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Pervez Hoodbhoy Darwin and Evolution in the Muslim World: Science as Silent Subversion: Experiences from Pakistan


By Pervez Hoodbhoy

17 November 2017

Transcribed by New Age Islam Edit Bureau



I am delighted to be here. This is the question that bothered me for many years. That outstanding question is “why are so many Muslims with substantial technical skills would become politically radicalized?” as I look around myself in Islamabad, I see that my students and then those students who then go on to the Pakistani institutes for nuclear science and technology or other defence related organizations or other places in society, we are perhaps more conservative than the general public.

I also see that this is not just limited to my university, but it is true pretty much across Pakistan, and I dare say it is now something that is true across the world. If one looks at the Baumers who participated in 77, if one looks at 9/11 crew; well, a lot of them were technicians, engineers, doctors and so this is something of the puzzlement, because when Science came to Europe, we saw that the impact of the religion was gradually whittled away. And yet over here it seems to be going in the other directions.

So the question is why? Well, a lot of us including myself, it is when I began teaching the hope was that Science teaching would be something like a Trojan horse and as you all remember something like a few thousand years ago, the city of Troy had been surrounded by the Greeks and the Greeks surrounded for ten years and they could not get in, and then they made marvellous horse and the Trojans pulled it in and then out-came the Greek, crack warriors while they took over the troy.

 So the hope was that here is science which carries…which has a marvellous exterior. It brings your technology. It is welcomed everywhere. It even welcomes Taliban. The Taliban use SUVs, they use sophisticated communication system that the Pakistan army can’t crack. They have been using mobile transmitters. They are very well for themselves in certain applications of technology. So the hope was that how can this Trojan horse of science will get into the citadels of conservatism and launch those crack warriors from inside, that is that the idea of rationality, the idea of logic and reason reigning in the universe. What has happened? And instead what we have seen is that just like in the Greek times there was Cassandra who was warning futile in that case but here are the lots of Cassandras and they are warning that you are letting a Trojan horse in. So I would like to, in these few minutes that I have, categorize the sort of responses that Islamic society, in particular Pakistani society, and has come up with, as Science seeks to penetrate it. I guess you could call it.... You could make an analogy with an immune system so as foreign micro organism comes into that body; it provokes the immune system to respond.  So let us try and categorize what these responses are?

Well, the first response is to ignore Science but to welcome Technology. Actually the Saudis are very clear about that and that quite a few years ago there was a conference on how to promote science and technology in the Muslim world. The Saudis have a very definite position. They said we want the technology, we want the cars and the aircrafts and the oil drilling rigs and so for but we do not want Science because Science can be destructive. Well, so maybe it is true that you can ignore Science but have a lot of Technology after all. You do not need to know how a cell phone works in order to use it. You do not need to know how the engine of a car works in order to drive it. And even in terms of designing a lot of stuff like, for example, missiles. You can buy, for examples, the chips that can be used for the guidance, you do not need to know how those little things inside work, you do not need to make the integrated circuits, and you can just use it. It is functionality that is important.

Of course, ignoring Science in this way is possible and it does not touch upon Faith. There are in these days no grand disputes like at the time of Galileo, as there are no things that can harm theological beliefs. So, if you want to design a bridge or robot or a new kind of drag, or whatever, it is not going to be dangerous to the faith. Well, of course, if you want to become a cosmologist, or you want to understand the interpretations of quantum mechanics or perhaps you want to do Neuron-Science then it becomes a little tricky, because then it does require you to understand, observe and internalize the Scientific methods itself. Anyway that is the dominant response that I see in much of the Muslim world and frankly there is a quite a bit of that you see in the race of the world too, because things have become so complex. Who understands exactly how everything works? Nobody! You have to then rely upon the simple functionality. Well the Cassandras have long warned that Science is dangerous, and it is dangerous, if you accept that everything that you see in the material world follows from Science.

So let me come to this second response of this immune system. Second response is to sever the relationship between cause and effect. This is because, if you accept that, then you give primacy to the role of physical law of the universe. This argument goes back at least the thousand years ago. There was the argument between the Asharites and between the Mutazilites in the early days of Islamic society. There are famous examples that I am sure that people over here are familiar with Imam Ghazali's saying that “a piece of cotton does not burn, if you just because you put a match to it; it burns because God sends down the angels and it is the angels who actually doing the burning”. And there was the argument of the Asharites that “Do not ever think that an arrow that is speeding towards its target will actually hit the target, no matter how close it gets to it. So even as it gets that far or even closer, you can't say it will go and hit the target; because God creates the world in one second and destroys it in next, creates it again and destroys it in the next and so forth”. And so there is no causal link between one time slice and another.

This kind of reasoning was taken over in Chemistry textbooks at the time of General Zia ul Haq in Pakistan. Some of these textbooks had typically something like this, rather instructions to teachers to teach from the textbooks those some things like this. And do not tell your students that merely having oxygen and hydrogen together will make water; that is not Islamic. The Islamic way to teach Chemistry is to say that when Hydrogen and Oxygen are brought together, then by the will of Allah, they turn into water. Similarly I guess alcohol. That these ideas you might think were peripheral over time when they did not have an impact. Let me give you an example how they have affected the way the students think. This is the 8th October 2005; there was a massive earthquake in Pakistan. It killed something like a hundred thousand people. Together with a few colleagues, I took some relief supplies to the areas, to the mountainous areas where the epicentre was located.

 I came back; rather we came back in a couple of days, so that enormous destruction and the day I came back I had two classes. In the first class I went, I said, just came back after watching all the horrors and it is our duty, first as citizens to go out and help them and secondly as students of physics to tell them that the earthquake did not come because of what is commonly believed, that it was the wrath of God, but that there was actually the movement of tectonic plates and there is the phenomenon of subduction and this is how the mountains are formed and this is why the earthquakes and so forth. So I went on for a few minutes about that. As I said, what do you think about it? By the way, this class was the class of Atomic Physics; I guess you would call it second year undergraduate class in US terms. Ok, so I asked them, what do you think? The reaction was outraged. But professor! The Quran says in Surah Zalzala etc that God sends these earthquakes because you are evil. Okay. And this is the opinion in the class. We argued it addressing but why did it come to an area where the people are poor, where they have the least ability to sin, it should come here in Islamabad because here you have people drinking alcohol and God knows what goes on in those rich areas of this city. So why did it come over there and why did it come on a day when people were fasting and this was Ramadan itself.

Well, we argued and we argued. Not a person, not one student spoke up in support. Ok, I should shut up. I went to my next class and I said exactly the same thing and got exactly the same response. And so I was very depressed. Few hours later five students came up to me and they said "Professor! Actually we agreed with you but we were afraid to speak. And you see that even something you like this, something that directly relates to Physics that they do not see in terms of cause and effect and in fact feel because the religion says the other things, they must reject it. Okay, sever the relation of cause with effect response type 2. And I must see that it is not just earthquakes, it is on other issues too, that relate to natural phenomena.

A few years ago, I gave a lecture on Islam and Science at one of the most elite universities of Pakistan called the Lahore University Management Sciences in Lahore. And well, as an example I said, at this moment we have something like few million people praying for rain for ending the drought. And if you feel that science is something that works, then you have to know that praying for rain will not work. And there was again outrage, and then this went on to the internet, it went to the administration of the university, which was informed that I have been saying things that are Kufr and unbelief and so forth. So that is response 2.

But let me come to the response 3. That response is that Science is important but who says that the west has the right sides. We have an Islamic Science that can do a lot more and that was already written 14 hundred years ago. This was a time when General Ziaul Haq was in power. He had seized power in 1977 and although this notion had existed earlier but it became immensely popular after he became president of Pakistan. Let me give you just a few examples of that. The chairman of my department, whose name was Mahmud Mazhar Quraishi, a man of great piety who calculated this speed at which heaven is run ago from the earth and found it to be one centimetre per second less than the speed of light. Who is a remarkable calculation? he said that in the Quran it is written that one night of worship on the night of Laylatul Qadr which is when the Quran was revealed is worth a thousand normal nights of worship, so that the factor of one thousand is equal to Einstein’s time dilation factor and then it is right, it is one centimetre per second less than the speed of light, so it works. And there were people who were calculating the degree of hypocrisy in society based upon a coulomb's law. they did it from the different countries and published their results and then there was this remarkable paper by Syed Basheeruddin Mahmud who advocated that one could solve the energy problems of Pakistan by simply capturing the genies which God had made when he made man, you see he made all of you out of clay, he made the angels and he made the genies out of fire and fire is energy, we want the energy or we got it do is GetNum and wow the problem is solved. You do not even need nuclear energy after that. Although he was a nuclear energy engineer I am not saying that a bad engineer.

There is a probe that is actually patented by him and that works as an international patent and he is by the way the man who met Osama bin Laden just a few months before 9/11. He has been in house since that time has been interrogated earlier, we had a relationship which was unfriendly in fact, it was quite acrimonious, and he called me anti-Islamic force and so forth. But you see this is puzzlement, here are people who were technically rather skilled and if we are to believe him, he was a person who designed the reactor and redesigning the reactor is not a small thing, the one that is now producing plutonium and Khoshab. It is a military reactor.

 I frankly do not think that he designed it but certainly he was the director of the project and had a substantial hand in it. This kind of Islamic science at one time was very popular but because of its obviously ridiculous thing it was easy to make fun of, and so it has now disappeared although.

There is forth reaction which is claimed honour-ship by Muslims of all discoveries in science so if you go to the websites if you type Islamic Science in Google you will get typically internet banner which says that miracles predicted 1400 years ago and everything from black holes to quantum mechanics to antibiotics, everything is over there. I wish I had time or I could tell you about my experiences with conversation with Mullas, I asked one very prominent Maulvi, Mulla on television, and said if everything is over there in the Quran how come the west has invented all of these, and we do not have it, he said what you do not know is that before western scientist goes to bed, he studies the Quran, in the morning when he wakes up he reads it again when he goes to his laboratory where he already knows what he is going to find.

And then there is finally a fifth response and that is militant rejection of scientific reasoning but this is reserved for evolution. The times that I had experienced this is when I gone to colleges universities and schools and given my talk which is titled from coax to humans. It is how we went from the Bing Bang came to humans. There have been times when the organizers had muddled me out from the back door. This is the thing that makes people angry but you know this is something really I think recent because I have been doing this for decades now but people in last decade or so last ten years they have been responding differently I think I know why? It is because of the religious channels, the television channels, which are now taking Harun Yahya. Sorry to come back to that. It is that version of evolution which is being consciously propagated.

Okay! Let me conclude. I wish I had more time, but okay fine. We have seen this resilience because all of us Muslims or otherwise see what we want to see. The question that Salman was discussing last night at the dinner, why is it that bad beliefs do not die easily why this is possessed I think it is a question that I cannot answer but I can hazard a guess that belief stays on because they are necessarily for our survival. Imagine I will give you two examples; imagine I am a cave man.

Suppose that  a cave man came out of his cave and his few experiences told him that there is no danger, but he has been borne, programmed and told by his elders or whatever that whenever you come out of your cave be prepared now you feel relaxes that then he won’t be able to survive. So exceptions have to be factored in, or take the example of particle physics.

Okay, we have reasonably solid theory of how different particles are formed from coax, but suppose that there is one particle which does not fit the pattern. And am I going to throw away that all field of quantum chromo dynamics of that area of the particle physics. No, I won't. I will wait and wait and so even if there is ever done to the contrary and I am not going to through away the entire paradigm. I guess at some points, one has to accept the change of paradigm but when that comes I do not know so we cling on to the bad beliefs and we cling on to them. It is perhaps the next generation which can accept it. This to my mind is an open question-- one that I really like to understand better. So thanks very much. 

Source: : youtube.com/watch?v=UUz-hTns-1o

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/multimedia/pervez-hoodbhoy-trnew-age-islam/pervez-hoodbhoy-darwin-and-evolution-in-the-muslim-world--science-as-silent-subversion--experiences-from-pakistan/d/113254


  • ". . .  before western scientist goes to bed, he studies the Quran, in the morning when he wakes up he reads it again when he goes to his laboratory where he already knows what he is going to find". If that is the case, shouldn't we learn how to read the Quran from these western scientists?
    All these maulanas, and hafiz, etc. read the Quran so many times, but still they are unable to come up with  even one scientific discovery. Obviously they do not know how to read and understand it correctly.
    What can they teach Muslims?

    By Asif Merchant - 11/20/2017 4:45:05 AM

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