Islam and the Nobel Prize

Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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50 Responses

  1. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Re: Foreign Aid – You can’t just look at amounts, you also have to look at what the country does with such aid, or, more generally, what it generally does with any government resource (since money is fungible).

    It could (speculating wildly here) be that Israel devotes more financial resources toward scientific research while Egypt devotes money to building up the military, or enforcing draconian laws, or lining the pockets of political/religious players.

    To the more general point, it isn’t Islam per se (since there are many muslims in Europe & the US that are very active in the sciences), but rather the cultures where dogmatic religious thought dominates & permeates everything.

    I wonder how advanced the Christian world would be if Luther hadn’t found a hammer & a nail, or if the idea of religious freedom hadn’t take root in the US.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Golly, how much government funding goes to Trinity College, Cambridge?Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    Using Nobel Prizes as a proxy for, well, anything seems a bit silly.Report

  4. Yitzhak Bodansky says:

    As of 2012, ten winners of the Nobel Prize have been Muslims. Half of the 10 Muslim Nobel laureates were awarded the prize in the 21st century. Six of the 10 winners were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Having said that, should we judge a society of people based on Nobel Prizes? There are 1 billion Muslims. Like Christians, they are made up of many nationalities and cultures. I recommend visiting your Muslim neighbor, co-worker or friend. We are all one human family. I am a Jew with many Muslim friends. I don’t need my Muslim friends to win a prize created by some European people to know that they are smart and peaceful.Report

  5. trizzlor says:

    In the final link, I don’t see where Dawkins says that religion is something you don’t choose. Rather, all he says is that people tend to choose the religion of their parents. His implication is that if you educate people on the evils of religion they will be able to change their mind, an obvious impossibility with race or gender.

    Presumably children of parents with abhorrent views are more likely to carry those views themselves, but only an extreme relativist would argue that such views have somehow become off-limits to criticism. Dawkins simply sees religion as a subset of abhorrent views.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to trizzlor says:

      He is a lasting embarrassment to atheistic causes everywhere. I’ve often said more atheists should run for office: they see the lasting stains of religious bigotry more clearly than others, always a useful perspective when dealing with a pluralistic society.

      Dawkins is different. He’s a bigot, no different than the religious bigots with whom he’s forever picking fights. If atheism is to be an improvement on religion, ( a struggle well worth undertaking ) Dawkins will not be the man to lead that charge.

      Richard Dawkins is a yawping would-be preacher. He has no sermon to preach and lacking the skill to write one.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I remember (vaguely, so this whole retelling might be a product of fantasy) being in Grad school when one of his Atheism! books came out. In one of the chapters he proposed something like five arguments (empirical, I think?) against the existence of god. A bunch of us sat down in the lounge and critiqued them. Our conclusion: not one of them was sound.

        There’s a lot to say in Dawkin’s favor, perhaps, but being good at argument isn’t one of them.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Dawkins’ arguments descend to the level of his idiotic religious opponents. What a person may believe in their heart is their own business. If they live in peace with their fellow citizens, if their beliefs lead them to lives of holiness and enlightenment, if their notions of justice and mercy lead them to charity and good works, if they afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, these are attributes well worth emulating. Whether my neighbour believes in one god or twenty, it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

        But if someone’s religious beliefs lead them to condemn all the others from sheer doctrinal hubris, how is that different than what Dawkins preaches? The religious bigot harangues from atop his little soapbox, condemning all other religions. Dawkins is only differentiated from that bigot by one integer, the number of religions he condemns. He just condemns one more.Report

      • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I think Dawkins suffers from something built into our religious nature, the idea that once you know the truth, you must evangelize to spread it and root out all contrary ideas as invalid, killing off the false gods as it were.

        My thought is that such a trait, more broadly applied, was probably an extremely useful evolutionary tool to make sure your own family and tribe reaped the benefits of new insights, and that your group was more cohesive, working off the same page instead of staring at each other in perplexity half the time.

        So I would describe Dawkins as an evangelical, fundamentalist. He has a worldview and is emotionally compelled to make sure everyone else adopts it as the universal truth.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

        So I would describe Dawkins as an evangelical, fundamentalist.

        That’s a good insight. He’s spreading the Good News, just like the folks he’s criticizing. And I agree that there’s something interesting about a culture – or character type, anyway – that feels the need to evangelize The Truth. It’s fucking odd.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

        How odd is it, though? Many’s the doctrinaire who started out well enough with a spirit of enquiry. We’ve all met the time, something lacking in his soul, troubled by what he saw in the world. Rather like the Buddha, gone in search of enlightenment, all those drastic privations and pointless hair-shirt-isms.

        If Gautama had stopped there, he’d be just another filthy sadhu and there have been millions of those. Or if Christ had gone into the wilderness and set up camp out there, the desert landscape’s been infested with that sort of prophet forever.

        If enlightenment is to mean anything, I should think it means change of viewpoints, an abandonment of previous errors and short-sightedness. Newton wasn’t wrong — Einstein was righter. That sort of enlightenment. But Einstein never seemed to quite wrap his head around quantum mechanics and kinda embarrassed himself, quarrelling with his peers about it.

        It’s easy to just quit, once you’ve gotten to the top of the nearest mountain. After all, you got to the top of one mountain, you might think you’re done. Another item checked off the Bucket List, “Enlightenment”. You betcha. The more I learn the dumber I feel and the intelligent people I know seem to feel the same way about the process.

        Coming down from that mountain as if you’re Moses with the Ten Commandments can be something of a disappointment if the people at the bottom are worshipping some Golden Calf. Sorta makes you wonder what the first draft of the Ten Commandments looked like because the second draft made sure the first five commandments are all about God and graven images and suchlike. All Dawkins can see is religious people doing the same thing, and yes, lots of people are stupid enough to worship Golden Calves. Just don’t think you’re some Moses come down from Sinai, Dawkins.Report

      • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

        As sort of a digression on that, the Scottish (or English, or European) enlightenment came from really bright people, under relaxed religious restrictions, sitting around getting smashed and throwing questions and ideas at the wall.

        Some recent university tests have confirmed that people are much more able to think out of the box when they’re a little tipsy, I suppose because some of the usual circuits are offline and they’re better at freely seeing patterns and associations.

        This makes me wonder if the more historically progressive Islamic countries, or the ones producing the most novel advances, happen to correspond to the ones that really didn’t enforce the strictures against alcohol.

        Good Baptists wouldn’t be caught dead buying beer, but the Baptists who drink all your beer when you go fishing are probably the ones most likely to create some new innovation somewhere, whether political, philosophical, technological, or involving a new catfish bait.Report

      • Chris in reply to BlaiseP says:

        So I would describe Dawkins as an evangelical, fundamentalist.

        Back when I was a world famous blogger (kidding), and part of the “science blogging community,” which in the middle of the aughts became synonymous with “atheist blogging community,” particularly since it was so dominated by Pharyngula, I got in a lot of heat for repeatedly calling Dawkins and the New Atheists evangelical and fundamentalist atheists. Of course, this just made me call them those things more.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    And now I feel bad.Report

  7. George Turner says:

    Part of the problem is that Muslims have been quite suspicious of Western ideas, which is why they only have twice as many Nobel Prizes in science as Bardeen or Sanger. Another facet is that a person’s intellectual achievement seems to be heavily influenced by their mother’s educational attainments (whether she reads a lot). In vast swaths of Muslim regions, reading, much less thinking way out of the box, is not considered a proper thing for women to do. Perhaps a third factor is the discouragement of intellectual curiosity, with imam’s dodging tough questions by arguing that asking questions reveals immaturity, lack of sufficient knowledge to even pose a proper question, and a lack of faith.

    To be worthy of a Nobel Prize, you have to answer a question that’s proved almost impossible to make progress on, or ask and answer a question that is so brilliant nobody thought to ask it, much less answer it, or discover whole new fields of questions. A culture where asking tough questions is frowned upon, where knowledge is supposed to flow from the top down in pat little answers, doesn’t produce the right frame of mind to overturn long-held dogmas, because the culture is aimed at preventing exactly that.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to George Turner says:

      George, if there was something intrinsic to Islam (over other religions) that hindered educational development then you should expect to see significant disparities between Muslim immigrants in the US and other religious immigrant groups (assuming their treatment in the US is equal). Yet immigrants from Muslim-dominant countries consistently outperform immigrants from Catholic-dominant countries on metrics of poverty, welfare use, employment, educational attainment, etc. Muslim immigrants and American Muslims in particular are more highly-educated and affluent than the average American. If anything, we should conclude that given the same social opportunities Islam actually makes one smarter and richer than one’s peers.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to trizzlor says:

        Heh. They’ve escaped from their old repressive nations. That’s the reality. I’m absolutely serious.Report

      • George Turner in reply to trizzlor says:

        Comparing them to immigrants from Catholic countries is skewed by the fact that most of our current Catholic immigrants are landless peasants coming from places like Mexico and Guatemala, while many of the Muslim immigrants are either pro-Western refugees (who sided with us in various conflicts), or highly educated people trying to escape their home countries.

        Many of the Muslims who immigrated to Scandinavia were upset when their population density started supporting imam’s who just thought they’d step in and be in charge of all the Muslims, which is the problem the immigrants had been fleeing. If they wanted to live under Muslim law and the dictates of idiot imams, they could’ve just stayed home.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to trizzlor says:

        So you’re saying that comparing the performance of large immigrant groups in a similar social environment still doesn’t account for enough latent confounding information? By all means let’s go back to that robust metric of Nobel winners.Report

      • George Turner in reply to trizzlor says:

        What’s similar about their social environments? A whole lot of the Muslim immigrants came here to go to grad school or set up shop as doctors. Illegal aliens – not so much.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to trizzlor says:

        Their social environment is exactly the same: the United States, with all of our generous government services, unparalleled economic mobility, and educational/job opportunities. What they choose to do with those options is up to them. Muslims choose to go to school and make money, Catholics don’t (relatively speaking); ergo Islam makes you smarter and richer.Report

      • George Turner in reply to trizzlor says:

        Yes, that’s why about 1% of French Muslims go to college.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to trizzlor says:

        France has a notoriously classist school system with rampant anti-Muslim discrimination (particularly on the issue of the hijab). In-spite of this, Muslim immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa (27% of whom had University education in 1999) significantly outperformed their non-Muslim immigrant peers (21%) and the general French population (23%). Though Muslim immigrants from other regions also exhibited lower University attainment than the general population (primarily Turkey), greater variance within Muslim immigrants than between them and non-Muslim immigrants indicates that Islam is not the main discriminant here.

        If Islam alone was a strong force in discouraging intellectual curiosity you certainly wouldn’t be seeing this variability nor the success of certain Muslim groups.Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    Islam draws no distinction between religion and politics. It is a religion with political ambitions, intent upon creating Islamic republics: of, by and for Muslims. In this, Islam is no different than the Christian nations of old.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to BlaiseP says:

      In this, Islam is no different than the Christian nations of old. … or from contemporary Christian fundamentalists.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to trizzlor says:

        That’s entirely true. The sentiment never dies, does it? Islam has many another problem, first seen in the Christian nations: it endlessly feuds among its own. Consider the wrecks that are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, all bred of internecine religious fights between sects of Islam. And like Christianity, Islam has an abiding hatred of Jews, arising from a misinterpretation of the Qur’an itself, as Christianity misinterpreted the Bible. And do not tell me Islam has any defence: their persecution of their Jews began in earnest in 1929 with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. For centuries, Jews and Muslims had peacefully coexisted, if not entirely as equals, but then, the Christians were ethnically cleansing them out of Europe.

        All of Islam’s many sins and errors were first observed in Christians. If Islamic nations are now filthy, backward, illiterate and misogynistic, enemies of science and freethinking — and they are — and I don’t want to hear any of this whiny guff to the contrary, accusing me of Zionism or any of that monkey shit — if Islam hasn’t educated its children, neither did Christianity back when it had any political power. In those days, Islam was a haven for freethinkers and it prospered mightily under Mehmet II and other wise Islamic shahs. But when Islam closed the doors to ijtihad, it repeated the errors of Christianity and must now pay the price: four centuries of religious warfare and ignominy, as did Europe.Report

    • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Well, it’s somewhat different because Christianity was born as a fringe religion hiding from period authorities, and spent its first few centuries that way. It was actually one of the hooks that proved so effective, because it naturally focused on the downtrodden and dispossessed, so over time, as most people found themselves in such a state due to the shifting political winds, it swept up a critical mass of followers.

      Later, when it became a state religion, there wasn’t a whole lot of scriptural guidance and support on how a state or society should run, other than play nice and pay taxes. So everyone had to make things up as they went, mostly just based on how things used to be run. The advantage was that as ideas of good governance evolved, there wasn’t much hard and fast scripture that flatly contradicted the changes.

      In contrast, as you point out, Islam really doesn’t differentiate between the state and the religion. It was born as a ruling doctrine and much of it dwells on how to rule, and when to overthrow rulers who don’t follow sharia. Such passages box in Islamic politicians and make it much harder for them to establish wiggle room without riling up the fundamentalists. So they push and stretch at the limits, creating an inherent and dangerous tension.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

        That’s a load of ahistorical hooey. Christianity was doing just fine as a religion, swiftly dividing as it spread. It was a mystery cult, then very much in fashion. If it eventually reached the courts of Rome, it made precious little impact, for the Emperors would brook no concept of the divine but their own divinity. For this reason, Christians were persecuted: they didn’t worship the emperors.

        Christianity didn’t so much become a state religion as a default religion. It had the practical advantage of not being a race-based religion, as was Judaism. The Emperors were hardly paragons of virtue, nobody took their cults seriously. Constantine’s wife and mother adopted it but he never forced it on his subjects. Christianity had a good long run as a reasonably honest religion until it became a tool worth using as a weapon by both the clergy and the ruling classes.Report

      • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

        Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s a default religion without explicit instruction about how to rule, and very little on how to be ruled other than to keep your head down and get along.

        In contrast, Muslim imams wouldn’t even allow Muslims to live in non-Muslim countries, at least in any capacity other than as emissaries or advisors, until after WW-I, on the premise that a good Muslim couldn’t live in a country that wasn’t ruled in accordance with sharia law, because such countries wouldn’t have justice.

        They still have serious issues with sharia, with imams and strong adherents arguing that sharia law supersedes the US Constitution and other Western laws because those were made by man, whereas sharia was made by Allah.

        Early Christians, and especially Europeans, on the other hand, quickly tossed out most of Jewish religious law because they found it alien or inconvenient, and thus argued that it only applied to Jews. Europeans then went further and took an ancient Semitic religion and folded, spindled, and mutilated it until its philosophy, structure, and conclusions made some sense to them, and they’ve been doing it ever since. So when most Western believers encounter a Bible passage, they try to interpret it in a way that makes logical and theological sense, even if that takes a huge and unsupportable stretch, and the ministers do this most of all.

        One of the problems with Islam is that they’re insistent that the text is perfect and not open to interpretation, and since Allah is a gazillion times wiser than man, if the text says you have to stone a pre-teen girl who got gang raped by a band of terrorists, well, then you do, even though it doesn’t make any sense to anyone. If it wasn’t for the best for all concerned, Allah wouldn’t have commanded it.

        In contrast, we take the Ten Commandments and redefine the terms, or re-interpret the passages, so that we’re not unduly inconvenienced.

        “Thou shalt not kill” actually means thou shalt not commit first or second degree murder.

        Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbors really only applies to oxes and asses. His Maserati is another thing entirely, and coveting your neighbor’s stuff is what keeps the consumer economy rolling along.

        Thou shalt not make a graven image, etc, doesn’t apply to sculpture, painting, photography, tattooing, or any other way we make images.

        Honor your father and mother? Only if they deserve it. Adultery? Really? Just don’t get caught at it during a political campaign, and say a few hail Mary’s.

        Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain? Jebus Fishin’ Christ, who thought that one up?

        But if you make a cartoon of Muhammed (PBUH), your headless body will be found on the sidewalk of a major European capital.Report

      • Kim in reply to George Turner says:

        **** ***, George:
        ” stone a pre-teen girl who got gang raped by a band of terrorists, well, then you do, even though it doesn’t make any sense to anyone. If it wasn’t for the best for all concerned”

        This is not according to sharia law. I may not know much, but I do know that much. Conflating culture with religion is bad enough… But you’re actively spreading evil misinformation.

        I call on you to withdraw your suggestion as misfounded, and apologize, if you are a gentleman in anything but name.Report

      • Kim in reply to George Turner says:

        “thou shalt not murder” you mean? I sometimes wonder if you folks ever read anything that isn’t in translation…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to George Turner says:

        Sure, it says “thou shalt not split hairs”, but what does that really mean?Report

      • Dave in reply to George Turner says:

        I call on you to withdraw your suggestion as misfounded, and apologize, if you are a gentleman in anything but name.

        Kim, cut the crap.

        You told him to fish off. There was no reason for it and you damn well know about our commenting policy given the number of times I’ve asked you to pull your head out of your ass and follow it.

        I have no patience for your kind of stupidity today.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    “What I can tell you though is that Israel receives more than twenty times the amount of financial aid from the U.S. that Egypt does. I suggest that plays no small part in what makes both countries’ economies different.”

    The vast majority of both countries’ foreign aid – and that specific batch of foreign aid – goes back into buying from Uncle Sam’s War Bazaar and doesn’t really get circulated back into each nation’s economy.Report

  10. Hamzah says:

    I am a Muslim. I view Dawkins’ remark as a factual, timely, and well intentioned call. Muslims should take it in that spirit. Education policy in Muslim countries should reflect a better balance between the Madrassa-type schools (religious, rote-learning) and one that is modern, curiosity driven, and evidence based. Malaysia offers a reasonable, progressive model. Non-Muslims should not bend backward, make woolly-minded excuses, and try to appear politically-correct. Muslims don’t need such condescension. They need friends, and true friends are brave and honest to one another. Like Dawkins.Report