In my last post on fate, destiny and pre-ordainment, a commenter left an interesting remark: You cannot use logic in religion. This is an interesting comment which got me thinking. Some part of me says, yeah he is right, but somehow the other part of me would like to challenge this notion. So this entry is a discourse analysis (without much time to think) on the relevance of logic in religion. The word religion is extremely broad as it covers so many different religions, and somehow I don't really fancy the word religion as I am still trying to understand what it means by “religion”. Since my last article was quite Islam centric so I can only assume that the commenter was referring to Islam specifically. So the question that will form the basis of my thought process is: Is it true that you cannot use logic to explain/understand Islam?
For starters, we need to understand what logic actually means. In our everyday English use, it would simply mean “a particular way of thinking, especially one which is reasonable and based on good judgment”. This is the definition provided by Cambridge dictionary. In the study of philosophy, logic is a field on its own. Gensler, in his book Introduction to Logic, defined Logic as the “the analysis and appraisal of arguments” and he continued to say “when you do logic, you try to clarify reasoning and separate good from bad reasoning”. So essentially logic is about good reasoning. Logic is about coherent argument. It is about forming the right premises to support your conclusions. A logic can be flawed if it is either not based on valid reasoning (i.e. premises don't support conclusions) or that the reasoning is not sound (i.e. premises are false).
However I personally believe that logic is also a function of our exposure, knowledge and experiences; and as these can evolve with time then so do our ability and perspectives of logic. For example, centuries ago when many believe that the world is flat (and not spherical), the use of such flat world theory as premises to support your arguments back then could be seen as a sound argument. But today, if I were to present the same argument when we know for sure that the Earth is spherical, I would be perceived as being illogical! What this says is that logic evolves as we get wiser and have more insights. It is human tendency to classify things that we don't know as being illogical.
One could still argue that there are things that we don't know but there are also things that we know for sure. And the line separating this is, arguably, quite clear. So if we know something does not make sense (i.e. false!), then it must be illogical. I still wish to challenge this notion as I feel that our knowledge of nature is still at its infancy.
In our modern day thinking, when we think of something as being common sense, very often, knowing or unknowingly, we are basing this on scientific principles. If you were to ask a non-science based person what would happen if I were to jump off a building, then he would tell you for sure that you would fall down. This is science, even if there is no mention of gravity and Einstein!
Many people seem to think that science is absolute and deterministic, and therefore must form the basis of our everyday logic. But actually it is not necessarily the case. So what is science?
Science is not about a novel creation. Science is about explaining an observation using ab initio methods. The only novelty in this is the formulation of new theories for an old observation, or the application of existing theories to explain new observations. So the evolution of science and the discoveries of new principles are driven by observations. As an example, Newton observed an apple falling off a tree to the ground and he formulated the concept of gravity. Assuming that we live in space where there is no knowledge of gravity and its effects on earth, I doubt Newton or anyone else would have conjured such a fancy concept that easily, and even if he did, it would probably have been deemed illogical by many. The essence of this is that scientific discoveries are being driven by what happens in nature and things that we do not observe frequently is often seen as being unnatural and perhaps even illogical. And scientific discoveris, like many other outcomes of mankind thinking process, has severe limitations. Please don't misconstrue this as a call for us to stop thinking. This is a call for us to not immediately dismiss an idea on grounds of illogicality since our logical aptitude is restricted.
In 1927, Heisenberg (see image) published a scientific paper which revolutionized the way scientists view science. It was later known as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Essentially the implication of his arguments was that no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon. But the act of observing a phenomenon, in some cases, is a function of the observation methodology which could temper with the originality of the phenomenon such that it is no longer natural (I will not bore you with the details of this). So effectively what it means is that science may not be absolute after all!
It is also worthy of note that most scientific predictions (such as weather forecasts) are based on probabilistic functions- i.e. how likely for an event to occur, or how likely for it to be a real observation. In any cases, these probabilistic functions are based on a non-deterministic model, which means that it depends critically on the initial assumptions. Heisenberg has shown that it is not possible to know something with the greatest certainty. So any infinitesimally small deviation (i.e. error) in the initial assumptions would accumulate error rapidly and make the final prediction useless. This is why weather prediction beyond a few days is typically not reliable. This is known as the butterfly effect- a non-significant event somewhere could render the scientific predictive power futile.
I am in no way saying that science is flawed. I am just saying that it has its own limitations. Even the simplest question of “is light made up of waves or particles” have yet to be fully resolved (I hope to write more on this someday).
So coming back to the key question at hand, can logic be used to reason Islam?
The guiding principles of Islam are written in the Quran. In some cases the Quran does provide the premises for certain principles. But in other cases, the Quran provides the guidelines for living life without the underlying premises, and if we wish we could try to reason it but do not fault God if we fail to do so logically.
I personally believe that the answer to this question is: Yes and No.
Yes, if you know the science behind the logic. No, if we haven’t broken the limitations of logic (i.e. newly acquired knowledge, new perspectives on logic etc). But that does not mean to say that Islam is not logic. It is merely saying that we don't know enough to form a valid and sound logic. Logic evolves. I believe that Islam does not. Logic may catch up with the Quran, or it may not…. No one knows.
Historically Einstein had repeatedly said this: “God does not play dice”. Indeed, it’s just that sometimes He throws the dice in places where it cannot be seen. It is our duty to seek these dices to reveal the logic.