The Clash of Reason and Revelation: Reconciling Science and Scripture in Islam
13 Oct 2012
Mohamed AbuTaleb uses this lecture to share what he considers to have been missing in the intellectual discourse on science: The Qurʾān. AbuTaleb asserts that God’s role in the creation and design of the universe, a concept he says he shares with Albert Einstein (1879-1955). He suggests that the Qurʾān lays out realms for reason and revelation, and the space where they overlap. He indicates this overlapping area is studying the universe around us.
AbuTaleb asserts that nothing that is absolutely certain in revelation and an absolute scientific fact will ever conflict. Topics that he holds as being outside these certainties are the Big Bang or biological evolution. A topic that is within these certainties is the shape of the Earth. He suggests that Qurʾānic interpretation about the Earth’s shape has not changed, but “matured”. To expand on this, he paraphrases from Ash-Shaʿrāwī (Egyptian, 1911-1998) that a sphere is an expansion without end, since one might continue moving around it without reaching an endpoint. He also suggests that the stages of embryology correspond in both the Qurʾān and scientific knowledge.
The speaker says that he will discuss Qurʾānic miracles (iʿjāz) at greater length at another time, but no videos from him on this topic are known. He does specifically mention in the question and answer session that he believes “some Muslim thinkers” have transgressed boundaries in their scientific interpretations, and specifically mentions the Big Bang in this regard.
The video includes a question and answer session (with written questions) that starts at about 54:40.
AbuTaleb does not provide references for his discussion of Qurʾānic or ḥadīth material.
General Information on Lecture
This lecture, recorded with a single fixed camera, was given a Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Conference at Queens College in New York. There is no indication of date, but it seems likely that it was from 2012, the year it was uploaded onto the speaker’s YouTube channel.
Mohamed AbuTaleb (also spelled Abutaleb), born ca. 1985, has a doctorate (PhD) in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His professional history is available on LinkedIn. He is currently serving as Imām at the Islamic Association of Raleigh (North Carolina). He maintains active pages on Facebook and Twitter in addition to his YouTube channel. He is associated with the OakTree Institute, but seems not to have taught for them in the past several years.
The material on Islam is within the range historically considered normative by Muslims.
Science: Although generally good, in part because he says so little that is specific, AbuTaleb’s discussion of evolution is incorrect. He states that “part of the ideas that have been derived from that theory [evolution] is the descent of man from apes.” This is not correct. Humans and modern apes have a common ancestor. He also says that evolution is difficult to subject to the scientific method. This may be true for long-living organisms, but it is readily observable for organisms with much shorter life cycles than our own. There are also contemporary embryologists who assert that the Qurʾān and modern embryology only correspond in the most superficial ways.
History: AbuTaleb’s history is not entirely accurate. Copernicus’ book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, was published before his death.