Anyone having a cursory familiarization with scientific manner of enquiry can appreciate that it cannot function without employing the principle of induction. It is also appreciable with ease that scientific conclusions are at best ‘probable’ and cannot claim the degree of certainty which is usually insinuated during a scientific discourse. Keeping these observations and the foregoing analysis in backdrop, it is needless to show that an adequate justification of induction is mandatory in order to vindicate legitimacy of this sacred cow, we call science.
Although it lies at the heart of any scientific discourse, problem at hand is not about questioning the validity of induction, per se. Accomplishments of science are for all to see and rejecting the method behind these achievements would perhaps be too naive. The problem, therefore, is not to demonstrate the dubious nature of inductive inferences but that of examining the scientific claim of truth and certainty made through them. It can be conceded that science’s claim – as a method of discovery – cannot be contested; however justification of its cognitive claims can at least be called questionable and problematic.
To put it simply: Can technology and pragmatic successes of science be passed off as knowledge? Can we satisfactorily accept any scientific conclusion as embodying knowledge?
As it has been already alluded to, this argumentative approach moves in a different direction than Hume’s; and although modern philosophers of science, for instance Karl Popper and Rudolph Carnap, have decisively established the validity of scientific method through theories of critical rationalism – discussing notion of falsifiability amidst verisimilitude and irreducible conjecture -, the original problem of causation has been successfully circumvented. From this it can be firmly contended that scientific method cannot ascertain anything completely beyond doubt and does not yield true knowledge. Maximum that can be said about any scientific statement – in Popper’s words – is that although such a statement is unprovable, it remains in principle disprovable.
Though oversimplified, a quick example would help to move further: ‘Water causes plants to grow’ is a well established scientific conclusion unless falsified by demonstrating that plants can grow in the absence of water. This conclusive statement insinuates that its the water that gives life to plants; an implication which is conventionally accepted as an established truth. Insinuations like this are the reason why science is socially accepted as a function imparting true knowledge. However the construct formed through this process does not represent absolute truth but merely an episteme resting on conjecture and prejudice.
How and where to place the Creator – if there is any – in this seemingly well balanced and firmly placed construct of Cause and Conjecture?
To start identifying this divine station (of course in reference to Islam), it has to be explored how Muslim philosophical tradition views the problem of causation; or whether it addresses it at all in a manner which is objectively closer to the contemporary western philosophy.
Perhaps it would be justified to say that Muslim thinkers always viewed the problem of causation in a framework that assumed a presence of Creator. All of them were primarily trained in traditional Islamic sciences. Free thinking, as we understand it now, was an alien discipline; even non Muslim Peripatetic philosophers at that time were not free thinkers in contemporary sense of the word.
The Gordian knot challenging traditional Muslim thinkers was creativity of a cause. For them, assigning creative force to the causes – in any capacity – would ultimately meant to take some creativity away from God, thereby delimiting and redefining His role in everyday events. The contention, in turn, brought forth more complicated questions. Directly or indirectly related to causation, these questions – for instance true nature of the objects, their allegedly deterministic behavior and whether it can be predicted or not – stirred a long and continuing debate in Islamic tradition; a debate that is at least worthy of a quick survey.
to be continued…