Sunday, 18 September 2011

Something we can do without

Nov 2014
Disturbed to see a mosque putting out this message several times over the last year, as part of a list of dangers facing Muslims:

Sent the following to the mosque:

i) It simply isn't true, trust in science and technology is much lower now than it was 30-40 years ago, and I cannot recall any example of someone displaying a "blind faith in science and technology". On the contrary, it is scientific illiteracy and political dogma that is contributing to climate change, environmental degradation and many other social evils.

ii) I do not believe that this is one of the top reasons Muslims lose their faith

iii) I do not see this blind faith from any of the many scientists I interview or hear talks from. On the contrary they are invariably humble, aware of how much they do not know and conscious of the many barriers between making a discovery and having a technology that can be applied in the real world

iv) It is hypocritical to disparage science and technology whilst AT THE SAME TIME taking advantage of every medical and communications innovation that is made available

v) The statement makes it almost impossible for any Muslim to talk about current and future research in a scientific field to a Muslim audience - for fear that they will be labelled as having "blind faith in science and technology"

vi) The statement is a discouragment to youngsters to be interested in science and technology careers

vii) The statement sends out mixed messages to the comunity, especially youngsters. On the one hand our leaders talk about the Islamic heritage in scientific discovery, on the other hand the statement talks about the danger of a "blind faith" - a faith which, again, I see very little evidence of.

viii) You may think that the statement is subtle and does not imply any of the positions stated above. I believe that any such subtlety will be lost on the community, as it has been on me.

ix) The statement gives ammunition to the those sections of the community who are unable to see anything positive and delight in spreading conspiracy theories rather than acting to improve society.

x) I note that in the expanded note later in the article, you do not mention science and technology at all, but instead (quite reasonably) discuss financial irresponsibility in the banking sector. Perhaps your initial comment should be clearly directed in that direction too.

More generally, I note that khutbahs mention science and technology only in a "dammed with faint praise" way. For example, research may be mentioned that supports an Islamic viewpoint, but this will IMMEDIATELY be followed up with a comment about how scientists don't really know anything, or that they are arrogant. Again, I believe this is a strong discouragement to youngsters to enter science and technology fields.

Invariably, the problem lies not with the science, but with the politics or business case surrounding its application. I would suggest that this is what should be focussed on.

What I DO see a lot of in discourse by a significant number of Muslims is an inability to show critical thinking, which results in the spreading of conspiracy theories that do not stand up to the slightest investigation - and which have the effect of numbing the community into a view that they are unable to do anything to change society. I would urge you to speak out against this, with clear examples of false conspiracy theories (debunking the view that no one ever landed on the Moon might be a good place to start)

Yours, respectfully and in a spirit of being a critical friend

The Mosque bounced back with:

"This is a serious threat to the faith of young people it is another aspect of materialism and love of the world and being worldly. This is not condemning or maligning signs of technology as such, it is pointing out misunderstanding of the limitations and the powers of science by the general public.... [the] aim in writing this piece was to bring to the attention of young people the limitations of science, it is not a replacement religion nor other scientists new gods, this is increasing with the situation with majority of people in the world today, they think that science will ultimately solve our problems, it is this notion that is in Islamic terms both idolatrous and misleading."


Sep 2011
A little while ago, BFTF was passed a lecture on a CD and asked for an opinion on it (perhaps the office was empty that day, perhaps the person mistook BFTF for somebody else, who knows).

Having had a listen, BFTF felt it to be very negative and to have a perspective of Muslim victimhood - not, in short, something that was helpful. The feedback that BFTF gave to the provider of the CD pretty much says it all :

"I think this covers all the usual bases:

- Description of attacks on countries "because they are Muslim" - CHECK
- Description of Muslim as living as slaves in the West - CHECK
- Description of western society as being sex driven - CHECK
- Description of leading edge science as being "playing God" - CHECK
- Complete absence of any practical steps that can be taken to solve the
problems - CHECK

Each of the above points contains a kernel of truth, but is portrayed as a simple black and white issue where non-muslims have no redeeming factors and where there is no context.

For example, regarding science "playing God", these exact same arguments were put forward in the UK a hundred years ago when blood transfusions were first attempted - but would be laughed out of court if made today. With regard to the current genetic research, while there are real concerns (e.g. Monsanto trying to buy up seed banks and using "terminator gene" technology) there are also real possibilities for tremendous advancement (e.g. Gene therapies, crops able to
tolerate harsh conditions of low rainfall, treatments for burns and other trauma)

This track basically makes people hate the West and portrays the West in a
uniformly negative light. It is, in essence, the reverse of a BNP tirade. "

Incidentally, the person who supplied the CD later listened to the lecture themselves and agreed with the above.

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