Tuesday, 20 August 2013

On reading Hamza Tzortzis' "Does the Qur'an Contain Scientific Miracles?"

Muslim apologist Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, Senior Researcher of the iERA, has recently come forward with his new essay:

Since its very recent release, discussions over it have already broken out in popular social networkiing sites and forums, especially among Muslims. Upon a cursory glance at these discussions, however, it is clear that most people have not even bothered to read it in full, or even if they have, they have not understood the key idea of the essay. This brief review is meant to clear at least some of the misconceptions and spell out the essay's purport in explicit terms for public benefit.

Due presumably to the first few sections of the essay, some have assumed that it is denouncing all efforts at estabishing arguments from scientific foreknowledge in the Qur'an. This is simply not the case. If one was asked to summarize the essay's thesis in one sentence, it would be this: given the status quo of the scientific miracles discourse, the Muslims need to be more cautious in constructing arguments from scientific miracles. The essay can be broken up into two halves with this thesis in mind:

1. Describing the status quo and its problems,
2. Solutions to these problems and towards a mature case for scientific miracles in the Qur'an.

The essay opens by noting that much of the scientific miracles discourse is characterized by intellectual naivete. The impetus behind this movement is not intellectual considerations exclusively, rather hype fueled by popularizers play a discernible role.

The essay then proceeds to spell out the problems with the status quo. The problems can be classed into two categories, namely that the scientific miracles narrative:

a) Does not hold up to close intellectual scrutiny, and
b) Is not consistent with the Islamic scriptures.

Problems under (a) elucidate some fallacies associated with the movement: the scientific information in the Qur'an is not really "foreknowledge" since it was mentioned prior, almost no effort is made to demonstrate how there can be no naturalistic explanation to the purported scientific "miracles" and hence the arguments are non-sequitur, etc. Problems under (b) has to do with bad exegesis: the interpretations adopted by the scientific miracles narrative are either too stretchy, or betray the key function or teleology of the verses. Although some of the arguments under both (a) and (b) can be taken with a grain of salt, the overall point made is perfectly sober, and it is hard to see how someone would disagree with it.

After acknowledging these problems, the essay proceeds to spell out some directions to correct the wrongs. A climactic point in the essay is reached when it proposes that instead of fixating interpretations of the "scientific" verses of the Qur'an, one should adopt a less limiting hermeneutic. This can be achieved by assuming that the scientific verses in the Qur'an are capable of accommodating multiple layers of meanings. The author provides quotes by scholars in the field of Qur'anic studies to support his claim.

In the second section, the author lays down some stringent criteria which must be met by any purported scientific miracle. In my view, this is the missing ingredient in the popular narrative. An argument from scientific foreknowledge in the Qur'an, in order to be valid, must accommodate a study into the history of the science in question, adherence to solid rules of exegesis and probability analysis, among other things. Again, one may or may not agree with all the criteria here, there may be room for improvisation in context of specific cases of scientific foreknowledge due to the very nature of the study.

In conclusion, the claims made in this essay are novel, interesting and in my opinion, valid. People may disagree with isolated points here and there, but the central idea of the essay is no more than a call to intellectual honesty- something no sincere person can dispute. Due mainly to anti-Islamic internet activists, the intellectual depravity of the scientific miracles enterprise is acting as a catalyst for doubts in the minds of Muslims. In other words- the current status quo is doing more harm than good. Against this troubling context, the essay's central idea emerges as entirely too significant.

1 comment:

  1. After Tzortzis wrote that article, spubs composed refutations to iERA and Tzortzis: http://www.aqidah.com/creed/