The news from CERN was stunning: the European nuclear science laboratory had just discovered (September 2011) that particles known as neutrinos — called so because they are neutral and carry no charge — habitually travel a little bit faster than light. This threatened to shake the very foundations of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which had laid the basis for the atomic bomb, nuclear energy, and most of modern day physics. Relativity theory starts from the postulate that the speed of light is the absolute maximum that anything can travel at.
Pakistanis are generally unmoved by developments in the world of science. But this time the excitement was palpable. A TV channel called me up, requesting an interview. Fine, I said, specifying the time when I would be available. The producer was profoundly apologetic: this was exactly when they would be interviewing Dr Zakir Naik, an Islamic scholar who frequently pontificates on issues of science and religion. Would I therefore please give another time? Since the good doctor’s claim to fame is his understanding of religious texts rather than of physics, I declined and do not know what transpired subsequently.
Speed of light issues have often moved sections of religious people in rather strange ways. Way back in 1973, as a young physics lecturer at Quaid-i-Azam University, I had been fascinated by the calculation done by the head of our department. Seeking the grand synthesis of science and faith, this pious gentleman — who left on his final journey last month — had published calculations that proved Heaven (jannat) was running away from Earth at one centimeter per second less than the speed of light. His reasoning centred around a particular verse of the Holy Quran that states worship on the night of Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Revelation) is equivalent to a thousand nights of ordinary worship. Indeed, if you input the factor of 1,000 into Einstein’s famous formula for time dilatation, this yields a number: one centimeter per second less than the speed of light!
These days the internet groans under the weight of claims that the Holy Quran had specified the speed of light 1400 years ago. Dr Mansour Hassab El Naby, said to be a physicist from Egypt, announces that according to his Quranic calculations, this speed is 299,792.5 kilometres per second. He even gives error bars! Another video gives a still more precise figure of 299792.458 km/sec. Given the unrestrained leaps of logic made by the authors, it is not surprising that they all arrive at more or less the same numbers.
Interested readers may also wish to visit an intricately-designed website that has clocked up over 750,000 visitors so far. Chockful of mathematical formulae, diagrams, and pictures, it starts from the premise that “angels are low density creatures” taking orders from a “Preserved Tablet” and says “the speed at which they commute to and from this Tablet turned out to be the known speed of light”. To enhance the visual impact, the website has a Java applet showing a white Caucasian scientist who moves his eyes up, down, and around in wondrous rapture. While doing so he sonorously pronounces — in what sounds like an Australian accent to me — that the extra space-time dimensions demanded by the physics of string theory are exactly those predicted in the Quran. The final conclusion: “Einstein’s theory of General Relativity proves the Quran right”.
Well, there’s a huge problem here! No scientist is sure that General Relativity (GR) is absolutely correct. In fact, the phrase “absolutely correct” does not belong to the lexicon of any science, even one as well developed as physics. Excellent as GR is — with hundreds of careful tests — physicists are pretty sure that there are places, such as at the edge of a black hole, where GR simply has to fail. Placing the absolute correctness of Allah’s Word on the knife-edge of an imperfect theory is pretty dicey.
Certainly, no working scientist takes seriously any of stuff on Islamic science websites. In spite of their wonderful graphics and scientific appearance, they are wholly unscientific. Science comes from persistently and patiently checking hypotheses, building upon earlier discoveries and knowledge, and systematically sifting out all which cannot pass stringent tests of logic and observation. For example, experiments at CERN consume the working lives of some of the most brilliant people on earth, require billions of dollars of equipment, and stretch human capacities and ingenuity to the limit. When real scientists eventually publish a result, it comes from solid evidence and not from uncontrolled spurts of imagination and strident assertions of faith.
Returning to neutrinos: today we do not know if the results from CERN on faster-than-light neutrinos are actually correct. Like most other particle physicists, I am sceptical. Explanations will surely be forthcoming once similar experiments are done in other laboratories; time will tell. But right or wrong, this is just another interesting puzzle for physicists to mull over. With deep foundations, the edifice of science has survived bigger earthquakes.
On the other hand, if the CERN results are right, “Islamic scientists” like Dr Naby would need to do much explaining. High above in the heavens, neutrinos would easily out-chase angels — the messengers of Allah — because, if Islamic websites are to be believed, angels are limited by the speed of light. So does that mean these naughty neutrinos are outside of God’s control? Using a holy text as a physics book makes little sense. But, sadly, it is all too common.
Worried by the cancerous growth of claptrap masquerading as science, the late Carl Sagan, one of my heroes, spoke to Bible Belt Americans with matchless eloquence:
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonise about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us — then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls.”
Pakistanis need to listen again, and yet again to this. Sagan is also speaking to us.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2012.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ
Oh Doctor, there you go again making me laugh hysterically with your nuanced sarcastic yet blatantly hilarious prose, the degree of the descriptions of the methodologies and processes involved. or was it purely the content this time around? . I couldnt say for sure, perhaps a combination of both; or perhaps more then anything is the fact that a serious scientist with the kind of background that you have is genuinely(possibly with a straight face) contesting the views and the method through which these claims are made! Absolutely hilarious!. If you keep at it you could perhaps have the honor of being the best (and perhaps the only) scientist-part time comedian of all time.
About the discoveries, I suppose if Thomas Kuhn were alive today he would shout "Paradigm Shift"!:D
Why Gallillio was punished when he claimed that earth was round? Why the priests believed that earth was flat?
@Kashif Siddiqui: weak
@faraz You cant be serious?
Well done Pervez, Only you have the courage to speak out against these religeous scholars. How about filing a blasephemy case against these scholars. They are mischeviously playing with the wholy book and keeping young ones in the dark. Allah Ta'ala in hidayat de aamin
@mind control Prove it!
p.s. Appropriate name
I salute you Mr Hoodbhoy. Ahmed Faraz says Yehi kaha tha meri aankh dekh sakti hai to Mujh pe toot para saara shehr-e-nabeena You need to look after yourself well. I admire the courage your show in speaking about matters such as this living in a country that has been in the stranglehold of ignorance for decades or even centuries
@Mohsin Hyder: That is absurd. Knowledge from the qur'an is derived from vague interpretations, than often contradict each other from scholar to scholar. Islam does not have a monopoly of old age science. Islam thrived in that age because islamic society was diverse and allowed free thought. Islam contributed heavily to science, but it also borrowed massively from already established cultures such as the Romans, the Greeks, the Hindus etc. The pioneers of science were NOT mostly and primarily muslims.
@Ali Hamza Khan: It's true. He looks for vague interpretations in the quran and THEN tries to juggle scientific facts so the two look compatible. Whereas, science does the exact opposite. To build a theory, you need established facts, and then you vigorously test your theory in attempts to disprove it. Everything in science is falsifiable. Nothing in religion is.
The opinion on this issue depends on whether you believe in God as the Ultimate truth or not. If yes, than science and religion must agree in every respect. This is an established fact that the pioneers of science were mostly and primarily Muslims because of the knowledge derived from the Holy Quran. If one does not believe in God, he can spend all his life delved into scientific experiments with billions of dollars of investments. It would be a pity though if science goes on to discover God. Science must take religion seriously...
No rational person would agree with you
Exactly. Science and religion should be seperate.
@Kashif Siddiqui: what's wrong with smoking marijuana?
@faraz: Clearly you are both ignorant in terms of religion and science...
Dont think sitting in front of a computer and searching some european scientist site and mentioning their poor studys on ur page u will be great,no way.
WHATEVER QURAN SAYS THAT ALL R 300% TRUE.
dont misled people behind u.give a mail to great brother MR.ZAKIRNAIK U GET ALL THE ANSWERS.
thanks mr hoodbhoy for the words of wisdom, we need more people like you in this sick society . bravo
@faraz: Sadly, dear sir! You learned nothing =s
The very purpose of the holy Quran is to provide guidance to the human to jannat. There are extra advantages like there is shifa in surah fatiha. But most of us go to specialist doctor in case of major disease. So does it mean we are not believing in quran and (naa auzubilah) its wrong that there is shifa in surah e fatiha. No, it certainly does not mean that. The shifa advantage is subsidiary. Some people will certainly get shifa. But it doesn't mean everyone should get from it. The main purpose is to provide guidance to the jannat. Like wise science is not the primary function of the quran. So please don't mix any science with quran. There may be ayat or surah of science but it doesn't mean it is the book of science. So please think positive and a little open. Don't be narrow minded.
Prophet PBUH went to meet Allah Almighty and returned in less than a second. Light takes 8 minutes to travel from sun to earth.....
Does it have to say anything? Just to make a note that each and every muslim school of thought accepts that Prophet PBUH went to meet ALLAH Almighty. The difference is on the issues regarding what exactly happened there, etc etc
@faraz: hahah u r a funny dude
We need more Hoodbhoys in our country.I was already aware of the wrong interpretations made by Dr Naik.Can he justify the existence of seven skies?
Dr hoodbhoy plz start a youtube channel and start making videos, Pakistan must get more out of your genius. With respect.
@maryam ali: I think Mr Kashif Siddiqui's previous post is explained version of your post.
@Khan: So you think Quran is not meant for guidance and truth?
@Muhammad Imran Khan: We should consult Quran rather than asking other common people. Quran invites to observe and think about life, world and universe. Is not it?
@م ع ا: I think your answer is best one. Thumbs up for you
@Hamza Arshad: We should consult Quran directly. It invites us to think and observe this world and universe. What you say? If Islamized books are adhering to Quranic teaching, there should not be anything wrong. Yes if some are not using correct picture, they should be avoided.
@Mj: I think Quran is best to be rational as it encourages to Think and Observe.
@haisum: Then we should tight ourselves to Quran and Sunnah in that case.
@naveed siddique: Blind faith !!!!! But Quraan says go and observe the universe. Moreover it says there are signs for wise. I don't think this is something blind faith. What you say?
I think its enough for the mullahs who are trying to prove theories of physics from the Quran. The Quran is a proven absolute truth. While all these theories changes with time. So they are undermining the truth of Holy Quran(na aauzubillah) and thus endangering their submission to islam.
Religion should never be mixed with politics and science,when it is mixed with politics it leads ti tyrrany and when it is mixed with science all we get is Head of departments doing research on the speed at which so-called heaven is recceding from us........SO LONG FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH. Thanks a lot for this article sir and hope that sane voices like you prevail in this country.
Minor physics correction when you say "Relativity theory starts from the postulate that the speed of light is the absolute maximum that anything can travel at." Special Relativity starts with the axiom that the speed of light is constant, i.e. Maxwell's eqns. are valid, for all inertial observers and then deduces the result that anything with mass can never accelerate to a speed greater than that of light. But tachyons, hypothetically always traveling faster than light, are at least describable within the structure of special relativity even if they don't admit any straightforward physical interpretation, what with imaginary mass and so forth. But apart from that, great article! Thank you.
Carl Sagan was no Prophet. Followers of Carl Sagan are still trying to find 'answers', while Allah gave all final answers to those who would choose to listen to Him and His Last Prophet fifteen hundred years ago.
I am not able to understand why people are treated Quran as text book of physics or any other natural science. Sciences are not topic of Quran but human is Subject. Scientific theory is always changing but human nature is constant .
Interesting article by Hoodhboy.
We need more people like Dr. HoodBhoy. This man deserves our respect and appreciation.
@Mohammed+Abbasi Mashallah that is very good that you are the co-director of this organization. You will then understand that the first word of the Quran revealed is Iqra, or read! Islam advocates gaining knowledge from all sources and to constantly expand the mind...Islam encourages perfection and excellence in all spheres..i.e. if you want to be a physicist, be the best physicist! What I am saying is that the Quran and Sunnah provide guidance in all areas of life as well as science. Quran is not just a holy book, nor islam just a religion. It is a way of life and encompasses all aspects. The Author's arrogance is indicative of the usual diatribes of the humanist apologists...In the Quran there are several scientific indicators as well as practical areas such as laws of inheritance. In fact, when the Prophet's son passed away and there was an eclipse of the sun, it was only the Prophet (SAW) who said that this was a natural phenomenon. Again to the author, Allah created all that is in the heavens and in the earth, including, neutrinos, quarks and hyper speed travel!
The Muslim world continues to live in the dark ages.Superstition, irrationality and dogma still reign supreme. It is voices like Pervez Hoodhboy that are the only beacon of hope.
I think its high time people recognize that religions are man made and that they have done more to divide humanity than to unite it. Hopefully with new discoveries and scientific revelations, the edifice of organized religions built upon a foundation of lies and distorions shall collapse, paving way for an enterprise that is far more fulfilling and awe-inspiring than archaic prmitive and pernicious belief systems
@faraz: Is that a joke? You really believe in all that you have said ?
Sir you are a priceless asset of this country. Barhi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein deedawar paida.
Tribune should columns just based on recent scientific findings present in a manner interesting to the man on the street like the wise professorha done.Thank you sir it was a joy
What a piece of science plus art............... Nations owes your tributes !!
@Khurram: For those who exercise free judgement, I wonder what is the best that they have to show for themselves? All I hear is they raising questions but they have no answers for themselves...
good points. islam is not a religion of science studies. its about moral purification and humanity.
when we vl try to find thse reasoning in religion(Mazhab),honestly we vl b failed badly,i perceive islam infact challenge to religion literally means, Mazhab,no such a word even exist in arabic,whenever God,s messge was tampered & human thoughts were mixed it becomes Mazhab(religion),same has happened with islam bt differene btn others & muslims is that later still posses the original divine msg in its real shape,i.e.Quran which gives direct guidance for social life and say human being capibilities to conquer heaven &earth i.e.whole universe which leads to the notion that Quran is nt against science ratherit instigate humanbeing nt to fell upon my verses deaf and dear,bt to thnk over,i beleive it is the ultimate goal of humanity suggested by God to bring all forces of nature under ur control,whch can only b possible through science,our so called scholar ,s problem is take a declared science experiment & start opening pages of Quran to prove tht it was there before,if so why they nt noticed it before,b/c thy r theoligions nt quranic scholars,Dr sb ,,u r requested to explore urself all these in Quran,u can do that as u r conversant with sci too,it vl be a lovely combination,,,
Great article, thanks Mr Hoodbhoy! Also I agree with @Mohammed+Abbasi - its time all of us stop hiding behind religon and refusing to understand the science of everythign around us. Being a scientist or trying to understand science does not take one any further away from their faith, infact as a scientist myself, i have never appricieated the work of God and nature more than i do now!
@Kashif Siddiqui: I am the Co-Director of one the oldest Muslim group in the world - which was set up with the blessings of the last Khalif. I AGREE with the author, its time we Muslims - especially those from Pakistan ceased making excuses for not-learning and hiding behind the Holy Quran - we need to seek knowledge from wherever we can to develop ourselves and those around us
@faraz: Mashallah, sharing such wisdom!
It amazing to see how many so called 'secularists' are falling over them selves to congratulate and ingratiate themselves to the author. Firstly, whether they acknowledge it or not, God, created all that is in the known and unknown universe, including ALL science! Secondly, Islam does not deny the concept of travel beyond the speed of light...one just has to examine the Israa and Miraaj journey of the Prophet to know that such travel and concepts are possible! and Thirdly, these so called champions of science believe the utter drivel that is the THEORY of evolution as fact, when in fact it is utter nonsense and nothing more than a theory itself... Oh by the way, Carl Sagan, was a known Heavy Marijuana junkie! look it up on wikipedia! "Sagan was a user and advocate of marijuana. Under the pseudonym "Mr. X", he contributed an essay about smoking cannabis to the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered. The essay explained that marijuana use had helped to inspire some of Sagan's works and enhance sensual and intellectual experiences."
If there was any truth in Zakir Naik's assertions, he could have predicted scientific phenomena from his knowledge of Quran, much before any qualified physicist would have done. But, alas! people like him sustain on gullible people desperate for easy answers.
When I think of a scientist on the Indian side (I am a Hindu indian) who can match both the science as well as the rationalism (and may I controversially add - secularism) of Dr Hoodbhoy, I immediately remember Abdul Kalam. And amazingly both are muslims.
We Indian citizens need to be more appreciative of the achievements that Indian muslims have provided to India.
Excellent article sir. Few people in our country think like you and even fewer are brave enough to express it publically. You are brave.
wonderful and interesting to read..thank you sir may we all can understand this true hero among us
It's fascinating the way people like Naik attempt to validate Islamic beliefs using the work of western scientists, claiming that these discoveries had already been mentioned in their holy book. Isn't it ironic how the people whose holy book contains all these clear signs, are always the last ones to discover these scientific phenomena?
Great read. Have only recently discovered Hoodbhoy through Tribune. Its brilliant that you challenge the status quo thinking with properly formed, resonable ideas. Also explains why you have not been given a lot of coverage generally in this great country of ours that shuns all sorts of reflective and constructive debate and thinking.
Keep going, Sir. We need some semblance of sanity here.
I am not student of or Physics but in my daily life, many time I itched by people who always speak that western scientists are doing nothing but proving the Quran true book of Allah and western societies's rule of law habit is what that they stole from Quran.Great Dr. Hoodbhoy, your piece is timely to expose intellectually corrupts people those who are polluting people's mind through fake writing piece and projects. Hoodbhoy kicked out all these anti-knowledge and self righteous stereo-typist.
Can’t blame you for the confusion as similar kind of nonsense in the name of Islam and Science is in wide circulation
@faraz: You sir, are a genius!
a fantastic read by Pervaiz Hoodbhoy but i have only one objection why should religion be mentioned in every chat every talk show and every article please sir next time it would be good to read only about science in your next article.
@Khurram: Please do not under estimate Hindus. There are many who find specific proof of aeroplanes to atomic missiles in various classics like Ramayana to Mahabharata.
A Plus for the scientific Op Ed. Thanks for making sense and trying to put some in our people. Please keep up the good work, Regards, Mirza
Another point Sir, if god is true, then any investigation into truth, the thread should ultimately lead to god. Science (whatever its short comings) being always an honest pursuit of truth, how come science and religion contradict each other?
And what would be the speed of thought, Sir?
Quran does not say, according to my knowledge, that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. every thing whether light or neutrinos are creature of Allah Almighty, Not only they are creature but also their characteristics.
fantastic article ,,,,,,,,,,,demarcation of line between science and religion is actually to denying of material and non material facts prevail in the world,,,
@Falcon, respect should be given if religious people deserve it. If they are sprouting nonsense then they are just causing toxic thought pollution and should be treated as such. The idea of moral and intellectual equivalence between various ideologies is useless and serves no purpose.
Well done Hoodbhoy! I, being an English teacher though a bit interested in physics and psychology, have been telling my students and people around me not to intermingle the Quran and science, as the former dwells upon the metaphysical, the latter counts on the physical. Alas! the syllabus books, even of science, are heavily Islamized.
@faraz: Surely you can't be serious
Beautifully presented. People who like amalgamating science and religion should take a basic course in physics!
very well said it sir.
Great article by our national asset. However, I would like to add some observations. Through out history, religious people in general have treated scientists with contempt wherever popular science differed from their own viewpoint. This was a bad thing to do. But I must also say that the converse of that is also happening today where scientists and liberals look down upon conservatives as less rational beings. Wouldn't it be great if we were to accept and respect each other as alternate strands of reality separated by constraints of bounded rationality that will most likely converge some day???
Atleast value the one scientific person u have!!!
Par excellence no doubt
Einstein's relativity did NOT start with the postulate that the speed of light was the ultimate limit; rather it started with Maxwell's equations which says the speed of light is a constant. That is all observers, even those moving relative to each other must measure the speed to be the same. Before Einstein, they assumed there must be a medium within which the light traveled at a constant speed and the observers could be moving through the medium. Therefore in order to measure the speed of light, the observer had to also know his velocity in the medium. The problem is that that requires a preferred reference frame in the universe; the frame where the observer is stationary in the medium. Einstein's postulate was that there is no 'stationary' frame of reference: No preferred spot in the universe. This combination of the constant speed of light for all observers and not allowing a preferred reference frame gives the special theory of relativity. That was followed by GR which adds the equivalence of gravity and accelerations to an observer. It was all totally brilliant.
Thank you for mentioning Carl Sagan. I only heard about him last year and it makes me sad that I was not exposed to him earlier. After watching Cosmos (highly recommended), I am currently reading his book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I think this book should be a mandatory read in high school, especially in a country such as ours where superstition is rife and very few people are able to think rationally.
A sixer by Hoodbhoy
Theology has always caused religious damages. Back in 13th century it happened to Christianity when humanists tried to explain bible with reason. As time passed people started distancing their selves from religion. If we keep on doing it with Islam it will surely harm faith.
A brilliant piece for an audience, most of which is light years behind Hoodbhoy.
The neutrinos are predicted by Quran in Chapter 8 surah 5, of particles travelling faster than thought. What more proof do you need
Religion and science don't go hand in hand.one emphasises evidence,the other blind faith.
Nowhere in the Quran is it mentioned that angels are made out of light, nor does it mention or imply that angels are limited by the speed of light.
Light and Neutrino can be compared with good and evil. Until the day of judgment, God has allowed Satan to deceive and inflict evil upon mankind. Satan propelled the Neutrino at a speed faster than light only to shatter the beliefs of the faithful. These are mere tricks played by the Satan to draw Muslims away from the true path. It is incumbent upon every Muslim to reject this evil experiment conducted by CERN.
Science is an interesting subject but depends on who is teaching you. The good professor knows it all. He explains such a complicated subject with such clarity but with wit and humour.
Thank you sir.
An Organized Religion has always inhibited man's free judgement and his capacity to distinguish true from false. It is more true in Islamic World.
Keep going, Dr. Hoodbhoy, you are a national treasure!