Podcast, Understanding Islam

Understanding Islam – Reductionism, Reality, and Intention

Imam Marc discusses the relationship between reductionism, reality, and intention and how the Qur’an advocates for not a reductionist world view, but an expansionist one.

Phe·nom·e·non (/fəˈnäməˌnän, fəˈnäməˌnən/):

  • a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question;
  • the object of a person’s perception; what the senses or the mind notice.

From Richard H. Jones’ Analysis & the Fullness of Reality, he quotes Robert Nozick on the relation between phenomenon, reality, and reductionism:

“The philosopher Robert Nozick labeled ours ‘the Age of Reductionism’, and most people in our scientifically-informed culture would agree. We want to understand the world, and under the influence of modern science we now want to know how things work in terms of material and efficient causes. Moreover, we are not fully satisfied with any suggested explanation of a phenomenon unless it is explained in terms of something we deem to be a basic reality. We search for the ‘true nature’ of things—what is ‘really real.’ And this is where reductionism enters the picture: we want to get down to the reality that is the source or substance of a phenomenon. We take a phenomenon apart to see what makes it tick, or we retrace (Lat., re-ducere, ‘to lead back’) the development of the phenomenon to its roots. A reduction thus proposes what in the final analysis is real in a phenomenon. We find that what was apparently real is ultimately ‘nothing but’ its parts or something else more basic. Thereby, an apparent reality is ‘reduced’ to something real, and our desire for understanding at least the reduced phenomenon is satisfied.”

Continuing, Jones says,

“It is important to note that reductionism is not merely a matter of the scientific identification of the causes at work in a whole. Rather, reductionists go further and claim that the parts and causes are all that is real in a whole—the reality of a whole is nothing but that of those parts. It is easy to see why many people are disturbed by such reductions: in moving from the more complex to the simpler in human beings, reductions deny what is distinctly human.”

وَإِذ قالَ رَبُّكَ لِلمَلائِكَةِ إِنّي جاعِلٌ فِي الأَرضِ خَليفَةً ۖ قالوا

أَتَجعَلُ فيها مَن يُفسِدُ فيها

وَيَسفِكُ الدِّماءَ وَنَحنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ ۖ قالَ

إِنّي أَعلَمُ ما لا تَعلَمونَ

“When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’ they said, ‘Why put on it one who will cause corruption on it and shed blood when we glorify You with praise and proclaim Your purity?’ He said, ‘I know what you do not know’.” Qur’an, 2: 30

“More generally, reductionists ‘reduce the more valuable to the less valuable, the more meaningful to the less meaningful,’ and never the other way around. If things are reducible to a reality below the surface, then much of human life loses its value. The effect on our lives is to undercut the reality of what is specific to being human—consciousness, free will, personhood, our cultural creations.”

سمِعْتُ

رسولَ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم يقولُ إنما الأعمالُ بالنيةِ وإنما لامرِئٍ ما نوى فمَن كانت هجرتُه إلى اللهِ ورسولِه فهجرتُه إلى اللهِ ورسولِه ومَن كانتْ هجرتُه إلى دنيا يُصيبُها أو امرأةٍ يتزوجُها، فهجرتُه إلى ما هاجَر إليه

I heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ saying, “The deeds are according to their intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for the sake of Allah and His Apostle, then his emigration will be considered to be for Allah and His Apostle, and whoever emigrated for the sake of worldly gain or for a woman to marry, then his emigration will be considered to be for what he emigrated for.” Sahih al-Bukhari, #6689

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“For, without obligation, there is no responsibility and without responsibility, there can be no return of justice, whence chaos, disorder and anarchy, not just de facto, but de jure, according to the so-called moral principle itself.” — M. A. Draz, ‘The Moral World of the Qur’an’.

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يا رسولَ اللهِ ! إني أُكثِرُ الصلاةَ فكم أجعلُ لك من صلاتي؟ قال ما شئتَ قال قلتُ الرُّبعَ؟ قال ما شئتَ وإن زدتَ فهو خيرٌ لك قلتُ النِّصفَ قال ما شئتَ ، وإن زدتَ فهو خيرٌ لك قال قلتُ ثُلُثَين؟ قال ما شئتَ ، وإن زدتَ فهو خيرٌ لك قلت أجعلُ لك صلاتي كلَّها . قال إذًا تُكفَى همَّك ويُغفَرُ لك ذنبُك

“Ubayy ibn Kab says, ‘I asked, ‘O Messenger of Allāh, I wish to confer blessings upon you in abundance. How much of my time set aside for supplication should I devote to this purpose?’ The Noble Prophet replied, ‘As much as you wish.’ I asked, ‘A fourth?’ The Noble Prophet replied, ‘As much as you wish, and if you make an increase therein it shall be better for you.’ I further enquired, ‘A half?’ The Noble Prophet again said, ‘As much as you wish, and if you make an increase therein it shall be better for you.’ I asked, ‘Two thirds?’ The Noble Prophet replied, ‘As much as you wish, and if you make an increase therein it shall be better for you.’ I said, ‘I shall devote all my time to conferring blessings upon you.’ The Noble Prophet said, ‘In that case, all your worries will be removed and your sins will be forgiven’.”