Saturday, 4 August 2007

Islam and physics

In a recent issue of Physics World I found a very interesting interview with an Iranian Physicist, Reza Mansouri.
It provides a very clear explanation of the problems that deeply religious society and religious government pose for science education. According to Mansouri `there is little research activity in most areas of physics, and indeed science as a whole, in Iran'. There are maybe 500 PhD educated physicists, and we can only guess how many of them work on the state nuclear programme. Who really believes Iran needs atomic reactor for peacefil energy purposes?. The problem, says Mansouri, is
that Iran, like other Muslim countries, has a very distorted view of what science is – a problem that is rooted in culture and reflected in language. He points out that the Arabic term elm (which is used in almost all Muslim countries) is often taken to mean `science', but this word in fact refers to a deep knowledge of Islam. Indeed ahl e elm means `religious scholar'. Consequently, there is no clear distinction between the meaning and purpose of science and the meaning and purpose of theology.

Iranian universities today do teach science beyond that required for practicing Islam, but Mansouri believes that the legacy of this narrow mindset means that students still learn a very prescribed curriculum by rote, rather than being encouraged to investigate subjects for themselves. [...]

This view of science as a fixed body of knowledge then shapes the way politicians think of science and therefore how they fund it, he says. They view a scientist as an ahl e elm sitting in a small study who will at most need money for new books rather than the far greater resources needed for experiments, lab technicians and computers. The result is that Iran spends only about 0.5% of its gross domestic product on R&D.

It is quite interesting to note that in Poland the R&D spending is about 0.59%, very, very close to Iran. Is there a sign of some deeper similarity? (This compares to USA with 2.76%, Japan with 3.12% or European Union average of 1.93% (data for 2002)).


andsol said...

Very bitter observations on physics versus Islam appeared in the article "Muslims and the West after Sept. 11" by Pervez Hoodbhoy; it appeared in Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 22, Number 2 and it should be easy to find it in electronic form.

Wanderer in the country of blindfolded said...

The link I have found is here: . The article is very interesting indeed. Thanks!