Friday, August 13, 2010
Mecca Clock: Seeking scientific prestige via borrowed science
There is much fanfare about the recently inaugurated Mecca Clock. It is now the world's largest clock sitting on top of the world's second tallest building - and is visible from a distance of 16 miles (I haven't checked the math on this - but this is what is reported). I have my own personal objections to having sky-scrappers around a spectacular mosque located in a desert. Perhaps, this is coming from my experience living in New Mexico, but I would guess that the pilgrims would favor looking at an open sky rather than tall buildings. But fine. That is a personal opinion on sky-scrappers in Mecca. If one wants to build a gigantic clock - so be it (right, a comparison with the Big Ben).
But the more amusing part comes from the claims by some that Mecca time should replace the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) - because the latter is a remnant of colonial heritage. Hmm...but even if we buy into that, why should it be replaced by Mecca time? Because there is a gigantic clock there??
The reason that the meridian is 0 at Greenwich is because it is the British that solved the longitude problem. Therefore they got to reference a part of England as the main reference point. Names associated with science are often, if not always, symptomatic of the scientific power of the time. Therefore we see that many of the elements discovered in the 20th century have names such as berkelium, americium, californium, etc have American names (though sometimes there were competing claims from Soviet laboratories also). Discover things or solve problems and ye shall have the authority to name things. Heck - more than half of the brightest stars in the sky have Arabic names. This is because Arabic atlases from the medieval time played a key role in the development of modern astronomy - and Arab science was dominant at the time.
It is perhaps a bit immature to ask to change an established world system - simply because one has built a big toy. Do something worthwhile in science and then you will have a chance to name things also. But there are no shortcuts. This requires a serious investment in science and more importantly in creating a scientific minded culture.
And talking about the lack of scientific culture, one of the justifications given for the adoption of Mecca Time is that, according to Yusuf al-Qaradawi - an Egyptian cleric, Mecca is in "perfect alignment with the magnetic north pole", making the city a "zero magnetism zone".
What the heck is he talking about??
So first here is a short primer on magnetic north pole:
Since Earth has a magnetic field, it also has magnetic poles - points where the magnetic field lines point 90 degrees (south or north). The origin of Earth's magnetic field is still as yet an unsolved problem - but the most likely reason is the dynamo effect. But one thing is clear: the magnetic poles change their locations constantly (in fact, poles are also known to reverse over long periods of time and have reversed about 170 times over the last 100 million years! This discovery has played a fascinating role in confirming the idea of plate-tectonics. You can impress your friends with this tid-bit of information to impress your friends).
So one might ask, what is the current location of the magnetic north pole? It seems that it is currently in northern Canada and moving towards Russia at 40 miles per year (magnetic south pole is also moving in Antarctica). Okay - so unless one wants to move Mecca at a similar speed, it may have a hard time keeping WHATEVER alignment Yousuf-al-Qaradawi is talking about.
But but then there is also a more basic question: Shouldn't a whole line on a sphere be affected in the same way from a point on a sphere? I mean, the magnetic field lines are relatively symmetrical. So whatever field Mecca has, it should extend to a whole line equidistant from the north magnetic field.
Of course, this is all a waste of time. The urge to show Mecca's specialty in a scientific language has nothing to do with reality. This is in the same line as Muslims trying to find nuggets of modern science in the Qur'an. Creating scientific institutions takes time. Creating a valuable scientific culture takes patience and persistence. The reality is that Muslims at present lag in science. These pseudoscientific efforts are a short-cut to make Muslims (and yes, these kind of "proofs" with this kind of evidence can only be accepted by believers) happy in a make-believe (yes, pun intended) world.
Science, the way it is practiced today, unfortunately places emphasis on evidence. Perhaps, Yousuf-al-Qaradawi can make up his own rules to understand his own physical world.
To the Moon...
I had a similar reaction when I first heard about the replacement of GMT two years ago. Hey - at least I'm being consistent:
Move over GMT - Here comes a call to adopt Mecca Time instead
You can also check out this post by Nidhal:
Critiquing I'jaz - The claim of "scientific miracles in the Qu'ran"
Or for your entertainment purposes, check out this claim that Mars' retrograde motion proves the day of judgement:
Nonsense about Mars from Pakistan's Business Recorder