Is it science or theology?

May 10, 2016

by Pervez Hoodbhoy



When Pakistani students open a physics or biology textbook, it is sometimes unclear whether they are actually learning science or, instead, theology. The reason: every science textbook, published by a government-run textbook board in Pakistan, by law must contain in its first chapter how Allah made our world, as well as how Muslims and Pakistanis have created science.

I have no problem with either. But the first properly belongs to Islamic Studies, the second to Islamic or Pakistani history. Neither legitimately belongs to a textbook on a modern-day scientific subject. That’s because religion and science operate very differently and have widely different assumptions. Religion is based on belief and requires the existence of a hereafter, whereas science worries only about the here and now.

Demanding that science and faith be tied together has resulted in national bewilderment and mass intellectual enfeeblement. Millions of Pakistanis have studied science subjects in school and then gone on to study technical, science-based subjects in college and university. And yet most — including science teachers — would flunk if given even the simplest science quiz.

How did this come about? Let’s take a quick browse through a current 10th grade physics book. The introductory section has the customary holy verses. These are followed by a comical overview of the history of physics. Newton and Einstein — the two greatest names — are unmentioned. Instead there’s Ptolemy the Greek, Al-Kindi, Al-Beruni, Ibn-e-Haytham, A.Q. Khan, and — amusingly — the heretical Abdus Salam.

Demanding that science and faith be tied together has resulted in national bewilderment.
The end-of-chapter exercises test the mettle of students with such questions as: Mark true/false; A) The first revelation sent to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was about the creation of Heaven? B) The pin-hole camera was invented by Ibn-e-Haytham? C) Al-Beruni declared that Sind was an underwater valley that gradually filled with sand? D) Islam teaches that only men must acquire knowledge?

Dear Reader: You may well gasp in disbelief, or just hold your head in despair. How could Pakistan’s collective intelligence and the quality of what we teach our children have sunk so low? To see more such questions, or to check my translation from Urdu into English, please visit the website where relevant pages from the above text (as well as from those discussed below) have been scanned and posted.

Take another physics book — this one (English) is for sixth-grade students. It makes abundantly clear its discomfort with the modern understanding of our universe’s beginning. The theory of the Big Bang is attributed to “a priest, George Lamaitre [sic] of Belgium”. The authors cunningly mention his faith hoping to discredit his science. Continuing, they declare that “although the Big Bang Theory is widely accepted, it probably will never be proved”.

While Georges Lemaître was indeed a Catholic priest, he was so much more. A professor of physics, he worked out the expanding universe solution to Einstein’s equations. Lemaître insisted on separating science from religion; he had publicly chided Pope Pius XII when the pontiff grandly declared that Lemaître’s results provided a scientific validation to Catholicism.

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6 comments on “Is it science or theology?

  • @OP link – A 10th-grade book starts off its section on ‘Life and its Origins’ unctuously quoting one religious verse after another. None of these verses hint towards evolution, and many Muslims believe that evolution is counter-religious. Then, suddenly, a full page annotated chart hits you in the face. Stolen from some modern biology book written in some other part of the world, it depicts various living organisms evolving into apes and then into modern humans.

    This is pretty standard theological pseudo science technique.

    Mix in a bit of real science with the theological fanciful mythology, and pretend that it is all “real science” to con the trusting uneducated.

    The likes of the Vatican and Ken Ham have been doing this for years! Hitler and Stalin also had a crack at it in promoting their ideologies.

    Science has no need for Pakistan; in the rest of the world it roars ahead.
    But Pakistan needs science because it is the basis of a modern economy and it enables people to gain decent livelihoods.
    To get there, matters of faith will have to be cleanly separated from matters of science. This is how peoples around the world have managed to keep their beliefs intact and yet prosper.

    Once they do so and embrace scientific reality, the mythology tends to fade into the realms of fiction, where it belongs!

    It comes down to the balance of power between the scientifically educated and the delusional.

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  • @Alan

    I wouldn’t even call it pseudo-science, a field that is willfully wishful. Allowing these untruths in textbooks is intentionally misleading. Hochi-mama, these are gonna be some pissed off kids when they get access to the internet.

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  • Vicki #2
    May 10, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    I wouldn’t even call it pseudo-science, a field that is wilfully wishful.

    If we look at the detail, it is all evasion and tautology.

    159. Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1)

    So you see, according to the Vatican, “evidence based scientific methodology” is compatible with the “blind acceptance of faith-thinking” – and any bits which are not , are trumped by faith-thinking anyway!

    Sheeples are informed that this is called “acceptance of the science of evolution” from pulpits across the globe.

    283. The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers….

    So while claiming to “accept the science”, and crediting it to their god-delusion, they pretend the pseudo-science claims ARE science which supports their dogmas!

    284. The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin….

    ..and then pretend that dogma provides “knowledge” which is “beyond science”! It is certainly not beyond the the sciences of psychology and neuroscience!

    But if challenged, they will deny any details and allow believers to believe whatever they like – within limits!

    Despite the above proclamations (in the traditions of double-talk):-

    The Catholic Church holds no official position on the theory of creation or evolution, leaving the specifics of either theistic evolution or literal creationism to the individual within certain parameters established by the Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, any believer may accept either literal or special creation within the period of an actual six-day, twenty-four-hour period, or they may accept the belief that the earth evolved over time under the guidance of God. Catholicism holds that God initiated and continued the process of his evolutionary creation, that Adam and Eve were real people

    Thus making the claim to accept the scientific evidence laughable!!! –

    . . . As do the RCC. the claims about miracles and exorcisms!

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  • Reference: “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. Deutsch talks about The Enlightenment and Enlightenments plural. Will we fall into a new Dark Age? Dark Ages seem to be the standard. Staying enlightened is the goal.

    We are now in the midst of conversion/growth from a static society to a dynamic society. A static society is almost all previous civilizations. Contrary to popular belief, people in static and stone age civilizations were much less happy than we are today. It is necessary to complete the conversion to a fully dynamic civilization. Failure to become fully dynamic would entail collapse back to very unhappy times.

    Deutsch doesn’t mention creationism, fear of all things nuclear or GW denialism, etcetera, but they are obvious examples of remnants of a static society. Static society memes disable the mind of anybody who believes them. Religious memes disable scientific thinking and creativity.

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