Tuesday, February 17, 2009

BBC Radio program: Islam & Science - part 1

I think Islam & Science is a companion radio show to go with the recent BBC documentary. While the documentary was primarily focused on history, the radio show (30 minutes long) picks up on the decline of science in the Muslim world (also see Epiphenom's excellent take on this issue) and brings us to the present. At the end of the episode, there is a talk of a "mini-renaissance" - but I'm not sure if this claim can really be justified. Yes, more money is being poured into the sciences and internet and satellite communications are forcing Muslim societies to be more open - but without any tangible results, should this be counted as a mini-renaissance? I'm skeptical.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, about 2/3rd of the way, is (as usual) quite forthright about the problems. He finds that the biggest problem lies in the culture where questioning authority is actively discouraged - and he points to religion as one of the main culprits producing this atmosphere in Pakistan. Not related to religion, but I remember my niece in Pakistan telling me about a mistake in her 7th grade science book (I'm too old to remember examples from my school -BVS - Parsi- in Karachi). The book stated that Mars is also known as the "Red Star". My niece pointed out that it must be "Red planet", since Mars is...hmm...a planet. Her teacher's response is instructive (and this was at one of the better schools). She snapped at my niece and told her that the book is right and she (my niece) is not an astronomer to correct her. But to be fair, these kind of anecdotes can be gathered from any where - but I think Hoodbhoy's point is about the general culture of over-respect and obedience, that is prevalent in Pakistan.

Hear the full first episode here.