Saturday, May 09, 2009

Documentary brings Muslims boldly into the 19th century

It seems that residents of Raleigh, North Carolina, got a free DVD about Islam last week. The documentary is titled The Fog is Lifting and its purpose is to improve the image of Muslims in the US and remove some of the media stereotypes. Ok - I can see the need - especially in the southern states:
"The Fog is Lifting" is the brainchild of Fadel Soliman, the director of the Bridges Foundation and an Egyptian living in Cairo. A successful computer engineer and marketing expert, Soliman became convinced of the need for interfaith outreach after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 created a backlash against Islam. you must now be expecting a documentary that presents Muslims to be progressive and ready to deal with the problems with the 21st century. But alas - no. It presents a full throttle defense of creationism (good-bye science), highlights ideas from natural theology (ala 19th century), and - to complete the embarrassment, spends substantial time on the "science in the Qur'an" pseudoscience of Maurice Bucaille. None of this is new. This is the same "science-proves-Islam" narrative that is common in the much of the Muslim world. It seems that progressive voices of US Muslims (both cultural and religious) are still being drowned out by inane documentaries like this one.

Since I have gone through the documentary (sigh!), here are the highlights regarding the use and abuse of science. On the special nature of eye and other fun stuff (about 6 minutes into the video):

Against evolution (first few minutes below):

and on Islam and Science - first mostly a highly selective history - and then an assassination of logic by Maurice Bucaille (about 6 minutes into the segment below):

Apart from other problems, I'm still puzzled as to why people highlight the example of "mountains as stakes" as the accuracy of science in the Qur'an. Perhaps there can be no other statement that runs completely counter to plate tectonics and how we understand the formation and evolution of mountains, and the fact these are not permanent structures and mountains don't stay mountains over geologic timescales. And for your added amusement, check out the statement about space travel at 8:50 into the video. Really? This is the positive image? For a more detailed criticism of Bucaille, please see An Illusion of Harmony by Taner Edis, and Islam and Science by Pervez Hoodbhoy.

So can there be an alternative approach? A more positive attitude for Muslims in the US may focus on progressive social issues, perhaps taking a cue from Reform Judaism, and show that Muslims can adapt to the needs of the 21st century (whether they can or not remains to be seen). But certainly please retire this outdated 19th century mode of fitting science to "prove" the truth of a religion.

By the way, this folly of finding science in scriptures is not the sole domain of Muslims. Here is Hugh Ross - and his Reasons to Believe website. From the front page of his website:
Did you know that the primary characteristics of the big bang were first described in the Bible more than 2,500 years before scientists discovered them?
(see his bucaillian strategy for the Bible here)

Hey - wait a minute. Isn't this what Maurice Bucaille was claiming - but only from 1400 years ago? In any case, poor scientists. They don't know what they are doing. Think how many Nobel prizes Maurice Bucaille and Hugh Ross can get simply by publishing new breakthroughs well before...actual scientists. How many do they have by now?? By the way, it would be very cool to see a debate between Maurice Bucaille and Hugh Ross - one pseudoscience vs another pseudoscience.