Mecca lecca no

Mecca lecca no

Mecca lecca no

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
April 24 2008 11:22 AM

Mecca lecca no

Fundamentalism, in any flavor, really plays havoc with reality.

The conduit this time is the BBC news, which posted this confused article about Muslims (specifically, the cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy) wanting Mecca's time zone to be used as the world's standard, replacing Greenwich.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The article is pretty weird, because it focused on the ridiculous claims by fundamentalist Muslims* but doesn't say much in the way of rebutting any of them. For example, one claim listed in the article is that Mecca is the center of the Earth. I guess it must get hot there, what with all that ionized iron and magma surrounding it for thousands of kilometers!

Or do they think the Earth is flat? Well, then all arguments are off... though I suppose they'd still have to prove that Mecca is near the center of the Earth's disk. "Because I said so" isn't even a good excuse for a parent to use to a four year old, let alone be the basis of rewriting all of Earth's time zones.

My favorite quotation in the article is this one:

One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.

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That's a good trick! How does a city align itself to anything? Maybe the civil borders can be north/south, but that's arbitrary. Maybe some buildings do too, but a whole city?

And magnetic north? Perhaps the article author misquoted the geologist, or maybe it was in fact what the geologist said... but the magnetic poles of the Earth wander around over the surface of the planet. Does Mecca undergo changes in its orientation to match?

The article author then really steps in it with this closing paragraph:

But the movement is not without its critics, who say that the notion that modern science was revealed in the Koran confuses spiritual truth, which is constant, and empirical truth, which depends on the state of science at any given point in time.

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That makes it sound like science is a dithering, undecided venture with no claim to reality, while Islam is rock steady. That's pretty disingenuous. Science is a path from ignorance to knowledge which uses evidence and observation to understand the real, objective world. It changes as ideas get better, and ever-approaches truth. Denying reality when it goes against your scripture is not a good way to understand the real world. The phrasing of that article isn't all that strong either way, but that in and of itself is a miscarriage of justice. Why not call things as they are? Why feel the need to equivocate?

I don't feel that need at all.

Now, despite the claims of some commenters here, I don't want to abolish religion, and of course it has a significant place in human discourse. But when it overlaps into scientific definitions, there is almost always going to be trouble. In this case, I don't think much will come of it: literal Koranists can define their time zones any way they want, but good luck to them in convincing anyone else of it. Americans still haven't even gone metric after a zillion years of trying, and time zones are far worse to change. Trust me: I got jet lag just having to think about debunking nonsense like this.


*Yes, I know that the term fundamentalist has a specific meaning for Christians, but the word has taken on the popular definition of meaning anyone who uses holy writing as literal truth. Get over it.