Ahem…Islam is not a race.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins set off another twitter frenzy with this factual but taunting tweet: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

This is of course true, and astonishing when you consider the sheer number of the world’s Muslims, some 1.6 billion. Dawkins point was similar to that of Neil DeGrasse Tyson in this 2006 lecture: Something has set science back in the Muslim world from their once preeminent position (they named most of the stars, for instance), and it’s likely fundamentalist adherence to religious dogma and the rejection of facts that disagree with their holy book.

In any case, you can find Dawkins’ blog post here defending his tweet and further explaining his intentions. He also responds to the most frequent criticisms from the twittersphere, in which large masses of users seem not to understand that:

1. Islam is not a race (rule of thumb, if you can convert to it…)
2. “Your” and “You’re” mean two different things.

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One comment

  1. It’s fascinating. My studies of Islamic theology have led me to an interesting conclusion.

    Al-Ghazali may have had something to do with it.

    Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) was an Asharite theologian living in Persia. In response to the overwhelming rationality of his predecessors, he wrote what might be his most famous philosophical work, but perhaps not his most famous theological work. Tahafut al Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) was a rebuttal against the ‘philosophers’ and by this he meant Avicenna. But what’s interesting is the religious preface to the text it reads.

    “…their fathers and forefathers having followed conventional imitation, and no basis other than speculative investigation, and outcome of their stumbling over the tails of sophistical doubts that divert them from the truth, and their being decieved by embellished imaginings akin to the glitter of mirage, as has happened to groups of speculative thinkers, followers of heretical innovation and whim in their investigation of beliefs and opinions.”

    Ghazali seems to be saying that there is no basis for innovation and whim except due to imitation. And earlier he said that there is no basis for belief except imitation of unbelief. So this theology basically locked Islamic culture.

    We see Ghazali’s influence is huge. Montgomery’s “Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali” (1958) says that Ghazali is quite possibly the most influential and important Muslim after Muhammad. We see his reach hit the west as early as Ibn-Bajja(1095-1238) and Ibn-Tufayl(1105-1185). Tufayl cites him as a source in his narrative “Hayy Ibn Yaqzan” and includes the following passage in his narrative:

    “So Hayy went to Salaman and his friends and apologized, dissociated himself from what he had said. He told them that he had seen the light and realized that they were right. He urged them to hold fast to their observance of all the statutes regulating outward behavior and not delve into things that did not concern them, submissively to accept all the most problematical elements of the tradition and shun originality and innovation, follow in the footsteps of their righteous forebears and leave behind everything modern.” (Ibn Tufayl)

    So while I cannot say for certain, as I am only an amateur student of Islamic theology, I would have to say that Al-Ghazali and the Asharite movement, may have had a lot to do with Dawkin’s observation. That if it is the case that Islam is so important that they cannot do science, and the Asharite belief that God is beyond reason and imagination, then studying the natural world is of no good in learning about God (contrary to say…Christian theism.) And that could have something to do with why they haven’t won any Nobel Prizes.

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