Religion vs Science

The United States is not the only country struggling with whether fundamentalists should be able to prevent publication of scientific discussions, with whether religion is the enemy of science. The July 21 Science looks at Picking a Path Among the Fatwas (AAAS membership needed):

Scientists in Iran find themselves challenged by true believers; some are trying to negotiate a peaceful compromise.

On one hand, a prominent Iranian sociologist, Ramin Jahanbegloo, was arrested for “contacts with foreigners” on his way to a Belgian conference, and was held without legal counsel in a prison notorious for torture. [He was released August 30 after a videotaped confession. There are several sites with more information, such as this Canadian one and this one from his colleagues at the University of Toronto.]

How should evolution be presented? Teheran’s Museum of Natural History begins with several glass cases showing traditional scientific evidence, a diorama depicting traditional scientific understanding, and one last display case with a couple of citations from the Koran and a poster from the Creation Evidence Museum in Texas.

On the other hand,

Iran is investing heavily in science now, after decades of neglect (Science, 16 September 2005, p. 1802). Even the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa, or edict, calling on researchers to secure Iran’s position as the “leader in science” in the Middle East over the next 20 years.

According to the chancellor of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Bagher Larijani, brother of Iran’s nuclear negotiator,

“[Religious constraints are] a problem,” he says. “We scientists must approach [the religious leaders] very quietly and humbly to explain ourselves.” Larijani, an endocrinologist and Iran’s chief medical and research ethicist, says that such dialogues have already encouraged Iran to embrace research tools banned in other Muslim countries, including human embryonic stem cells and transgenic plants and animals. To meet Iran’s 20-year science goal, he says, scientific and religious experts must come together to work out their differences. Or, as Shiva Khalili, a psychologist at the National Research Center of Medical Sciences in Tehran puts it, “science and Islam must be harmonized.”

So even though constraints and self-censorship are problems (though not all Irani scientists agree), Iran is working on science questions that the current United States government finds exception to. [To be fair, much of the current difficulties experienced by American scientists are expected to disappear by January 20, 2009, or earlier.]

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