Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The Challenge of Islam's Critique of Technology

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

The Challenge of Islam's Critique of Technology

Article excerpt

The Western world and the world of Islam share a history but they also differ greatly. The rise of terrorism has once again made us fully aware of that. In these tense times, I would like to consider a question that is rarely raised today, yet which may be very relevant and very revealing: What attitude do these two worlds take toward technology?

When you examine this question in historical perspective you cannot get around the religious background of technology, both in the Islamic world and in the West. This theme is very popular today: there is a renewed interest in the vitality of religion around the world and in the arguments regarding its influence on culture, (1) and especially in the historical development of technology.

Let me be clear about what I mean by the term "religion." When the media pay attention to "religion," they usually treat it as one of many factors or variables in human life, distinct from, say, sport, politics, or science. However, if we look carefully at religious communities and various types of societies around the world, we can see that religion is not just a typical function among others, but is, rather, the root from which the different branches of life sprout and grow and from which they are continually nourished. Religion is of radical and integral importance: it concerns the deepest root of human existence and integrates human life into a coherent whole. I hope to show this once again in our topic for this afternoon. (2)

My exploration will consist of the following steps. First, I shall briefly sketch the history of technology in the Islamic world, after which I shall try to clarify the background of the mounting tensions between Islam and the West. We shall review several Islamic ideologists in whose thinking science and technology play a big role. (3) Islamic critique of technology comes from two sides: from the spiritual, peace-loving Muslims and from the radical, violent branch of Islam. I shall try to clarify the challenges this poses for the West by looking at the internal tensions in Western culture itself. These turn out to be related especially to technology.

The tensions have been present for a long time, but they have been growing in intensity ever since the former Christian culture was secularized under the influence of the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement which wanted to have nothing to do with religion yet which, nonetheless, has an integrating effect of its own, and whose relation to Christianity has become increasingly strained. The Enlightenment represents the religion of the closed material world that is blind to the nonmaterial dimensions of reality. I say this in order to help us gain insight into the nature of the tensions between Islam, Christianity, and the Enlightenment in connection with technological development. This will enable us to analyze the problems accurately and to give a start to lessening our cultural quandaries.

Both the critique of technology provided by Christian philosophy and the critique of technology found in Islam challenge Western culture to change. A turnabout is needed in the West's dominant cultural paradigm--in the ethical framework within which Western culture is developed. Such a turnabout is crucial because we are dealing with worldwide problems. It may also lessen tensions with several currents within the Islamic world. Islamic terrorists, however, will not be satisfied with that, because their attitude--as they themselves tell us--concerns a nonnegotiable religious position. At best it will take the wind out of their sails by overcoming evil with good.

Technology in Islam

What place does the Islamic world assign to science and technology? After the death of Mahomet in the year 632, early Islam was strongly influenced by the Greek-Hellenistic world. This created an atmosphere conducive to the development of a distinctively Islamic pursuit and promotion of science. …

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