Highlights of the 3rd Annual Conference on Contemporary Islamic Thought
By: Shirin Nouh
On Saturday, November 10, 2012, the Islamic Center of Southern
California held its 3rd annual conference on Contemporary Islamic Thought
entitled “Science and Religion: Faith vs. Materialism.” Alhamdulillah, we had
a full house hosting over 300 people who had come from all over the area to hear
the presentations by our prominent and esteemed scholars as they shed light on
this topic. The event began with Quran recitation by Sheikh Asim Buyuksoy,
Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California.
Next, Dr. Gasser Hathout, Professor of Medicine at UCLA gave an introduction
to the theme of the conference highlighting the existing debate between religion
and the philosophy of scientific materialism. While religion addresses revelation
and sacredness and focuses on God the Creator as an explanation for the creation
and the workings of the universe, scientific materialism asserts that all activities
and phenomena can be explained solely in terms of matter and energy, subject
to the laws of physics and chance, leaving no room for the concept of God. Dr.
Gasser reflected on verses in Quran, 3:190-191: “Verily, in the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed
messages for all who are endowed with insight”. “… O our Lord! Thou hast
not created this without meaning and purpose. …”. That is why we need to be
educated on this topic so that we may intelligently understand our faith and the
world around us. He asserted that science and religion are indeed complementary
in their pursuit of truth, rather than contradictory.
Dr. Maher Hathout, Senior Religious Adviser and Spokesperson of ICSC gave an
Islamic perspective on spirituality and science presuming that spirituality is the
trigger of creativity, which will lead to exploration and discovery. This is what
led to the scientific revolution as a component of Islamic civilization. Indeed,
the first revelations of the Quran stresses reading, writing, and researching. Dr.
Maher stated that the scientific renaissance in the Muslim civilization was neither
the result of nor aimed at fulfilling materialistic needs like industry or economy,
but the result of a ferocious hunger of the human spirit to know what they knew
not. Dr. Philip Clayton, Dean of Claremont School of Theology and Provost
of Claremont Lincoln University continued the same theme of Science and
Spirituality, but from Christian perspectives and asserted that Islamic scientific
methodology took the lead especially in the Middle Ages and the Golden Age of
Dr. Clayton gave another lecture entitled “Adventures in the Spirit: God, World,
and Divine Action.” He stated that there are indeed many conflicting points
between religion and science stemming from claims that each side thinks to have
a monopoly on the truth. Rather than being in conflict, they both need to be in
partnership, indeed complementing each other in the pursuits of truth and in their
search for the creation and the workings of the universe.
Professor Jeff Shamma, the Julian T. Hightower Chair in Systems and Control at
Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) presented his views on science
and religion verses materialism echoing the same sentiments as the previous
speakers and stressing that we should approach all topics with humility and
seek to ground our faith on combining it with science to unravel and solve
mysteries of the unknown. Even in pure mathematic model, where one defines
all parameters, you cannot predict the right answer all times. Science can be a
surprise to religion in the sense that many claims of religion are indeed being
supported by science.
Dr. Gasser Hathout talked about Cosmology and Intelligent Design, and
presented several sophisticated mathematical models that attempt to explain
our universe. He asserted that science has shown us that the universe has been
created with such precision and balance that fully refutes the theory of chance as
believed by scientific materialism. Dr. Gasser illustrated many examples from
quantum physics to demonstrate this precision and balance and he referenced
verses in Quran that alluded to the same conclusions.
The Conference also included a Math Bowl and inaugural Young Muslim
Achievement Award. Heba Hathout administered the contest and presented gifts
and awards for those outstanding winners and achievers.
Nobel Laureate Dr. Ahmed Zewail presented his reflections on Faith and
Science, commending the organizers of this conference and hoping that there
would be more such conferences around the Muslim world. His message was
that there should be more confluence rather than conflict between science and
religion, faith and materialism. This apparent disparity between the two arises
from ignorance and dogma. Rather than each side refuting the other, they
should seek to benefit from each other. We also have conflicts due to political
reasons. Dr. Zewail advised the Muslims to look forward and aim to advance
society with a renaissance in education and enlightenment, rather than waste time
on conflicts and arguments that are politically triggered and hinder our progress.
In closing, Dr. Elhami Nasr, Chair of the Board of Directors of ICSC, thanked
the distinguished scholars for sharing their views, Heba Hathout for launching the
math bowl and young Muslims achievement award, Dr. Mahmoud Abdel-Baset
for his leadership in organizing this event and his entire team, the Social Services
committee under the leadership of Zeina Zein, Administration staff of ICSC, and
all the volunteers.