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 http://eacpe.org/ 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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