Taner Edis

An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam

“Edis makes a compelling case that classical Islamic thought cannot accommodate a modern scientific culture whose basis is experimentation, quantification, and prediction. He exposes the vacuity of faith-based science using a range of examples. But Edis does not rule out eventual acceptance of a reinterpreted Muslim theology that will, as in other world religions, allow science and Islam to go their own separate ways.”
—Pervez Hoodbhoy, author of Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality,and professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

“In a cultural arena dominated by polemics, Taner Edis, a historically sensitive Turkish-American physicist, stands out as a voice of reason. I don’t know of a better introduction to science and religion in Islam than An Illusion of Harmony.”
—Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

Book cover
In modern times, Muslims have become painfully aware of falling behind in economic and military power, leaving Muslim lands vulnerable to colonialism.  For at least two centuries, Muslims have identified science and technology as keys to Western success, and have been determined to import science and appropriate it for Muslim ends.  Today, however, the Muslim world is not only near-negligible in scientific productivity, but it generates popular pseudoscientific ideas that can compete with the best conservative Christians and New Agers have to offer.  From the world’s strongest creationist movements to bizarre science-in-the-Quran apologetics, popular Muslim approaches promote a view of natural science as a pragmatic, non-theoretical, fact-collecting activity that exists in glorious harmony with literal-minded faith.  Among more sophisticated Muslim thinkers, many who approach science from a social scientific or philosophical perspective do no better, getting lost in postmodern labyrinths and fantasies of “Islamizing science.”

Yet all of this is not so much evidence of any inherent Muslim handicap regarding science as a sign of the activity of reconstructing Islam that is going on today.  Much is up for grabs as Muslims try and join fragments of medieval views of knowledge with modern ideas to produce a satisfying intellectual picture of the world.  It is by no means certain that an Islamic accommodation between scientific and religious institutions will be reached, or if this will resemble a Western “separate spheres” model.  Muslim thinkers consciously try and avoid the path of secularization, and continue to demand that scientific ideas should be constrained by social and religious needs.  Examining science and Islam today provides an intriguing alternative to the Christian-centered approaches that dominate current thinking about science and religion.



1 To Seek Knowledge in China (Introduction)
2 A Usable Past (Mutazilites, medieval Muslim science, modern times)
3 Finding Science in the Quran (Nur movement, Bucaillism)
4 Created Nature (Muslim creationism, fitra)
5 Redeeming the Human Sciences (History, social science, Muslim postmodernism)
6 A Liberal Faith? (Liberal interpretations, political questions)
7 Science at Arm’s Length (Conclusion)

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