Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Move over GMT - Here comes a call to adopt Mecca Time instead

Is there a way to find the center of the surface of the Earth? This may look like an impossible task - but not if you are a crank scientist and/or if you believe the world is flat. So at a recent conference in Qatar, some Muslim "scientists" and scholars urged the world to replace the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) with Mecca time...because they believe that Mecca is the true center of the Earth. Hmm...ok...wait and lets hope that ships don't fall off from the edge of the world.

Muslim scientists and clerics have called for the adoption of Mecca time to replace GMT, arguing that the Saudi city is the true centre of the Earth.

Mecca is the direction all Muslims face when they perform their daily prayers.

The call was issued at a conference held in the Gulf state of Qatar under the title: Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice.

What!??! What is annoying here is not just an assault on straight-forward logic, but the fact that this is being discussed at a conference, for which at least somebody has coughed up money which could be used for real education. But its also annoying that these crank statements are considered news worthy. On the other hand, may be it is important to know that influential people (i.e. with media access in the Muslim world) really believe in such crank theories.

But lets see how is Mecca really the center of the world:

One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.

He said the English had imposed GMT on the rest of the world by force when Britain was a big colonial power, and it was about time that changed.

Ok..so even if one grants the possibility of Mecca being on the equator with respect to the magnetic north pole (which is most likely not the case since the magnetic north pole wanders around quite a bit and has moved 1100 km in just this past century!), you will still end up with two points on the sphere where the longitude will intersect with the equator. Yes, the idea of Mecca being the "center of the Earth" is too bad to even be wrong.

There is a whole genre of making claims in the Muslim world that modern science is already in the Quran (such as modern embryology, expanding universe, etc. - see the works of Maurice Bucaille) - thus "verifying" the superiority (or the "Truth") of Islam. The claim of Mecca being the center of the world falls in the same unfortunate category. What is interesting here is the desire and reliance on science (indeed, really bad science) as an instrument to verify religion. While its not unique to Muslims by any means, such ideas are certainly more popular in the Islamic world that is still nostalgic about its golden age. These claims are rooted in religion, and may provide, for many, a justification for using imported knowledge for engineering, medical or other such professions. However, many (perhaps most?) also cringe at such proclamations that make the mockery of both science and religion.

Read the full story here.

If you are wondering how can you redeem the time you have spent reading this post, well you can check up what the magnetic north pole has been up to:
The accompanying figure shows the path of the North Magnetic Pole since its discovery in 1831 to the last observed position in 2001. During the last century the Pole has moved a remarkable 1100 km. What is more, since about 1970 the NMP has accelerated and is now moving at more than 40 km per year. If the NMP maintains its present speed and direction it will reach Siberia in about 50 years. Such an extrapolation is, however, tenuous. It is quite possible that the Pole will veer from its present course, and it is also possible that the pole will slow down sometime in the next half century.