Panel 1: Science Policy and Education: Abstracts

Prof. Saouma BouJaoude, Director, Center for Teaching & Learning, American University of Beirut: Educational Implications of Cross-cultural Studies on the Relationships between Conceptions of the Theory of Evolution and Religious Affiliation

The purpose of this presentation was to discuss the educational implication of the results of a number of studies conducted in Lebanon and Egypt on conceptions of the theory of evolution by Christian and Muslim (Sunni, Shiites, and Druze) high school and university students, biology teachers, and university biology professors. Results showed that participants in the studies had varied conceptions that were in most situations related to religious affiliation in general and religiosity more specifically. Moreover, these results showed that a variety of factors influenced participants’ conceptions. Implications of these results as to what and how the theory of evolution can be taught were being discussed.

 

Prof. Nelofer Halai, Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development, Karachi: Scientific Reasoning and Science Teaching in the Classroom

The science content and method class for primary in-service science teachers was in full swing. The discussion at hand was living things and their classification. I asked teachers to classify ordinary things into two categories: Plants and Animals. Given on the flashcards were a few images such as mosquito, grass, cow, spider, a man, mango tree, burning fire, a flowing stream etc. The purpose was to bring into discussion what children think about these things by sharing some research-based findings. The teachers classified them into appropriate categories except the picture of the fire and the stream. The picture of man was put in the section of animals. One of the students stood up and said that she disagreed with the classification. The Holy Quran had called human beings “Ashraf-ul-Makhlooqat” and here in this class we had shown disrespect to Islam by classifying Man as an animal. A couple of more voices were raised in her favor. Another student responded to this by raising a counter question and said, “Should we then classify Man as plant?” This caused a lot of mirth in the class but angered the first student even more. She said that Man should not have been a part of this classification. And she added that according to her religious leader, all knowledge flowed from the Quran and that the Holy Book had never referred to Man as an animal. Some other students added that no one was stopping them from considering Man to be “Ashraf-ul-Makhlokat” but science categorizes Man as an animal/mammal and rightfully so. The girl responded that Man is not an animal! Teaching science in the university classroom in the context of Pakistan almost always brings up the topic of religion. A majority of the students use their understanding of religion as a yardstick to check the authenticity of science. The faculty has to mediate his/her way through this minefield very carefully as the students expect that the two ways of thinking should overlap as the Quran is the source of all knowledge. Being Muslims almost all of them believe that, for instance, plants and animals are made by God; but they have difficulty in understanding that their categorization is not God-given but a human construct. This fine difference is difficult for teachers to grasp in the science class. This situation and many others lead to interesting dynamics in the classroom and have implications for science teaching in contemporary Islamic society which will be discussed in the workshop.

 

Prof. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, Associate Dean for Research & Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Integration, Intersection, Disjunction: Toward an Empirical Research Programme on the Question(s) of Islam and Science

The McGill Centre for Islam and Science, rightly so, highlights the fact that “one of the most vexing problems in the Islamic world . . . [is] the lack of scientific productivity.” Attempts to explain and/or address this disconcerting state of affairs have spanned the gamut: On the one hand, some adopt a ‘negative heuristic’ to highlight significant and intractable impediments to scientific progress in Islamic nations or nations where Islam is the dominant religion. These explanations, as the Centre points out, place the blame with history and others (e.g., colonialism) or with the nature of dominant political and policy environments in Islamic nations, and even point to possible incommensurabilities between Islamic worldview(s) and culture(s) and the enterprise of science. On the other hand, some approaches to address the lack of scientific progress adopt a ‘positive heuristic’ leveraging this very history of science and drawing on scholarship in fields ranging from area studies, to history, education, and political science to introduce learners and scientists at all levels to opportunities and possible synergies created at the interface of science and Islam. At issue here is the fact that it is possible —given the very nature of what probably is pre-paradigmatic scientific inquiry, for proponents of either approach (i.e., negative and positive) to claim theirs as ‘scientific,’ and/or point to underlying ideological agendas that motivate the work and conclusions of the other approach. This talk attempts to imagine the outlines of an empirical research programme (albeit necessarily coupled with underlying assumptions, methodological imperatives, etc.) that could to start to furnish empirically based answers to understand, and guidance to ameliorate and possibly reverse, this lack of scientific progress and productivity.