I never thought this would happen, but hold on to your hats, I’m about to defend Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins, the atheist provocateur, has stirred up a twit-storm among his followers and the rest of the Huffing-and-Puffington Post crowd after he Tweeted this about Islam’s lack of scientific achievement:
“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
Dawkins immediately was immediately flogged by his follower twits, who accused him of bigotry. Dawkins may be many things — ignorant, uninformed, inclined to pose as an expert on topics he really hasn’t studied — but I never figured “bigot” to be among them.
His followers, on the other hand, many of them are dyed-in-the-wool anti-Christian or anti-Semitic bigots who accept any fool thing Dawkins says about biblical religion as truth. The knee-jerk defense of Islam is part of the liberal package most of his acolytes bring with them.
The HuffPo opined, “The statement appeared to say, ‘Muslims as a group haven’t achieved anything worthwhile since the Middle Ages.'”
I’d say that’s a fair summation of what Dawkins said, and it also happens to be a solid observation.
As the twitnado continued, Dawkins fired a few messages back, at one point saying, “Interesting concept: a simple statement of undeniable FACT can be offensive. Other examples where facts should be hidden because offensive?”
I’ve got a couple, Richard: How about the FACT that atheism is a religion, not a “nonreligion,” which is a logical impossibility? Or the FACT that evolution is not a fact and barely even science? But I digress. …
If you listen to liberals natter on about Islam, they’ll tell you all about how enlightened Islam is and how its “Golden Age” preserved science, mathematics and philosophy for Europe, which just fell all the way back to Neanderthal lifestyles during the Middle Ages.
If you let Muslim apologists flap their gums long enough, they’ll even tell you how Islam invented the scientific method, which is to be found in the pages of the Quran, between the parts about stepping on infidels’ necks and chopping off their heads.
The truth is that Islam’s “Golden Age” largely occurred because of Muslims’ historic bloodlust. Much of the knowledge attributed to Muslim scholars actually came from non-Muslims who had been conquered.
During its greatest expansionist phase, Islam paid little attention to the doings of the foreign scholars it had captured and thus some scientific or mathematical advances were made. But as Islam became more settled and madrasas were established to bring all learning under the control of religious leaders, the landscape for science changed.
Only those sciences that furthered Islam — such as astronomy, medicine or math — were allowed. Natural sciences and philosophy had to go underground as religious leaders ruthlessly searched out and punished apostates.
There was also a prevailing Muslim attitude that divided the learned from the ignorant. Scholars were of the opinion that the masses were incapable of grasping lofty concepts, and that to openly question the Quran or Hadith was to violate Holy Law. This effectively blocked the spirit of free scientific inquiry.
In the Christian world, the concept of the priesthood of every believer meant that everyone had the potential to become educated, a notion that was greatly aided by the invention of the printing press. Islam banned the printing press until the 19th century.
Thus, despite an initial impetus toward scientific inquiry, the nature of Islam has overwhelmingly been to restrict knowledge to that which is useful in a religious context.
It has often been noted that the Platonic and biblical views that have shaped the West were crucial to scientific development as they posit a rational, knowable universe created by a rational God, thus making scientific inquiry feasible and potentially fruitful. The Catholic Church during the Renaissance became a great patron of all scholarly and scientific inquiry.
In Islam, however, Allah is anything but constant and rational, resulting in what Toby Huff, in his book on the rise of modern science, termed Islamic occasionalism, “a view which denied that the natural order was a rational order governed solely by laws of nature. The orthodox Ash’arite position was rather that the world was a continuous flux of moments, recreated each instant, but with a habitual pattern of continuity, knowledge of which was implanted in the believers’ mind by God.”
Islam’s method of teaching, one-on-one, even discouraged the development of guilds, which in the West were crucial in allowing craftsmen and scholars to come together and discuss ideas in a neutral setting.
So Dawkins was correct this time, though that did nothing to blunt his usually adoring fans’ criticisms. HuffPo went on pretending to be an objective observer while backhandedly scolding the wayward professor:
“The reactions ranged from outraged to bemused, as many pointed out the dubious science behind the apparently irrelevant comparison, as Trinity College has won so many Nobel Prizes that many groups would fall short when compared to their record, including all countries except the U.S.A., Britain, Germany, and France. But what’s the point of pointing that out?”
Hey Huffy, do you realize you just named four of the most Christian-influenced nations in the world? And Trinity College? “Trinity” isn’t a reference to the chick in “Matrix.”
Some of Dawkins’ followers even accused him of being willfully provocative. … Ya think?
The Huffy-Puffy Post was so beside itself that it even accused Dawkins of once, gasp, comparing Islam with Nazism.
I don’t know if he did, but it would be a perfectly reasonable comparison to make since the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood was a huge fan of Adolf Hitler’s whose adoring letters eventually persuaded the Nazis to train Brotherhood agents as a volunteer militia in the Middle East during World War II.
Dawkins got the last word in, though, when he posted a longer response to his critics that pointed out that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, many of whom boast about the wonderfulness of Islamic science.
“Putting these two claims together,” Dawkins wrote, “you almost can’t help wondering something like this: ‘If you are so numerous, and if your science is so great, shouldn’t you be able to point to some pretty spectacular achievements emanating from among those vast numbers? If you can’t today but once could, what has gone wrong for the past 500 years?'”
What’s gone wrong is that — as opposed to the fantasized conflict between science and Judeo-Christianity — in the case of Islam, you really are discussing a religion with a genuine aversion to science and that genuinely poses a threat to civilization.
If only Dawkins could learn to tell the difference.