Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dr. Salman Hameed of Hampshire College visits Amherst Woman’s Club

How the study of two sciences allowed Dr. Hameed to uncover answers to questions which have been asked for centuries
Steven Brewer/Flickr (2018)

On Oct. 19, Dr. Salman Hameed, professor of integrated sciences and humanities at Hampshire College, discussed the study of astronomy, evolution and their connection to religion at the Amherst Woman’s Club.

Hameed grew up in Pakistan where he completed his early education. He first became interested with the study of astronomy in 1984 when he watched a video in his science class. “My jaw dropped and I distinctly remember that feeling and I was like, you can do that for a living?” recalled Hameed.

Hameed’s fascination with science communication, specifically his study involving individual theories on evolution, posed many questions for the science community and the public. The Amherst Women’s Club discussed concerns of how scientific information is displayed and why different communities accept or do not accept evolution.

The discussion started off with recognizing the image of the star M16, which was taken in 1995 and called Pillars of Creation by the public. The star resembled a set of pillars that caused many people who first saw the image to see it as religious symbolism and a potential location of heaven.

Hameed discussed how media can quickly transform public opinion about many scientific discoveries. “We have to be cautious in how we communicate science, and Pillars of Creation is just one example,” said Hameed.

An audience member then asked, “Why was this specific star creation named Pillars of Creation and why use this flashy language?”

Hameed asserted that the media uses this type of language to connect to the public. The public is more likely to want to be involved with a scientific discovery that has an engaging name that excites its audience.

“You have to be careful about this language,” said Hameed. To give a star this name gives way to the idea that “it may be the end of the inquiry” and there’s no more need for discovery when that is not necessarily the case.

The conversation shifted to the topic of how the theory of evolution is received within different communities, specifically in the Islamic community. Hameed explained a study he ran where he asked questions leading up to a final question, “do you accept evolution?”

“Some of the answers that I find fascinating were, I accept it in the hospital, but I reject it when I go home” Hameed said. This is because “this question about evolution is also tied to the question of space or place.”

He then discussed how these answers varied in places such as England, Turkey and Malaysia. Unlike the consensus from practicing Muslims in Malaysia that evolutionary beliefs are against the religion, “in Turkey the issue of evolution is tied to politics.” He also said this was the case in England, where far right groups use differing beliefs around evolution to discriminate against Muslim immigrants.

Hameed’s article published in The Guardian, “Muslim thought on evolution takes a step forward,” discusses the question “can Muslims reconcile human evolution with their faith?” It also speaks on a specific instance of discrimination in London against an Imam of an East London mosque, Usama Hasan. The article writes that he “received a death threat for arguing in support of human evolution.”

Interviewer Janelle Walton asked, “How do you keep these conversations respectful?”

Dr. Hameed responded, “We should not compare intelligence with what somebody believes.”

By the end of the conversation, he made a final statement regarding the communication of scientific materials to students.

“The bigger challenge is the right information. and giving people the ability to give people what is right and what is credible.”

Eva Maniatty can be reached at [email protected]

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • R

    RJul 1, 2023 at 5:05 pm

    This has been a very interesting article and has opened new doors for me to write about.
    Thank you for sharing!!!