Monday, August 16, 2010

Conversations on Islam.....Modern Science and the Muslims

Dato'Hamzah Majid
To Nik Isahak Abdullah

Dear Dato,

I have been following your blog, and the thread of conversation with
Prof. Wan, on Islam and the virtual world created by digital science,
with interest. You are an interventionist cardiologist, clearly
someone trained in the empirical sciences. We Muslims can be proud of
our tradition in the sciences, pioneered by people like Ibn Sina
(Latin Avecenna). Indeed, Abn Sina can be considered the father of
modern Medicine, and in Philosophy by Abu Rashud (Lat. Averroes), et
al. Again, had it not been for Acerroes, we would have no idea of the
depth and breadth of the thoughts of Aristotle and the ancient Greeks.
We owe the Arab scholars an enduring debt of gratitude.

There were, of course enormous contributions from the classical Indian
thinkers (who gave us the concept of numbers, and zero!) and the
Persian and Chinese thinkers, too. Today, the Chinese and the Indians
are aggressively catching up in the sciences and technology and,
ipso facto, in economics, manufacturing and business. The basic, key
indicators? The expansion in the numbers and quality of their
especially in Mathematics, the Sciences, Technology, and English. Last
month the Chinese government announced that it is executing a plan to
make 200 million Chinese nationals fluent in English by 2015, and make
Beijing the economic and cultural hub of the world by 2020. It is not
an idle aim: China has, as of last week, overtaken Japan as the second
largest economy in terms of GDP.

However, it is sad to note that Muslim countries, despite the OIC, are
lagging behind in the key areas mentioned above. They are also
laggards in terms public ethics, good governance, and transparency.
Sadly, there is ample evidence of it.

Let us start with the Sciences, as you have a scientific background.
Abu Sinha proudly embraced the Aristotelian approach to empirical
science - observation, verification, the validity of cause-and-effect
deduction, and classification. This is now the universal scientific
method. There is no "Christian", or "Jewish", or "Islamic", or
"Hindu", or "Buddhist", scientific methodology. There is only the
scientific methodology.

May I enquire, Dato, as a medical scientist, do you see a resurgence
of the sciences (as opposed to "Islamic" science) in Muslim countries?
Education is key to the increasingly competitive world today, and in
time to come. Everything begins with a thinking kind of education, not
learning by rote, as is happening in the hundreds of thousands of
madarassas in the Muslim world. It is sad, and worrying.

Salams and best wishes for the month of Ramadhan.



Dato' Hamzah,

Ist and foremost I am not a Dato'. Just a simple half empty tin can that somehow made too much noise.
We have lost the scientific endervour centuries back when Muslims started looking inwards as the the latter day Ottomans go into self destruct mode. Those glorious moments with Ibn Sina , Ibn Rusdi, Imam Ghazali's period et al, represent the golden era of Islam when Muslims understand the clarion call of the Book for Muslims to be Allah's viceroys on earth. That period was the precursor to the latter day European Renaissance. Nothing wrong with Islam because Islam means submission to the one God, and total irreverance to anything supertitious and non scientific or nonrational.

I beg to differ with you on the issue of Islamic Science and the narrow connotation it carries.When present day Muslims scholars like Prof Naguib Alatas and Hoessien Nasr et al talk about the Islamisation of knowledge, people got the wrong idea that we have to Islamise knowledge. That Islamized science or knowledge would denote inferior knowledge. It is very far from has to do with the precept and assumption amongst the West that science should start from 'Ground Zero' and meaning no Maker out there, and looking outward into the Universe, perhaps look into space, look into cells and mitochondrions, into molecules and atom without the assumption there is a Maker with profound knowledge building things and templates with uniform intelligent design...trying to make some sense out of it, and in the process even when they see God's hand in it , as what happened to Einstein when he was playing around with his new theory of relativity, disregard it and put some unkonwn 'constant' to avoid God!

What these noted Muslim scholars are just saying is that if one start with the premise that God is there, then our whole approach to science and discovery will be significantly more different, more humanistic and purposive towards the enhancement of human life on earth rather than often times being self destructive. One wonder if the founders of atomic fission during the second world war period, if they start with the premise that the is a Maker out there, that they would collectively would have focusssed themselves on the 1st atomic bomb. Needless to say the whole philosophy underlying latter day Space exploration was actually the West preoccupation to maintain hegemony over Russia. Ronald Reagan's outer space defence project did not take off because it was going to cost trillions and trillions of USD not because of any altruism on their part. Also because Gorbachev was gullible enough to embrace Reagonomics which lead to the ultimate downfall of USSR and thus the Cold War.

At present I have a running battle with my ulama friends asking them to come out of the closet and go 'virtual' in stead of keeping to the 'Ivory Tower'. It is articles like yours that speak volumes for the need of current day Ulama.' to be more aggressive and explain things to the 'illiterate' masses. I am just an empty tin can who is acting as a 'bidan terjun'.

Clowns like Syed Akbar Ali for instance need to be 'rebutted' but who to do that ??!!
I am digressing here and have not really answered your question...

Dr Nik Howk


Hamzah Majid
To Nik Isahak Abdullah

Dear Dr. Nik,

Thank you for your response. You are being modest; you are not an empty tin can. Far from it! I respect your views as that of a highly
educated man.

I would, however, hold a different view from that expressed in your response. First of all, Einstein had been haunted by the remark he
made that 'God does not play dice'. Actually he said that out of a sense of discomfort with the 'uncertainty implications' of the, then, 'new' Quantum Mechanics (QM) as propounded by Neils Bohr, et al. This was entirely understandable, as QM was, an still is, very counter intuitive - how can a particle be in two places at one time? Of course, we now know that Bohr was right after all, and we cannot determine at the same time both the speed and the location of a particle. QM has been proved right, time and again, by today's science and technology. Indeed, the very equipment that you use in your practice as a cardiologist are based on the validity of QM. That, in brief, was one of the errors of the great man, and he deeply regretted it later.

The other error he made was was the one referred to in your response. He found, in his calculations on the Theory of Relativity, that it led him
to the conclusion that the universe was expanding! This could not be! He could not accept this. He felt there was an element of instability that needs to be balanced, and so he introduced the constant c to his calculations to lead to a stable universe. Of course, we now know that he was on the right track in the first place - the universe is indeed expanding, all the time, and at the speed of light. When his Math led Einstein to wonder in some confusion, present telescopes confirm the 'red-shift' in all observable stars... that the universe is indeed expanding in all directions, and have done so since the Bag Bang 13.6 billion years ago.

The beauty of modern science is that it is not doctrinaire. It does not demand loyalty; it can be proved false, and rejected. It has a self-correcting mechanism that keeps it fresh and true. Based partly on Aristotelian logic, calculus, and the Algebraic calculations of Arab scholars, it has almost freed Mankind from poverty, starvation, and the cruelties of religious wars, persecution, and superstition. It has given us modern Medicine (and all the sophisticated equipment and methodology that you, yourself, use in your profession), computers, air travel, space station, and all the security, comfort and leisure that we enjoy today. This only came about very recently, when science gave birth to technology, after the 1800's.

This still leaves us with my initial enquiry - when will we Muslims embrace modern science, and get out of the trap of ignorance, poverty, superstition, cruelty, and corruption? Among the 20 top countries in the world noted for science, technology, clean governance, democracy, and prosperity, not one is a Muslim country. This is sad part. Worth pondering, don't you think?

Salams and best wishes.




When will we ever embrace science ? An interesting question. TQ for your very profound answer anyway. I did not know you are a profound science man. Not Many Malaysian can explain Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle and Einstein duality of matter the way you do. I think we can count them on fingers and toes!.

The gap in basic sciences between the West and Muslim countries are widening, almost unbrigeable. Firstly we on the whole, having left science to the 'kuffars' for so long have no significant base in basic research and basic sciences.

Secondly, we present day Muslims are great at 'aping' the West but at the wrong angles, totally missing the substance. I just give you you one local example. Just when 15 years ago the West was already wholesale into molecular genetics ,engineering at the molecular level, Dr M discovered IT. He was so obsessed with how to communicate in microseconds between Cyberjaya and Petronas Twin Tower. Does not matter that the e- file having reach the 56 th Floor will take 2 weeks to be seen and presented to the 57th floor. Would take another probably 2 years to see the light of the day!When it sees the light of the day, given to the wrong crony...take that Iraqi chap, the InventQ fame, as an example the one that squandered hundreds of millions of public funding. And now we have finally realised that the whole world is hooked on nano technology and genetic engineering.... have an average IQ medical lady with very little knowledge to head the venture, not top scientists with vision. Another potential failure in the making. Choice of leadership , reflect personal interest of boss or sub-boss rather than intuitive choice of substance! Our Numero Uno want quick fixes solution, like drunkards crazy for alcohol....The problem are in general political rather than Islam

At the universities level the game is similar. The game of the average played by mediocre VC's, the Yes-man to mediocre ministers . Universities are now doing the number game, involve in sub standard comercialisation and out dated projects just to please the Higher education or science minister. The minister just want the numbers to impress his equally ignorant boss . Probably in the rest of the other Muslim countries the problem is about the same if not more....Forms more important than substance...I would put it more bluntly: The lack of fear of God, probably arising from the lack of confidence in having to answer in the Hereafter. One can be Muslims but many still not very confident they have to answer for what they do, the mediocre decisions they made affecting millions.{ I have been a prime mover in the equestrian sport at the national and international level. Even in sport, we are behaving the same..quick fixes, forms more important rather than substances. A typical Malaysian disease}. This mental malaise is from top to bottom.We have become champions at quick fixes , not looking at the fundamentals and improving on it.

Thirdly, we lack focus.Our basic scientists in the U are not going anywhere. There are not enough funding for research.For example, Geneticists and gene scientist with PHD's are much sought after in the West. They got grabbed , the excellent ones. Over here they gravitate into frustating teaching jobs with low pay.

The problem is ,we are a nation of manufacturers. That does not make us a scientific nation. We want quick fix, not hard work. We want the numbers to please the boss! I do not know...Singapore got hooked on molecular biology very early and they have garnered the best brains in the world. Now they are leading in Asia in this aspect. There is a lot of catch up for us to do and this has nothing to do with religion. Poor and unenlightened governance at the very top with no vision and at the middle clowns ever ready to please. The VC's, kang kong proffessors etc etc holding down young energetic talents , frustrating them and pushing them out of basic research also contribute to these malaise.

It would be difficult for us to play catch up in some areas but there are areas where Muslims countries, mainly in the tropics and subtropics should excel. We should concentrate on ways and mean to harness the solar energy in all aspect of our human activities. Research and resources should be expanded that way. We cannot expect the Danes or Germans to come up with cars and households depending on 100 % solar....The balance of power would shift to the Muslims in the equators and subtropic. No way are they going to go big on solar research to make it cheap.....That would be political and economic suicide for the West.

Another area would be Nuclear. If all IOC countries wants to go nuclear and nuclear research, UN would go berserk but why not?....Nuclear for humanity is the way to go. Clean energy. In 20 years time cars will go 100 % electric, obtained partially from solar and electricity derived and distributed from nuclear plants all over Muslim countries. IOC should look into into and somewhat relieve Iran of the present stress it has to contend with Let us all go nuclear.

I cannot see us catching up let alone beating the West in molecular biology. They are far ahead. Nuclear and solar , with some help, are a more even playing fields. We should be there if there is political will and if in the next decade or so we have sane leaders who can think with their heads not with their stomachs!
Dangerous thought Nik Isahak, that is why I have difficulty entering Australia and now even Hong Kong. I have been waiting for an American visa for the last 5 years! They have not called me. They promised to...

I have still not fully answered your question Dato, I think....

Dr Nik Howk
pS: OK I can partially answer your last question. When we truly understand our Book given to us, Its meaning and the spirit for which it was revealed. It is meant for an Ummah that can be the viceroys of Allah to bring economic ,social and emotional well beings and a perpetual state of HAPPINESS in the here and the hereafter,not only to Muslims on the planet but to all humanity regardless of colour, leanings and philosophical bents.
Either very few understand the true meaning of the Book for the moment or the Muslim world currently have been hijacked by highway robbers, scoundrels and clowns!


Dear Dr. Nik,

Thank you for your email that I saw late last night. First of all, I wish to say that you are most kind and generous with your remarks, and
I am certainly undeserving of them. I am no 'man of science', let alone one of 'par excellence' - but I admit to being someone who is very curious about nearly everything. I regard science not as a qualification, but rather as a rational approach to understanding one's physical and philosophical environment. Hence, I am intrigued by Newton's accomplishment in calculating the movement of the heavenly bodies, and yet fail to understand the nature of gravity. It was centuries later that Einstein challenged our imagination when he explained gravity as the consequence of the warping effect of mass upon time/space. Fascinating, how the human mind can gradually grasp the realities of the universe.

I found the same excitement when I first read Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species' (a book my sons got me as a birthday present some years ago). Not only is it a superlative piece of leisurely Victorian literature, but the insights it offered were stunning! That got me reading all the books by Richard Dawkins, the modern Darwinist. Again, I found Stephen Hawking's books both illuminating and satisfying, as was the 'First Three Seconds' by Steven Weinberg (about the Big Bang) and Michio Kaku on 'The Physics of Impossibility'. One can go on, and on. It is the delight
one experiences in getting an answer to a nagging question, like scratching an itch in the mind. It reminds me of a chance remark my college tutor once made (when I was an undergraduate over half a century ago!): "Education is what one gets between lectures".

When you mentioned that religion has been "hijacked by robbers, scoundrels and clown" - I think you are absolutely correct. Organized religion, since the time of the Pharaohs, Incas, right down to the classical period of the Greek city states, through the Medieval Age, right up to today, has always been the handmaiden of the ruling elite. The cleric and the feudal lords, the industrialists and the Vatican, the Church and the Establishment, the military junta in Somalia and the Islamic cleric, the Ayatollahs and the Teheran regime, they have all, almost without exception joined hands to maintain the status quo. Belief and status quo tend to cosy up to each other.

On the other hand, it is rational science that forges ahead to give us a better understanding of the universe and the human condition, and it is organized religion tends to hold us back. It has been religion that tortured scholars who had inconvenient ideas that the earth spins around the sun, and burned people at the stake. Carl Sagan in his fascinating 'Science as a Candle in the Dark', puts such historical events in sobering perspective. Today, a stunning example is provided in the US by the alliance between the Southern Baptist Church and the Seventh Day Adventists (the Evangelical Christians, 60 million of them) and the Republican Party. They were the catalyst behind the Bush invasion of Iraq. They honestly believe that the world will come to an end at Armageddon, and Jesus will appear through the cloud as a Second Coming, all true Christian believers will be saved, and non Christians will perish in one final firestorm of a battle. What is scary is that many well educated Americans actually believe in this nonsense. This political bloc is the biggest stumbling block in the way of a Middle East accord that Obama is trying to achieve.

Salams and best wishes.




The irony of it all is that all these luminaries that you mentioned, Charles Darwin,, Richard Dawkins, Stephan Hawkins, Carl Sagan and lastly Michio Kaku, were all, sadly, hard core materialists/atheists.

Without taking the accolade one bit from them as they are excellent individuals in their very specialised fields, the Muslims were actually given some inkling into the formation of the universe some 1450 years ago in the Qur'an:

"Have not those who disbelieve know that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and We made every living thing of water? Will they not then know? " [ Surah Al Anbiya , 21 : 30 ]

It is a tragedy for us Muslims that following the degeneration that began within the Ottomans, Muslims have lost the impetus of science only in the last century. Carl Sagan et al, had regain the upper hand only just now but history, whether we like it or not, is only written by the victors..

Nonetheless we Muslims should not feel dispondent. At the personal level,It is a double tragedy for brilliant chaps like Carl Sagans et al that despite the special knowledge and IQ endowed to them, they were all lost in the labyrinth, the small 'lorongs' and the byways. They missed the unifying 'mountain of evidence' staring at them. Real Happiness at the personal level, Dato, has to do with not just having superior knowledge, a six figure income and a Jaguar in the garage!. Knowledge and all that, must be tampered with 'true wisdom' since without doubt,as Muslims, we do believe Happiness ,from the Islamic viewpoint any way, has to encompass both the Here and the Hereafter.

"Lo! In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the difference of night and day are tokens of His Sovereignty for men of understanding, Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, and say: Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee! Preserve us from the doom of Fire. "
Al Imran, 3 : 190-191

Islam is about excellence. Excellence in the here and the hereafter. This century is ours, insyaallah!

Dr Nik Howk

1 comment:

RahmatHarounHashim said...

Dera dr Nik.
U are no an empty can. In the can, u will find intelligent particles as I mention in my novel which u have read "The New Book of Genesis." What apparently empty, in the can consists of sub-atomic, sub-nuclear particles dancing around with gluon, muons, taus, quarks resonanting musical notes of knowledge through super-string theory and probably later TOE. Keep shaking the or your 'empty' can!