Minutes of the meeting between Professor C. K. Raju, Visiting Professor and member of USM Senate, with members of the Philosophy and Civilisation Studies Section, School of Humanities, on Tuesday, 27 September 2011, at 3 pm at the School of Humanities Conference Hall.
Professor C.K. Raju
Dr. Ratna Roshida Ab. Razak (Section Chairperson)
Assoc. Prof. Lok Chong Hoe
Assoc. Prof. Zailan Moris
Dr. Lee Wang Yen
Dr. Suhaila Abdullah
Mr. Peter Gan Chong Beng
1. Dr. Ratna as Section Chairperson introduced section members to Prof. C.K. Raju and thanked him for coming to discuss the course outline and syllabus of the new course HFU 250 - Philosophy of Science. A copy of the course outline was distributed to all present. (CKR forgot to mention that he was editor for philosophy of science for some years for the Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research.)
2. Prof. Raju began the discussion by asking whether Dr. Lee, the new lecturer who is in charge of this course has any knowledge of science, and whether students who register for this course are expected to have a background knowledge in science. Would the lecturer be able to illustrate and contextualise the philosophy taught in the course with reference to concrete examples from science? Would students be able to follow it if that were done? Or would it be a case of the blind leading the blind?
Dr. Lee responded by stating that the students do not need to know any science beyond what they were taught in school, and they can be from any background; i.e. Science or Arts. The other response which emerged, though not explicitly admitted, was that, in fact, the lecturer did not really know anything about current science, and was, for example, blank about the equations of general relativity, and, by inference, quantum mechanics. Therefore, he would be unable to engage with contemporary philosophical issues from those disciplines, which are increasingly important.
Prof. Raju stated that the inability to contextualise the course would make it irrelevant for science students who would be unable to relate what they do in science to what they will be studying in this course. As for non-science students, they would not have any better idea of present-day issues in the philosophy of science, as they appear, for example, in newspapers. Thus, both science and non-science students would not be able to relate the course to their lives.
Dr. Lee maintained that the philosophy of science was different from the teaching of science per se. Prof. Raju argued that while this is true, it is irrelevant. The inability to contextualise should not be defended by confounding disciplines, and also suggesting that philosophy of science can be taught without knowledge of science. This arbitrarily defines the philosophy of science as a discipline that is disjointed from science. Even if that is the Western practice, there is no need to imitate it here. The following analogy may better illustrate the point. Consider for example, a course on the philosophy of religion. This is certainly not the same as religious instruction in any particular religion. Nevertheless, if the course bypasses ALL current religious practices, then of what use is it to anyone? Similarly, a course on philosophy of science which is dichotomous with science is likely to be of little use, except perhaps for purposes of indoctrination which may be considered valuable in the West.
3. The next question Prof. Raju asked was a specific one about the course content. Why are two topics, i.e.laws of nature and causality, so prominently emphasized in the course? Prof. Raju explained that Islam has been specifically faulted on the grounds that both beliefs (in laws of nature and causality) are absent in Islam. This has been done for centuries in the Western philosophical literature, and is emphasized in present-day popular media. Further, it has been claimed (e.g. in recent discussions in the Guardian, London) that Islam's development was arrested just because it lacks belief in causality and laws of nature. Prof. Raju pointed out his recent article on the issue of "Islam and Science", that (a) neither belief is essential to science. And that (b) the belief in laws of nature was irrefutable, hence unscientific, but (c) very much a Christian belief since part of post-Crusade Christian theology of Aquinas. Further (d) Newton named his theory as "laws of motion" and "law of gravitation" because he had the superstitious belief that he had received revelation concerning divine laws. Why, then, should these topics have such prominent coverage in the course? This indicates an anti-Islamic bias in the course. He further asked for a single illustration of any law of nature.
Dr. Lee did not provide any such illustration to explain why the belief in laws of nature was part of science. Instead, he responded that there were various concepts of "laws of nature", and some did not involve belief in a divine entity. A specific reference was made to the Christian philosopher of mind, David Armstrong, with reference to substance and disposition. Prof. Raju pointed out that similar concepts of substance (padarth), disposition (samskara) were used in orthodox Indian philosophy of Nyaya to justify some notion of "law"/custom/ritual (rta) without reference to any divine creator. However, this has been rejected since there are no refutable accounts of "substance", "disposition", and "rta". However, Dr. Lee, seems never to have learnt any Indian philosophy, so this point did not register with him. In any case, he strongly emphasized that the valid source was the Western one, as in Armstrong's adaptation of Indian concepts to fit the purposes of Western philosophy. Prof. Raju referred to his article on "Decolonisation: time for change" pointing out that the Western university was constructed for purposes of the church which has traditionally argued against Islam, so it is inappropriate to rely on Western adaptations.
4. Prof. Raju now asked for a specific instance of a law of nature in science. Dr. Lee persistently evaded this point, never explicitly admitting contemporary science has no laws of nature. Instead he kept repeating his point about alternative concepts of laws of nature, with specific reference to Armstrong (not Indian tradition). Prof. Raju suggested that Dr. Lee should frankly admit there are no laws of nature in science (since he could provide no example from science). An introductory course, if at all it has to deal with laws of nature should first explain how this superstitious belief persisted among philosophers in Europe, how it has an anti-Islamic bias, and how this cannot be justified since irrefutable. Obscure attempts to defend that belief in the tradition of Christian apologetics, should be strongly avoided, and, at worst, should not get more than passing mention, which should also point out the way they appropriate from other traditions. However, Dr. Lee just kept repeating that apologia while avoiding the basic substance of whether the belief in laws of nature as normally understood is relevant to science.
Dr. Lok suggested Newton's law of gravity as an example. Prof. Raju pointed out that this was no law since it is not refutable, and what is refutable was known to have failed for about a century, and Prof. Raju himself had a different formulation of gravity. Prof. Raju further pointed out Newton's "laws of motion" are no laws either, and indicated the treatment in his book Time: Towards a Consistent Theory (which explains Popper's claim that neither Newton's law of motion nor Newton's law of gravity is refutable). Dr. Lee seemed completely unaware of that. Further Prof. Raju explained how historically speaking, this terminology of "laws" arose because Newton thought he was a prophet who had a divine revelation of the laws with which he thought God ruled the world: in his notes he cancelled "hypothesi" and wrote "lex". As the popular saying went in Europe, the Bible is the word of God and nature is the work of God. Prof. Raju suggested that people should read this account in his book Eleven Pictures of Time.
Peter now suggested that students would find it very odd if they are told there are no laws of nature, for they are taught about laws of nature in school. Prof. Raju countered that the terminology of laws of nature in present-day school texts indoctrinates children into a particular way of thinking (which is anti-Islamic, anti-Indian etc.). It would certainly be an extremely good idea if the course tried to un-indoctrinate them. (This would make the course useful to science teachers, for example, who can then teach a better concept of science to the next generation of students. It would also make the course useful to non-science students who would have a better understanding of science, and how it is used for religious propaganda, as in the case of Hawking which Prof. Raju has publicised in his book Eleven Pictures of Time, and recent review of Hawking's work. It would also help students of economics, say, if they understand that there are no "laws" of supply and demand. nor any "law" of Pareto optimiality but that these are models, used in analogy with physics, and imposed on the economy.)
Dr. Lee now proposed the proposition "glass is fragile" as an example of a universal natural law. Prof. Raju pointed out that this is not a universal law, since glass can be fluid at high temperatures (and a tender sapling can become excessively fragile and brittle if dipped in liquid nitrogen).
Dr. Lee now reverted to David Armstrong, and kept repeating that, until the end of the meeting, despite being explicitly told that the point had been repeated over ten times, and further reiteration should be avoided, since it communicated nothing new, and merely amounted to heckling.
5. Prof. Raju suggested an alternative outline for the course. To begin with he suggested that (a) history of science had to be part of the course. For example, students taking the course must be informed of the works of George James, Martin Bernal and that the idea of "classical Greek" tradition is a pure fabrication from Crusading times, and that it has been used by racist philosophers to erase the achievements of black Egypt. In particular students must be informed of the racist beliefs of important Western philosophers like Kant, Hume, Hegel etc.
Dr. Lee and Peter objected that the personal beliefs of the philosophers were not relevant to the validity of their philosophy. Prof. Raju responded that this information ought not to be hidden from students who have a right to be informed. (It would be directly relevant for example to ethics of science if someone tried to use Kantian ethics.) He also explained how the same bad historical premises which led to Kant's racism also led to Kant's mistaken beliefs about logic. (In the preface to his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that logic has changed little since Aristotle, and hence has reached perfection.) Prof. Raju explained that this thesis is further incorrect since the syllogism cannot be historically associated with Aristotle of Stagira, and instead relates to the tradition of Aristotle of Toledo, which comes from Bayt al Hikma, and bears the stamp of the Indian syllogism, different from the Stoic syllogism which prevailed in Alexandria. He referred to his articles on logic and time in the Springer Encyclopedia of Non-Western science.)
A similar issue arose regarding Euclid. Dr. Lee asked for proof that Euclid did not exist. Prof. Raju responded that he had written enough on it, and the onus of proof was on Dr. Lee, and that he should prove it and claim the prize of RM 10,000 that Prof. Raju had offered to this end. Dr. Lee then argued that the non-existence of Euclid made no difference to the Elements. Prof. Raju pointed out, to the contrary, that changing historical beliefs about "Euclid" would also change the philosophical understanding of the Elements as he had explained in his recent lecture and earlier writings. He explained why the belief that the Elements is a work on deductive proof is completely incorrect (it begins with an empirical proof), and why it is better understood as a Neoplatonic religious work, in the Egyptian tradition, due to Hypatia. Those beliefs were cursed by the Christian church, and the philosophers were banned, in the 6th C., as is well known, and as described in Prof. Raju's books and papers. Mathematics was reinterpreted in accordance with post-Crusade Christian theology after the 12th C. by inventing a "Euclid" and attributing those beliefs to him. He further explained how the formalist philosophy of Hilbert and Russell was grounded on that historically false premise that the Elements is about deductive proof, though the actual fact is that every known manuscript of it makes essential and repeated use of empirical methods of proof, which formalists like Russell simply dismissed as a "tissue of nonsense". Prof. Raju pointed to his book on Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, which examines this in detail.
Prof. Raju explained that the same issue arose in the case of calculus: changing its history also changed its philosophy. He gave references to how calculus had been taught with this new philosophy of mathematics in USM, and how the results of that experiment had been published (in an ISI journal!). He further pointed out the concluding remarks of those papers that teaching mathematics with a religiously biased philosophy was unconstitutional.
Peter pointed out that Aristotle was taken into account by Arabic thinkers. Prof. Raju clarified that Arabic thinkers were mostly concerned with the "theology of Aristotle". Western philosophers today reject that claim on historical grounds and say that that "theology of Aristotle" actually relates to the works of Plotinus and Proclus, wrongly attributed to Aristotle. Prof. Raju further clarified that those works, called "Neoplatonism", derive, like Pythagoreanism, from Egypt.
Peter pointed out that a course on history and philosophy of science was being taught in the School of Education in USM, and there was an administrative objection to introducing a similar course in Philosophy and Civilisation Studies Section. The course outline for the course PLG 201 - History and Philosophy of Science was shown. Prof. Raju said the administrative question of division of labour could be postponed; the meeting should focus on pedagogical issues, and first try to devise the most desirable syllabus, and only then look at the administrative issues. He also said the other course was also in need of modification, since it used the stock Western history of science. However, he pointed out that was a separate issue.
Prof. Raju suggested that it was not enough to make a mere tokenist concession to non-Western viewpoints as was done in the existing syllabus, which idiosyncratically cited one reference to one Indian and one Chinese source, without ensuring that they are representative. (The Indian reference is not even cited correctly, since that book is edited by two persons both called P. K. Sen, one dead, but the citation refers to only one P. K. Sen, presumably imagining that the reference to two P. K. Sen's is a typo. This suggests that the person who put together the reference list has not even seen the work cited. If this is denied by quibbles---that the typo was in the syllabus---Prof. Raju would be happy to verify the quibble by asking searching questions about his article on Indian views on kala and dik---Time and Space---which is included in that work cited.) Further, this is mere ethnic tokenism, since a mere Indian or Chinese name is no guarantee that the work authentically represents the tradition (and barring some articles like Prof. Raju's, many other articles in the cited Indian work are of inferior standard due to excessive reliance on Western tradition).
The right way, Prof. Raju argued is as follows. First one must construct an alternative universal account, different from the chauvinistic "we did it all" Western account, and THEN localise it to the Malaysian context. This alternative universality should avoid giving undue importance to highly controversial historical claims about classical Greek origins of science and its philosophy. It should avoid the complete erasure of Africa reflected in the existing course outline. Also it should have some respect for scale, and not indiscriminately lump more than 40% of the world population in India and China and in-between into one indiscriminate "Asian" category.
Dr. Lee said that there was no reference to proportions. (Why should the natural meaning be allowed to be misleading in a syllabus?) However, he admitted he had not read any African philosophers. Prof. Raju also asked whether Dr. Lee was aware of the philosophy of Nagarjuna, and Lee responded that he had only heard the name but had not read it and agreed he could not possibly teach it. To judge by the sample at the meeting, it may well turn out that over 90% of the course would, in practice, focus on some worthless squabbles by Western philosophers, like Armstrong, aiming to defend Western superstitions, such as the quibble that the phrase "laws of nature" can be vaguely reinterpreted in some way so as to make sense. If a survey of scientists is conducted, most would have heard of Neil Armstrong, the astronaut, not even 1% of them would have heard of David Armstrong. The work has no known use in science. Why should philosophy of science be so disconnected from the practice of science? Thus, there is a serious danger the course would turn into an apologia for discarded Western beliefs since those are the only beliefs that Dr. Lee has studied. This disconnection from both science and the serious philosophy of science would be a grave disservice to students in this university and country.
Prof. Raju suggested that (c) the syllabus must be localised appropriately to take cognizance of local developments in philosophy of science which are invariably erased by Westerners, or re-routed through them. He explained that he had taught mathematics with a different philosophy last year, at USM, and this must be included in the syllabus, together with the point made by Syed Naquib al Attas that the postulates of the continuum were not agreeable to Islam. Dr. Lee claimed that Prof. Raju had made some elementary mistakes in statements about 2+2=4 on his website. He persisted in this claim despite being told not to make wild insinuations. This shows the kind of elementary confusion that can arise if one tries to teach philosophy of mathematics (formalism) without knowing the math itself of Peano's axioms, set theory etc. Without knowledge of math, Dr. Lee would clearly not be able to engage with Prof. Raju's criticism of limits and set theory in present-day formalism, and would not be able to explain what it the point of view tried out in USM itself. (Exactly the same thing can be expected in the philosophy of science, and causality.) Understanding the philosophy of science as a mere recitation of some points written by Westerners is clearly hazardous.
At some stage there was some reference to the Stalnaker Lewis debate on counterfactuals. Prof. Raju pointed out that this was included in his survey of Western views of time, and both views were discussed and rejected in the context of his second interpretation of quantum mechanics. However, the matter could not be discussed further, since Dr. Lee does not seem to know anything about serious quantum mechanics and instead went right back to discussing Armstrong's quibbles about natural laws!
Prof. Raju suggested that he would prepare a draft outline of an alternative syllabus for the philosophy of science course.
As there were no more matters of substance raised in the discussion, Dr. Zailan thanked Prof. Raju for generously sharing his time and knowledge with the Section members and remarked that as a senior faculty and in the many years she has been in USM, she has not seen a Visiting Professor and an accomplished scholar such as Prof. Raju, be shown such disrespect by USM academics, especially by a new lecturer such as Dr. Lee who has joined USM less than a year. Arguing relentlessly with an invited speaker, constantly interrupting him while he is speaking and talking over him are completely unacceptable behaviour and unbecoming of a respectable academic forum or meeting. At this point Peter interrupted Dr. Zailan and said that he hoped she is speaking on behalf of herself and not USM as he does not share her view. Dr. Zailan continued with her closing remarks and advised Dr. Lee to practise humility and to open his mind, ears and heart to learn from Prof. Raju who has done extensive works in philosophy of science and has many publications to his name, to read his works and should he have questions, critical comments and disagreements to meet with Prof. Raju to discuss and clarify matters. And finally not to discredit a scholar before one has even read his works thoroughly, such as that displayed in today's discussion.
Meeting adjourned at 4.40 pm.