I’ve been wanting to be more positive lately, but it seems I’m not allowed to be.
Dawkins got into a bit of a jam this week criticising Islam. Well, not so much of a jam per se as being dogpiled by a large number of people who should have known better. For some reason people who are happy to go along when it’s Christianity being criticised get nervous when Islam is the target – as it has been more and more lately. This seems… peculiar given the unreformed nature of Islam and its many, many difficulties – not just in the text itself but in the majority interpretation of it.
Why the peculiar reaction? Well, apparently people mistake religion for race and racism makes people – justifiably – nervous. It’s not justifiable when we’re not actually talking about race though. Dawkins, and most of the rest of us, seem to understand this better than the people claiming racism and making the – racist – assumption that Islam is only followed by one type of brown person rather than a spectrum. Clutching one’s pearls over criticism of Islam in this way just seems silly and it would be just as silly to accuse criticism of Christianity as racism. About the only case in which this criticism might be mildly justified would be in Judaism, where race and faith overlap perhaps the greatest amount. Even so though, criticising the faith and its adherents – judging people on what they believe and do – is not the same as writing them off on the basis of very slight differences in genetics.
Dawkins’ criticism was along the lines that, despite being numerous (and supposedly more and more numerous) Islamic people have not had particular success in the field of scientific advancement since Imam Hamid Al-Ghazali fucked things up royally in the 11th-12th centuries. Up until that point Islam had been (comparatively) liberal and open to having people of other faiths (or none) around and the result of this multiculturalism and openness was a period of rapid scientific advancement, particularly in astronomy and the beginnings of chemistry. A version of the scientific method was laid down in the same period. Then Al-Ghazali decided that mathematics and trying to understand the works of Allah was ‘evil’ and the whole enterprise was fucked from there on out.
The pattern has been repeated. Things went tits up in Christian nations as well during the dark ages and it took The Renaissance and The Enlightenment to get over that.
There’s little doubt that religion has a negative effect on advancement in many arenas of which science is just one. Well, maybe that’s a bit simplistic. It seems to go through several phases (I haven’t worked on this much yet, but the seed of an idea is there):
- Religious ideas are presented as the answer to everything.
- Religion encourages examination of the world as a way of glorifying their god/s.
- The penny drops that reality doesn’t marry up to the religious myths and enquiry is suppressed.
- Despite that, religion starts to lose its grip and progress begins again.
‘Christian’ nations are mostly at step 4. Islamic nations seem to be stuck at step 3.
What’s been missing from some people’s analysis is that they don’t seem to spend a lot of time arguing with Islamists. If they had, they would know that Islamic apologists are very fond of talking about how numerous their adherents are and how superior and amazing the Koran is when it comes to science. (Caution, may cause excessive facepalming). Given these boasts one would expect Islamic nations to be at the forefront of science and to have a lot more – and more modern – accomplishments to their name.
Yes, of course there are other factors at play, but given the boasts, the oil wealth etc it seems odd that there’s so little to point to. Of course, if you’re accusing Dawkins of racism it’s easy to say this is down to racism too, but that doesn’t particularly seem to be true if you look at the spread of winners across the science and medicine categories, especially in the modern era.
People seem to just be looking for any excuse and one really wonders why.
The other big thing going on in atheism and skepticism at the moment are a host of accusations about sexual misconduct being made against various figures. Most of these seem to be anonymous and they’re otherwise united only in their lack of evidence.
I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being so utterly disgusted and cynical of FTB and A+ that where I would normally take these accusations seriously (since they’re specific) I find that I just can’t. Quite apart from whether there’s any truth to the accusations or not, the actions of PZ Myers in spreading them when there’s no substantiation to them is irresponsible. Not to mention that a sceptic should have more respect for the Burden of Proof and the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
Things were already silly before this latest round of events and the schism between simple atheism or scepticism and the A+ ‘cult’ is now causing actual damage rather than mere exasperation. Trying to crudely weld other issues onto the loose atheist ‘movement’ was always going to be doomed from the start but now that accusations are flying things have become serious.
Part of the problem is that the language and concepts that are used within the FTB/A+ axis aren’t those used by others. Where they talk about rape or sexual harassment it’s not necessarily what anyone else would recognise from those terms. When they talk about ‘patriarchy’ or ‘racism’ or ‘misogyny’, again these may not be used the same way anyone else would understand them. Combine that with the dogmatism, air of superiority and assumption that you have to agree with them and it’s an even bigger issue. Then there’s the fact that if someone is accused of misconduct and you express any skepticism or demand any evidence, that seems to be taken as confirmation (somehow) of rape culture, misogyny, etc all over again.
I think it’s time to simply part ways. Let the A-plussers and their ilk go do their own thing, have their own conferences, forums and tags. Where they actually engage in skepticism and atheism and goals cross over, fine, but otherwise it’s just not worth the grief that’s involved or the effort wasted on internal struggles between those who want to focus on atheism/skepticism and those who want to foist a bundle of other causes and issues onto the ‘movement’ as a whole.
Not that anyone will listen to me.