Last week, a huge scandal rocked the Arab scientific and educational world: a PhD student submitted a thesis declaring Earth to be flat, and the centre of the universe.
The student submitted her thesis after five years of work; it was then sent to two assessors, thus passing the first stage of approvals.
A copy of the thesis was “leaked” to the former president of the Tunisian Astronomical Association, who checked that it was not a hoax and then quickly rang the alarm by posting on Facebook the general conclusions of the thesis, verbatim.
This from a PhD student in science, her supervisor held the Professor rank (the highest in academia), and they were explicitly rejecting major parts of modern science.
They also went further than just submit a thesis, they published a paper (in an obscure journal) presenting “physical and astronomical arguments” for geo-centrism (Earth being central and fixed in the universe).
The paper is available online, and anyone can quickly check that both the paper and the journal have countless grammatical errors and mediocre references
The “results” of this doctoral thesis include: the Earth is flat and young, and it stands immobile at the centre of the universe, which is made of only one galaxy; the sun’s diameter is 1,135km (not 1.4 million km), the moon is 908 km wide, and they lie 687 and 23 times closer to Earth, respectively; there are 11 planets; stars are “limited” in number and have a diameter of 292 km (not millions of km).
How does one explain such stunning ignorance of basic astronomy, rejecting Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Hubble, and everything in science?
In this particular case, I believe this was due to taking the meanings of religious texts literally and blindly, at the cost of rejecting all knowledge that appears to contradict it, no matter how much evidence supports it.
Indeed, we find in the conclusions of the thesis clear indications of this stand and approach, expressions such as: “using physical and religious arguments”, “also proving the world scale of [Noah’s] flood”, “proposed a new kinematic approach that conforms to the verses of the Quran”, “the roles of the stars are: (1) to be ornaments of the sky; (2) to stone the devils; and (3) as signs to guide creatures in the darkness of earth”; and finally “the geo-centric model… accords with the verses of the Quran and the pronouncements of our Prophet.”
What we are failing to clarify and communicate is how to distinguish between scientific knowledge (facts, models, theories, etc.) and religious knowledge (what verses mean and what they intend to teach us).
I believe the Arab-Muslim world will continue to suffer educational and cultural crises, not to mention a total lack of understanding of science, until it properly digests the different methodologies of science and religion, without diminishing the value of each.
Nidhal Guessoum, who wrote this article, is a professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah. You can follow him on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/@NidhalGuessoum.
This is summarized from an article that appeared in Gulf News.To read article in full visit http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/phd-thesis-the-earth-is-flat-1.2009202