Arab conspiracy theories and distrust of science

From the flat earth theory, to meteorites serving as God’s punishment for demons, Imad Musa discusses some of the conspiracies that have been developed and justified through Islamic theology and how this is linked to distrust of authority.

Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously unseen regions of star birth for the first time. (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI via Getty Images)

NASA is the keyword, a rather negative go-to cliché to discredit every new astronomical discovery. If it’s NASA, it’s a ruse, a front for a Masonic conspiracy to reshape the world and destroy religion.

This is the argument adopted by an increasingly visible group of Arab/Muslim conspiracy theorists. You see them on Arab astronomy forums and social media groups, as well as in the comment sections of famous Arabic news networks.

While their demographics stretch from the Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf, Moroccan commentators seem to dominate the conspiracy theory line, and are the most vocal in using religion and outlandish interpretations of the Koran to refute scientific facts.

The repeated claim that the Quran is deceiving the world is that the earth is flat and NASA is round.

”Muslim/Arab flat-earthers ignore the long and rich legacy of Islamic scientific empiricism, especially in astronomy. As early as the 9th century, many Muslim scholars, building on ancient Greek scripts, established that the earth was a sphere. They also used Scripture, relying on its multi-layered and multi-layered content, to substantiate their conclusions.”

A more flamboyant claim, space is just a dome and the stars are just ornaments. Meteors, they say, are God’s way of punishing demons who try to penetrate the Earth’s dome and ascend to heaven.

Then… James Webb’s pictures came out, encouraging a whole new level of astronomy frivolity that made ancient mythology look like a scientifically sound endeavor.

This was worsened by images of the web published near the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing; It only proved skepticism and denialism. After all, conspiracies are never random and rely on algorithmic and numerical patterns.

Flat-Earth and other related conspiracy theories are not new or limited to certain ethnic or religious groups. Modern flat-earth claims only developed into an organized cult in 1956 when a British conspiracy theorist, Samuel Shenton, founded the International Flat Earth Research Society.

Shenton replaced empiricism and rationalism, the product of more than 2,000 years of cumulative scientific discoveries, with the so-called “zetic method” of the 19th century, developed by flat-earthers, and relying only on sensory observation and intuition.

Shenton’s cosmology was based in part on science his The Genesis interpretation, that the Earth was a flat disk surrounded by an impenetrable wall of ice (now they claim is protected by NASA to prevent humans from falling off the edge).

This effectively means that space is an illusion and gravity does not exist, and it essentially betrays the images of the web. The fact that $10 billion has been poured into this project and nearly 10,000 experts have worked on it confirms, not refutes, NASA’s deep investment in shaping our perception of reality.

Arab and Muslim flat-earthers share almost identically, other flat-earthers “universally” different beliefs in flat-earthers. But they differ in applying an exaggerated religious interpretation to their beliefs. They have turned the Qur’an into a book of physical science, and used it to refute any scientific facts that do not completely fit literally and conceptually (as they see it) with the classical description of natural phenomena.

The problem with this view is that it gives an absurd theory a sacred, transcendental dimension, making disbelief in it an act. disbelief, apostasy. Almost Daesh-like thinking, but in science.

Worse still, Muslim/Arab flat-earthers have inadvertently trampled on the long and rich legacy of Islamic scientific empiricism, particularly in astronomy. As early as the 9th century, many Muslim scholars, building on ancient Greek scripts, established that the earth was a sphere. They also used Scripture, relying on its multi-layered and multi-layered content, to substantiate their conclusions.

Now that we have physically stepped out of our world and observed it from the outside, no scientific, religious, or observational beliefs matter. After all, proof is as real as breathing, or is it?

Despite all the evidence, trying to reason with flat-earthers, especially religion-oriented ones, using standard scientific methods is still deeply frustrating. Scientific denialism has less to do with empirical evidence and more to do with distrust of authority and cognitive bias.

Like climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, the flat-earth standard is a conspiracy theory driven by a general distrust of institutions. Disenchanted with political reality, conspiracy theorists view the world through pessimistic filters, where all authority figures and institutions, including the scientific community and especially NASA, exist only to exploit them. Socially at least, Kelly Weill, in his book Of the Ages, makes a strong case that believing the Earth is flat has – like other conspiracy theories – sent many believers down a rabbit hole of social isolation and broken family ties.

For the same reason, people are willing to believe in ideas that do not match the dominant cultural narrative, which are seen as shadows of the “unseen forces at work”, namely, the government and its arms such as the media and educational institutions. system.

Thanks to social media and YouTube, the overexposure to such ideas creates a sense of community among conspiracy theorists; As such, it creates an illusion of consent and legitimacy.

What’s more, social network recommendation algorithms are known to drive people with some interest in fringe beliefs to more like-minded individuals and groups; As such, increasing their belief system and increasing their numbers and visibility online.

This is certainly true of Arabs whose distrust of often autocratic authorities is high. The notion that corrupt governments are contrary to the correct religious practices of the people is emphasized.

But not all flat-landers are less educated or easily influenced. Know enough physics to throw around some terminology and scientific facts, providing the illusion of flow.

When faced with fallacies and inconsistencies in their reasoning, they still maintain their beliefs and become overly rationalistic, often focusing on the person challenging their beliefs, a classic ad hominem.

Today is one month @NASAWebThe first picture revealed! 🥳

At right is an infrared observatory image, showing the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.

Hubble’s view on the left shows the complementary nature of telescopes over a wide range of wavelengths! pic.twitter.com/tOHmklQgaM

— Hubble (@NASAHubble) August 11, 2022

This is the result of a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people with minimal knowledge of a subject tend to overestimate their cognitive abilities. Inevitably, this produces, and increases, an underestimation of one’s own ignorance. It is a case of ignorance that fails to recognize itself.

English philosopher Bertrand Russell once described this cognitive paradox as the world’s entire problem, “…where fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise men are so full of doubt.”

For Arab conspiracy theorists who use scriptures as the highest scientific authority, ignorance acquires divine value and is sanctified.

Some say that flat-ethers are a dangerous fringe cult like anti-vaxxers who threaten public health. Others see them as a harmless minority that we should ignore.

What is certain, however, is that it is probably a failed attempt to stop most of them. Engaging them only reinforces their sense of marginalization and victimization; That is, it confirms their bias. Also, don’t suggest they sleepwalk and then take sleeping pills to avoid falling flat-earther. Many of them do not believe in medicine.

Above all, whatever you do, don’t vent your frustration like Buzz Aldrin punched a conspiracy theorist who verbally abused him, saying the moon landing was faked.

Dr Imad Musa is a researcher and author specializing in Palestinian/Israeli politics and political psychology.

Follow him on Twitter: @ Emperor

Have questions or comments? Email us at: [email protected]

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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