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Sep 12 2011

It’s a Greta Christina invasion

Look: Greta is going to be in Minneapolis and St. Cloud this weekend, and she’ll also be on Atheist Talk radio on Sunday morning.

I’m hoping to make it to her Sunday talk, but I have a conflict: on Sunday, 18 September, before her talk, I have to appear on a panel over the internet to speak at the Tech Museum in San Jose, California. Thanks to the wonders of science, I don’t have to be in San Jose…I just have to have a quiet place with a stable internet connection. If I can arrange that, I’ll drive in to the Twin Cities.

The topic of the panel is “Religion and Science: Beliefs and the Brain,” and it’s associated with the opening of an exhibit on Islamic science. I get to be the poopyhead arguing that science and religion are incompatible, in case you couldn’t guess.

36 comments

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  1. 1
    maureen.brian

    “Visitors educated in the Western world will be surprised to learn of discoveries and inventions in the Muslim World which predate by years, sometimes centuries, discoveries thought to be developed in the West.”

    That’s from the linked blurb about the exhibition. I wish to complain ‘cos I knew about it all along, certainly by the time I left the village primary school (200 pupils) and I have added to that as I went along without suffering any great stress.

    I hope you have fun on this panel but perhaps you could take a moment out from denouncing religion to point out that some of us resent having the whole world dumbed down so that F***ing American can understand it.

    Thanks, PZ!

  2. 2
    Gord O'Mitey

    Islamic science – isn’t that an oxymoron? Shouldn’t it be Science by early Moslems?

  3. 3
    maureen.brian

    Islam – one of the monotheistic religions

    Muslim – an adherent of that religion

    Islamism – from 1747 an alternative name for the religion, since early C20 reserved for the political movement based upon a particular and narrow interpretation of the religion

    Which only goes to prove what I said in the first place. Now, Gord O’Mitey, is there anything else you need to know and can’t be bothered to look up?

  4. 4
    Darron

    PZ, if you can’t find any other quiet place in the Twin Cities with a stable internet connection for your panel on Sunday, you’re welcome to use my place in New Brighton.

  5. 5
    Gregory in Seattle

    @maureen.brian #1 – Keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans are ignorant. You know the contributions that Muslims have made to science, I know, I am certain that PZ knows and probably most of the readers of Pharyngula.

    Most Americans, however…. I mean, come on! The US is one of the most scientifically illiterate nations on the planet. As I recall, survey after survey has shown that only about 20% of Americans know what the scientific method even is; I expect that even fewer know that it was pioneered by a Muslim: Alhazen, also known as Ibn Al-Haytham, around the year 1000 while Christian Europe was burning books by Euclid, Aristotle and other “heretics.”

    I would actually be interested in seeing this exhibit.

  6. 6
    Midaztouch

    @maureen.brian:

    I think you have misunderstood Gord’s point. Gord is aware that muslims are adherents of islam. Gord’s point is that islam (or any religion for that matter) is incompatible with science. Therefore (s)he thinks the term “islamic science” is an oxymoron.

    Also, am I the only one who gets tired of the “I’m not an American therefore I’m smarter than you are” attitude? It’s especially peculiar/ironic in this instance.

  7. 7
    Gord O'Mitey

    Maureen, I can’t understand your point about me not being bothered to look up things that I already knew.

    My comment stands. How can science be Islamic, or Christian, or Jain, etc? Science is about the real world, not some imaginary, cockamamie, made-up crap.

    Sure, the direction of research could be influenced by crazy beliefs, but that doesn’t, IMHO, warrant using inappropriate labels for knowledge about the real world. I mean, if there’s any substance to “Islamic Science”, I’d expect to see theories incorporating Allah, but then, that would no longer be science.

  8. 8
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    Islamic science.

    More like science that was undertaken in theocratic states in spite of the rule of islam.

    If we are going to call it “islamic science”, then we should at least be consistent and call E=mc^2 a product of “christian science”, christianity being the dominant religion in the USA at that time. (And in spite of Einstein being an Atheist of jewish decent.)

    It does not become “islamic science” because christian, jewish, pagan, atheist, nominal (or even godbothery) muslims contributed to the endeavor while incidentally under the thumb of their islamist overlords.

    There are actually small amounts of “science” within the religions themselves. Consider for example mohammad screwing up his explanation of Galen’s theories or the feeble attempts at astronomy in the babble. Problem is, in every case these attempts have been falsified since.

  9. 9
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    Alhazen

    Yeah, so much of his work was undertaken while claiming to be mad. Should we therefore claim this work to be “mad science”?

    Where I find the terminology “[arbitrary religion] science” to be relevant, is when the religion accepts these scientific contributions as an integral part of their religion. Otherwise there is no reason, for example, to call Alhazen’s work “muslim” or “islamic” science.

    That religions do incorporate scientific theory into their canonical works, I indicated in my previous post.

  10. 10
    Gregory

    @theophontes, #8 #9 – Following your “logic”, E=mc^2 is an example of Jewish science: Einstein was not a Christian. And until pretty recently, science and Islam have been pretty compatible: much of the work by Muslims in mathematic, physics, chemistry, engineering, optics, anatomy and other fields were done out of a religious belief that the best way to understand Allah was to understand the world, and to understand the world required a methodical process able to adapt to changing understanding.

    And I said Alhazen, not Alhazred. Reading for comprehension isn’t your strong suit, it would seem.

  11. 11
    echidna

    Also, am I the only one who gets tired of the “I’m not an American therefore I’m smarter than you are” attitude?

    I think you’ve missed Maureen’s point, unless I’m missing the point myself. The thing that gets me is the conflation of “Americans” with “Western world” in

    Visitors educated in the Western world will be surprised to learn …

    No. That’s an unfair generalization from the target audience (Americans) to the rest of the Western world, however you define the boundaries. It reinforces the view from outside the USA that people in the USA consider that the rest of the world is not even worth thinking about.

  12. 12
    maureen.brian

    The science we are talking about – and I’d love to see that exhibition too – came directly out of the social and political changes brought about by Islamic teaching and the way the Qu’uran and the Hadith were being interpreted at that time by those with most say and most power.

    In the centuries just after Mohammed there was an emphasis on conquest and on the promotion of learning. Conquest produced wealth to employ scientists and the political set-up plus trade brought in both scholars and the ancient texts to be translated and passed on through the expanding Muslim world.

    Eventually power politics messed up this idyll but for its early centuries a flowering of science arose directly from an Islamic understanding of the world and an Islamic culture. I therefore have no problem applying the adjective to the science. Others may wish to use a different term.

    Theophontes, I think you take too narrow a view. Surely the question is would that science have been done in what is now Iraq without the wealth, the emphasis on learning and a relative stability of government? Perhaps yes, perhaps no but we are stuck with the history which actually happened. If you can get hold of them I recommend the 3-part TV series on this by Jim Al-Khalili. As to where and when we use a religion-based term to apply to the culture we simply have a difference of opinion. No problems.

    It is not about “therefore I’m smarter than you are” but rather that I weep for people bright enough to enjoy Pharyngula who have been deprived of even the level of scientific education I was blessed with in a village school, in the middle of a local economic collapse and in the back of beyond.

    So if you are now worried about being patronised just suck it up and think how I felt around these parts a few weeks ago when some twenty-something decided to offer me career advice, without checking where I lived or that I’d been retired for nearly 20 years.

    It may not be comfortable to have your ignorance pointed out to you but ignorance itself is not a crime. The need to shoot down – metaphor chosen deliberately – anyone rash enough to mention it is, though, the source of much grief.

    Spot on, echidna!

  13. 13
    Gord O'Mitey

    theophontes, you raise an interesting point there. In the case of Einstein, Stalin effectively described relativity as Jewish science. I can only presume that he saw ideology as influencing science & as an active ingredient that flavoured, or corrupted the results.

    Stalin wasn’t prepared to accept Darwinian evolution. I believe he saw natural selection as ideological & therefore as Christian. Lysenkoism suited Stalin’s ideology better.

    Maybe terms like “(arbitrary religion) science” is meaningful to those who are immersed in ideology?

  14. 14
    Newfie

    I’m playing a round of Hindu golf tomorrow.

  15. 15
    Ing

    Dang! I’ll be right back, I just realized I gay double-parked my car

  16. 16
    Jadehawk

    In the centuries just after Mohammed there was an emphasis on conquest and on the promotion of learning. Conquest produced wealth to employ scientists and the political set-up plus trade brought in both scholars and the ancient texts to be translated and passed on through the expanding Muslim world.

    yeah, it’s quite similar to the way the “Protestant Work Ethic” propelled first the Netherlands to the status of Trading Empire. It’s nonsensical to pretend that religion didn’t have a massive influence on the scene and character of the people doing their stuff at that time.

    And as far as I know, at least some of these Muslim countries at that time were about as theocratic as Britain post-Henry VIII.

    Religion often sidetracks intellect (see the intellectual energy wasted during the Middle Ages on theology; or assorted deeply religious scholars throughout history trying to prove some point of religious dogma via scientific inquiry), and many religious societies DO shun honest science; but it’s not entirely true that all religious cultures are always bad for science, and all non-religious cultures are good for science. It’s more a trend than an absolute; and certainly with the rise of fundamentalist religion, it’s inadvisable to let religion get back into power today.

  17. 17
    Jadehawk

    anyhow, I’d love to see both the panel and Greta Christina’s presentation, but I can’t get out of town this semester any more than already scheduled. It’s going to be difficult to keep up with classes and work as it is, especially with the uncooperative internet.

  18. 18
    raven

    wikipedia:

    Of his (Abdul Alhazred’s) madness many things are told. He claimed to have seen the fabulous Irem, or City of Pillars, and to have found beneath the ruins of a certain nameless desert town the shocking annals and secrets of a race older than mankind. He was only an indifferent Moslem, worshipping unknown entities whom he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.

    It’s not clear whetehr Abdul Alhazred’s contributions to science were all that positive.

    Thanks to him, we know something about the Elder gods, Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.

    OTOH, that might have been something worth not knowing. The mad Arab did not come to a good end and his main work, the Necronomicon, has proven hazardous to the few people who have ever read it.

  19. 19
    Jadehawk

    oh, and I find “Islamic science” to be concise but inelegant and inaccurate. “Science in the Islamic world”, or “scientific contributions from the Islamic world” would have worked better, but isn’t as catchy, I guess *shrug*

  20. 20
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    @ Gregory

    Einstein was not a Christian.

    As I said. At least you understood that half of the argument. “Reading for comprehension”…*snark*

    the best way to understand Allah was to understand the world

    Those would be the “godbothery muslims” to which I referred. Could we also leave the “christian, jewish, pagan, atheist, nominal muslims” that contributed to the so called “islamic science” in the discussion? You realise that Sufis spin and go into a trance as the “best way to understand Allah”? Am I unreasonable to suggest that a religion should incorporate science from after the revelation into their belief? They do actually incorporate prior “science” in spite of it being crap.

    If someone like Dr Kurt “think weird” Wise (YEC) was to produce real science, would we go and hang it under the title “christian science”? If he did not truly think he was onto the best way to understand Yahwe, he would likely not undertake science.

    Alhazen, not Alhazred

    Trial by Pfft:

    Alhazen, who was ordered by the sixth Fatimid Caliph, al-Hakim, to regulate the flooding of the Nile; he later perceived the inanity of what he was attempting to do and, fearing for his life, feigned madness to avoid the Caliph’s wrath, after which he was placed under house arrest until the Caliph’s death.

    A very productive part of his life, as he could thereby focus on his science.

    ……………………

    There is a common tendency to conflate Islam as a culture with islam as a religion. The reason goddists do this is obvious: Islam (as a culture) has made these contributions and islam (of the goddists) likes to steal the thunder.

  21. 21
    Antigone

    You’re welcome to my place in Bloomington, as well, but I don’t think it’ll be necessary: almost all the libraries have wireless.

  22. 22
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    without the wealth, the emphasis on learning and a relative stability of government?

    These are human and not religious values/institutions that you refer to. What you are perhaps bringing into focus here is that these are very social parameters supporting the growth of science. They where created by/for people not gods. We can leave skydaddy ™ out of the equation for anything bar the degree of social control that he might have contributed to. (A role that was just as comfortably taken up by Zeus in Greece or Yahwe in The Netherlands.)

    I think it was inevitable that Islam turned away from science, art and the like. The power of skeptical thought could be nothing but corrosive of religion. A thinking goddist would soon come to realise this. Buraq airlines is not as convenient as BA. Suppression of the mind does not travel long with enlightenment of the mind.

    Jim Al-Khalili

    Shukran katir.

    @ Gord O’Mitey

    [Stalin] & Maybe terms like “(arbitrary religion) science” is meaningful to those who are immersed in ideology?

    IIRC there where any number of [random ideology] sciences in the world according to Stalin. I agree with you that the same point against stalin could be applied mutatis mutandis to religion.

    @ jadehawk

    but it’s not entirely true that all religious cultures are always bad for science, and all non-religious cultures are good for science.

    It is the religious sensibility that is forced, by changing societal circumstances, to realise that science and its fruits do not feed religion but instead poison it. They have the problem in the first instance, we have the problem in their reaction to this phenomenon.

    The Ummayyads where rather indifferent to their religion, The Abbassids where into religious fabrication and pursuit of political power. But it was inevitable that rationalism and religion could ultimately not mix, so that by the time of mohammadan scholasticism (linky) the dogmatic theologians again held sway and took reason or “ijtihad” out of the equation.

    ……………….

    @ OP

    I get to be the poopyhead arguing that science and religion are incompatible, in case you couldn’t guess.

    This would also be my point of view. I am very interested to see how Teh Poopyhead presents his arguments.

  23. 23
    Lotharloo

    Well, let’s see what Al-Ghazzali, one of the most influential islmaic scholars thought of Mathematics:

    (source)

    Mathematics. Mathematics comprises the knowledge of calculation, geometry, and cosmography: it has no connection with the religious sciences, and proves nothing for or against religion; it rests on a foundation of proofs which, once known and understood, can not be refuted. Mathematics tend, however, to produce two bad results….
    The first is this: Whoever studies this science admires the subtlety and clearness of its proofs. His confidence in philosophy increases, and he thinks that all its departments are capable of the same clearness and solidity of proof as mathematics. But when he hears people speak of the unbelief and impiety of mathematicians, of their professed disregard for the Divine Law, which is notorious, it is true that, out of regard for authority, he echoes these accusations, but he says to himself at the same time that, if there was truth in religion, it would not have escaped those who have displayed so much keenness of intellect in the study of mathematics. Next, when he becomes aware of the unbelief and rejection of religion on the part of these learned men, he concludes that to reject religion is reasonable. … This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. For though far removed as it may be from the things of religion, this study, serving as it does as an introduction to the philosophic systems, casts over religion its malign influence. It is rarely that a man devotes himself to it without robbing himself of his faith and casting off the restraints of religion.

  24. 24
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    Al-Ghazzali

    Quintessential goddist went and wrote a book about “religious science”. He would have got on (off) well with the current evangelicals as he loved his ideas of a terrifying hell that awaited sinners. (IIRC mohammad taught that everyone goes to hell – but only the good can cross the sword-edge bridge to heaven. (Copied from ancient Persian ideas.))

  25. 25
    Therrin

    You realise that Sufis spin and go into a trance as the “best way to understand Allah”? Am I unreasonable to suggest that a religion should incorporate science from after the revelation into their belief?

    Would that be a revelation revolution? *ducks*

  26. 26
    DonDueed

    Newfie sez: I’m playing a round of Hindu golf tomorrow.

    Oh, cool! That’s the kind where there are a lot of cows wandering around the course, right?

  27. 27
    separatethread

    While I have a great deal of respect for many of the advances made by Medieval Middle-Easterners (can I call them that?), the assertion that “Abbas ibn Farnas was soaring over the hilly Spanish countryside in a one-man glider” is fairly well known to be a myth.

  28. 28
    smittypap

    @ PZ

    So why are you taking part in the panel for “Beliefs and the Brain” but not for “Can Faith and Science Co-exist?” on Oct 16??

  29. 29
    MadScientist

    “Islamic Science” is a damned lie. There were many developments in islamic states, but that was coincidental. Where is the evidence that the religion itself encouraged and promoted the learning? Where is the science learning in the religious schools? Why are children in islamic schools in the UK being fed the bullshit that fresh water and salt water can’t mix and that evolution isn’t true? This is the same nonsense claim of catholicism about how modern science would not have existed without the church.

  30. 30
    Bill Dauphin, avec fromage

    Nevermind “Islamic science,” I’ve got a real crisis: iTunes keeps telling me Atheistic Talk (which has been working fine for me all along) “doesn’t appear to be a valid podcast.” Won’t somebody there tell those folks to get their feed fixed so I don’t miss hearing Greta? </panic>

  31. 31
    Bill Dauphin, avec fromage

    Derp! Atheistic Talk! <blush>

  32. 32
    FossilFishy

    Yes, yes, all very interesting, but the great question of our time still lays unanswered: Do you know the way to San Jose?

  33. 33
    'Tis Himself

    Do you know the way to San Jose?

    It depends. If you’re coming from San Francisco, then Interstate 280 is the easiest route to San Jose. From Oakland the Nimitz Freeway (I-880) is pretty direct. US 101 goes straight from Palo Alto to San Jose. From Concord/Walnut Creek I-680 is good. From Santa Cruz State Route 17 is about the best. If you’re coming from further south then take I-5 to Exit 403A, west on State Road 152 to Gilroy, then take US 101 north.

    Piece of cake.

  34. 34
    maureen.brian

    @ 29,

    Calm down, dear.

    Just because one group of fools is teaching rubbish 20 miles up the road in Bradford – and they are – or some other group in a neglected town in an un-named country, the product of a century of anti-intellectualism, teaches very similar rubbish – and they do – that does not alter what happened in the 8th to 13th centuries, which is what I’ve been talking about.

    Let us try again by easy stages. By whatever means, the Qu’uran became a book, a book written in Arabic. Learning to read became a religious duty. It also became fashionable in a way it had probably not been even with Rome at its height.

    So, when local leaders had wars of conquest for all the usual reasons they – without necessarily planning this in advance – were able to leave behind a literate administrative class. One minor side-effect of that was Captain X, sent to clear up a particular small town, would recognise a book and put it aside in case his boss was interested. Ditto with any revered local physician or alchemist (who might well be a Zoroastrian or a Jew or a non-believer) who could well be of interest further up the chain of command.

    They were conducting their wars like anyone else but their attitude to pre-existing knowledge was very different from, say, the conquistadores. That’s why we still have most of the work of Maimonides and almost nothing of the contemporary scholarship of Mesoamerica.

    But, hey, I’m just asserting my God-given right under the First Amendment – neither of which applies to me – to apply the adjective ‘Islamic’ to the culture as well as to the religion in a small part of the world for five or six centuries. No Stalinist intention to impose conformity by force should be read into what I say.

  35. 35
    Lisa R.

    PZ, if a St. Paul location would make it easier for you to do your webconference and also attend the talk, our well-wifi’d house is available Sunday.

    (We don’t really know each other but you did help me publicize something years back. Happy to return the favor if I can!)

  36. 36
    american singles

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this brilliant blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

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