The great Greek trio and a case for religion




Zia H Shah



In the study of the great trio of the ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who between them laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture, we can understand the relationship between science and religion.   


The primary sources of information relating to Socrates come from the writings of four men: Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Aristophanes.  Plato is viewed as the most reliable and capacious source of information about Socrates’ life and philosophy.  If his account is trusted then Socrates personality and character are built on the pattern of the messengers of God.  Plato calls him, ‘the wisest, the justest, and the best of all men whom I have ever known.’[1]  It was Socrates who had introduced into philosophical discussions of the time, the elements of knowledge, truth and rationality with emphasis so powerful that some biographers describe him as having brought high-flown ethereal philosophies from the heavens down to earth.[2]  Socrates seems to have a very personalized and intense relationship with the Supreme Being. In Apology for Socrates, by Plato, we read the claim of Socrates, “You have heard me speak at sundry times and in divers places of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity.”[3]  Words attributed to Socrates by Plato imply that he (Socrates) was ‘inspired’ from a very early age to ‘instruct’ people in true understanding and true belief.  Socrates claimed, “This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to do anything which I am going to do. This is what deters me from being a politician.”[4]  Socrates stands for the need and benefit of revelation.  


Plato represents the first generation of his pupils, who are also charged to a substantial degree with the Socratic spirit. In their philosophic and scientific discussions there is an inevitable stamp of spirituality. But in the transitional period, from Plato to Aristotle, we notice a perceptible decline in the idea of God playing a live and active role in the phenomena of nature. In Aristotle we do not detect any evidence that he believed in any form of communication between God and man or revelation. 

PLATO 428-348 BC

Plato can be best considered as a political philosopher and a metaphysician.  Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science.  It is also concerned with explaining the ultimate nature of being and the world.  Some examples of questions relevant to metaphysics are:


What is the nature of reality?

Why does the world exist, and what is its origin or source of creation?

Does the world exist outside the mind?

If things exist, what is their objective nature?


With Plato it is incorrect to consider the perceptions of the external world as the ultimate truth because a superficial study of any external matter is not sufficient to gain true knowledge of its inner nature. Plato believes that hidden within every external phenomenon is a deeper, invisible world of meaning that cannot be reached by mere superficial analysis.[5]


If Averroës (Ibn Rushd) was to be considered a disciple of Aristotle many of Plato’s ideas could be noted to rhyme with those of Ibn Arabi, the famous Muslim mystic of the twelfth century.  Plato talked of ideas that will be in keeping with many of the verses of the Holy Quran.  In Sura Hashr we read:


هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذِي لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ وَالشَّهَادَةِ هُوَ الرَّحْمَنُ الرَّحِيمُ


“He is Allah and there is no god besides Him, the Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the Gracious, the Merciful.” (Al Hashr 59:23)  In superficial analysis it will seem that man is aware of what is here and present.  The Arabic word Al Shahadah in the above verse implies that man is not free from illusion so philosophically the only true knower of even ‘present’ is All Knowing God.   What evoked wonder and joy in the mind of Plato was a conviction that behind the façade of deceptive sense impressions and turbulent emotions was a realm of pure thought that gave mundane experience and observations whatever intelligibility and value they had.  That is why he saw art as a window of eternity and why he pictured God as an artisan.  Plato envisaged a benevolent craftsman, a Demiurge or God, who built the universe using mathematical principles based on symmetric geometrical forms. This abstract realm of Platonic Forms was connected with the everyday world of sense experiences by a subtle entity Plato called the World-Soul. The philosopher Walter Mayerstein likens Plato’s World-Soul to the modem concept of mathematical theory, being the thing that connects our sense experiences with the principles on which the universe is built, and provides us with what we call understanding. In the modem era, Einstein also insisted that our direct observations of events in the world are not generally intelligible, but must be related to a layer of underlying theory.[6]  Plato’s conception of the universe indeed rhymes with some of the quotes of Einstein:


“A belief bound up with deep feeling in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience, represents my conception of God.”[7]  Pertaining to the limitations of human’s senses Einstein said, “When I see nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of ‘humility’.  This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”[8]  


Plato represented the starting point of Western political philosophy.  He also laid the foundation of the ethical and metaphysical thought that was later supplemented by the Christians and the Muslim philosophers.  His speculations on these subjects have been read and studied for over 2300 years.  Plato stands, therefore, as one of the great fathers of Western thought.  Michael H Hart considers him the 40th most influential person in human history, far above President Thomas Jefferson and President John F Kennedy.[9]


It is knowledge, truth and rationality which lift human thoughts to sublime loftiness!  If this be true we can credit many a Plato’s and Aristotle’s achievements to their teacher Socrates.  They certainly owed their greatness to their revered master, Socrates.  There is nothing like the lasting noble influence of Socratic integrity which went largely into the making of Plato and Aristotle. [10] .  Socrates was tried by his fellow Athenians for spreading the truth.  He was declared guilty and was given capital punishment.  But there are worse punishments then this as Socrates pointed out and Plato saved it for us in Plato’s apology.  Socrates said, “While I have been merely condemned to death, my accusers have by the same act been condemned to wickedness!”  This condemnation to wickedness and viciousness is the fate of all those who choose the path of injustice for themselves.


Aristotle is thought to be the greatest philosopher and scientist of the ancient world. He originated the study of formal logic, enriched almost every branch of philosophy, and made numerous contributions to science.  Many of Aristotle’s ideas are outmoded today. But far more important than any of his individual theories is the rational approach underlying his work. Implicit in Aristotle’s writings is the attitude that every aspect of human life and society may be an appropriate object of thought and analysis; the notion that the universe is not controlled by blind chance, by magic, or by the whims of capricious deities, but that its behavior is subject to rational laws; the belief that it is worthwhile for human beings to conduct a systematic inquiry into every aspect of the natural world; and the conviction that we should utilize both empirical observations and logical reasoning in forming our conclusions.  This set of attitudes, which is contrary to traditionalism, superstition, and mysticism has profoundly influenced Western civilization.[11]  To sum up Aristotle in one line, we quote from Dante, who called Aristotle, “The master of those who know.”[12] [13]


How did Aristotle become the master?  Ten years after Socrates Martyrdom, Plato had opened an Academy for educating the youth that continued for more than nine hundred years.  At age 17 Aristotle went to Athens to study in the Academy of Plato. He remained there for twenty years, until shortly after Plato died.  So it was under the indirect influence of Socrates and direct teaching and wisdom of Plato that Aristotle developed his rationality.


In contrast to Plato, Aristotle gives priority to the external observable reality. For him any understanding gained by man at any particular moment is to be taken as the truth. It seems as though for Aristotle the external world was itself the eternal truth. Aristotle was also persuaded of the existence of ideas towards which all the ‘various physical forms’ are moving. In sharp contrast to Plato, he perceived matter to be an independent eternal reality and presents a view of continuous evolution in which no External Conscious Being has a hand to play. He considers this evolution to be dependent only upon the natural propensities latent within matter itself.[14]


It becomes clear that to Aristotle, whatever one observes at any given time can be classed as a fact at that particular moment. The conclusion derived from such facts, as compiled by reason, can be called knowledge. This knowledge, when verified from different angles of observation, should be considered the truth.  So Aristotle stands for the independent study of nature without the coercion from the religiously inclined.  It was in pursuit of these ideals that study of nature and science was born.  However, it should not be taken to mean that Aristotle does not believe in God, the Creator. On the contrary, he believed in a Supreme Being Who was responsible for the entire chain of cause and effect and could be referred to as the Ultimate First Cause, whom he calls, the “Unmoved Mover”. 


In later centuries, how did the Greek thought come to be intertwined with Christianity?  This pursuit takes us to Pelagius and Saint Augustine.


Pelagius and Saint Augustine were born in the same year of 354 AD.   Pelagius was an ascetic monk and reformer who denied the doctrine of Original Sin from Adam and was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. He spent time as an ascetic, focusing on practical asceticism, which his teachings clearly reflect. He was not, however, a cleric. He was certainly well known in Rome, both for the asceticism of his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech.  He blamed Rome’s moral laxity on the doctrine of divine grace from the Confessions of Saint Augustine. Pelagius attacked this teaching on the grounds that it imperiled the entire moral law and soon gained a considerable following at Rome.[15]  He insisted that the doctrine of Atonement when pushed to its logical conclusion does not leave any room for morality or rationality.  We are each, Pelagius claimed, without original sin, and are free to choose good or evil. By righteous living and good works, an individual can attain salvation.  Contrary to Pelagius, according to Augustine, all men are stained with Adam’s sin.  Mostly through the influence of St. Augustine’s writings, the views of Pelagius were declared heretical, and Pelagius himself (who had already been banished from Rome) was excommunicated.[16] Rationality had finally been banished from Rome and Europe entered a millennium of ignorance and darkness.  If Pelagius had been sainted rather than Augustine, the world’s intellectual history would have been dramatically different and better.  


The Platonic theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo, original Latin name Aurelius Augustinus was born in Algeria.  He was perhaps the most significant and influential Christian thinker after St. Paul. Augustine’s adaptation of classical thoughts of Plato to Christian teaching created a theological system of great power and lasting influence. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions and City of God, shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought.


Augustine, around the turn of the 4th century, presented Christianity as God’s answer to the fall of the Roman Empire, which the sin of humans was effecting.[17]  He realized that no society or culture can hope to survive more than a few generations without sound moral fabric.  He wanted to move away from Aristotle and move towards Plato, who represented greater spirituality.  Intellectually, Augustine embodies the most influential adaptation of the ancient Platonic tradition with Christian ideas that ever occurred in the Latin Christian world.[18]  In fact, his book, City of God, represented a decisive rejection of Aristotle’s world view in favor of that of Plato.  Because his Platonized Christianity made good sense in the context of post-Roman society, Western Christians came to believe that it was the only possible version of the true faith.[19]  A vote for faith and morality became a vote for Augustine.


Platonism supplied Augustine with a theory of knowledge that could be harmonized with his concept of man’s fall and original sin.  As Augustine noted in the city of God, the Greek philosophers made efforts to discover the hidden laws of nature ….. and some of them by God’s help, made great discoveries; but when left to themselves they were betrayed by human infirmity, and fell into mistakes.  His argument continued, “Aristotle had ignored man’s depravity and his absolute dependence upon God’s grace.  What good was knowledge of this world, if it could not avert eternal damnation in the next life, in the hereafter?”[20] 


Plato’s spirituality may have helped save the society in some ways, but Augustine had not only borrowed from Plato but had modified his teachings to suit his Christian dogmas.  With dogmas like Trinity, original sin and atonement in place, rationality suffered a fatal blow.  As Augustine became an icon of the Catholic Church and its spiritual message, over the centuries, Plato, tarnished by Augustine’s dogmas, nevertheless, lived on through him.  Aristotle became a vague, dismembered legend, an ancient wizard, once very powerful, whose ideas were now all but forgotten.[21]  Dogma had overtaken rationality!  Faith was divorced from science and Europe entered a night of ignorance that was to last several centuries.  The budding Aristotelian legacy had been killed in its trenches.  At the time of renaissance, Europe had a fundamental need to separate science from religion and will have to struggle for several centuries to get out of the irrationality of the dogmas.

AL KINDI 801-870 AD

Aristotle was rediscovered by the Muslim philosophers of Baghdad and Spain, four centuries later.  Ya’qub ibn Ishaq as-Sabah al-Kindi  was the first outstanding Islamic philosopher, known as ‘the philosopher of the Arabs.’  Al-Kindi was born of noble Arabic descent and flourished in Iraq under the caliphs al-Ma’mun (813–833) and al-Mu’tasim (833–842). He concerned himself not only with those philosophical questions that had been treated by the Aristotelian Neoplatonists of Alexandria but also with such miscellaneous subjects as astrology, medicine, Indian arithmetic, logogriphs, the manufacture of swords, and cooking. He is known to have written more than 270 works (mostly short treatises), a considerable number of which are extant, some in Latin translations.[22]  Revealing his sources, Al Kindi said, “It would have been impossible for us, despite all our zeal, during the whole of our lifetime, to assemble these principles of truth which form the basis of the final inferences of our research.”[23]  The extinguished torch of Aristotle’s science had been rekindled 1000 years later in Baghdad and the Moorish Spain.  In the words of Dr Abdus Salam, a Nobel laureate in Physics:


“A semi-quantitative measure of this is given by George Sarton in his monumental History of Science. Sarton divides his story of the highest achievement in science into Ages, each Age lasting 50 years. With each, he associates one central figure: thus, 500-450 BC is the Age of Plato, followed by the Ages of Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes and so on. From 750 to 1100 CE, however, it is an unbroken succession of the Ages of Jabir, Khwarizmi, Razi, Masudi, Abu’I-Wafa, Biruni and Omar Khayam. In those 350 years, Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Persians chemists, algebraists, clinicians, geographers, mathematicians, physicists and astronomers of the commonwealth of Islam-held the world stage of sciences.  Only after 1100 CE, in Sarton’s scheme, do the first Western names begin to appear; however, for another 250 years, they share the honors with men of Islam like Ibn Rushd, Nasir-ud-din Tusi and Ibn Nafis.”[24]


AVERROES 1126-1198 AD

It is hard not to think of twelfth century Moorish Spain as scholars’ paradise.  Averroës, also called  Ibn Rushd, was born in 1126, Córdoba in Spain.  He was one of the most influential Islamic religious philosophers, who integrated Islamic traditions with ancient Greek thought. At the request of the Almohad caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusuf, he produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works (1169–95) and on Plato’s Republic, which exerted considerable influence in both the Islamic world and Europe for centuries. He wrote the Decisive Treatise on the Agreement Between Religious Law and Philosophy (Fasl al-Makal), Examination of the Methods of Proof Concerning the Doctrines of Religion (Kashf al-Manahij), and The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut), all in defense of the philosophical study of religion against the theologians (1179–80).[25]  The torch of rationality had been reignited in a different civilization under the last of the three Abrahmic faiths.  Spain had become a place where Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars worked shoulder to shoulder to advance the case for human rationality.  It was under the influence of Arabian and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that the real renaissance in Europe took place.[26]  Talking about this subject, Dr Abdus Salam writes:


“To emphasize that science is the shared heritage of mankind, and that the history of scientific discovery, like the history of all civilization, has gone through cycles, I recalled in my Nobel lecture, a historical episode, when some 760 years ago, a young Scotsman left his native glens to travel south to Toledo in Spain. His name was Michael, his goal to live and work at the Arab universities of Toledo and Cordova. Michael reached Toledo in 1217 AD. Once there, Michael formed the ambitious project of introducing Aristotle to Latin Europe, translation not from the original Greek, which he knew not, but from the Arabic translation which was then taught in Spain. From Toledo, Michael traveled to Sicily, to the Court of Emperor Frederick II. Visiting the medical school at Salerno, chartered by Frederick in 1231, Michael met the Danish physician Hendrik Harpestraeng, later to become Court Physician of King Eric IV Waldermarrson. Hendrik the Dane had come to Salerno to compose his treatise, preserved in seven volumes at the National Library in Stockholm, on blood‑letting and surgery. Hendrik’s sources were the medical canons of the great clinicians of Islam, Al‑Razi and Avicenna, which only Michael the Scot could translate for him.

The schools of Toledo and Salerno mark the beginning of the creation of Sciences in the West. At these schools a candle was lit from a candle already burning brightly in the lands of Islam.”[27]

These words of the learned physicist and Nobel laureate serve an apt commentary of a part of a verse of the Holy Quran:


وَتِلْكَ الأيَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَيْنَ النَّاسِ


“And such days We cause to alternate among men that they may be admonished.”  (Sura Ale Imran 3:141)  In the words of Carly Firoina, Ex CEO of Hewlett-Packard, “Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to Islamic civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians.”


Europe was darkened at sunset, Cordova shone with public lamps; Europe was dirty, Cordova built a thousand baths.  Europe lay in mud, Cordova’s streets were paved; Europe’s palaces had smoke-holes in the ceiling, Cordova’s arabesques were exquisite.  Europe’s nobility could not sign its name, Cordova’s children went to school; Europe’s monks could not read the baptismal service, Cordova’s teachers created a library of Alexandrian dimensions.[28]  It seemed as if there were knowledge and learning everywhere except in Catholic Europe. At a time when even the kings in Europe could not read or write, a Moorish king had a private library of six hundred thousand books. At a time when ninety-nine percent of the Christian people were wholly illiterate, the Moorish city of Cordova had eight hundred public schools, and there was not a village within the limits of the empire where the blessings of education could not be enjoyed by the children of the most indigent peasant.[29]

At this time of the Reconquest of Moorish Spain, in the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, the Christians found that the Muslims and the Jews had long ago translated and improved upon every important work of Greek learning as well as monuments of Persian and Indian culture.

Francis Raymond de Sauvetât, or Raymond of Toledo, was the French Archbishop of Toledo from 1125 to 1152. He was a Benedictine monk, born in Gascony.  While he was bishop he promoted the translation of scholarly texts from Arabic into Latin.  As he translated different books he held closest to his bosom, the books of Aristotle.  The philosophy of Cordoba and its great teacher Averroes and his teacher Aristotle penetrated to the University of Paris and rest of Europe. 


The European and Christian Philosophy, says Bertrand Russell, was mainly Platonic in the ancient times, but became mainly Aristotelian in the eleventh century.[30]  By the time of Galileo, Aristotle had been raised to the status of demigod in Europe.  His views could not be challenged and had reached a status that was beyound reproach.  Galileo found a way out.  He used Aristotelian methods to refute some of his ideas.

Aristotle had taught that the speed with which a body falls is proportional to its weight; that is to say, if a body weighing (say) ten pounds and another weighing (say) one pound were dropped from the same height at the same moment, the one weighing one pound should take ten times as long to reach the ground as the one weighing ten pounds. Galileo, who was a professor’ at Pisa but had no respect for the feelings of other professors, used to drop weights from the Leaning Tower just as his Aristotelian colleagues were on the way to their lectures. Big and small lumps of lead would reach the ground almost simultaneously, which proved to Galileo that Aristotle was wrong, but to the other professors that Galileo was wicked. By a number of actions of which this one was typical, he incurred the undying hatred of those who believed that truth was to be sought in books rather than in experiments.[31]

ISAAC NEWTON 1642-1727

In the words of Paul Davies, a Professor of Mathematical Physics and a prolific writer on the subject of ‘Science and Religion’, “The concept of the law of nature was not invented by any particular philosopher or scientist.  Although the idea was crystallized only in the modern scientific era, its origins go back to the dawn of history, and are intimately bound up with religion. Our distant ancestors must have had a rudimentary notion of cause and effect.  The purpose of making tools, for example, has always been to facilitate the manipulation of the environment. …..  Although certain regularities of behavior were apparent to these early people, the vast majority of natural phenomena remained mysterious and unpredictable.”[32] From these early beginnings the systematic human observations began to grow, at the time of European Renaissance. 


Whereas, in primitive considerations of cause and effect, direct connections are immediately apparent to the senses, the laws of nature discovered by science are altogether more subtle. Anyone can see, for example, that apples fall, but Newton’s invers6-square law of gravitation demands special and systematic measurement before it is manifested. More important, it demands some sort of abstract theoretical framework, evidently of a mathematical nature, as a context for those measurements. The raw data gathered by our senses are not directly intelligible as they stand.  To link them, to weave them into a framework of understanding, requires an intermediary step, a step we call theory.

The fact that such theory is subtle and mathematical can be suggestively expressed by saying that the laws of nature are in code. [33]


The job of the scientist is to “crack” the cosmic code, and thereby reveal the secrets of the universe. Heinz Pagels, in his book The Cosmic Code, expresses it thus:


Although the idea that the universe has an order that is governed by natural laws that are not immediately apparent to the senses is very ancient, it is only in the last three hundred years that we have discovered a method for uncovering the hidden order – the scientific-experimental method. So powerful is this method that virtually everything scientists know about the natural world comes from it. What they find is that the architecture of the universe is indeed built according to invisible universal rules, what I call the cosmic code – the building code of the Demiurge (God).[34]


In Isaac Newton, an echo of the immutable, timeless Deity of Plato, Demiurge, enters science, in the form of Eternal Laws.[35]


His book, The origin of Species was published in 1859.  Almost 140 years, after its publication and great renown, it is still hard for human wisdom, intuition and emotional state to accept an atheistic paradigm of our world and assume that this universe with all its intricate and wonderful details is the result of an accident and blind processes.  In a survey in 1990s in USA, about evolution, the following observations were made:

Forty five percent of Americans believe that God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.  An equal proportion believe in some form of Guided Evolution that man developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life but God guided the process.  Only 10% believe in an atheistic thought that God had no part in the process.[36]


We can draw two conclusions from this data.  Firstly, whatever arguments may be put forward, 90% of the population finds it senseless to attribute the creation of the universe and life on our planet to completely blind processes.  The second conclusion is that if 45% of the population that is falling into the category of the Creationism were to have a better scripture they will not need to deny the truths in Evolution.  This is a case for giving the Holy Quran a chance over the Holy Bible.  To their utter amazement and surprise the Christians may find that they have nothing to loose and only to gain.  To communicate the beauty of the Holy Quran to the non-believers let me quote from the experience of German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  He said, “As often as we approach the Quran, it always proves repulsive anew; gradually, however, it attracts, it astonishes, and, in the end forces admiration.” [37]  In the words of Sir George Bernard Shaw, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, “I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.”[38]  At another occasion he said, “I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad, that it would be acceptable to the Europe of to­morrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”[39]


The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.[40]  Albert Einstein

Aristotle believed in eternal universe but the big bang theory has turned that concept upside down.  Big bang has reawakened the age old question, as to where did the universe or the laws of nature come from.  We have to explain the universe!  Even if we invoke the laws of nature, where did the laws come from?  The laws that took humanity three millennia and several civilizations to discover, the laws that the smartest among us can barely grasp after a life time of learning, cannot be attributed to a vacuum or nothingness.  It seems height of absurdity to take the laws of nature for granted!


This brings us to square one.  Having journeyed through time for 23-24 centuries, the questions of relevance of religion and where did the universe or the laws of nature come from, bring us back to Socrates.  Socrates stood for knowledge emanating from revelation and integrity and wisdom based on it.  Revelation is a sine qua non for religion.  Even science itself has benefited from revelations over the years.  See the article: Al Aleem: The bestower of true dreams.[41] 


One of the needs of religion is the fact that it is indispensable for morality and integrity as so powerfully shown by Socrates and recognized by Saint Augustine and Pelagius.  Socrates integrity and character can be studied in the Apology of Plato, “I should not have neglected all my own concerns or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you individually like a father or elder brother, exhorting you to regard virtue; such conduct, I say, would be unlike human nature. If I had gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would have been some sense in my doing so; but now, as you will perceive, not even the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted or sought pay of any one; of that they have no witness. And I have a sufficient witness to the truth of what I say — my poverty.”[42]  About his integrity he states, “understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.”[43]

He is known to have said that he is not the only one from God who has been the recipient of revelation; there have been great men before who did the same to serve the cause of goodness.[44] His was a different world. His was a world of Prophets. He believed in divinely revealed dreams; he believed in revelation; he believed in knowledge to be truth, and truth to be knowledge. He believed that no knowledge is trustworthy but that bestowed upon man by God Himself.

He was charged with the mission of delivering a Divine message to the people of Greece.   Rather than upholding a status quo and accepting the development of immorality within his region, Socrates worked to undermine the collective notion of “might makes right” so common to Greece during this period. Plato refers to Socrates as the “gadfly” (Arabic: Al Nazeer) of the state, insofar as he irritated the establishment with considerations of justice and the pursuit of goodness. His attempts to improve the Athenian’s sense of justice may have been the source of his execution.  It was the wisdom and revelation of Socrates that transformed into the wisdom of Plato and science of Aristotle.


Revelation polishes human rationality and wisdom.  In other words, intellect and logic are secular gifts but wisdom has a degree of spirituality about it.  It develops in response to human minds developing the discipline of fear of Allah or becoming fully aware of their responsibility to the Divine and then indirectly their responsibility to the fellow beings.  According to the Holy Quran:


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ

نُوراً تَمْشُونَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ


“O ye who believe! fear Allah and believe in His Messenger. He will give you a double portion of His Mercy, and will provide for you a light wherein you will walk, and will grant you forgiveness.  Indeed, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.”  (Al Hadid 57:29)


Over bearing emphasis on the teachings of Aristotle had lead to over-secularization of the Roman Empire.  A lack of belief in God and accountability led to moral degeneration and fall of the Roman Empire.  Mankind needs Aristotle as well as Plato and Socrates.  If our Western civilization is to avoid the fate of the Roman Empire, it needs to remember the lessons of history.  George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  But we also need to remember that the power hungry and self seeking pseudo-spirituality of the late followers of the Prophets smothers not only spirituality but can be a major obstacle even in the secular intellect of mankind.  We observed this phenomenon in the medieval ages not only in Europe but also in the Muslim Empire.  This vulnerability of some power mongering and controlling humans requires that there ought to be a degree of separation between religious pursuits and scientific pursuits, so that each can prosper and serve as a catalyst for each other rather than a barrier.



Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.[45] [46] Albert Einstein


In the words of Richard Rubenstein, “In the long march of centuries that followed between Plato’s and Aristotle’s deaths, the separation between them became a gap, the gap a chasm, and the chasm an oceanic rift.  In medieval times, the clash between Platonic ‘spirituality’ and Aristotelian ‘materialism’ would cost a number of scholars their careers and several ideologues their lives.  Viewed in the context of their own time, however, these differences seem as much a product of contrasting interests and temperaments as of conflicting beliefs.”[47]


Aristotle was indeed the ‘master’! but of only those who have scientific knowledge.  Would you be a scholar who is drowning in his own knowledge or a saintly sage?  Why could not we combine in us, Aristotle and Socrates, Augustine and Newton, Freud and Jung, Einstein and Heisenberg[48], Al Ghazali and Avicenna or Ibn Rushd and Ibn Arabi! These pairs together are complementary to each other and become whole when put together and the pairs combine both the secular and spiritual wisdom.  Aristotle’s thoughts are needed for independent study of science, but if Plato’s wisdom is ignored, humanity cannot enjoy a wholesome life.  Mankind needs physics of Aristotle, metaphysics of Plato and wisdom and integrity of Socrates all at the same time.  


We are now living in a world that is struggling for wholeness.[49]  Science treats humans and their intentions and traditions as incidental elements in the universe, whereas in religion (as for people generally) they are central.  That is why President Thomas Jefferson’s deism of impersonal Unitarian deity and French revolution’s neutral deity fell by the wayside.  That is precisely the reason why more than 90 percent of USA population practices prayer in time of need and why half of former communist Soviet Union people profess religion.[50]    Personal gods speak to personal problems.  Increasingly mankind has awareness of Personal God of Abraham.  In the words of Carl Jung, “Freud has unfortunately overlooked the fact that man has never yet been able single handed to hold his own against the powers of darkness — that is, of the unconscious. Man has always stood in need of the spiritual help which each individual’s own religion held out to him.” The worldly wise are today seeking spirituality.  The secular pilgrims need to go back to Plato and Socrates, but they do not have to go back to Augustine!  If they choose Pelagius, instead, Al Kindi or Averroes they can have their rationality as well as the Personal God.  We can have our cake and eat it too.  How can we have free will and yet have our prayers answered.  The answer may lie in Quantum Mechanics.  Review the article, Einstein’s Search for God on the website,   If we combine the wisdom of Greek Trio in our organized social life then we can enjoy the blessings of science and religion simultaneously.  Science and religion have a constant interplay with each other, but each needs to be safeguarded and cushioned from the militant and extreme advocates of the other!


We are reaching an era of international brotherhood, where the past notions need to be put aside and truth needs to be borrowed from all sources, regardless of color, creed or ethnicity.  In that lies the salvation for humanity.  Today if we ignore the religion of the prophet Muhammadsaw, we do it at our own peril.  As Jesus Christ himself said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  (John 8:32) Indeed, if we accept or yield to any truth, it guides us to greater and greater truth. 

[1] Michael H Hart.  The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history.  Hart Publishing Company, 1978.  Page 229.

[2] Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, chapter on Greek Philosophy.

[5] Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, chapter on Greek Philosophy.

[6] Paul Davies.  The Mind of God.  Simon & Schuster, 1998.  Page 79.

[7] Jerry Mayer and John Holms.  Bite-size Einstein: Quotations on just about everything from the greatest mind of the twentieth century.  St Matin’s Press.  New York.

[8] Max Jammer.  Einstein and religion, physics and theology.  Princeton University Press, 1999.  Page 126.

[9] Michael H Hart.  The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history.  Hart Publishing Company, 1978.  Page 229.

[10] Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Chapter on Greek Philosophy

[11] Michael H Hart.  The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history.  Hart Publishing Company, 1978.  Page 105.

[12] Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sources.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.

[13] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 22.

[14] Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Chapter on Greek Philosophy

[16] Michael H Hart.  The 100: A ranking of the most influential persons in history.  Hart Publishing Company, 1978.  Page 279-280.

[19] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 49.

[20] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 56.

[21] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 57.

[23] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 15.

[24] Dr.  Abdus Salam.  Review of Religions.  March, 1995.

[26] Robert Briffault in The Making of Humanity.

[27] Dr.  Abdus Salam, a Nobel Laureate.  Ideals and realities.  World Scientific Publishing Company.

[28] h t t p : / / b o o k s . g o o g l e . c o m / b o o k s ?


[29] Samuel Parsons Scott writes in The History of the Moorish Empire in Europe.

[30] Bertrand Russell.  Religion and Science.  Fifth chapter: Soul and body.

[31] Bertrand Russell.  Religion and Science.  Second chapter: The Copernican revolution.

[32] Paul Davies.  The Mind of God.  Simon & Schuster, 1998.  Page 73-74.

[33] Paul Davies.  The Mind of God.  Simon & Schuster, 1998.  Page 79.

[34] Heinz Pagels.  The Cosmic Code.  Bantam New York, 1983.  Page 156.

[35] Paul Davies.  The Mind of God.  Simon & Schuster, 1998.  Page 37.

[36] Ian G Barbour.  When science meets religion.  Harper Collins Publisher, 2000.  Page 1.

[37] RVC Bodley. The Messenger.  Double Day and Company Inc, 1946.  Page 237.

[38] Sir George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.

[39] Sir George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.

[40] Jerry Mayer and John Holms.  Bite-size Einstein: Quotations on just about everything from the greatest mind of the twentieth century.  St Matin’s Press.  New York.

[44] Mirza Tahir Ahmad.  Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth, Chapter on Greek Philosophy

[45] Jerry Mayer and John Holms.  Bite-size Einstein: Quotations on just about everything from the greatest mind of the twentieth century.  St Matin’s Press.  New York.

[46] Albert Einstein.  Ideas and opinions.  A collection of his writings.  This quote is from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939.  Wing’s books, New York, 1954.  Page 46.

[47] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Page 28.

[49] Richard Rubenstein.  Aristotle’s Children.  Harcourt Inc, 2003.  Praise for the book in the beginning.

[50] Intelligent thought: Science versus Intelligent Design Movement.  Edited by John Brockman.  Vintage books, 2006.  Page 141.