Can science and the fast evolving human intellectual capabilities help in understanding Mahdism Doctrine?
BY: Hamid k Ahmed
Source : The Scientific Committee of the International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine
Whatever the maximum longevities might be in the future, the main objective of this paper is that scientific community has no objection in principle for a potentially longer human life.
Humanity on the other hand, through its evolving intellectual capabilities, reached the conclusion that humanity need to come together, acknowledging the mystery of collective intelligence, thus, a lot of organisations and research centres established for this purpose, Global leadership initiative, International Coalition for dialogue and deliberation, collective wisdom movement, grassroots collective activisms and World café, just to name few. These new organisations through collective technologies are spreading across the world mobilising and empowering countless organisations and communities to reach for innovative solutions to the most troubling social, ethical and economical world’s problems. Today the world is experiencing unprecedented global changes overwhelmed by profound sense of uncertainty and discontinuity manifested itself in increasing number of acts of extreme behaviour, personnel, social and governmental. We are witnessing a global crisis in values. There is universal sense of malaise, independent of geography and ideology and a loss of faith in the existing world order. This is the drive that led the UN to set up a commission on Global Governance. The Commission believes that world events, since the creation of the United Nations in 1945, combined with advances in technology, the information revolution, and the now-global awareness of impending environmental catastrophe, create a climate in which the people of the world will recognize the need for, and the benefits of, global governance. The foundation for global governance is the belief that the world is now ready to accept a "global civic ethic" based on "a set of core values that can unite people of all cultural, political, religious, or philosophical backgrounds." This was previously alluded to by the great Muslim thinker Martyr Ayatollah Morteza Mottaharri on the viewpoint of Islam regarding development and the movement of communities and civilizations, he said:
“…if we take into account the international community, Islam believes in the perfection of human community. For, Islam believes that communities, civilizations and cultures are moving towards oneness and unification and finally merge with each other and the future of human communities is the international single perfect community.”
This paper argues that, currently the time is right for the convergence of science, human intellect and the divine wisdom to heal humanity’s maladies, and the concept of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is timely and what the world is eagerly waiting for.
Muslims believe that Prophet Noah (AS) lived more than 950 years as mentioned in Sura Ankabut (19:14). They also, believe that Jesus (AS) is still alive and he is more than 2 centuries old now as mentioned in Sura Al Umran (3:55). Muslims also believe that al-Khidr (AS) is still alive as in Sura Al Kahaf (the Cave) (18:65-82) and the people of the Cave (Ahl al-Kahf) were put to death for 309 years and then were brought back to life by the leave of Allah (SWT) as in Sura Al Kahaf (18:25 ).
The above historical incidence can not be proved or disproved scientifically, yet we accept it as a divine revelation.
Mas’udi in his book Muruj al-dhahab, vol.1&2 mentioned a number of historical figures who lived a long life, among them are Adam who lived 930 yrs; Lot 732 yrs; Idris 300 yrs and Ibraham 195 yrs.
However what I am intending to explore in this paper, is what science and in particular molecular and cellular discipline have to say about longevity and aging process? Though in a very limited scale as I am aware of the nature, themes and participants of the conference.
Scientific Research on Longevity and aging process:
There are numerous conventional research papers on longevity, stretched to the beginning of the 20 th century and beyond, cited by prominent authors in explaining the scientific basis for possible potential long life for human being, among those are Ayatollah Amini (1996), Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Sadar and Ayatollah Mutahhari (1982), Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Sadar (1981), Ayatollah Muhammad Saddeq Sader (2004), Alhakem (1996) and Gulpaygani, (2000). Most of the papers cited referred to the experiments on animals (notably, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, worms and insects) as well as plants. Other line of mentioned research experiments were done on isolated cells, tissue cultures and organs taken from relevant organisms and kept in controlled environmental conditions.
The theme of those papers was to establish the possibility of long life in other forms of life such as plants and turtle which extend to thousands and hundreds of years respectively. The papers also discussed the possibility of inducing long life in isolated cells, tissues and organs provided controlled conditions and nutrients were maintained.
The authors referred to numerous scientific literatures in their endeavour to establish that cells are intrinsically capable of long life and immortality could be achieved. The cause of the death therefore, as they argued is due to illness and infection by various disease-causing agents. Ayatollah Amini (1996), stated in his book chapter 9 page 9, by refereeing to one scientific article as “…the reason for death is not the number of years a person has lived; rather, it is the anomalous conditions that attack the body and render its major organs deficient and incapable of defending it under adverse situations. Consequently, one can say that when medical science becomes capable of subduing these anomalous conditions or bringing them under some kind of control, then there will remain no obstacle for life to continue beyond a number of centuries, as is the case with some trees, for instance. Such a breakthrough in the advancement of medical science does not seem possible within the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it is not far-fetched to expect that the present average life span may increase to two or three times.
This is true to certain extent as the life expectancy increased significantly compared to previous centuries. Eighty five percent of new born in UK will reach their 65% birthday (Kirkwood, 2002). In the United States, the average life expectancy rose from 45-78 during the 20th century, slightly more for woman and less for men. This is due to advances in public health and medical research (Olshansky and Carnes, 2001). The author also envisaged the possibility of further improvement in the statistics once further success against diseases of the elderly achieved. Hyflick (2000) predicted that, if the biomedical interventions were to eliminate the major scourges of the elderly – cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer- an estimated 15 years would be added to average life expectancy. Kurzwell, (2001) follows life expectancy since the eighteenth century and he believed to be of exponential trends as in Fig. 1.
Fig. 2 The expanding human life span is one of those exponential trends. In the eighteenth century, we added a few days every year to human longevity; during the nineteenth century we added a couple of weeks each year; and now we\'re adding almost a half a year every year. With the revolutions in genomics, proteomics, rational drug design, therapeutic cloning of our own organs and tissues, and related developments in bio-information sciences, we will be adding more than a year every year within ten years.
Can current research and in particular in molecular biology discipline and associated techniques help in demystifying the mysteries of longevity and aging process?
It was previously thought that old age does not run in families. This belief was also supported by recent researches which were based entirely on twin’s studies that attributed more than 65% of the variance in twin’s life span to environmental factors (Bunk, 2002). Bunk also argued that telomere shortening probably does not give information about aging or molecular deterioration; it does help to explain how an organism’s cellular longevity is determined. Kirkwood (2002) also believed that genes account for only a quarter of what determine the length of life, the rest being attributed to factors like nutrition and life style.
On the other hand the studies conducted by Perls, et al (2000) and Puca et al (2001) at Harvard Medical school proved and documented the first ever findings of 4 families with high clustering of extreme longevity. The researchers found that a locus on chromosome 4 is “highly suggestive” of genetic susceptibility to age well and to achieve exceptional longevity. The authors also mentioned that those rare families are not only blessed with “longevity-enabling genes”, but they seem to lack certain disease genes. The finding also revealed that those people are tending to fight off age-related diseases better than most people. The researchers also indicated that there might be 10-longevity genes, and the team is currently conducting their research in other suggested region of the human genome.
Another interesting research and remarkable progress has been made during the last two decades in what is currently termed as telomere biology, a new discipline in molecular biology field. Telomeres i.e. the DNA structures at the termini of linear chromosomes, which have been implicated in regulating the lifespan of normal human cells. Telomeres cannot be fully replicated each time a cell divides, and they shorten until reaching a critical length that signals replicative senescence. However, reactivation of telomerase allows cells to continue dividing by polymerizing the addition of new telomeric DNA. This extends the lifespan of cells and allows for unlimited proliferation, Fig 2. (Kirkwood, 2002).
Fig .2 Telomeres protect the end of chromosomes, but without the enzyme telomerase they get shorten every time a cell divides. Telomerase serves to protect the germ line from losing its telomeres, but is normally switched off in the ordinary cells of the body. Telomeres shortening in ordinary cells contribute to the process of aging by causing cells to cease dividing, a phenomenon known as cell senescence.
Very interesting findings were presented by Christiansen, et al (2001), and their current works on turtle telomeres, telomerase and their relation to lifespan and tissue regeneration. Their works based on the fact, that human telomeres are similar to those of reptiles, and the discovery of telomerase based mechanisms potentially used by reptiles for immortalization of tissues could be usable by man in lengthening lifespan or improving tissue repair during long space journeys.
In summary, their researches appear to have accumulated support for a mechanism by which cell lines throughout the lower vertebrate world may extend their life without developing malignancies. This may be a major factor in the greater regenerative power well documented to exist in some lower vertebrates and could be a major factor in extension of life. Very recent research conducted by Dillin, et al (2007), which was published in Nature, in which the authors claim to find genetic clue to longevity. The researches provide genetic evidence to unravel the underlying molecular programme required for increased longevity in response to caloric restriction.
It appears from the limited number of researches presented in this paper that scientists a cross the world is researching and discovering mechanisms that control aging process and this means in essence, that longevity in principle is not a science fiction or out of comprehension. This is the first objective of this humble study in which efforts were made to make scientific expression easier, but the use of good few specialised terms was inevitable.
The second objective of this study is to discuss the evolution of human intellectual capabilities over time:
Evolution fall in two broad meaning:
1- Biological evolution, a theory brought a bout by a genius biologist Charles Darwin in the mid nineteenth century and eloquently explained in his very revolutionary and controversial book “The origin of species by means of natural selection” which was published in 1859. In his book he expressed four ideas:
I- The living world is changing and dynamic, but not static. II- The evolutionary process is usually gradual and steady. III- The common ancestor theory and IV- the theory of natural selection. He believed that human being is the perfect creature and stand on the top of animal kingdom evolutionary ladder, though human being himself has no input in the process! Not all biologists believe in his theory and equally not all religious scholars rejected it.
Prof Arber, Nobel Prize laureate, hold middle ground when he recently delivered an excellent seminar at Liverpool Hope University addressing the audience on the “Biological evolution: Scientific and spiritual consideration”. He pointed clearly through the tools that he discovered in genetic engineering to the intelligent designer who used the same tools to create all life forms with all its diverse pictures through an evolutionary mechanism.
As a molecular biologist myself, I have elaborated in more detail on this topic in my published book “Human Genome: Social and Ethical implications” (Ahmed, 2005). I referred to the book of life that was written by God, and explained the way in which genetic information is stored, inherited and expressed, which is basically the same in all-living organism. This explains the uniformity of creation and uniqueness of creator. All creation has the same basic genetic alphabets which are composed of only four letters, which through their different combination produce all diversity within our biosphere. This language of the Genes was decoded initially in 2001 with few gaps, and then fully in 2003. The scientists published their results, which covered more than hundred pages in both Nature and Science Journals in February, 2001.
There are two equally worthy ways to understand the divine, in Galileo’s wonderful way of separating the supernatural from the natural Galileo said. "One was reverent contemplation of the Bible, God\'s word and the other was through scientific contemplation of the world, which is his creation”.
2- Historical, social or intellectual evolution which is man made process achieved and manifested through acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and through interactions of man with nature and technological devices he discovered along his evolving history across generations regardless of ideology and geography? This evolving journey was gradual as biological one and being transformed from a single very primitive tribal family unit into a very complex social structure, as explained thoroughly by Al Amini (1996) in Chapter 11 page 2. “ … The progression from village life to city and national life was gradual and prompted by a pragmatic decision to further the common good that was very much defined by the need for security and peaceful relations with those societies that were more numerous and powerful. The birth of a nation was the logical outcome of the human need to provide the maximum benefit of corporate existence within a defined territory. It was in many ways an extension of familial structure in which citizenry provided the new basis for social and political cooperation. More importantly, it transcended racial and other forms of distinctions that converged under a national culture. Ultimately, their development served to remove causes of conflict and hostility and to demonstrate the benefit of unity in furthering the purposes of a good society. With the cumulative experience of hundreds of centuries of living together, an absolute egocentric individualism and human pettiness were to a considerable extent brought under some ethical scrutiny. In spite of all the benefits that accrued through a mutually recognized social contract, the need to work even harder to improve living conditions had to be guaranteed through the creation of a social and economic infrastructure.
In our current state of affair and in particular since the last two decades of the twenties century, almost quarter of a century ago, humanity evolved exponentially in a magnitude which require more than a century to be achieved in conventional historical measure as explained by Kurzwell, (2005). Kurzwell pointed out to the pervasiveness of exponential growth in technological development which had a huge impact on societal evolution.
Technology and in particular information one, influences and shapes modern society to an unprecedented degree.
Technology influence is everywhere, part of the air we breathe, and the atmosphere we inhibit, which is reflected in the new word “Technospher” which has been coined to indicate the all-pervasiveness of today’s technology (Ferguson, 1994).
No doubt technology has brought humanity unimagined benefits, amenities and opportunities. On the other hand, it has brought us huge and various risks, unexpected side effects, unprecedented pollution and vast social disintegration.
The united nation conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, considered the report “Only One Earth” by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubois-a document which argued that critical choices about future directions had to be made. The report said:
“In short, the two world of man-the biosphere of his inheritance, the technosphere of his creation- are out of balance, indeed, potentially in deep conflict. And man is in the middle. This is the hinge of history at which we stand , the door of the future opening on to a crisis more sudden, more global, more inescapable and more bewildering than ever encountered by the human species, and one which will take decisive shape within the life span of children who are already born.”
The challenge to the future was identified by Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the UN conference, in his opening address: “...To overcome greed, to transcend narrow concepts of the person and limited self –interest, to join in the thrill and satisfaction of unparalleled era of creativity; the alternative is to share responsibility for our own destruction and the end of human experiment”
The disastrous implications of the advancements in technology, along with the associated social disintegration, led prominent scientists and philosophers to predict that the decline of the current civilisation is imminent (Ahmed, 2005).
American philosopher John Dewi said that: “the civilisation that allowed science to kill moral and ethical values of the societies and do not have faith in that science to offer the alternative is a civilisation that harbours the seed of disaster to its self”.
Dubos (1998) in his book “So human an Animal” describes modern technology as a God and that the human has become a slave to that God.
The German philosopher Hegel pioneered the idea that each nation is a member in the history cycle of human societies. Therefore he is subject as any member in the society to the laws and cycles of growth, development, prosperity and ultimate decline.
Hegel himself thought that western civilisation is at the apex now and the next phase would be its decline and death.
Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher mentioned that the time for the white-man who represents the western civilisation is coming to an end. The dominance of the white race is not a constant natural law and when his civilisation reaches its limits, the phase of disintegration will start.
History of human civilisation is a series of rise, fall and extension. As the famous historian Toynbee has pointed out, a decline of civilisation is inevitable, though in the whole, human history continue to advance steadily along a line of evolution (Toynbee, 1981).
All those scholars and a lot more besides, reached their conclusions by referring to the phenomenal symptoms of devastating diseases that is engulfing the body of the current civilisation and the brave new world! Among these symptoms, which are documented statistically?
Significant increase in number of crimes
Significant increase in acts of suicide
Significant increase in family disintegration
Significant increase in psychological diseases
Significant increase in drugs abuse
Significant increase in child abuse
These symptoms and many more served as indicators for the beginning of the next phase, the phase of decline and death.
But this decline will not necessarily lead, as some have predicted or wish to an Islamic civilisation coming to rule the world. Allah (“SWT” - All Praise be unto Him) set down norms and rules, which applied to all humanity regardless of their religion, race, colour or creed. This reflects the fairness of Allah “SWT”. Among these norms is that the victory of a nation depends entirely on that nation and whether it prepares or posses the requirement for that victory or not? Whether it plans, prepares, and works hard or not? Whether it gets a determined vision as a crucial preliminary requirement for victory or not? Muslims, therefore, need to work hard to be able to master the world as real trustees of Allah “SWT” and stop looking sentimentally into the past glories. Muslims should not be under any illusion that the falling of western civilisation will inevitably led to their succession, this is the dream of inefficient and irresponsible nation. As a close friend, and convert to Islam remarked: “Muslims must remain rooted in the past but stop living in it”.
Among the many verses in Qura’n that reflect these norms and laws are described by Allah in His glorious book:
“ And if you turn away (from Islam and the obedience to Allah), he will exchange you for some other people and they will not be your likes (Ch.47. 38). “And if the people of the towns had believed and had the Taqwa “piety”, certainly, we should have opened for them blessings from the heaven and the earth, but belied “the message”, so we took them (with punishment) for what they used to earn (polytheism and crimes) (Ch.7: 96). Have they not seen how many a generation before them we have destroyed whom we had established on the earth such as we have not established you? And we poured out on them rain from the sky in abundance, and made the rivers flow under them. Yet we have destroyed for their sins, and we created after them other generations...” (Ch.6:6).
In order for Muslims to retain their role as vice regents for God, they have to work hard and find their path among other nations. Since the current civilisation is based on science and technology and the western countries listen only to the voice of science, and empirical evidence, Muslims have to invest in science and be able to solve the current problems resulting from the implications of the new technology. We Muslims have to participate in solving the problems of Greenhouse effect, Global warming and pollution (Ahmed, 2004), which, as the Qur’an points out: “Pollution has appeared on land and sea as a result of what man’s own hands have produced” (Ch.30:41).
According to martyrs Al sadar and Mutahhari (1982), corruption, turmoil and perversions help the hostile forces and slow down the movement of history in favour of the righteous people. What is required is a sort of development and hard work which precedes the ripening of the fruit on the tree. The better the care, anti pest protection and watering of a tree, the better, healthier, and sometime earlier is the fruit it produces. “The tree is a metaphor referred to Imam Mahdi (AS).
It has been manifested so far in arguing the second objective, that the world acknowledges the deep crisis in current world order, the lack of mechanisms available to solve these problems and collective awareness of the need for global governance as proposed by the United Nation Commission (1995), scholars of different walk of life and prominent thinkers and philosophers. Recently global leaders, including several Nobel peace laureates -among them Mandela- gathered to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday and to create “ council of elders” which is dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crisis, and to support the next generation of leaders (The associated press, 2007).
It is believed by many writers and intellects that 21st century will mark a new era characterized by huge impact of information revolution, physical unification of the planet, and the acknowledgment of the fact of interdependence of all societies who live on it. As a result a new paradigm emerged, as explained brilliantly by Frieman’s new book (2005): The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. He explained the brave new world facing us; a world that although recently started, is growing at a rapid pace never seen before in history. The new, “flat” world is one where technology and collaborative economies have created an entirely new playing field. It will change all of our theories of economies, politics and jobs.
The history of humanity as one nation is now starting, which undermines racial, cultural and religious boundaries. This surly requires new skills for tolerance, effective communication, collaborative conflict resolution and constructive interaction to sustain humanity’s survival.
This concept of one nation is also referred to by the excellent work of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai lama, in his elegant book, “The universe in a single Atom: the convergence of science and spirituality”.
The unity of humanity regardless of its immense diversity is thoroughly explained by (Ahmed, 2006).
There are currently numerous organisations communicating through collective technologies and are spreading across the world mobilising and empowering countless organisations and communities to reach for innovative solutions to the most troubling social, ethical and economical world’s problems. They collectively share a common “secular ethics” which advocate principles that appeal to all human beings, such as tolerance, compassion, accepting others, responsible use of power and knowledge. These principles are shared by the believers and the non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.
Allah (SW) in his global address to mankind in one of the verse (49:13): “O mankind! Reverence your lord who created you from a single being”. In another verse where Allah (SW) addresses humanity as a single family (49:13): “O mankind! We created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get acquainted to each other: Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious.
The unity of human race was further stressed by the prophet (PBUH) when he said, “All of you are from Adam, and Adam was made from clay”. He also said in other occasion, “No Arab shall be better than a non-Arab, a white better than a black or black than white, save in piousness”.
Imam Ali (pbuh) said “"People are of two kinds: Either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity”.
The Italian professor Giuseppe Mazzini once said, “God has given you your country as a cradle, and humanity as mother, you can not rightly love your brethren of the cradle, if you love not the common mother”.
I feel that currently the time is right for the convergence of science, human intellect and the divine wisdom to heal humanity’s maladies, and the concept of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is timely and what the world is eagerly waiting for.
I may finish my paper by referring to some of the very relevant traditions narrated by some of our great Imams that reflect the very much needed divine global leader to solve humanity’s problems (Mugahi, 2006):
Testimony to Islam over the Entire Earth:
Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq (peace be upon both of them) said: “When al-Qa’im makes his advent, not a single place of land will remain except that the call to the testimony of, ‘There is no creature worthy of worship except for Allah and indeed Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’ will be given (there).” (AL-Majlesy1, 1983)
Perfection of the Intellect and Moral Traits:
Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir (peace be upon both of them) has said: “When our Qa’im makes his advent, he will place his hand over the heads of the servants and their intellects will join together and their ethical traits will be perfected.” (AL-Majlesy2, 1983)
Ruling with Justice:
Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir (peace be upon both of them) said: “When the Qa’im of the Ahlul Bayt makes his advent, he will divide (the riches) with equity and will show justice among the people. So whoever obeys him, has obeyed Allah; and whoever goes against him, has gone against Allah. Indeed al-Mahdi was named as such because he will guide to the hidden affairs.” (AL-Majlesy3, 1983)
No Oppression or Tyranny
Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (peace be upon both of them) has said: “ … So when he [Imam al-Mahdi] will make his advent, the Earth with radiate with the celestial illumination of its’ Lord and the scale of justice will be positioned among mankind such that not a single person will oppress another individual” (AL-Majlesy4, 1983)
Completion of Wisdom:
Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Baqir (peace be upon both of them) has said: “During the period of his [Imam al-Mahdi’s] government, wisdom shall be disbursed among the people such that a woman sitting in her house [with no ‘formal’ religious training] will be able to pass judgment by the Book of Allah, the High, and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his family).” (AL-Majlesy5, 1983)
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