Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I find the bias here and elsewhere in favour of "Faith" absurd, offensive and just plain wrong. Over the centuries, and still today, Religion has been responsible for more evil than any other phenomenon. The idea, propagated so often, that to believe in religion - any religion - is more desirable and commendable than not to believe is preposterous. Mr Jonathan Sacks says "Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral". I would put it otherwise. It is possible, maybe, for a devout believer in a Religion to be moral - but the chances are that such a believer will not be. Because it is Amoral as well as intellectually unsupportable to believe in dogma. A dogma that disallows for no logical modern reason the consumption of certain foods. A dogma that forbids the consumption of Alcohol. A dogma that removes the foreskin of newly born male children or the clitoris of young girls. A dogma that pretends that a wafer and a glass of wine turn into tissue and blood. A dogma that forbids the cutting of your hair. A dogma that declares that those who lose their faith should be hunted down and punished. A dogma that turns stories for which their is no scientific evidence into fictitious real events that are supposed to guide or instruct us. A dogma that denies the scientific evidence of evolution. Or prohibits abortion. Or contraception. Or allows (or disallows) polygamy. Above all a dogma that holds out that in the afterlife you will go to Heaven, if you are good, and Hell if you are bad. And that in that heaven virgins await you or in that hell flames.
Man does not need mumbo-jumbo to know how to behave. The secular ethic requires us to think freely about what is right. Not to turn to some ancient tome for guidance. Man has it within him to live a good life of his own volition. And, as Christopher Hitchens put it:
“We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tale of the holy books.”
In both cases, it is one group described by the former, conquering many groups described by the later, thereby acquiring the later's attribute without processing it in the first place.
One only has to look at the Islamic center of learning to see this. Baghdad and Cairo were respectively Persian and Byzantium before their conquest. The fact that they were the centers of learning was in spite of Islam instead of because of it. On the other hand, if we were to look at the historic home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, we can see almost no scientific output.
The relation between Islam and science is best described by the great Islamic scientist and historian Ibn Khaldun in his seminal work the Muqaddimah:
"The Arabs dominate only of the plains, because they are, by their savage nature, people of pillage and corruption. They pillage everything that they can take without fighting or taking risks, then flee to their refuge in the wilderness, and do not stand and do battle unless in self-defense. So when they encounter any difficulty or obstacle, they leave it alone and look for easier prey. And tribes well-fortified against them on the slopes of the hills escape their corruption and destruction, because they prefer not to climb hills, nor expend effort, nor take risks. In that connection, "non-Arab" meant non-Arab by descent. Such non-Arabs had a long (history of) sedentary culture which, as we have established, causes cultivation of the crafts and habits, including the sciences. This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and the Persian countries, the 'Iraq, Khurasan, and Transoxania, retained their sedentary culture. But when those cities fell into ruins, sedentary culture, which God has devised for the attainment of sciences and crafts, disappeared from them. Along with it, scholarship altogether disappeared from among the non-Arabs (Persians), who were (now) engulfed by the desert attitude. Scholarship was restricted to cities with an abundant sedentary culture."
The lack of Islamic scientists cannot only be explained by stinginess of their governments. The Russian and Indian governments aren't known for their generosity in that field either, but these countries produce many scientist anyhow. Also, the fact that Israel spends so much on research is inherent to the Jewish culture that values learning, so it has backing among the people.
The success of Islam in the "Middle Ages" was due to the fact that the Islamic warriors conquered many high civilizations in a short time. From the Jews they learned writing and encoding scriptures, from the (then Christian) Egyptians architecture and agriculture, from the (Christian) Syrians state organization, from the late (Manicheistic) Mespotamians astronomy, astrology and geometry, from the (late classic and Christian) Greeks philosophy, logic and scientific thinking, from the Mazdaist Persians medicine and hygiene (Jundishapur), and from the Hindu's mathematics (algebra was an Indian invention).
Many of these scientist were forced to become Muslim in order to survive. That's why the world knows them as "Muslim" savants. But due to religious dogma, that vast wealth of knowledge was suffocated after 1200. It's significant, that of the two big 'Muslim' minds of that time, Ibn Rushd was of Jewish ancestry, and Ibn Sina of Manicheist Persian. After 1200, when the religious pressure increased, Greek, Armenian and Jewish scholars fled to Europe, and helped develop the Renaissance. There was a reason why they chose to move to Europe.
The concept that Europe was in the "Dark Ages" before that time is, in fact outdated.
Even in the "Middle Ages" many monasteries and convents were places of active learning and research. How could Thomas of Aquino have been allowed to declare the search for a synthesis between Christianity and Arestotelian logic? Could Copernicus, Galilei, Da Vinci and many others, in spite of being banned by the Church, have been able to develop their scientific research if they came right out of the Dark Ages? The reason is, that although the Church has shown its ugly side many times, Christianity as such, as well as Judaism, allow for independent thinking. However, Islam does not.