HYDERABAD: Indian-born Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, earlier this week, expressed his dismay over claims by a participant in the Indian Science Congress last year in Mumbai that the aeroplane was invented by a sage 2,000 years ago. "The idea that Indians had airplanes sounds almost essentially impossible to me. I don't believe it. The point is that if that technology was produced in a method that anybody can replicate, then it becomes science," he was quoted by a newspaper.
Venkatraman, who was born in Tamil Nadu, is a structural biologist at Cambridge University. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009.
This year, the ISC has accepted a paper by Akhilesh K Pandey, chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Private University Regulatory Commission in Bhopal, that claims that Lord Shiva was the greatest environmentalist in the world. The paper has led to the controversy that ISC has once again brought in mythology into the domain of science.
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist, writer and television personality, who is in the city to attend the Hyderabad Literary Festival, commenting on the ISC controversy, said, "All major civilizations tend to exaggerate their achievements. Christianity until a few hundred years ago had been at loggerheads with science and many men of science and letters were executed because they came up with ideas supported by scientific proof that contradicted the position of the Church."
Hoodbhoy believes that one of the major factors behind the backwardness of the Muslim community in India, Pakistan and other countries is the reality that the followers of the faith have not come to terms with science.
In his lecture at Maulana Azad National Urdu University on January 7 on "The Rise and Fall of Muslims in the Field of Science", he presented the historical background to the disconnect between scientific research and faith-based ideas.
There is an admission in the title that the Muslims who contributed greatly in the development of science in a variety of fields—Mathematics, medicine, Astronomy, Physics and Chemistry — for about 400 to 500 years have slowly moved away from these areas of study. The contributions of the Arabs/Muslims found in Arabic, Latin and other languages have been lately recognised in the West. For instance, the year 2015 crossing over into early months of 2016 is being celebrated by the UNESCO as the Year of Light after Al Haytham (965—1040 CE). The Arab scientist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher is known in the West as Alhazen who wrote The Book Of Optics. There have been other scientists in that golden period of Islam whose works have led to the Renaissance in Europe. They include Ibn Sina or Avicenna, Omar Khayyam, Ibn Rushd or Averroes, Razi or Rhazes, Al Farabi or Alpharabius and many more.
But after the downfall of Mu'tazila or the rationalists and the rise of Ash'ariyya, who believed that the reason should be subordinate to divine revelation, there has been no major contribution from Muslims in the realm of science. That was 500 years ago.
The domination of Al Ash'ariyya and some philosophers led to huge conflict between ideas based on religious beliefs and scientific research. Some of the philosophers wanted people to believe that the hunger was not satiated by eating food but because the angels ensure that the people feel so. There was a general denial of cause and effect that forms the basis of science.
Around middle of the 19th century, things had come to such a pass that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University, had to write a 30-page article to justify that eating mango was not an 'un-Islamic practice."
In Pakistan, the situation was worse. Science "was being used by a person who claimed to a scientist" to measure the speed with which Paradise is "running away from us." Another so-called scientist claimed that the energy problem in Pakistan could be solved by tapping the force of Jinn and Angels since they were made of fire. Yet another believed that 'hypocrisy' in people was a measurable phenomenon. By measuring hypocrisy it could be found out whether a person was speaking truth or otherwise.
Hoodbhoy did not believe that a country can be called scientifically developed if it has or can develop nuclear bombs. It might have been a great achievement some 70 or 80 years ago, but not any more.
Pakistan has increased 12 times the budget allocated for its higher education authority some 10 years ago but it produced hardly any results because the root cause lies somewhere else.
The Muslims or any other backward community could get back to producing good scientists if it provided school students with syllabus that allowed critical thinking in an atmosphere free of fear and apprehension or domination of any particular political or religious ideology. There should be no clash between science and religious beliefs because the two operate in totally different domains. Each field could be followed without encroaching upon the space of the other. The mixing of two has produced disastrous results in the past and it would continue to do so, he concluded.
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