B: The roundness of the earth

There are many verses which prove the roundness of the earth. We provide one example here.

وَأَوْرَثْنَا الْقَوْمَ الَّذِينَ كَانُوا يُسْتَضْعَفُونَ مَشَارِقَ الأَرْضِ وَمَغَارِبَهَا

“And We made the people who had been persecuted and oppressed to inherit all the easts and wests of the land…” (7: 137)

If the earth were flat, there would be no more than one east and one west, whereas this verse speaks of easts and wests, which has a clear meaning. If the earth is round, when the sun rises in one part, it will necessarily set in another. Therefore, it would not be possible to have a number of easts and wests without assuming the roundness of the earth.

These were only given as examples here. Such scientific reports, which were not available in the age of the revelation of the Qur’an, could be described as religious science, although, as noted above, the act of discovering the truths and uncovering nature cannot be called religious or nonreligious. But if we consider science under a monotheistic worldview, then all human knowledge can be called religious.

Question 7. Can science ignore religion?

Response: The answer to this question could be found in the argument about the role of religion in the development of science. If the researcher is not certain about the existence of order in nature, he cannot start research, as the belief in the organization of the world is not separate from belief in God Who created the world on the basis of certain laws. No matter how much science tries, it cannot ascertain the origin and end of creation and will have to resort to religion to reveal these two facts to us, on the basis of special arguments.

Question 8. Can we completely separate the realms of science and religion?

Response: Since the goal of science is to discover the secrets and hidden laws of nature, the realms of science and religion will necessarily not be separate, because attempting to discover the organization of the world is not disconnected from the belief in the creator of that organization. Thus, we should say that science is at the service of religion and belief in God.


About Ali Teymoori

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