“Science enhances the moral value of life, because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.” -Max Planck
Saturday night the auditorium at University College of London swelled with people from numerous cultural backgrounds and religious traditions assembling to debate Atheist and Islamic worldviews. The debate itself, which was sponsored by the iERA (Islamic Education and Research Academy), pondered the question Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a renowned theoretical physicist and director of the Origins project, spoke on behalf of the atheist worldview. Speaking on behalf of Islamic tradition was Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer and iERA member.
In the week before the event, word of a segregated seating arrangement began circulating. On Friday, Dr. Krauss posted the following status on Facebook:
News update: Have now been informed that the event in London will NOT be gender segregated.
Despite the earlier assurances from UCL security, this unfortunately did not turn out to be the case. Upon arrival at the auditorium, event staff asked men and couples to go downstairs and enter the auditorium in front while ladies were asked to stay behind and use an alternate entrance. An apparent “staff miscommunication” was to blame for the confusion in regards to this seating arrangement scandal. As the men and couples started towards the auditorium, I turned to the gentleman standing next to me and asked if I could come with him so that I could sit down towards the front. He kindly agreed, and we filed into the front row as a “couple.”
As everyone was filling in and taking their seats there was a commotion near the back door of the auditorium. Two gentlemen unknowingly entered through the door allocated for women and were promptly asked to leave. One of the gentlemen who had been asked to leave was arguing with the event staff when Krauss went over to alleviate the situation. He spoke briefly with the gentlemen and the event staff before declaring that he would not participate in a debate in which the audience was segregated by gender. (See the video here). So Krauss packed his bags, apologized, and headed for the door. As he was walking out, a chorus of boos and applause filled the auditorium. Event staff quickly intercepted Krauss on his way to the door, assuring that the gentlemen could come back in and that segregated seating would not continue to be enforced. Krauss agreed to stay, and after a bit more shuffling around everyone took their seats, anxiously waiting to hear what the two had to say.
The debate began with Hamza’s opening remarks. He outlined the following four explanations for the existence of a universe: 1. The universe was created from nothing 2. It created itself. 3. It was created by something else that was created. 4.Or it was created by something else that is uncreated. He followed with some contrived examples of inductive and deductive reasoning. Hamza argued that the universe began at some point and was therefore preceded by nonexistence. The conditions for this beginning have to be something instead of nothing. The nature of infinity, in Hamza’s opinion, is not quantifiable. He stated in a synopsis of the debate, “The Professor also misread his own book concerning what he wrote on the infinite. I tried to explain to him that he even agrees to the fact that the actual quantifiable infinite doesn’t make sense.” Perhaps it’s best to leave the math and science to the physicists. Although Hamza made a couple valid points, the incredibly biased audience and home-court advantage tainted his argument, rendering his rhetoric crass and condescending.
Krauss’ argument followed, illuminating such concepts as: the existence of infinity, the creation of the universe out of nothing, and Occam’s razor, which Hamza’s argument failed to fully explain. In his bestselling book A Universe From Nothing, Krauss explains that no deity is necessary to explain the formation of the universe. On this topic he remarks, “…forget Jesus, the stars died so that you could be here today.” Because of an ongoing research project at CERN in Switzerland, scientists are now discovering more about the formation of matter out of opposing forces of energy. The Higgs Boson, or “God Particle,” effectively completes the existing Standard Model of physics. (See my post on the Higgs Boson for more information). If scientists at CERN are able to prove the existence of this quantum excitement, we will be able to uncover some fundamental truths about the creation and existence of our universe.
In the premise to his debate, Krauss noted that he did not wish to single out Islam in his argument, but indicated that, “all religions make mutually inconsistent claims.” Arguing that Islam and Atheism cannot be compared and contrasted as two different belief systems, as atheism is not a belief system at all, but rather the rejection of one, he boldly stated, “as a scientist, I believe nothing.” Nothing, Krauss explains in his book, does not necessarily mean nothing; instead, this “nothing” holds the potential to create particles as if out of thin air. This phenomenon, according to Krauss, accounts for the formation of the universe and somehow incredibly created the perfect conditions to support life on our planet. In A Universe From Nothing, Dr. Krauss explains, “So the real thing that physics tell us about the universe is that it’s big, rare event happens all the time — including life — and that doesn’t mean it’s special.” Because space is so unimaginably large, unlikely events—such as supernovas, the formation of life, and the potential for a multiverse—are much more prevalent than previously assumed.
This debate on Islam and Atheism attempted to shed some light on important questions pertaining to both sides of the argument. Both speakers expressed opinions on scientific and moral issues including: Sharia law, equal rights, the origins of the universe, incest, homosexuality, evolution, formation of matter, quantum energy, and quantifiable infinity. Although both sides of the argument were enlightening and thought-provoking, the gender segregation in favor of Islamic practices at an event open to people of all faiths and backgrounds reflects poorly on the iERA and its values. I just received an email this morning stating that the iERA will no longer be allowed to host events at UCL. Hopefully this example raises awareness about this scandal, which Richard Dawkins referred to as a “sexual apartheid.”
People will no doubt continue the science versus religion debate despite possessing empirical evidence disproving many of religion’s claims. Part of the concept of faith is to abandon rational thought in favor of something you hope to be true. As Christians, Jewish people, Buddhists, Agnostics, and any organized religion fight to justify their collective beliefs, evidence suggesting otherwise is blatantly disregarded. In a trailer for his upcoming film THE UNBELIEVERS, Krauss declares, “There is no one whose views are not subject to question.” This statement sums up the entire debate, in my opinion. On one side of the argument we have a tradition based on testimony that is accepted as true—and on the other, a worldview that encourages us to question everything and think for ourselves. It’s pretty obvious which view is more rational.
I went into the debate with an admittedly biased view; but it occurred to me that it is this assumed certainty that impedes the advancement of knowledge. As Krauss stated early in his argument, “ridiculing ideas is what makes progress.” It is through the process of hypothesizing and testing new beliefs that we learn and grow both individually and as a society– and it is through discussions such as this one on Atheism and Islam that we will begin to better understand and connect with one another.
Here are some links with useful information!