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What a Falling Stone Means
Apr 1, 1997

The laws of physics are mathematical expressions of how the universe operates. The events taking place in the universe and the relations between them and the laws ‘governing’ the universe have drawn the attention of people from ancient times. Scientists have tried to explain whatever takes place in the universe, such as the movements of heavenly objects, tides and the floating of ships on the water. However, according to the thinkers of the ancient Greece, scientists had to concentrate on man himself, rather than on the natural world. They believed that natural phenomena and the laws governing them could be explained through mental operations like deduction, analogical reasoning.

The Quran calls the attention of human beings to the Divine manifestations on creatures such as the honeybee, ant, gnat and spider and invites them to reflect on and study phenomena like the movements of air, the alternation of day and night and the seasons, and the movements of heavenly bodies. The importance the Qur’an gives to the study of natural events inspired Muslim scientists to undertake investigations using observation and the experimental method - long before these came into use in Europe.

Science passed to Europe through the two centuries of the Crusades, through the universities in al-Andalus and Sicily and the translations made there from Arabic. This was the main factor behind the Renaissance in Europe. Building on (without ever openly acknowledging) the works of Muslim scientists, Western scientists led the way to the birth of modern science. Until correct conclusions were reached about phenomena through observation and experimental methods, the assertions of the ancient Greek philosophers had been accepted as the basic laws of nature. For example, it had been asserted as true without question from the time of Aristotle that the speed of an object’s falling is proportionate to its weight. However, the experiments done by Galileo and Newton proved this to be false. Those experiments showed that- so long as the resistance of air is negligible in proportion to the weight of the object and its vertical cross sectional area - the unhindered movement of an object on the earth is not dependent on its mass. This means that objects of different weight dropped from the same point reach earth at the same time. Such developments in physics led scientists to app rove observation and experiment as a basic rule in establishing natural facts. It was the job of scientists to try to discover the laws and basic truths prevalent in the universe through observation and experiment - empirical methods - while it was the task of philosophers to reflect on and comment on them, in other words, in order to have true conclusions about the universe and the events taking place in it we had to discard all of our preconceptions about them and study nature through empirical methods and then comment on the natural events and the relations between them.

In order to have a clearer understanding of modern science and what it can give us of truth about the universe, let us consider the law of general gravity, which is an undeniably established scientific fact:

Various observations and experiments have shown that any two objects attract each other or exert force upon each other proportionately to their masses and in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them.

The force of attraction or gravity is the force which is in effect in events such as the falling of an object and the revolving of the earth around the sun. Science presents gravity as if it were the cause of such events. However, what we call the force of gravitation is only a notion which we use to explain those events. That is, there is an attraction observed between objects. In order to explain this attraction, we give it a name like the law or force of gravitation and then think that we have explained the event of attraction.

Science does not know the nature of what it calls the force of gravitation but, starting from the assertion that we have already successfully explained many events whose causes were unknown in the past, claims that it will be explained in the future. Nevertheless, science is unable to explain the real cause of all the events in the universe. What science in fact does is, starting from the recurrence of an event under the same conditions, to make a generalization and call it a law. Then it proceeds to assert that the same event will take place again and again under the same conditions. For example, after observing the falling of objects thrown into the air, it makes a generalization that all objects thrown into the air fall, and expresses this event of falling by a mathematical formula.

It can serve as a simple example to see how science works to calculate and state beforehand how long it takes for an object thrown into the air with a certain force and at a certain angle to fall and at what distance it falls. Since events take place in a cause-and- effect series, knowing what effect or event will take place in the next step does not require understanding why it takes place in that way. Therefore, although we suppose that the law of gravity will be understood as, say, dependent on an exchange between certain particles or the obliquity of spatial time, it will nevertheless remain unexplained through scientific methods why such an exchange takes place or why the spatial time becomes oblique and why that exchange or obliquity occurs according to certain mathematical formulations and thereby objects attract each other. In addition to the fact that why objects attract each other remains unknown, it is also a mystery (and a wonder) that this event of attraction takes place according to a mathematical formula. Because of our familiarity with the events taking place in nature, we ignore the important fact that every thing, every event in nature is a miracle. In order to see why the event of gravitation is a dazzling miracle, we should consider it more closely:

As an example to understand the law of gravity, let us consider the falling of a stone dropped (and then allowed to fall unhindered) from a certain high point. Left unhindered, that stone will realize a certain trajectory as the result of gravity affecting it. It will move faster and faster and finally hit the ground. How the stone will accelerate, how long it will take it to reach the ground and how it will move at every second of its trajectory depends on the stones distance from the centre of the earth, the mass of the earth and the constant of gravity. This means that the stone does not move at random, rather each of its movements during its fall is determined through mathematical formulas. This is an extremely regular movement. From this we inevitably conclude that if the stone does this movement of falling by itself, without an agent directing or determining its trajectory, then the stone must know accurately the constant of gravity, the mass of the earth and its distance from the centre of the earth at each moment of its trajectory, and then move in conformity with that knowledge. Whoever has a bit of intelligence will not attribute to the stone itself such a trajectory, simple in appearance but extremely complex in reality. Indeed, the falling of a stone is so complex a movement that during it all the objects in the universe, every thing with a certain mass, exerts on it certain force of attraction and the stone moves under the influence of all those forces. (Here we do not consider other essential forces such as the electro-magnetic and nuclear ones, which have determining effect on the movement of things. Expressed, again, with certain mathematical formulas, these forces make the movements in the universe even more complex.) That is, in order to determine its trajectory, the stone must know the exact distance between itself and each of about 1080 particles in the universe, calculate accurately at each moment of its trajectory the force of the attraction exerted on it by each of those particles according to the mathematical formula of gravity - a force which changes every moment - and focus all those forces to a single point in consideration of the direction of each. Let alone a stone, even the most advanced computer the size of the universe could not accomplish that. For the position of each of the particles with respect to the stone changes at every moment during its fall. Thus, the simplest-seeming movement in the universe like the falling of a stone requires comprehensive knowledge and mastery of an infinite number of interrelated processes.

Since any event taking place in any part of the universe has connection with each of the particles in the universe and the whole of the universe itself, only one who has perfect knowledge of each of those particles and the universe as a whole, one who sees the whole of the universe with each particle in it, can determine and direct all the movements in the universe. Also, since the law of gravity and all the other physical laws are the same and have the same uniformity throughout the whole of the universe, the one who makes these laws operative in the whole of the universe must be an absolutely powerful one, who dominates each and every thing in the universe. Otherwise, each atom in the universe must have an eye seeing the whole of the universe at the same time, know the position, mass, electrical charge, in short, all the physical features, of each particle in the universe, be aware of all the physical laws and obey the laws itself originated.

Every event and every thing in the universe is interrelated to every other and whatever takes place in the universe takes place according to certain laws. Therefore, it is impossible for even the smallest, most insignificant-seeming event to take place without one with an absolute, perfect knowledge of the universe with all its particles and an absolute power governing it. Said Nursi expresses this fact as follows:

If the existence and operation of the universe is not attributed to God Almighty, then it requires admitting that each particle has the attributes of the Necessarily Existent Being, and that each particle should both dominate and be dominated by all other particles. Again, each particle should have an all-encompassing will and knowledge, for the existence of a single thing is dependent on all things and one who does not own the universe cannot rule a single particle.

After explaining how complex a phenomenon gravitation is, we can go a little further to see the real cause of that phenomenon. The relation sensed between the fall of a stone and the rotation of the moon around the world in a fixed orbit led Newton to discover the law of gravity. Ever since this law received a general welcome, the cause of the falling down of an object thrown into the air has unquestionably been accepted as gravity. However, it is not necessary that the real cause of this movement is the force of the attraction of the earth or the existence of another material cause.

Consider this:

Let us imagine some animate beings living on a two- dimensional table. These living beings are aware of only the table on which they live and completely unaware of the three- dimensional world around them. Someone from the three- dimensional world fires at the table in equal frequencies and makes holes at equal distance from each other. Seeing the holes at equal distances, the animate beings living completely unaware of the three-dimensional world will inevitably conclude that each hole causes another one to be made. Whereas it is some other firing from the outside world who made the holes.

This is how the scientists attributing every thing and event in the universe to the law of causality think about the working of the universe. It is questionable whether the attraction of an object toward another near it (for example, the attraction of a falling stone toward the ground) is because of the objects themselves or there is some other source forcing the objects to such a movement. (The event of attraction is the simplest of the events occurring in the universe. You may consider how a honeybee makes honey or a cow gives milk, events which contain a much greater number of physical interactions, chemical reactions and cause and effect.) In short, since the movement of an object according to the law of gravity is one each moment of which is mathematically described and requires as many masses and distances as the articles in the universe and the distances among them to be known in their mutual, complex relations, there must be One Who is the All-Knowing. This One must also have an absolute will to choose and assign for each event a law out of innumerable ones. The uniformity of the law, that is, all the laws being prevalent throughout the universe calls for the unity of that All-Knowing and All-Willing One, and the obedience of all things, small or great, to those laws demonstrate that that One is also the All- Powerful. Again, the unchangeability or stability of the laws and the magnificent, unchanging order and harmony of the universe show that that One is Self- Subsistent and the All-Subsisting. That means it is that All-Knowing, All-Willing, All-Powerful, Self-Subsistent and All-Subsisting, Single One Who causes a stone to fall. For no one and nothing in the universe has the knowledge, will and power absolutely necessary for the falling of a stone. Every thing and event in the universe is too complex and magnificent for any material cause to bring it about. There is then no way for man other than to admit and recognize the Existence and Unity of God.