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Why should anyone have to read your goofy holy book?

This is truly getting ridiculous. The Independent has published a story claiming that atheists face an Islamophobia backlash, and the first thing I have to do is take exception to the premise. A “backlash”? Seriously? Dawkins has been hit with this “backlash” nonsense from the day The God Delusion hit the stands in 2006; he has had a colony of fleas (like this one, for example) leaping on his coattails and announcing that the great backlash has begun from the very beginning. I daresay there was a “backlash” on the day the first hominin looked at the rock his tribe was worshipping and grunted, “it’s just a rock” — of course, the backlash then was more like a backswing with a handaxe, but it was the same sentiment.

When the popular culture has been howling for centuries in protest at any expression of the idea that there is no god, you don’t get to use the word “backlash” any more, OK? You don’t get to pretend that this nonsense is something new. It’s just a “lash”, yet another in the commonplace droning torrent of complaint. And they don’t have a single original idea in that complaint, either.

This is the crux of their disagreement.

The opening broadside began earlier this month with a polemic from Nathan Lean on the Salon.com website. Lean, a Washington DC native and Middle East specialist who has recently written a book about the Islamophobia industry, was prompted to pen his attack following a series of tweets last month by Professor Dawkins attacking Islam in snappy 140 character sound bites.

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today,” the Cambridge evolutionary biologist wrote on 1 March.

For a man who has made a career out of academic rigour the admission that the author of the God Delusion hadn’t studied Islam’s holy book surprised many and led to a flurry of responses from both fans and critics alike. Three weeks later – in an apt illustration of Godwins’ Law (the idea that as an online discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one) – Dawkins added: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur’an. You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism.”

Richard Dawkins hasn’t read the fucking Koran. He hasn’t read every word of every hadith, either, neither Shia nor Sunni. He isn’t an Islamic scholar. He doesn’t know Arabic, so he hasn’t read the text in the original language, either, which purists will insist is the only way to study it…and if you study it, the purists will also insist that you are not allowed to criticize it. Once again, atheists are getting hit with the Courtier’s Reply, and it is rank bullshit.

The holy books of any religion are just collections of rationalizations, inconsistent and incoherent, with only the weakest relationship to the religion as it is practiced. Most of the practitioners of a religion have not dedicated their life to studying the texts, either; they have lives to live. You can get a better idea what a religion is about by studying what the believers actually say and do, and what practices are current in their culture: Christians, Jews, and Muslims all claim to be built on the Abrahamic foundation of the Old Testament, but studying that text isn’t going to allow you to predict what each of those religions are doing. Sunni and Shia both claim to be following the Koran; Quakers and Catholics claim to follow the Bible. Somehow they’ve built completely different faiths from the same starting point. If I am concerned about priestly pedophilia in the Catholic church or female genital mutiliation by some followers of the Koran, it is simply a distraction to tell me to go read their holy books — they won’t have anything to say about the subjects.

I can condemn pedophilia and FGM without knowing a word of Arabic or Aramaic, without spending a few years in a seminary, without receiving detailed interpretations from a sanctified religious authority. To imply that not reading those worthless books is a failure of academic rigor is sleazy and dishonest, because the atheists in question are not making a critique of the text, but of the politics and behavior of individuals and culture.

Even if I hadn’t read any of the Bible, I could still castigate the violence and oppression carried out by so many good Christians, in the name of their lord, against gays or women or Muslims or anyone different or foreign. Similarly, without reading word one of the Koran, I can categorically reject honor killings and terrorism and misogyny.

In addition, if I’m confronted with a strong claim made from a holy book, I can compare the specific argument with reality; I can have the believer explain to me what it means to him or her, and then address that interpretation directly. For example, without reading the whole of the Koran, I could discuss a 58 page exegesis of Muslim embryology by a true believer, and critique what he said, what his translation of the text said, and what he claimed were direct predictions of his interpretations. Are you going to tell me that I really needed to learn Arabic and read the whole of the Koran to do that?

Because that’s exactly what the gullible faith-heads want to tell me to do, too. When I criticized the two sentence summary of all of embryology from the Koran (shouldn’t it be enough to point out the necessary poverty of such a brief explanation?), one blithering believer told me my problem was that I couldn’t read the rich and very expressive language of the Koran…so rich and expressive, apparently, that an entire modern biology text fits into a few lines of poetry.

Knowing both languages; Arabic and English, I clearly understand why Hamza Tzortis needed to use many dictionaries to explain the meaning of this verse in such a script. The Arabic language is rich and very expressive. The translation can never give you a clear picture. From having a first language education in Arabic, I can tell you that the words in the Quran are not as simple as a “drop of fluid” but do need this much explanation that he provided to make the words’ meaning be shown. Having an advanced study in Biology, I can directly relate and fully agree that the words of the Quran are an exact match to embryonic development stages in humans. Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.

That’s simply goal-post shifting and dishonesty: I don’t believe for one minute that the author of that excuse had any advanced knowledge of biology.

As for the Mein Kampf argument, I consider it totally appropriate and a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Does anyone really need to read Hitler’s manifesto before they can honestly decide whether the Holocaust was a good thing, or a bad thing? Is it OK if I think right now that starting a global war that led to 60 million casualties is an unforgiveable evil, or are you going to tell me that somewhere in Mein Kampf there might just be a cunning justification that will cause me to change my opinion? Only if I read it in the original German, of course.

Spare me. Yet another unoriginal whine from the tens of thousands we’ve gotten from the faithful in the last decade, not one word of which addresses the source of the conflict between atheist and theist, leaves me cold and unimpressed.

But I’ll tell you what. Show me one scrap of reasonable scientific evidence that this Allah character actually exists, and I promise I’ll read the whole of the Koran. If it’s really convincing I’ll go off and study Arabic. But until then…telling me to waste a big chunk of my life reading another collection of pretentious babbling mythology is not going to be a good enough excuse to stop me from rejecting the stuff you actually say and do and believe in the name of an imaginary ghostly ape in the sky.

Comments

  1. says

    So the next time the Islamic world cries out against a cartoon from the West, we can cry and whine, “But read our constitution, the UN charter, this and that treatise on human rights by our Western scholars.”

  2. schweinhundt says

    telling me to waste a big chunk of my life reading another collection of pretentious babbling mythology is not going to be a good enough excuse to stop me from rejecting the stuff you actually say and do

    Spot-on and well said.

  3. athyco says

    From the blithering believer:

    Furthermore, I can assert that the knowledge from the Quran extends beyond this to all stages of human life and after death and describes in great detail the stages of the first creation of man which was different from the usual process of reproduction, thereby superseding the current level of scientific knowledge.

    From this great detail of creation “different from the usual process” and “superseding the current level of scientific knowledge,” there has been gained…what? It’s radical and detailed and supersedes current science, but there’s nothing in it that can be used or has been used to hypothesize, to predict, to explore.

    Amazing that the rich poetry of “drop of fluid” in Arabic has only “exactly matched” what science told us about embryonic development when science told us–decade after decade–about those developments. Disappointing that the multitudes of meaning weren’t pointing the way with the first generations of discoveries, the second, the third. Incredible that those words aren’t showing us new directions in which to proceed and refine our knowledge now.

    Yes, incredible.

  4. DrVanNostrand says

    @Donovan
    I hope that’s sarcasm. You don’t need to read the US Constitution to understand that starting riots over a cartoon is deranged. It’s classic false equivalence.

    If that was sarcasm, my apologies.

  5. Xaivius (Formerly Robpowell, Acolyte of His Majesty Lord Niel DeGrasse Tyson I) says

    In order to understand the fundageliban mindset, one must first use a sacred technique, known as “trepanning”

  6. says

    Have they read the completed works of Dawkins in the original british? All the colours and grays have a huge effect on the flavour of the the text you know. I don’t think you can really criticise Dawkins without at least taking that modest effort. ;p

  7. harvardmba says

    Wow — this is a pity. P Zed had just a few days ago written one of the most eloquent pieces about why Sam Harris is a tool, and now we get this verbal diarrhea.

    If you can’t get it, P Zed, that not all atheists are cut from the same cloth, then pull your head out of your ass and try hard to figure it out. The “backlash” if there is any, is long overdue and it’s about the rampant Islamophobia perpetuated by the likes of Harris. I’m not sure what it will take for the atheist movement to officially cut ties with the “bait-and-switch” Harris (come for the atheism, stay for the Islamophobia) — but it appears P Zed can’t make up his mind. I guess that’s an evolutionary trait of some kind. Must defend all atheists for atheism to survive.

    Sam Harris is an abysmal bigot, period. He deserves the beating he’s getting, and every time another atheist whines about it is another strike against atheism in general.

    Clean up your house P Zed. Take out the trash, leave it on the sidewalk for the garbage men to pick up. Only then can you start up with this whining again.

  8. Ulysses says

    It’s quite amazing how Muslims dismiss Hinduism without reading the Upanishads, the Mahaburata and the Vedas but insist unbelievers read the Qur’an in the original Classical Arabic before rejecting Islam. Likewise Christians demand unbelievers be intimately knowledgeable about the Bible in various translations but most of them have never even heard of the Vedas.

    Incidentally, the Mahaburata is the most fun to read because that’s where all the stories are.

  9. Ulysses says

    harvardmba, do you have a point or are you just trolling? If you’ve got a point then make it. If you’re trolling then fuck off.

  10. skaduskitai says

    Amen! And btw, reading the Koran and Hadhits would just give us more ammo. Especially the hadiths don’t portray neither Mohammed or Islam in any favorable light to the modern mind.

    For instance there’s a rule against adoption based on a story where Muhammed justified taking his son’s wife as his own because the son was adopted. So now you know: if you happen to lust after your adopted son’s wife, just convert to Islam and she’s totally yours. Afterall women are merely the property of men and you are entitled to steal from your children if they are adopted!

    The believers are just making up excuses, the last thing they would want to see is a Richard Dawkins armed with knowledge about all the ludicrus nonsense of the Haiths and the Koran or a college degree in theology and the Bible. Then he could make even more criticisms of their religion, not less!

  11. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Ulysses, why do you bother?

    Obvious troll is obviously trolling; any post is a good post to rail at PZ for such as it.

  12. says

    Dawkins deserves the backlash he’s getting, though this crap about the Koran has nothing to do with it. I mean, when he tweets shit like this, it becomes abundantly clear that his privilege is showing, big time, and that he truly doesn’t know what racism is. There’s another tweet where he mischaracterizes the meaning of Islamaphobia using the same stupid arguments homophobes use to claim that they’re not actually homophobic because they’re not afraid of gay people.

    Criticizing the things Dawkins says about Islam because he hasn’t read the Koran is stupid, and people are right to point that out; that doesn’t mean that Dawkins isn’t being an asshole regarding the topic, though.

  13. says

    To me, it comes down to this. Are the reasons for belief for an outsider contained within those books? If so, there may be course to read them. But if they are only convincing for an insider – that is, that one has to take a number of assumptions about the texts in order to come to the desired conclusion – then reading those books is a waste of effort for anyone except an insider.

    I’m betting that insiders generally believe that their books are convincing to an outsider, but the burden is on them to establish the veracity of their holy books irrespective of suppositions. Unfortunately for us, there’s a huge gap between the suppositions and the reasonable acceptance of them by outsiders, and that’s unlikely to change while believers don’t know how to get outside of their own belief system to analyse the problem. In any case, we have systems of public knowledge and the onus is on those who want their books taken seriously to get it to the standards of public knowledge. If not, then such calls to take their books seriously aren’t worth more than the paper it’s written on.

  14. says

    Even if you read the holy books, you’ll then be directed to read long tomes of increasingly sophisticated theology that turn the holy books into (presumably) more palatable mush.

    It’s like insisting that you can’t dismiss Star Trek as fictional until you’ve watched all the TV shows* and movies, read all the novels, brushed up on the Star Trek Encyclopedia (3rd Edition), and absorbed how Federation technology is superior to Imperial technology.

    * Except the animated series, which is not canonical, except when it is.

  15. mikeyb says

    To me it is not a question of “having to read the Koran.” But I think if you appear in print castigating Islam or some particular doctrine associated with it, I do think it is incumbent upon you to be informed of the topic. Otherwise you give the appearance of being anti-intellectual, the way Harris dismisses reading moral philosophy because it increases the overall boredom in the universe. Of course most religionists know their religion inside and out and nothing about anything else. I might be mistaken but the God Delusion is more a generic case of how any kind of god is extremely improbable. If I remember right he discusses the Danish cartoon issue, but the argument is intended to be generic. I know he makes rhetorical points about the old testament god, but it think it fits into his overall argument that any god is highly improbable. So I don’t think this type of argument comes into play with the God Delusion.

    However, if you want to debate someone on the merits of Islam, like Christianity it does help to be a bit informed about the subject, just as debating intelligent designers its helpful to know about the idiotic ramblings of Dembski and Behe, since most of what even approaches a coherent idea can be derived from one or the other of these two.

    I have read the Koran. My copy is ~400 pages and can be read in a few hours. I will say it is extremely repetitive, an editor could have reduced it in half easily and kept the content which are mainly ramblings in different settings about blind assertions about Allah, rewards for believers and the day of judgement for infidels – sounded to me like alot of what Paul and Jesus say in the New Testament. It is easier to read than Leviticus and is less dreadful than the Book of Mormon and Dianetics, but that is not saying much.

  16. musical beef says

    Well said, PZ.

    Two things:

    1) “Islamophobia industry”?

    2) That Godwin accusation seems as though it’s meant to do some work in the discrediting department. Fulfilling Godwin’s Law doesn’t necessarily mean your point is invalid. Sometimes a comparison to Hitler/the Nazis is eminently valid.

  17. chigau (違う) says

    harvardmba
    Ah yes.
    That’s more like it.
    But you still missed ivory tower and vivisection.

  18. rorschach says

    There is another difference between the Koran and other holy texts. And that is that the Koran, and the stuff Mohammed is alleged to have said and done during his lifetime, are much more dependent on interpretation by current “scholars”.

    So even if one was to learn the particular local flavor of medieval Arabic the texts were originally transcribed into from oral traditions, and then wade through the whole mess and memorize it, that would still not give you much clue as to what a particular verse means, because that depends on how a scholar interprets it, and may differ widely depending on the occasion, and the intent the particular cleric has in mind.

    As an aside, I think the general backlash against atheists is somewhat different from the current orchestrated backlash against Sam “Nuke them from orbit” Harris and Richard “what my racist uncle says when he’s drunk” Dawkins. It’s not so much targeting unbelief as such, but what certain unbelievers say and hastily generalize about Islam. That’s my impression, anyway.

  19. yubal says

    Does anyone really need to read Hitler’s manifesto before they can honestly decide whether the Holocaust was a good thing, or a bad thing?

    Nope. But a few jewish people managed to stay alive by reading it and realizing what was coming at them soon. Guenther (Stern) Anders was one of them. He wrote about this experience.

  20. yubal says

    Talking about Guenther Anders, I would like to present one of his talking points: “Humanism has to be practical.” Just as as a quick reminder to those how like to talk (too much?).

  21. No One says

    I have read the Koran. My copy is ~400 pages and can be read in a few hours. I will say it is extremely repetitive, an editor could have reduced it in half easily and kept the content which are mainly ramblings in different settings about blind assertions about Allah, rewards for believers and the day of judgement for infidels – sounded to me like alot of what Paul and Jesus say in the New Testament. It is easier to read than Leviticus and is less dreadful than the Book of Mormon and Dianetics, but that is not saying much.

    Slogged through it years ago. And fuck me what a tedious read it was.

  22. Nemo says

    I tried to read Mein Kampf once, but gave up, it was so dreadful. I wondered at the time if the translator had intentionally botched it — I mean, this was a book that had a profound impact, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it read more like it? But now, I just figure most Nazis didn’t spend any more time reading their holy book than most Christians do theirs.

    I own a Koran but have never even tried to read it.

  23. chigau (違う) says

    I own a translation of the Koran and I have read a lot of it.
    The “Satanic Verses” are missing.

  24. says

    I am hearing through the TD back channels that some of you are struggling to understand my long and interesting response to the OP, that I gave in my comment at # 29.

    First off, let me suggest that you all learn to read tardigradese. What can be rendered in this short statement of mine – in the finest of all languages in all the known uniBerse – would take thousands upon thousands of volumes in Arabic. And consequently millions upon millions of volumes if rendered into English. It would take literally billions of extremely large and bulky dictionaries to even attempt a translation.

    Secondly, a translation will never carry across the depth of meaning, the expressivity, the shear poetry of what I have written above, in the fine and expressive tardigradese writing. Being a first language speaker, I can tell you that you all live your miserable lives – as if in the dark – if you do not speak The Language ™ fluently.

  25. glodson says

    Even if you read the holy books, you’ll then be directed to read long tomes of increasingly sophisticated theology that turn the holy books into (presumably) more palatable mush.

    The endless chain of books that make the holy book make sense.

    I guess they hope the infinite loop will either wear us down, or rob of us our freetime.

  26. says

    “You can get a better idea what a religion is about by studying what the believers actually say and do, and what practices are current in their culture.” This really is key. The logic that finds individual nasty extracts from extensive scriptural text to attack religion would suggest that, say, Jews, should be predominently bloodthirsty, and this is just obviously not true. It would suggest Christian should be all sweetness and kindness, and this is obviously not true either. Anyone making sweeping derogatory generalisations about people based on their religion should be asking themselves whether they’re indulging in bigotry themselves. It is absolutely possible to tear into extreme Sharia and any other religious injustice like a doberman at the Sunday roast without making the frankly illiberal assertion that all muslims are bad people. All muslims are not bad people, all muslims are not misogynists who don’t care about the welfare and education of the women and girls in their lives. While it is certainly proper to say that all Nazis colluded in evil, whether because they were evil themselves or feared for their lives or families lives if they didn’t, all muslims are not ‘a force for evil’. Dawkins so far as I can see does not draw a distinction between liberal or moderate muslims and extreme sharia when he has a go at Islam and that’s where the criticism lies. He RTed someone saying he’d changed his holiday plans from Maldives to Cancun “No muslims there I hope! #fuckyou #islam”. I don’t believe for one second that person changed his plans out of solidarity for a victim of sexual and judicial torture. “No muslims there I hope” guy just sounds like a racist to me (or bigot would’ve been a better word and more difficult for Dawkins to rebut). Dawkins is enormously admirable, I’m not saying he isn’t, but I think he made a mistake here and refused to acknowledge it. Which is fine, because he’s not infallible.

  27. slowdjinn says

    @mikeyb #19

    Of course most religionists know their religion inside and out and nothing about anything else.

    If by “their religion” you mean the contents of their scriptures and the classic works of their theologians, most of them know precious little about those either in my experience.
    Most of them only ‘know’ the cherry-picked excerpts that justify their own priest’s personal prejudices, and/or their particular sect’s party line.

  28. John Morales says

    Fiona:

    The logic that finds individual nasty extracts from extensive scriptural text to attack religion would suggest that, say, Jews, should be predominently bloodthirsty, and this is just obviously not true. It would suggest Christian should be all sweetness and kindness, and this is obviously not true either.

    That their hypocrisy is their salient common characteristic is no revelation.

    Anyone making sweeping derogatory generalisations about people based on their religion should be asking themselves whether they’re indulging in bigotry themselves.

    What the religion prescribes and what the religious typically do are not the same thing, true.

    All muslims are not bad people, all muslims are not misogynists who don’t care about the welfare and education of the women and girls in their lives.

    Contrary to the dicta to which they purportedly adhere.

    It is absolutely possible to tear into extreme Sharia and any other religious injustice like a doberman at the Sunday roast without making the frankly illiberal assertion that all muslims are bad people.

    You’re unfamiliar with Steven Weinberg?

    (Most of us aren’t)

    Dawkins so far as I can see does not draw a distinction between liberal or moderate muslims and extreme sharia when he has a go at Islam and that’s where the criticism lies.

    That’s because it’s Islam he criticises and not Muslim per se. Duh.

    Dawkins is enormously admirable, I’m not saying he isn’t, but I think he made a mistake here and refused to acknowledge it. Which is fine, because he’s not infallible.

    You’ve made a mistake to imagine Dawkins is mistaken here; whether you refuse to acknowledge it now it’s pointed out is up to you.

    Which is fine, because he’s not infallible.

    Imperfection is not fine just because no-one is perfect.

  29. barndad says

    Also, Dawkins is an Oxford man, not Cambridge. Just one of many egregious errors in the piece.

  30. fmitchell says

    I was about to make Fiona’s point — “you shall know them by their works”, as some hippie freak once said — but she beat me to it.

    To be honest, though, Rorschach makes the Koran sound special; ALL the holy texts depend heavily on who’s interpreting them. Koranic interpretation essentially froze around the 12th century (Mongol invasion, maybe?), but Talmudic logic is notoriously tortuous, and interpretations of the Bible differ wildly depending on what verses someone emphasizes or ignores. Heck, the Bible we have now is the Council of Nicea’s idea of the “important” scriptures; others unearthed in the past century or two give a far more complex picture of early Christianity. Add to that the power of “tradition”, notably in Catholicism and its central interpreting body, and the actual content of the scriptures seems all but irrelevant. As Paul of Tarsus proved, it’s not what the founders of a religion said but what someone can convince everyone else the founders MEANT.

  31. rorschach says

    Koranic interpretation essentially froze around the 12th century (Mongol invasion, maybe?), but Talmudic logic is notoriously tortuous, and interpretations of the Bible differ wildly depending on what verses someone emphasizes or ignores.

    Yes of course, I’m not disputing that all religious texts can be made to fit some ideology, or justify any atrocity. But at least in Christianity for example, you have theology, you have critical analysis of texts and scriptures. You don’t have that for the Koran, most believers can’t read the text in its Original or at least a true translation, and instead rely heavily on the interpretations printed in commentary, or announced from the pulpit.

    At least with the Bible, you can read Ehrman or Avalos, and there is a tradition of critical analysis. No such thing to my knowledge for the Koran. That’s what I was trying to point out.

  32. says

    @ John Morales

    “That their hypocrisy is their salient common characteristic is no revelation.” No, I wouldn’t have thought that every person who is not an atheist is a hypocrite. What that and your third point are getting at is that because there are obvious wrongnesses in the area of human rights (leaving aside lack of empirical evidence of the supernatural for the moment) about some aspects of the major religious creeds, anyone adhering to those creeds is a hypocrite even if they personally respect the human rights of others. Have I understood you correctly? I accept that point, but the problem is religious liberals are attacked on both sides: by religious fascists but also by an empowered atheist movement that won’t be happy till everybody is atheist (which is an inherently illiberal position). This makes religious reform difficult. I think it’s a pity personally that liberal atheists and liberal religious are not allies in the fight against religious abuse of power.

    “You’re unfamiliar with Steven Weinberg? (Most of us aren’t)” Correct, I’m unfamiliar with Steven Weinberg but I see from a quick google I should fix that so cheers for that!

    “That’s because it’s Islam he criticises and not Muslim per se. Duh.” I disagree. When Dawkins criticizes Islam without making a distinction between decent Muslims and nasty Muslims, he is denigrating every Muslim. In contrast, Nick Cohen’s book on censorship “You Can’t Read This Book” is fiercely critical of Islamic intimidation of free speech but he keep making the point over and over that peaceful Muslims are oppressed by this as much as secular dissidents are. When Dawkins RTs someone saying “No Muslims there I hope! #fuckyou #Islam” then literally three or four tweets later appeals to moderate Muslims to condemn brutal Sharia, can’t you see what a difficult position he’s putting decent Muslims in? People who might have more influence over the clerical fascists than an atheist might have?

    And a point I forgot to make earlier is that I’m uncomfortable with anyone thinking it’s ok to burn a book they haven’t read. I’m not any more familiar with the Qur’an than Dawkins is but I do know it’s much easier to have a proper debate with a Christian fundamentalist on marriage equality when you have a working knowledge of the gospels.

    “Imperfection is not fine just because no-one is perfect.” I didn’t say ‘imperfect’, I used ‘infallible’ deliberately but my bad, I didn’t explain that last point properly. My point was that nobody, not even the best of people, should be above criticism. Partisanship should never get in the way of truthfulness. We can see how badly the concept of infallibility has gone for Catholicism. Thanks John.

  33. halfspin says

    Okay, that’s nice and all, PZ, but are you claiming that Islam is the greatest force for evil today? If so, I’d expect a little in the way of justification. I’m not expecting you to read the Koran, I’m just curious why you blame female genital mutilation on Islam rather than, say, cultural practices in northeastern Africa. You’re assuming that the “Islamophobia backlash” comes from the same sources as the pushback against any criticism of religion, rather than being a reaction to the contention by certain prominent atheists (Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens in particular) that Islam is uniquely worse than any other religion. If it is, why? Is it because of some particularly awful Islamic theological construct or merely because of some historical or sociological or biochemical circumstance that has effected certain Islamic societies in particular?

  34. halfspin says

    (I meant “affected” rather than “effected” there, but Allah must have cursed me.)

  35. says

    The logic that finds individual nasty extracts from extensive scriptural text to attack religion would suggest that, say, Jews, should be predominently bloodthirsty, and this is just obviously not true. It would suggest Christian should be all sweetness and kindness, […]

    ???
    Did I wake up in a parallel universe?

    all muslims are not ‘a force for evil’

    Did Dawkins say they were? Wow. Citation please.

  36. atheist says

    @Fionnabhair – 12 April 2013 at 10:05 pm (UTC -5)

    Dawkins deserves the backlash he’s getting, though this crap about the Koran has nothing to do with it. I mean, when he tweets shit like this, it becomes abundantly clear that his privilege is showing, big time, and that he truly doesn’t know what racism is. There’s another tweet where he mischaracterizes the meaning of Islamaphobia using the same stupid arguments homophobes use to claim that they’re not actually homophobic because they’re not afraid of gay people.

    The tweet Fionnabhair linked:

    @richarddawkins: If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

    These word games are truly beneath him, and it is embarrassing to watch him make them. I originally thought Dawkins was smarter than Harris, Hitchens et. al. (smarter than the bloodthirsty wing of the New Atheists). But as Dawkins digs in around this particular issue, his right to criticize Islam no matter how ignorant his own arguments get, I am starting to get annoyed with him, or, perhaps I am annoyed on his behalf?

    Of course Dawkins is right that you don’t need to read the Koran in order to criticize Islam. But that’s beside the point, which is the way Dawkins is demonizing an entire religion…. really, an entire global tribe. There is a way to attack the religion without attacking the tribe that comes out of the religion, and Dawkins keeps failing to do that, keeps attacking the Muslim tribe. I think atheism should be so much better than that.

  37. rorschach says

    @richarddawkins: If you think criticising Islam is racist, you must think Islam is a race. And if you think Islam is a race you are a racist.

    Sure, it’s a non sequitur, and a fallacy of affirmation of the consequent, a circular argument, yada yada yada. But I don’t quite get this,

    But that’s beside the point, which is the way Dawkins is demonizing an entire religion…. really, an entire global tribe. There is a way to attack the religion without attacking the tribe that comes out of the religion, and Dawkins keeps failing to do that, keeps attacking the Muslim tribe.

    Does not compute. There is no Muslim tribe. What do you mean by this?

  38. atheist says

    @rorschach – 13 April 2013 at 7:43 am (UTC -5)

    Does not compute. There is no Muslim tribe. What do you mean by this?

    I’d argue there is a global tribe of Muslims, much like there is a global tribe of Westerners. Muslims of many nations are pissed about the situation in Israel/Palestine. That suggests that this global tribe of Muslims believes in itself. In addition, Westerners tend to view Muslims as being a kind of global nation, believing, for instance, that violent actions taken by Egyptian Muslims against Egyptian Coptic Christians make this entire “Muslims Tribe” guilt. Finally, Westerners write books about how their “Western Civilization” is in conflict with “Islamic Civilization”. These are all pieces of evidence for some level of existence of “global tribes” called “The West” and “Islam”, tribes connected only loosely with actual religious or philosophical beliefs. NOTE: I agree that the elites of nations do not believe in these tribes the same way the populace believes in them, but I would think national elites are influenced by these tribal beliefs anyhow.

  39. Ulysses says

    halfspin @43

    Okay, that’s nice and all, PZ, but are you claiming that Islam is the greatest force for evil today?

    I’ve just reread the OP. Nowhere does PZ make that claim.

    You’re assuming that the “Islamophobia backlash” comes from the same sources as the pushback against any criticism of religion, rather than being a reaction to the contention by certain prominent atheists (Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens in particular) that Islam is uniquely worse than any other religion.

    You’re assuming that PZ’s making an assumption. Since the OP has statements like

    If I am concerned about priestly pedophilia in the Catholic church or female genital mutiliation by some followers of the Koran, it is simply a distraction to tell me to go read their holy books — they won’t have anything to say about the subjects.

    While there’s somewhat more verbiage in the OP about Islam than Christianity, you’re assuming that PZ is saying Islam is the worst religion ever. Your assumption is incorrect. What PZ is complaining about is that certain religious critics of Dawkins dismiss his statements against Islam because Dawkins is not intimately familiar with the Qu’ran. It is not necessary to know a religion’s scriptures to criticize that religion, all that’s necessary is to see what adherents to that religion do while using their religion to justify their actions. There’s also the rampant hypocrisy found in many religions. The Catholic Church condemns almost all forms of sex except for penile-vaginal intercourse without contraception. The Catholic hierarchy also supports and protects pedophile clergy, muttering about how it’s a sin and a shame how those wily children are seducing priests (I’m not making that up) while not informing civil authorities about priestly child-rapists.

    Certain Muslims practice FGM and honor killings and defend them as Allah’s will. Do all Muslims inflict FGM on young girls? It’s not done in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country. So Muslims in general should not be condemned for FGM. But non-Muslims can condemn those Muslims who do practice FGM as part of their “religious heritage and culture.”

    Islamophobia is a genuine phenomena and, like other forms of racism, should be denounced. But not all criticism of religious practices are racist. Not every criticism of Islam and groups of Muslims are Islamophobic.

  40. says

    @ Delft

    “‘all muslims are not ‘a force for evil’
    Did Dawkins say they were? Wow. Citation please.”

    Citation https://twitter.com/RichardDawkins/status/307369895031603200

    Dawkins said Islam is the greatest force for evil today. All Muslims are adherents of Islam. I stand over what I say in response: all Muslims are not “a force for evil”. Dawkins didn’t backtrack from his statement, he didn’t acknowledge that there is a distinction to be made between Muslims who are a force for evil and Muslims who are not, all he did in response to widespread criticism was rebut the erroneous assertion a few people made that his tweet was racist. Of course it wasn’t, and Dawkins is no racist, but personally I feel it was a prejudiced, incendiary thing to say and it whips up even more hatred – against decent, mostly brown-skinned, Muslim people who are just trying to get on with their lives – by mostly white-skinned people who *are* racist. There are plenty of them out there, even in atheist discourse. People like “..going to Cancun. No Muslims there I hope! FuckyouIslam” guy whom Dawkins either disgracefully or thoughtlessly chose to RT.

  41. atheist says

    @Ulysses – 13 April 2013 at 8:53 am (UTC -5)

    halfspin @43

    Okay, that’s nice and all, PZ, but are you claiming that Islam is the greatest force for evil today?

    I’ve just reread the OP. Nowhere does PZ make that claim.

    He made it in a tweet, but then (apparently) deleted the tweet. Perhaps because he had second thoughts?

  42. atheist says

    @Fiona Hanley – 13 April 2013 at 8:56 am (UTC -5)

    Or, OK, I guess I did not go back far enough…

  43. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    How many times does Dick have to do this shit before we stop saying “of course he isn’t racist/sexist?”

  44. says

    But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.

    =|= All muslims are a force for evil.
    A religion or ideology is not the same as the group of all adherents to the idea.
    .
    E.g.
    Creationism is dishonest rubbish. That does not mean all people who disbelieve evolution are dishonest and rubbish. Saying so is not denigrating 50% of USAmericans (and a few others).
    .
    By your logic bad ideas could never be criticized as long as a single “decent” (whatever you take that to mean) person believes in it. The end of skepticism – which is perhaps your goal?

  45. halfspin says

    Ulysses@50:
    I think PZ already said most of what I wanted to express. Islam as practiced in much of the world is quite bad. Worse than, say, predatory capitalism, or patriarchy, or colonialism, or Dick Cheney? I’m not sure. Singling out Islam sounds awfully politically convenient to my ears, that’s all.

  46. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 9:12 am (UTC -5)

    But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.

    =|= All muslims are a force for evil.
    A religion or ideology is not the same as the group of all adherents to the idea.

    If enough Westerners are convinced that Islam is “the greatest force for evil today”, then the natural next thought will be, “how can we eradicate this greatest force for evil”? That is the thought-path that we don’t want people going down.

  47. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 9:12 am (UTC -5)

    But often say Islam greatest force for evil today.

    =|= All muslims are a force for evil.
    A religion or ideology is not the same as the group of all adherents to the idea.

    Not to mention, the statement “Islam is the greatest force for evil today” is completely fucking untrue.

  48. halfspin says

    atheist@58:

    Not to mention, the statement “Islam is the greatest force for evil today” is completely fucking untrue.

    Exactly. Everyone knows the greatest force for evil today is Satan and/or Obamacare.

  49. atheist says

    @halfspin – 13 April 2013 at 9:32 am (UTC -5)

    Exactly. Everyone knows the greatest force for evil today is Satan and/or Obamacare.

    Personally, I’d go for the oil industry. Destroying the entire environment of the Earth is pretty evil.

  50. says

    @atheist
    If you think an idea is wrong, then provide arguments against it. That’s skepticism.
    Don’t say (or in this case support saying), “well that’s tantamount to saying [something completely different]”, and argue against that. That’s stupid.
    .
    Criticising ideas and persons is NOT the same thing.
    Or are we not allowed to criticise creationism anymore because there are decent creationists, just trying to get on with their lives, and their feelings may be hurt? Or because criticising creationism may lead to the mass murder of all creationists?
    .
    I think the concept of evil is violent in itself, and I don’t subscribe to it.
    That said, the radicalisation of the Islam we’ve experienced in the last forty years, as evidenced by upward trend of Sharia-states and suicide bombers, scares the shit out of me.

  51. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 9:48 am (UTC -5)

    I think the concept of evil is violent in itself, and I don’t subscribe to it.
    That said, the radicalisation of the Islam we’ve experienced in the last forty years, as evidenced by upward trend of Sharia-states and suicide bombers, scares the shit out of me.

    In assessing risk it is important to consider the actual dimensions of the threat, to view them realistically rather than hysterically. Most of our culture is geared toward making us view Islam with terror and hatred. But in fact, suicide bombers are almost always people trying to get folks they consider foreign occupiers off of their land. Suicide bombers are not always Muslim, either, in fact the tactic was pioneered by the Sri Lankan Marxist nationalists, “The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”.

    While Sharia law is certainly a bad thing, it is generally embraced only in ultra-conservative states like Saudi Arabia, or in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan & Pakistan. This is a localized threat that exists in certain areas of the world, not a threat in the secular West. People living under Sharia law deserve our compassion, not our fear or hatred.

  52. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 9:48 am (UTC -5)

    Criticising ideas and persons is NOT the same thing.
    Or are we not allowed to criticise creationism anymore because there are decent creationists, just trying to get on with their lives, and their feelings may be hurt? Or because criticising creationism may lead to the mass murder of all creationists?

    Get real please. There is no state campaign against creationists, but there is a state campaign against “radical Islam”.

  53. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 9:48 am (UTC -5)

    @atheist
    If you think an idea is wrong, then provide arguments against it. That’s skepticism.
    Don’t say (or in this case support saying), “well that’s tantamount to saying [something completely different]“, and argue against that. That’s stupid.

    I already provided one semi-organized entity that would be a much better candidate for “greatest source of evil today” than the religion Islam: the oil industry. While Islam entraps people in delusions and makes them believe absurdities, the oil industry is destroying the entire Earth’s atmosphere.

  54. says

    @atheist
    You’re doing exactly the same thing again.

    People living under Sharia law deserve our compassion, not our fear or hatred.

    There was absolutely nothing in my post to suggest that I hated “people living under Sharia law”.
    And they don’t just need our compassion. When you’ve get stoned for adultery because you were gang-raped, you may think “compassion” didn’t quite meet the case.

    not a threat in the secular West.

    Ask Theo van Gogh. Or the 9/11 victims. Oh, wait, you can’t.
    So maybe ask Salman Rushdie.

  55. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 10:18 am (UTC -5)

    There was absolutely nothing in my post to suggest that I hated “people living under Sharia law”.
    And they don’t just need our compassion. When you’ve get stoned for adultery because you were gang-raped, you may think “compassion” didn’t quite meet the case.

    You said: That said, the radicalisation of the Islam we’ve experienced in the last forty years, as evidenced by upward trend of Sharia-states and suicide bombers, scares the shit out of me.

    But why should sharia states “scare the shit out of you”? The awful Sharia law is directed at the people living in these states, not you! You seem to think that “Sharia Law” will somehow reach across oceans and grab you. That’s not reasonable.

    And if compassion does not meet the case, what does meet the case? Do you want to compel your government to cut ties with Saudi Arabia? Do you want regime change in Iran? What real-world scenario are you calling for?

  56. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 10:18 am (UTC -5)

    not a threat in the secular West.

    Ask Theo van Gogh. Or the 9/11 victims. Oh, wait, you can’t.
    So maybe ask Salman Rushdie.

    The terrorism against Theo van Gogh and Salman Rushdie was indeed terrible, but that is a matter for law enforcement.

  57. Ulysses says

    atheist @67

    But why should sharia states “scare the shit out of you”? The awful Sharia law is directed at the people living in these states, not you! You seem to think that “Sharia Law” will somehow reach across oceans and grab you. That’s not reasonable.

    So if Sharia law is not an immediate threat to me then I should completely ignore it. You sound exactly like the climate change denialists: “I don’t see any problem with the Arctic Sea ice cover being smaller than it was umpteen years ago, now stop complaining about my SUV.”

    Sharia law doesn’t threaten us here in the First World. We’re not worried about having our hands chopped off if we get caught stealing so no big deal. It’s those brown people living in Saudi Arabia or Iran who might lose their hands but you’re not going to spend any time being concerned about them! You’d much rather rail about Dawkins being hyperbolic about Islam in general.

  58. atheist says

    @Ulysses – 13 April 2013 at 10:45 am (UTC -5)

    Sharia law doesn’t threaten us here in the First World. We’re not worried about having our hands chopped off if we get caught stealing so no big deal. It’s those brown people living in Saudi Arabia or Iran who might lose their hands but you’re not going to spend any time being concerned about them! You’d much rather rail about Dawkins being hyperbolic about Islam in general.

    So again, if we’re worried about the people living under Sharia law, or Muslim theocracies in general, what are we to do that might actually help these people? Are you calling for folks to sign onto a strongly worded petition to King Abdullah? Are you calling for regime change in Iran? What are you actually calling for?

  59. atheist says

    Because hyperbolic hatred, fear, and demonization of Islam definitely won’t help anyone except maybe armament manufacturers.

  60. says

    Because hyperbolic hatred, fear, and demonization of Islam definitely won’t help anyone except maybe armament manufacturers.

    Clearly. And I agree that Dawkins’ statement was hyperbolic. But you’re spilling that legitimate criticism of Dawkins’ hyperbole about Islam over into rational critiques of Islamic ideas and culture.

  61. Ulysses says

    Thank you, Sally. You explained quite clearly the objection to atheist’s dismissal of criticism of Islamic actions I was groping towards.

  62. says

    But why should sharia states “scare the shit out of you”?

    The pretty much free country I lived in as a child is now strongly influenced by Sharia law. That’s quite enough for me. You’re welcome to wait until your own country is.

    I already provided one semi-organized entity that would be a much better candidate for “greatest source of evil today” than the religion Islam: the oil industry. While Islam entraps people in delusions and makes them believe absurdities, the oil industry is destroying the entire Earth’s atmosphere.

    I’m not a fan of the oil industry, but last I looked it was actual people who waste energy, not the oil industry. Weaseling out of responsibility by blaming a “semi-organized entity” for what we all do is not going to help the Earth. We are not the victims of the oil-industry*.
    And that is exactly the difference: the idea of Islam (the purpose of which is to conquer to planet, if you believe the Islamists) is dangerous. Any idea proposing to subject others is. People fall for the idea, especially if the are vulnerable due to desperate poverty and lack of educational opportunities.
    _____
    * If you want to indict the oil-industry you’ll have come up with better arguments than that. War-mongering perhaps. But then you should include the weapons-industry.

  63. Larry Poppins says

    Delft @74

    The pretty much free country I lived in as a child is now strongly influenced by Sharia law.

    Please explain the strong influence of Sharia law in your free country. Does it come into play when determining punishment for non-Muslims? Can you give examples of laws affecting non-Muslims that are a result of the strong influence of Sharia law?

  64. says

    Let’s all just agree that Dawkins has a maddening habit of sticking his foot into his mouth on occasion, then when criticized, he follows it up with his other foot.

    I’ve never been that big a fan of Dawkins — no kidding, I don’t even like his books that much. I think he’s quite unsuited temperamentally to be a “leader” of the atheist “movement” — whatever that might be. And people point at him as if he’s the atheist pope, as if I have to agree with everything he says. He’s not, and I don’t.

    However, when it comes to human rights, especially rights for women, Islam (the religion) is a force for evil. As practiced by its adherents in most places in the world, it is odious. The religion doesn’t just give cover to the degradation of human rights — it demands it.

    That doesn’t make me a “bigot” or an “Islamophobe” to point out the obvious facts.

    There is a difference between “bigotry” and “evaluation”. I’ve evaluated the evidence. There’s nothing unreasonable about my reaching a logical conclusion based on the evidence presented before me. Of the religions I’m familiar with, Islam institutionalizes anti-human-rights behavior moreso than the others. Though Catholicism would give it a run for its money if it had the chance to institute theocracies again, like it did in the Middle Ages.

    I’m also not saying that if Islam were to disappear that human rights would suddenly flourish, or that FGM would immediately cease, or anything else for that matter. Only that the religion supports the practices, which makes it odious. And if gone, the practices would diminish, because they religious cover given to cultural practices would disappear.

    That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, of course. Because the adherents care not one whit what I or Dawkins or anyone else has to say.

  65. says

    @Larry Poppins

    Please explain the strong influence of Sharia law in your free country. Does it come into play when determining punishment for non-Muslims? Can you give examples of laws affecting non-Muslims that are a result of the strong influence of Sharia law?

    W T F
    So it doesn’t matter when Muslim women are imprisoned for being raped, right, it’s only when non-Muslims are affected that you might object.
    Frankly, I am shocked at this degree of callousness.
    .
    And the country is Pakistan, it is not “mine”, no longer free, not officially under Sharia, but as good as. Non-muslims are affected by the laws, e.g. Asia Bibi is under a death sentence for “blasphemy”. Being a Christian is all but a criminal offense there today, and non-Muslims living there are under constant threat of being incarcerated – and possibly hanged – on some trumped up charge of “blasphemy”.

  66. says

    My whole point with mentioning FGM is that it isn’t in the Koran. It’s not a uniform practice in the Islamic world by any means. So if I oppose FGM, why should I need to read an irrelevant holy book? Shouldn’t I instead focus on the cultural mores which promote it?

    #77: I also throw wild punches now and then. So? Dawkins also lands some very effective blows — at least he’s out there fighting.

  67. Larry Poppins says

    @ Delft #80

    I misunderstood you. I assumed that you were talking about the influence of Sharia law on a western democracy not Pakistan. I see now that’s what you meant by “pretty much free.” Pakistan is a country where the influence of Sharia law has been extremely harmful to women, atheists and others and I don’t mean to minimize that. What I object to is the use of the threat of Sharia law in places where Muslims are in the minority in order to marginalize people perceived to be Muslims. There isn’t much I can do from California that will affect the lives of people living in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but I can try to see that injustice in Pakistan is not used as an excuse to perpetuate injustice against the Muslims and others from Muslim countries that I deal with every day.

  68. says

    Larry… I would say that claims of “creeping Sharia” in the US are largely bullshit. US Muslims may live privately by Sharia, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that they’re trying to get it into the government.

    I think Dominionist Christians are using that as a smokescreen for their own attempts to get their Biblical bullshit into law, and for the US, I’m more worried about them than I am about fanatic Muslims…

  69. davebot says

    The problem isn’t that Dawkins hasn’t read or doesn’t understand the Koran. The problem is that Dawkins doesn’t understand the situation in Muslim countries (not that I claim to either, but Dawkins seems especially lazy in this regard). Whether he means to or not, his simplistic, “Islam is categorically worse” (and I’m paraphrasing here) line of argument leads to the rationale that Muslims in the aggregate are bad and that the “war on terror” is justified.

    I don’t know Dawkins, but I suspect, if you cornered him, he’d respond that he does not mean to say that “all Muslims are bad”. In fact I’m sure he’s said that before, but it doesn’t matter. When someone suggests that Islam is measurably worse in terms of human rights outcomes then you are also suggesting, indirectly, that practitioners of Islam are also measurably worse (at least on average). In other words Dawkins is suggesting that Muslims are generally worse people. Whether he means to or not is immaterial to me. He’s ignoring the historical evidence that says otherwise.

    So what did Dawkins accidentally or intentionally imply with his Mein Kampf reference? That Muslims are like Nazis. That makes him either stupid or a bigot. Either way, no one should be defending those statements.

    It is perfectly legitimate and morally necessary to criticize the crimes perpetrated in the name of Islam and to criticize the Koranic justifications for those crimes, but let’s not be so lazy as to simply say “Islam done it”. “Islam done it” is being used as justification for the U.S. and others to keep killing Muslims.

    Now all that being said, I do agree that some people have been equally lazy in their criticism of atheism and atheists by labeling them bigots when what they are really doing is legitimately criticizing an aspect of Islam, but that doesn’t let us off the hook if we say stupid things or voice bigotry.

  70. says

    No, your femininophobia is a fucking industry.

    Irrational fear of all things feminine?

    Sorry, someone already cornered that market. I doubt PZ has as many resources as, say, Dr. Pepper, which recently ran an ad campaign about how Dr. Pepper is for men, not women.

  71. says

    @Larry Poppins
    Ah, I see.
    I agree that “Islam” should not be used to marginalise people in the West.
    At the same time, the fact that there are Muslim minorities in many countries should not make the Islam, and it’s consequences in Sharia countries and elsewhere (let’s not forget honour murders and so forth) immune from criticism.
    And currently it seems like it’s not possible to say anything less than complimentary about Islam without being howled down.

  72. says

    PZ: No doubt, Dawkins can be an effective advocate. Not saying that he isn’t. And he certainly looks every bit the Oxford don that he is — oh so British reserve, and all that — which is quite disarming to those who wish to paint us atheists as being tattoo-laden, Harley-riding, wild-haired, drug-abusing sub-humans. His mere appearance challenges assumptions about who atheists are. That’s an asset even before he opens his mouth.

    But he sometimes speaks without thinking — which is not a great habit to be in when one’s words are constantly being parsed, dissected, analyzed, and otherwise subjected to microscopic review. Dan Dennett never gets trapped like this, because he takes the time to think about what he’s going to say before he says it. When he criticizes Islam, you know he’s thought very carefully about the issue and is sure to distinguish between the religion and its practices; and never conflated with those who are oppressed by the religion they practice.

    I just learned that Dennett’s father had a PhD in Islamic History. What a thing to have!

    As for you, your “wild punches” always seem to find their mark. Far from being “wild”, they’re frightfully well-aimed. When you’re outrageous, you fully intend to be outrageous.

    I, for one, would not want to get on your bad side and be subjected to a “wild punch”.

  73. says

    I will say it is extremely repetitive, an editor could have reduced it in half easily and kept the content which are mainly ramblings in different settings about blind assertions about Allah, rewards for believers and the day of judgement for infidels . . . .

    I got a very similar impression from it. I wanted a better understanding of Islam, and reading it certainly helped in that regard–but it’s not some qualification you need before you’re allowed to condemn this or that horror perpetrated in the Middle East.

    Incidentally, the Qur’an is silent about honor killing, too–not just FGM. And, to his credit, Muhammad, or whoever wrote the surah in question, condemned an apparently widespread custom of burying infant girls alive. So, progress of a sort.

  74. says

    Fiona Hanley

    What that and your third point are getting at is that because there are obvious wrongnesses in the area of human rights (leaving aside lack of empirical evidence of the supernatural for the moment) about some aspects of the major religious creeds, anyone adhering to those creeds is a hypocrite even if they personally respect the human rights of others.

    What is being said is that these individuals are hypocrites to the extent that they respect the human rights of others, because the moral code to which they claim to adhere commands them to do otherwise. Thus, any religious person is a hypocrite who ignores their stated moral code to a greater or lesser extent, and/or a monster, who tries to follow the horrific dictates of their holy book.

    I do know it’s much easier to have a proper debate with a Christian fundamentalist on marriage equality when you have a working knowledge of the gospels.

    The thing is that once you bring the bible into it, you’ve lost already; the point of that dispute is that the bible is completely irrelevant to the question of who gets civil rights, or indeed to any real world question at all. The tactic you describe adds legitimacy to the idea that basing one’s decisions on the bible (or other book of fairy tales) is a good idea in and of itself.
    atheist

    In addition, Westerners tend to view Muslims as being a kind of global nation,

    BZZZZZT!!!!! This does not constitute evidence of anything except the biases of the authors in question. The rest of this post isn’t any better, btw. Step up your game.
    halfspin

    Islam as practiced in much of the world is quite bad. Worse than, say, predatory capitalism, or patriarchy, or colonialism, or Dick Cheney?

    Well, when it comes to formal religions, I’m pretty sure it’s accurate to say that there are more actively theocratic Islamic governments active today than there are Christian ones, for instance, but if we’re counting semi-religious ideologies like predator capitalism, then the question of how many people live under the dominion of which anti-human ideology, and how anti-human they are and thus how baed each one is becomes very murky.

  75. atheist says

    @Kevin – 13 April 2013 at 12:02 pm (UTC -5)

    Last time I checked, no one in the oil industry ever beheaded anyone for refusing to believe in hydrocarbons.

    So, Islamists behead people. Whereas the oil industry is working on killing everyone. You’re evincing perspective fail, Kevin.

  76. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 12:48 pm (UTC -5)

    @Larry Poppins

    Please explain the strong influence of Sharia law in your free country. Does it come into play when determining punishment for non-Muslims? Can you give examples of laws affecting non-Muslims that are a result of the strong influence of Sharia law?

    W T F
    So it doesn’t matter when Muslim women are imprisoned for being raped, right, it’s only when non-Muslims are affected that you might object.
    Frankly, I am shocked at this degree of callousness.

    Delft, wou accuse others of callousness when they ask you to specify actual dangers from Muslims and/or Sharia laws. But there is nothing callous about realistic risk assessment. Further, when asked to specify what specifically you would do to help Muslim women, you seem to have no answer. This might cause someone to question whether you actually care about those who are oppressed by the Islamic religion, or are decrying the bad acts of Muslims for another reason.

  77. atheist says

    @Delft – 13 April 2013 at 2:05 pm (UTC -5)

    And currently it seems like it’s not possible to say anything less than complimentary about Islam without being howled down.

    The reason is that this conversation is occurring in the context of a “Global War on Terror”. Like it or not, everything said about Islam is understood in that context. When Dawkins calls it “the greatest force for evil in the world today”, the larger culture understands this as trash-talking against their enemies. That is not the sort of thing that atheists want to get involved with.

  78. davebot says

    Last time I checked, no one in the oil industry ever beheaded anyone for refusing to believe in hydrocarbons


    No, they just convince governments to wage war against anyone refusing to believe that oil companies deserve to own all the hydrocarbons.

    No one is saying it’s wrong to criticize Islam (at least I’m not). I am saying we should be careful not to demonize Muslims. We have far more influence over our own governments than we do foreign ones. If we really want to help Muslim women (or anyone) oppressed by tyrannical Islamic theocracies, then, in addition to criticizing those atrocities we should be pressuring our governments to end the war on terror, end our support of theocratic dictatorships, remove our troops from foreign soil and stop the “we are at war with Islam” rhetoric.

  79. BJ Survivor says

    I haven’t read the Koran either. And I won’t. That their revered prophet was a pedophile is as much as I need to know to dismiss the entire babbling as the lunatic ravings of psychopaths, just like The Wholly Babble. Which I did, in fact, read in its entirety *gag*. I will attest that reading The Wholly Babble is what led me to be not only atheist, but militantly anti-theist.

  80. atheist says

    @aaronbaker – 13 April 2013 at 3:00 pm (UTC -5)

    Incidentally, the Qur’an is silent about honor killing, too–not just FGM. And, to his credit, Muhammad, or whoever wrote the surah in question, condemned an apparently widespread custom of burying infant girls alive. So, progress of a sort.

    Thank you for sharing that, Aaron. It had been my sense that at least some of the practices Westerners object to in Muslim populations were actually folkways rather than textually demanded by their religion. Now I know that honor killings and FGM are examples of this.

  81. says

    I think Islam is goddamn stupid and a great curse on the world…and that Muslims are the most victimized by it.

    I do not consider it the greatest evil, however. When I look at the concrete physical harm that different cultures have done to others, it’s hard not to conclude that the US is the worst.

  82. atheist says

    @PZ Myers – 13 April 2013 at 9:43 pm (UTC -5)

    I think Islam is goddamn stupid and a great curse on the world…and that Muslims are the most victimized by it.

    I do not consider it the greatest evil, however. When I look at the concrete physical harm that different cultures have done to others, it’s hard not to conclude that the US is the worst.

    Your deeply reasonable view is calming. I apologize if my statements are too pointed. Islamophobia scares me, and Atheist Islamophobia frustrates me to no end.

  83. says

    When I look at the concrete physical harm that different cultures have done to others, it’s hard not to conclude that the US is the worst.

    Come on, PZ. You can’t blame the U.S. government for that. They outsource; this is Free Market evil, which is automatically cooler and more efficient than that old-fashioned government evil.

  84. says

    Au contraire, I would recommend to the faithful that they read their own texts. Were they to actually do that, there’d be a whole lot more atheists. As I said of my own experience here:

    Ironically, the first big crack in my world view came in the ninth grade when I read the Book of Mormon. By then I was also reading the standard public high school literature: Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Dickens and Eliot. The BoM was indeed, as Mark Twain put it, chloroform in print. That wasn’t such a problem. When you’re a good Mormon, you put your shoulder to the wheel.

    I wasn’t much of a literary critic, but I was a good English student. I couldn’t help but notice some really bad writing in the BoM. The best parts were almost word-for-word from the Bible. An unwelcome thought crept in: I wonder if Joseph Smith did what I do when I rearrange words from an encyclopedia entry for term papers. I felt like the only one who puzzled over why the BoM was written in archaic English. Wasn’t it supposed to be translated for the latter day saints? I’d been hearing the Bible quoted my whole life, but BoM passages sounded like a bad British accent to me. I felt queasy when I heard Mormons say the BoM was so deeply inspiring it could not have been written by the hand of man. Huh? A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court had moved me to tears. The BoM…not so much.

  85. Ulysses says

    Algonquin on the Bayou a/k/a Sharon @100

    I couldn’t help but notice some really bad writing in the BoM. The best parts were almost word-for-word from the Bible. An unwelcome thought crept in: I wonder if Joseph Smith did what I do when I rearrange words from an encyclopedia entry for term papers. I felt like the only one who puzzled over why the BoM was written in archaic English.

    I read the Book of Mormon many years ago. Some time later I was talking to a Mormon friend who said something to the effect of “the BoM must be true because Joseph Smith was too illiterate to have written anything so grand.” I told him that I agreed with him that Smith was likely semi-literate because the book was written in obvious imitation of the King James Bible by someone who didn’t understand Jacobean English grammar or word usage.

    Kel @16 explained the difference between how a believer and non-believer approach scriptures of any type:

    Are the reasons for belief for an outsider contained within those books? If so, there may be course to read them. But if they are only convincing for an insider – that is, that one has to take a number of assumptions about the texts in order to come to the desired conclusion – then reading those books is a waste of effort for anyone except an insider.

    My friend accepted the validity of the BoM and Smith’s poor writing skills were evidence to support its truth. I didn’t accept the BoM’s validity and for me it was a bad parody of the KJV Bible.

  86. birgerjohansson says

    “Koranic interpretation essentially froze around the 12th century (Mongol invasion, maybe?),”

    Actually the more pragmatic thinkers were crushed by a two-front assault by traditionalists and sufis. This assault started with the book I think was cvlled “The curse of philosopy”, ca. 1000 ad.

  87. thedude says

    PZ:

    Why should anyone have to read your goofy holy book?

    If someone were to write a book about the delusions that he considers religions to be, I would think that some of the basic research material would be the so called holy writings of the major religions of the world.

    he has had a colony of fleas (like this one, for example) leaping on his coattails and announcing that the great backlash has begun from the very beginning

    Are you comparing people to fleas?

    As for the Mein Kampf argument, I consider it totally appropriate and a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

    What Dawkins did when he compared the quran to mein kampf was comparing islam to nazism. It is never a good idea to compare anything to nazism.

    harvardmba:

    Sam Harris is an abysmal bigot, period. He deserves the beating he’s getting, and every time another atheist whines about it is another strike against atheism in general.

    Well said.

    Ing:

    How many times does Dick have to do this shit before we stop saying “of course he isn’t racist/sexist?”

    I guess that number varies from 1 to infinity for various people. For me, the limit on the racism has been reached with these latest incidents. I haven’t seen as much evidence for the sexism yet.

    The most important criticism of Dawkins isn’t that he hasn’t read the quran, it is that he called islam “the greatest force for evil today” and that he compared the quran to mein kampf. By calling islam the greatest force for evil today he is not just saying that it is a greater force for evil that all the other religions, he is saying that it is greater force for evil than anything else (any ideology, concept, entity etc. etc. etc.). He has to my knowledge not attempted to prove his claim. By comparing the quran to mein kampf he is comparing islam to nazism and muslims to nazist.