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ISLAMIC MEDICAL EDUCATION RESOURCES-04

0711-Methodology of Knowledge

Lecture for medical students at the Kulliyah of Medicine Universiti Antarabangsa by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. on 3rd November 2007.

1.0 IMPORTANCE OF METHODOLOGY

1.1 PROTECTION FROM MISTAKES / BIAS:

Methodology is needed to be able to protect the researcher from mistakes due to inconsistencies of personal bias. Study of methodology is rapidly emerging as an important and independent field.

1.2 DISCIPLINE DEFINITION

Methodology and not content defines a discipline; a discipline cannot be recognized as independent until it evolved a methodology.

1.3 A COMMON METHODOLOGY

There is a methodological framework common to all disciplines since there is Tauhid of knowledge and the source of knowledge is one. This common methodology can be reached by deep study and reflection of any discipline.

2.0 METHODOLOGY: A HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

2.1 PRE-HISTORY

Science and technology are as old as humanity. The first recorded scientific activity was teaching Adam the names of things. Naming and classification are basics for scientific research and communication. The historical record is silent after that first event. We however know from archaeological evidence that a lot of empirical discoveries were made. Human curiosity and the search for practical solutions to problems of life led to discoveries by empirical observation or trial and error. In this way early man discovered fire, agriculture, animal husbandry, manufacture and use of weapons.

2.2 ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS

The science and technology (S&T) we have today is a product of human endeavor to which all known civilizations contributed: ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Roman empire, Phoenicia, Persia, China, and India. These societies were the first to develop agriculture and a sedentary life-style. The need to solve practical problems as well as the stability and order that existed in settled communities allowed the development and spread of ideas on S&T. The beginnings of the empirical methodology can be traced to these communities. Knowledge was able to spread easily because these communities had also developed writing.

2.3 TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE TO THE MUSLIM WORLD

Muslims played a crucial role in preserving and improving ancient Greek learning and passing it to Europe just before the scientific revolution at the start of the 16th century H. The Umayyad Khalif, Khalid Ibn Yazid, started translations of Greek science and philosophy into Arabic. This effort intensified in the 3rd century H under the Abassid rulers. Muslims became leaders of science in its various disciplines by correcting defects in Greek science but also making innovative additions of their own.

2.4 MUSLIM CONTRIBUTIONS TO METHODOLOGY

Before Islam, Greek scientific methodology founded by Aristotle was dominant. It was based on logic and definitions. Greek logic was more deductive than inductive. Muslims on the other hand were inspired to use inductive logic and empirical observation. Al Hasan ibn Haytham depended on experimentation, observation, and induction before Roger Bacon wrote about the empirical methodology. Jabir Ibn Hayyaan used experimentation and developed a logical structure for reaching conclusions.

2.5 TRANSFER OF KNOWLEDGE TO EUROPE

During the renaissance or age of enlightenment, the suppression of science ended. At the same time Muslim science, carrying with it the empirical method, reached Europe through translations or study of Europeans at Muslim universities in Spain and other countries. It is possible but not proved that it was the Muslim influence that triggered the intellectual and knowledge renaissance of Europe which was a pre-cursor to the scientific revolution in Europe of the period 1500-1750 CE. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the first European to write about the empirical methodology, was repeating ideas and concepts that Muslim scientists had already elaborated. Francis Bacon (1561-1626 M) In his book ‘Novum Organum’ described the scientific method depending on method and order of empirical knowledge. He laid primary emphasis on observation as the only source of valid knowledge.

3.0 CONCEPTS AND PARADIGMS

3.1 THE PARADIGM OF (TAUHID)

The tauhid paradigm has the following concepts: unity of truth, unity of knowledge, unity of life, and unity of humanity. The concept of Tauhid is the bedrock for causal relations and a rational predictable universe. Science shows that the complex universe is actually a simple one made up of a few fairly identical building blocks called atoms, sub-atomic particles and molecules. The natural laws that govern the interactions among these particles are simple and are usually written as simple mathematical equations. Under the Tauhid paradigm revelation and reason are complementary. Since knowledge and truth are a unity, both revelation and reason are searching for the same goal of truth. The Tauhid paradigm also implies an all-embracing aspect. Since everything has the same creator and one source, there must be order and harmony since that creator knows all His creation. The concept of Tauhid liberates the human intellect from stagnation, dependency, blind following. It frees the human from being a slave of his own whims and fancies. It encourages innovation by emphasizing the Tauhid of the universe and its wide expanse. It is the final guarantor against methodological biases because the human observing and interpreting natural phenomena is in the same frame of reference as the events being studied.

3.2 PHYSICAL LAWS

Science is empirical observation of the environment using sense organs and interpretation of the observations. The human intellect is used in the observation and especially the interpretation. Science unravels causal relations between phenomena. The principle of causality, ie a physical phenomenon must have a preceding humanly understandable cause, is very consistent. There are however exceptions when the principle is suspended. These exceptions involve intervention of divine will beyond human understanding in the form of miracles. Humans can ignore the principle of causality with the consequence of lack of creativity, lack of innovation, and lack of activity and they lapse into a stuporous state of stagnation. The physical laws of the universe are of 2 types: those known by Creator alone and those knowable by humans. The laws in the world of the unseen are different from those in the world of the seen; the former are beyond human reach but the latter can be reached by humans through experimentation and observation.

3.3 REASON and EMPIRICISM

INDUCTIVE METHODOLOGY

The Greeks made many contributions to science but at the same time did a disservice to it by not emphasizing the inductive methodology. Most break-throughs in S&T today are a result of inductive processes. Interaction with Greek science did actually hamper methodological development for centuries.

BASIS FOR EMPIRICAL OBSERVATION AND INTERPRETATION

The inductive method reaches conclusions by looking at nature. The entire cosmos was put at the service of humans for their own benefit. They therefore must observe and investigate the earths and heavens to discover causal relations that can be manipulated fir human advantage. Observation is accompanied by interpretation. Use of evidential knowledge is emphasized. Biased observation is condemned.

3.4 OBJECTIVITY

DESCRIPTION

The concept of objectivity promotes valid and un-biased research. The straight path unaffected by personal biases and prejudices leads to success. The straight path is defined by measures of central tendency to the golden mean or equilibrium. The straight path can also be defined negatively as rejection of what leads to bias such as personal whims. False knowledge, blind following, mistakes, and forgetting can all be causes of deviation from the straight path. Diseases of the heart such as prejudice can color and distort objective observation and interpretation resulting in bias. There are practical measures for avoiding mistakes such as insisting on a written record and calling witnesses. Use of evidence protects against false conclusions.

CAUSES OF LACK OF OBJECTIVITY

It is virtually impossible to be objective if you do not stick to and follow a definite methodology. Deviation from methodology may be caused by personal biases or inclinations or personal interests. A person who does not have a methodology cannot be expected to be objective.

4.0 THE EMPIRICAL METHOD

4.1 BASIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EMPIRICAL METHODOLOGY

Empiricism is basing knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes on practical experience of the sense organs. Exclusive empiricism thus defined rejects knowledge from intuition, revelation, conjecture, and reasoning. Absolute empiricism denies existence of a priori knowledge.

The European use of the empirical method has a distinguishing characteristics of reliance only on empirical observation as the source of knowledge with rejection of any other sources such as history, and transmitted knowledge. The following characteristics of the empirical method are alleged but may not always hold in practice. The method is open-ended. Theories are abandoned if no longer sustained by facts. It is methodological (systematic, repeatable, and consistent). It is accurate, precise, and objective.

4.2 USE OF HYPOTHESES IN THE EMPIRICAL METHODOLOGY

Scientific investigation starts with hypothesis formulation. The hypotheses are tested by empirical observation and deductions/inductions are made. Ibn Haytham, in his ‘Book of Optics’, illustrates the use of the empirical method. He did a lot of experiments and interpreted the findings. He realized the importance of mathematics. He used a combination of both inductive and deductive logic. He formulated hypotheses in 2 ways: observation and analogy.

In his observation of natural phenomena, he observed that light passing through a hole has the shape of that hole and therefore formed a hypothesis that light travels in straight lines. He concluded by analogy that since the moon gets its light from the sun, the stars cannot get light from the sun. To verify the hypotheses about the stars above, Ibn Hytham made the observation that unlike the moon, the shapes of the stars did not change with distance from the sun. He concluded that the stars must emit light of their own. Ibn Hytham moved from experiment to generalize into a law by making 2 conclusions. The first was that light of whatever type travels in straight lines. The second was that the incident ray, the reflected ray, and the normal are in the same plane.

4.3 STRENGTH OF THE EMPIRICAL METHODOLOGY

The major strength of the empirical methodology is that it enables rapid growth of knowledge.

4.4 THE EMPIRICAL METHODOLOGY: A HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

EMPIRISISM IS INNATE

Empiricism could be said to be an innate character of humans that they share with animals. Humans always want to know the explanation of natural phenomena and what relates one event to another. In the absence of empirical knowledge or wahy they have sometimes resorted to superstition.

MUSLIM PIONEERS OF THE EMPIRICAL METHOD

Greek science was conjectural and hypothetical. Greeks preferred reasoning and looked down upon perceptual knowledge. They would spend years in their comfortable arm-chairs reasoning instead of going out of the room and making observation or setting up a simple experiment to close the issue. Aristotle for example never thought of testing his theory about the speed of fall of heavy and light objects. Muslims criticized Greek logic.

Muslim scientists in the golden era of Islam were pioneers of the systematic use of the empirical method. Muslims developed a complete empirical methodology in the form of. Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ argued that the empirical method was not a European discovery. He quoted contributions of Ghazzali, Ishraqi, Ibn Taymiyyat, Abubakr al Razi, and Ibn Hazm. Other pioneers of the empirical method were: Ibn Sina, Al Biruni, al Kindi (d. 260H), Jabir Ibn Hayyan (d. 200H), Ibn Haytham (d. 340H), al Khawarizmi (d. 387H).

EUROPEAN PIONEERS OF THE EMPIRICAL METHOD

European history ascribes ‘discovery’ of the empirical method to Roger Bacon (1561-1626H). Other European pioneers of the method such as San Simon (1760-1825 M), August Kant (1798-1857 M), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917 M) built on Bacon’s ideas.

5.0 WEAKNESSES IN THE USE OF THE EMPIRICAL METHODOLOGY

5.1 PROBLEM IN USE AND NOT IN ESSENCE

The empirical methodology is innately good but the manner and context of its use lead to the following 4 problems: biases due to a priori assumptions, limitations of observation by human senses, limitations of human intellect, and lack of an integrating paradigm

5.2 BIASES DUE TO A PRIORI ASSUMPTIONS

European use of the empirical method has many biases: A priori assertions or non-assertions, (assertions by default) bias the selection of fields/issues of investigation, formulation of hypotheses, selection of hypotheses for testing, reporting of data, interpretation of data, and use of information.

The source of frustration with empiricism is that some assertions are understood but are not stated explicitly so that the uninitiated may not recognize their existence. Materialist thought has several manifestations as positivism, empiricism, and pragmatism. A materialistic view of the universe contradicts the view of duality of matter and spirit, mind and body, soul and intellect, philosophy and religion, and the here and the hereafter.

The theory of evolution evolved England in the 19th century. It coincidentally provided ‘scientific’ justification for industrial exploitation for the less fit in Europe and the colonies by the fittest that alone had the right of survival. The theory has had a big impact on the thinking of many natural and social scientists. Scientific hypotheses, scientific language, and choice of what to study reflect an underlying assumption of the innate superiority of the most ‘evolved’ human species in Europe.

Psychological leanings cause bias. Personal or group selfish interests can unconsciously lead to bias because of the dichotomy between science and morality.

The life of the scientist is not put in the equation. A scientist is a prisoner of his culture. Many of the leading scientists were morally corrupt even psychologically sick yet their theories and discoveries were not suspected. There is an implied unscientific assumption that a person who tells lies in his ordinary life will not do so about his laboratory research. The character and moral worth of the investigator is not taken into account when judging the validity of the data on the assertion that science is morally/ethically neutral. This is the cause of so much scientific fraud most of which is undetectable. There is a need to check the moral worth of the researcher in the assessment of any research data to void the possibility of scientific fraud.

Regarding natural laws as final and accepting the laws of evolution that explain the start and progress of life as chance or accidental events make the scientist consider the existence of a creator superfluous. No empirical experiment can be set up to test the proposition yet there are observable indications especially in empirical behavior of humans that there is a super-natural power.

Diseases of the heart can lead to biased empirical observations. Among these diseases are rancor, hatred, and deception. Medical literature is replete with biased research and conclusions that associate undesirable diseases and conditions like low IQ & low educational achievement with the disadvantaged races or ethnic groups. In most cases it is the poor physical and social conditions of the disadvantaged that cause the disease or the conditions and not their race or ethnicity.

5.3 LIMITATIONS OF OBSERVATION BY HUMAN SENSES

Empirical knowledge is relativistic and probabilistic. Science can be too arrogant in stating its conclusions as established facts when the observations on which they are based may be wrong. Empiricism depends on human senses. Human senses are limited in their observation and can be deceived; this failure is not cured by use of instruments because they are aids and extensions of the basic human senses. Both empiricists, those who assert that empirical experience is a source of knowledge, and rationalists, those who assert that human reason is source of knowledge, agree that there is no source of knowledge outside the human. The assertion that empirical knowledge is the only source of valid knowledge excludes 2 major fields of study: ultimate questions about the universe and human behavior.

There are ultimate questions about the universe that cannot be answered empirically or rationally. These questions about the universe include its start, its future, its end, its purpose of human life, the nature of life, the nature of death and the nature of after death. Human behavior cannot be explained empirically or rationally. No empirical experiment can be set up to investigate motivations of human behavior and human spiritual experiences.

The paradigm that does not recognize existence of limits to human senses and intellect cannot accept that some matters cannot be investigated empirically. A distinction is made between scientific assertions that can be investigated empirically and non-scientific assertions that cannot be investigated empirically. Matters classified as non-scientific are just ignored as if they do not exist. A proper approach would have been a declaration by the empiricists and rationalists that some questions lie outside the bounds of unaided human investigation. They would then have to consider other sources of knowledge about these matters for example revelation.

The argument of secularist empiricists and rationalists rejecting anything that cannot be investigated empirically as unscientific is flawed. There are many phenomena in science that are believed but are not yet proved empirically. A good example is the disease of cholera. It was established that contaminated water was a cause of cholera and that the disease-causing agent is transferred from the sick to the healthy by means of such water. It was only later that the vibrio cholerae organism was isolated. By that time public health measures had already controlled out the disease in the industrialized countries. These measures did not depend on complete knowledge and had a measure of belief in the unseen yet no one disputed their effectiveness.

There are three sources of knowledge, two being primary and the third being dependent on the first two. Revelation and empirical observation are independent sources of knowledge and intellect in a dependent source of knowledge. Both revelation and empirical observation need intellect for understanding.

Revelation remains the absolute source since human senses and intellect are known by ordinary human experience to be fallible. The empirical method performs well in investigation of the present but is awfully incompetent in its historicity and futuristicity. Investigation of the past and the future requires knowledge of the unseen that comes only from revelation. The unseen can be absolute or relative. Empirical investigations continually roll back the frontiers of relative unseen but cannot even start looking into absolute unseen. The problem is that the modern use of the empirical method just assumes that un-investigatable matters just do not exist or are irrelevant. Untestable assertions are classified as unscientific.

Existence is at 5 levels: inner/real, empirical/perceived, imaginary, intellectual/abstract, and illusionary. The empirical method can only observe the empirical, the rest have to be inferred. It is therefore limited in the understanding of the whole existence. Modern empiricism, by looking at the human as only matter, does not have the tools to understand human duality as spirit and body. It fails in understanding causal relations in situations in which humans change the ecosystem and their own internal environment. Humans can create new facts that accord with their inner biases such that an investigator coming later is confused about the causal chain and cannot tell the correct order.

5.4 LACK OF BALANCE

The way science and technology are used today shows lack of balance which leads to transgression. We live in a world that is technologically advanced but lacks spiritual and social balance and the end-result is a lot of human misery and human suffering.

5.5 LACK OF PURPOSE

Technology seems to have become an automaton with its own dynamism that is sometimes not related to any understandable human purpose. It sometimes seems that we are building structures for amusement only with no underlying purpose.

5.6 LACK OF AN INTEGRATING PARADIGM

Too narrow specialization in science has resulted in a situation of knowing the parts and failing to put them together. Knowing the whole picture makes the study of the parts more meaningful and is the holistic approach. Empiricism as used does not acknowledge the basic assertions of Tauhid that there is one creator for the universe and that therefore there must be an integrating paradigm for all human research and actions. A practical consequence of this is that one advance in one area is a catastrophe in another to the extent that many insightful scientists fear the ultimate destruction of the ecosystem. Industrialization causes air and water pollution. The modern society has destroyed the family. Increased material wealth has been associated with more stress and unhappiness. Nuclear energy generates electricity but is also a potential destruction of the whole universe if nuclear weapons are ever used.

5.7 LIMITATIONS OF THE HUMAN INTELLECT

Human intellect is necessary for interpretation and understanding of empirical observations. This intellect has limitations and there are matters like the human himself that lie outside its reach. A human cannot understand himself fully. There are transgressions in the use of reason that lead to false results. This occurs when reason is employed in areas that are exclusive for revelation.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. November, 2007