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Book Review
Which Science? What Future?


The Quran and Future of Science
by M. Zaki Kirmani
Global Vision Rs 400/200 pp. h/b

By writing books like this we ensure that we remain cocooned in our own little world of fantasies

This book shares a crucial feature with the illegal activity of what is called “unethical advertising": It does not deliver what it promises. After reading the title one is entrapped. One goes on reading to find out what is “the future of science,” and how the Holy Qur’an is going to influence it. One goes on reading till the end, only to find that it has nothing to offer for “the future of science”.

Murli Manohar Joshi would be happy to read it, because he will find the resonance of his own ideas in it. The writer here tries to transcend the limited brief of science to explore only what is explorable. Jettisoning science’s modest and practical framework of cause and effect, and dependence on verifiable data and repeatable experience, the author recklessly tries to expand its scope to cover “Sufi and Bhakti” experience, and things like moral values, which can shift from society to society, religion to religion and time to time.

In short, Kirmani tries to quantify the unquantifiable, and ends up looking like Don Quixote ferociously tilting at the scientific windmill. In fact, the very stance of the book, from cover to cover, is anti-scientific and anti-technological. The expression he uses for science and technology, “S&T”, comes in every time as a marker of negativity in the discourse. He seems to have a preference for the medieval European folly of debating “how many angels can stand on the point of a needle.”

He seems to blame science for something which it never promised in the first place—science never engaged itself in the self-defeating debate that kept Europe busy while Islam was rising. Now that the West is busy doing more useful things we are busy recycling the “how many angels…” debate.

Anybody who thinks that any time in foreseeable future science will get into determining things like the “will of God” is fooling only himself. A future like that will never come.

Arthur Koestler was a serious thinker on science and its methodologies and its epistemology. Like every human being he was curious about things science lets alone—like what happens to our “soul” after death, for instance. Koestler tried hard to study physics, mathematics, ontology and religion to come to an enlightened conclusion. It may not be the place to discuss some of his findings, but suffice it to say that he was far more sincere in his pursuit than the present author. At least he never resorted to unethical advertising. 

Over the years this reviewer has been wondering why it is that over the last 200 years we, the Muslim Ummah, have not produced a CV Raman whose Raman Effect is part of physics curriculum worldwide, or a Jagdish Chandra Bose (Bose-Einstein condensate), or the other Chandra Shekhar (CV’s nephew), who enlightened us on Black Holes, or a Hargobind Khurana, who gave us a conducted tour of the inner world of genes, the building bloc of life—RNA and DNA. Now, after reading this book, we know who has lost us all the Nobels in science.

Finally, one has to be very clear about it: knowledge of science and the advancement of scientific knowledge comes from scientific pursuit only, not from ranting about alternative epistemologies. The taste of pudding lies in the eating. Tell us of one single Raman, Bose, Chandra Shekhar or Khurana, who did it through any other means except the old, maligned, unpretentious, modest Cartesian epistemology.

Science has better be universal, not culture-specific (Fritjitof Capara’s penchant for zen and Peat’s gobbledygook are mentioned as possible models by Kirmani) as the book suggests. By the time we traverse the ground between Kirmani’s preferred modes of comprehending truth—sufism, Bhakti, zen, sorcery — we realise we have gone too far away from what the title suggests— “The Quran and the Future of Science.” The Quran does not admit of such a multiplicity of truths as he himself declares. 

Some peripheral value might still have been retained if this book did not promise to talk about the “future of science,” and limited itself to a discussion of the philosophy of science. By going in for a pretentious title, it has forfeited whatever little ground it had.

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