The Forbidden Tree and the Jinn: Myths or Messages?

This article is an extract from a recent book by Dr. Serkan Zorba titled The Forbidden Tree and the Jinn: A Modern Interpretation. Dr. Zorba is Professor of Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Whittier College, Whittier, California, USA (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Modern society has been steadily drifting farther and farther away from revelation-based and theistic religious outlook. I refuse to think that this is, as many claim, due to the immensely successful institutions of modern science/technology, coupled with an inherent inadequacy of theistic—particularly the Abrahamic—religions.

In my view, there is a different essential contributor to this tectonic drift: the sclerotic and lazy attitude and response of the modern chapter of the Abrahamic religions in general and Islam specifically. The modern practitioners of these religions have failed to decipher the true meaning behind some of the most critical revelation-based messages for the modern age—and thus necessarily failed to be able to cast revelation-based message in the modern context—with the almost inevitable result of having lay people relegate these messages to the realm of fairy tales and mythologies.

Indeed, some of the most universal Abrahamic religious ideas have been constantly ridiculed with vengeance by firebrand modern atheist scientists, without any potent intellectual response from the religion camp. However, I am convinced that the core messages of the Abrahamic religions—especially as presented in Islam—are more than up to the job of harmonizing with the well-established findings of modern science, not because this can be and ought to be done somehow to look modern, but because it is precisely meant to be that way inasmuch as they both emanate from the Truth. I am hoping that I have substantiated that to some extent in this book with my modern exposition of the Abrahamic legends of the Forbidden Tree, the Fall of Adam, and the jinn.

I believe that Islam paradigmatically preserves the core Abrahamic message in its most pristine and most universal form. One only needs an intellectual shake-off of the centuries old dust of complacency and conceit, and an exegetical reorientation which is invigorated and buttressed by that most recent divine gift—hence, also a great responsibility—to humanity called modern science.

The modern science based hermeneutic that I present in this book on the subjects of the Forbidden Tree, the Fall of Adam, and the jinn entails an overhaul of the traditional understanding of these themes on the part of the Abrahamic religions, including the creation of man narrative, the Original Sin archetype, and the nature of Satan and devils.

Nonetheless, it is not just the religious camp that needs to take stock of itself. The secular modern weltanschauung needs an intellectual overhaul and existential reevaluation with as much urgency, if not more.

The following quotation by one of the giants of secular humanism, Freud, epitomizes the characteristic parochialism of modernity:

Humanity in the course of time, has had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages against its naïve self-love. The first was when humanity discovered that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a tiny speck in a world-system hardly conceivable in its magnitude….The second occurred when biological research robbed man of his apparent superiority under special creation, and rebuked him with his descent from the animal kingdom, and his ineradicable animal nature….But the third and most irritating insult is flung at the human mania of greatness by present-day psychological research, which wants to prove to the “I” that it is not even master in its own home, but is dependent upon the most scanty information concerning all that goes on unconsciously in its psychic life... 1Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, by Sigmund Freud. Allen & Unwin, 1929.

What is being missed here is that the religion-originated claim of the centrality of humankind does not primarily pertain to physical centrality, biological exceptionalism, or even complete psychological mastery of one’s own psyche. These are not the criteria by which to judge and apprehend the claims of religion. Humanity is central to the divine plan of a cosmic test of human free will and consciousness. A test is, by definition, not supposed to be straightforward in its entirety.

True to form of this age-old tradition of misunderstanding religion, it is common among the critics of a theistic worldview to assess the perceived claims and elements of an Abrahamic religion such as Islam using the criteria of day-to-day scientific and superficial logic without really understanding the fundamental premise and modus operandi of the religion. Among the contemporary practitioners of such a fallacy are Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Victor J. Stenger. I will provide here but one typical example of this fallacy and its vacuity. The late physicist and atheist Victor J. Stenger makes the following remark in his boldly titled book God: The Failed Hypothesis,

My analysis will be based on the contention that God should be detectable by scientific means simply by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to play such a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. Existing scientific models contain no place where God is included as an ingredient in order to describe observations. Thus, if God exists, he must appear somewhere within the gaps or errors of scientific models. 2Stenger, Victor J. God: The failed hypothesis: How science shows that God does not exist. Prometheus books, 2010.

Stenger in his scientistic casuistry, common to most militant atheists, argue that God should be in principle detectable by our instruments and detectors. Since when has God been a creature or entity like an as-yet undiscovered butterfly species or an undetected elementary particle? There is more to the world than what is measurable by science. The concept of God transcends science.

Bear in mind that there are more quotidian notions and phenomena that arguably transcend science. Take the peculiar experience of the immediate moment, which we call “now.” There is no scientific equation that instantiates or instrument that detects "now." Does that mean that "now" does not exist? Another poignant example is the related notion of consciousness: Can we directly observe and capture “consciousness” in and of itself of a person? Can we go beyond description and representation and capture the essence of the phenomenon of consciousness? Most likely not. So, does that mean that “consciousness” does not exist? Yet another example is the mystery of the inexorable forward flow of time, which also escapes science.

My point is that overlooking the inherent limitations of science and ignoring the transcendent aspects of our existence will only encumber us intellectually, to say the least. Why do scientists make such a mistake? Perhaps that is a trait common only to scientist atheists. Some seasoned atheist philosophers are smarter than that, however. Particularly the so-called eliminative materialists preemptively acclimated their otherwise hopeless positions concerning these elusive matters like the hard problem of consciousness by cutting the Gordian knot once and for all and totally rejecting its existence. For instance, philosopher Daniel Dennett maintains that consciousness does not exist or, more precisely, that it is a sort of a user “illusion” and “a bag of tricks.” 3Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained. United States, Little, Brown, 2017.

Let that sink in for a moment: The eliminative materialists are claiming that our subjective first-person experience that most of us view as the single most important and worthy thing about ourselves and our lives does not exist, period.

This materialistic intellectual trick is nothing new: it is basically a form of denialism; it is the most cosmic and weighty “head-in-the-sandism,” in my opinion. They have been doing that since at least the Darwin’s theory of evolution and continuing nowadays with the multiverse idea of modern cosmology and even human free will. For them multiplicity and randomization in and understanding causality behind phenomena is effectively the anti-thesis of the concept of God.

They convinced themselves that life does not require a Creator because we could “demonstrate” that different species are a result of constant but, in the final analysis, blind interactions and struggles among themselves and their environments. A particular species is not teleologically created as it is, but rather it was bound to become what it is, given the enormity of the statistics involved, that is, as a result of that perceived randomization. Or, in the cosmic case, if it can be “established” that our universe is not the only universe but rather part of a vast number of statistically variegated universes, each differing from one another in terms of fundamental constants and laws of physics, then these head-in-the-sanders will convince themselves that there is nothing special about our universe and ourselves; hence no need for a Creator! Similarly, if we can show that what humans take to be the most personal things about themselves, i.e., consciousness and free will, are nothing but an illusion or an epiphenomenon, then we don’t have to worry about acknowledging that there is an otherworldly aspect to our existence.

They are blissfully deluding themselves and fail to see the proverbial elephant in the room: in the case of life and the universe, existence (being) itself is the elephant in the room; in the case of a human person, consciousness is the elephant in the room; in the case of the world at its most fundamental level, the irreducible quantum randomness is the elephant in the room. 4Zorba, Serkan. "God Is Random: A Novel Argument for the Existence of God." European Journal of Science and Theology 12.1 (2016).

Multiplicity, randomization, and causality are after-the-fact occurrences, and hence cannot possibly explain any of the above metaphysical and ontological phenomena.

But then how can we subject religion to ratiocination and dialectical analysis, you might rightly ask? I will offer a small taste of how that could be done: One of the criticisms of religion in this age of (mostly) falsifiable science, is its alleged lack of falsifiability. Are there any falsifiable aspects to the claims of a religion like Islam? My answer to this question is—contrary to what is commonly claimed by many anti-religious thinkers: yes, there are appropriate falsifiable claims of Islam! Nonetheless, I will tackle such issues, including the existence of God, in a future book.

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud are sometimes described as the three hermeneuts of suspicion—and thus foremost exponents of atheism—for they are claimed to have unveiled and revealed the “true” nature of religion. Marx famously explained away religion as the “opium of the masses”; Nietzsche described it as the “refuge of the weak”; and Freud rationalized it as an illusion that reflected man’s deep desire for a father-God figure. 5Robinson, Geoffrey D. "Paul Ricoeur and the hermeneutics of suspicion: A brief overview and critique." (1994).

They may have been right in some aspects of their expositions about religion. However, they have resoundingly failed to discern the metaphysical reason for man’s obsession with religion, which is that there is an inexplicable mystery, a kind of singularity, at the center of our existence. This point is only recognized by religion and not yet by modern science.

The Forbidden Tree, the Fall of Adam, and the jinn leitmotifs that I interpreted here with the help of modern science point strongly to the veracity of the core Abrahamic and Muhammadian revelations. These stories are not fantasies or (fictional) myths, rather they are allegorical divine messages sent to humankind at large as signs of a transcendent reality for spiritual edification. In their totality, they were mysterious to pre-modern humans, but can be less mysterious to us moderns, all without losing their ageless symbolic and spiritual potency.

As I attempted to demonstrate in this book, revelation, reason, and modern science are not inherently incompatible with each other; there is no dissonance between original revelation and well-established science. Critically, revelation is our portal to transcendent reality. By axiomatically rejecting and discrediting this portal and the transcendent reality on the pretext of a provincial rationality and modernity, humanity will only perpetuate its failure to arrive at a unified idea of what man really is and suffer the attendant consequences of such a gross negligence.

This is an extract from a recent book by Dr. Serkan Zorba titled The Forbidden Tree and the Jinn: A Modern Interpretation. Dr. Zorba is Professor of Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Whittier College, Whittier, California, USA.

Foremost among the most alluring mysteries and symbolisms of the Quran are the concepts of jinn, the Forbidden Tree and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise (a.k.a. the Fall of Adam or the Fall of Man). Notwithstanding the importance of these concepts to the Islamic religion and culture—and the ever-mounting modern scientific know-how—the contemporary Muslim understanding of them is, truth be told, nebulous. The interpretation developed of these motifs is strictly based on a close-reading of the Quran and the Hadith with the help of physics, microbiology, microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and the fast-emerging science of microbiota.


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