Is there a Cause-Effect Relationship beyond the Scope of Science?
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr Khalid Zaheer

Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy in one of his recent presentations in LUMS mentioned the fact that one of the reasons why Science couldn’t get popular in Pakistan was that instead of having confidence in cause-effect relationship, the people of the country believe in such unscientific things as the claim that rainfall can be caused by the prayers of people. What are your comments on it?


The fact that rainfall sometimes is caused in response to the prayers is a matter of human experience. Although I cannot narrate an incident directly, I know from the observations of people who would not exaggerate unnecessarily that such things have happened before their very own eyes. However, this fact should not cause people to believe that there isn’t any cause-effect relationship operating in our world. What this definitely means is that there is much more to reality than what we know.

We can keep exploring to know more about how it comes about that the Almighty causes things to happen in ways that are sometimes unexplainable. However, to deny a known, observed reality is not a very rational approach. Whether it is scientific or not is something I don’t know nor do I care.

Most religious people, not just the Muslims alone, have a common experience of observing that their prayers get responded in ways that cannot be explained by applying the logic of cause-effect relationship. You just have to be in your senses to know that they do happen when they happen before you. Had that not been the case, most people wouldn’t have been religious in this world.

I think that the mistake committed by Dr Hoodbhoy is that he has set forth for himself a very limited criterion for judging what is correct and what is not. His line of logic seems to be that since Science is what we need the most, therefore we ought to have knowledge of Science at all costs in our country. Whatever conflicts with the popularity of Science education, therefore, would be condemnable.

To me the correct approach of any rational person should be to decide that he is eager to know the truth, whether it conforms to the scientific standards or not. The problem I can see Dr Hoodbhoy is going through is that since he has narrowed down his mind to be influenced by only those facts that could be explained, by the cause-effect relationship, he has in the process denied himself the possibility of accepting any reality that seems to be happening in defiance of that line of logic. That’s a classic example of academic prejudice: You decide beforehand that you would only accept a certain point of view and as a result of your decision you refuse to see anything else that is presented to you, even if it is as obvious as the bright sun. If a religious person falls into the same trap because of his predisposition towards a certain religious point of view, his religious bias is condemnable. Likewise condemnable is the bias of the person who has blindly made Science and the principle of cause-effect relationship a religiously binding principle for himself.

The truth of the matter is that the more Science progresses the more it shows to man that he knows very little. Indeed Science has progressed by emphasizing the significance of cause-effect relationship in our world. However, to assume that there isn’t anyone who can do things by defying it is taking the understanding too far. It amounts to suggesting that the believers in the inviolable application of the cause-effect relationship are not going to accept any reality except the one that appears to them as scientific. That is the kind of attitude that blinds an individual from a good part of the truth because of an exaggerated emphasis on one aspect of reality.

The example that comes to my mind to describe Dr Hoodbhoy’s mistake is that of a student of a language who after mastering its principles of grammar starts looking at the masterpieces of that language and concludes that they carry some ‘grammatical errors’. Of course, the problem doesn’t lie in those masterpieces; instead, it lies in the erroneous perception of the simpleton student who thinks that the masters of the language were bound by the principles of grammar discovered by the grammarians by carefully reading those very masterpieces! Likewise, our world is not running on the principle of cause-effect relationship. It is running the way it is being run by its Master. Man has discovered that, generally speaking, the physical phenomena of our world are following the principle of cause-effect relationship. However, that may not always happen, because the One who is running it has never committed Himself to stick to that principle. Moreover, we don’t even know that certain happenings that seemingly defy the cause-effect logic may actually have been caused by a cause that we cannot, at least for now, perceive.

There are two reasons why Dr Hoodbhoy’s observation about reason for the lack of development of Science in Pakistan is unacceptable:

i) There are many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America which though not Muslim are doing equally bad in Science.

ii) Many Muslims belonging to earlier generations were pioneers in discovering new fields of scientific enlightenment despite their strong faith in God’s ability to defy cause-effect relation in this world.

For Questions on Islam, please use our