Saturday, August 9, 2008

Science in Muslim countries

Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria has a guest editorial in a recent issue of Science Magazine, on the problems of science in Muslim countries. Despite our Muslim forefathers who first held up the torch of rationality, tolerance, and the advancement of knowledge throughout the dark ages of medieval Europe, he points out that increasingly intolerant social milieu that is driven by self-appointed guardians of religious correctness, who inject their narrow interpretation of religion into all public debates. Rejecting rationality or evidentiary approaches, they increasingly force dissenting voices into silence and conformity with what they consider acceptable behavior. Of course the Muslim world is not alone in this. Even in the technologically most advanced nation in the world, the US, there are battles over creationism vs. evolution and, in fact, though he doesn't say so, over stem cell research, contraception and so on. He stresses the need for a commitment to fight for the values of science and to reject obscurantism, fanaticism, and xenophobia. I can't help thinking that while we in India are lucky not to have to fight over evolution and creationism, we are no slouches when it comes to obscurantist behaviour and attitudes. Belief in Ram as a real person with a well-defined birthplace, and the bridge he constructed, or even arguing in the Supreme Court over which version of the Ramayan is correct to decide the fate of the Ramar Sethu, modifying recorded history, geography and geology to insist that Hindu civilisation has existed for a 100,000 years (or is it a million?) does not speak well of our rationalist attitudes. (I am not even mentioning astrology, which even many of our distinguished scientists believe in). Let me quote Serageldin again when he says we need to liberate minds from the tyranny of intolerance, bigotry, and fear, and opening the doors to free inquiry, tolerance, and imagination. Here is a personal plug: if you seriously believe in a rationalist view of the universe (let me stress that this need not be equivalent to atheism) please do click on the Brights link on the right hand column near the top of the page and join the Brights movement.


AMOK said...

Sire, as a true believer in astrology and every other non-scientific belief system, this blogger must speak to your excellent post. Having thought deeply, this blogger could not devise a test to distinguish among the following three explanations for any single event: Chance, Fate, Act of God. Since life is lived one person at a time and not as a mean, median or mode, one must choose one of the three. Some choose Chance - the scientists -- some choose Fate -- the astrologers and some choose God. The difference between the statistical experience and the personal events, anecdotal by necessity, allow all views. At the collective level, Science applies. At the individual level, Fate, God or a linear combination are chosen. Where this blogger parts company with Chance, Fate, God is when any of these are, in a general sense, inimical to the blogger's greater self-interest, such as preventing research or exploiting sub-populations. If you find the above comment confusing, it is just Chance. Or perhaps Fate?

Rahul Basu said...

For sheer obfuscation, AMOK, you get this year;s George Bush 'Mangled Speech' award.