Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup – Polish translation below

Aug 26, 2013

You have surely heard something like the following two statements, often uttered with a measure of truculence:-

 1. “There are 1.6 billion Muslims, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and we are growing fast.” There is even, sometimes, a hint of menace added. In the words of Houari Boumediene, President of Algeria, “Le ventre de nos femmes nous donnera la victoire” (the belly of our women will give us the victory).

2. “Islamic science deserves enormous respect.” There are two versions of this second claim, ranging from the pathetic desperation of “the Qu’ran anticipated modern science” (the embryo develops from a blob, mountains have roots that hold the earth in place, salt and fresh water don’t mix) to what is arguably quite a good historical point: “Muslim scholars kept the flame of Greek learning alight while Christendom wallowed in the Dark Ages.”

Putting these two claims together, you almost can’t help wondering something like this: “If you are so numerous, and if your science is so great, shouldn’t you be able to point to some pretty spectacular achievements emanating from among those vast numbers? If you can’t today but once could, what has gone wrong for the past 500 years? Whatever it is, is there something to be done about it?”

Twitter’s 140 character limit always presents a tough challenge, but I tried to rise to it. Nobel Prizes are a pretty widely quoted, if not ideal, barometer of excellence in science. I thought about comparing the numbers of Nobel Prizes won by Jews (more than 120) and Muslims (ten if you count Peace Prizes, half that if you don’t). This astonishing discrepancy is rendered the more dramatic when you consider the small size of the world’s Jewish population. However, I decided against tweeting that comparison because it might seem unduly provocative (many Muslim “community leaders” are quite outspoken in their hatred of Jews) and I sought a more neutral comparison as more suitable to the potentially inflammable medium of Twitter. It is a remarkable fact that one Cambridge college, Trinity, has 32 Nobel Prizes to its credit. That’s three times as many as the entire Muslim world even if you count Peace Prizes, six times as many if you don’t. I dramatised the poverty of Muslim scientific achievement, and the contrast with their achievements in earlier centuries, in the following brief tweet: “All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

And then the storm broke. About half the responses were supportive, and I am grateful for them but I’ll concentrate on the attacks because, obviously, they are the ones that need a response. Rather than quote particular tweets individually, I’ll condense families of attacks into generalised form:-

You’re a racist (actually usually written as “Your a racist”)

If you think Islam is a race, you are a racist yourself. The concept of race is controversial in biology, for complicated reasons. I could go into that, but I don’t need to here. It’s enough to say that if you can convert to something (or convert or apostatize out of it) it is not a race. If you are going to accuse me of racism, you’ll have to do a lot better than that. Islam is a religion and you can choose to leave it or join it.

But aren’t Jews a race? And you can convert to Judaism

Yes you can convert to Judaism and no, the Jews are not a race. You can argue about whether Judaism is a religion or a cultural tradition, but whatever else it is it is not a race. That was one of many things Hitler got wrong. But if you want to bring up the Jews, I’m happy to drop Trinity, Cambridge and give you the truly astonishing Nobel Prize figures for Jews. You’ll find it won’t bolster your apologetics.

Race is not a biological concept at all but a socially constructed one. In the sociological sense you can convert to a race because race is a social construction.

There may be sociologists who choose to redefine words to their own purpose, in which case we have a simple semantic disagreement. I have a right to choose to interpret “race” (and hence “racism”) according to the dictionary definition: “A limited group of people descended from a common ancestor”.  Sociologists are entitled to redefine words in technical senses that they find useful, but they are not entitled to impose their new definitions on those of us who prefer common or dictionary usage. You can define naked mole rats as termites if you wish (they have similar social systems) but don’t blame the rest of us if we prefer to call them mammals because they are close genetic cousins to non-social mole rats and other rodents.

OK, maybe you aren’t strictly a racist, but most Muslims have brown skins so you are in effect a racist

Incidentally, the reverse is not true: huge numbers of brown skinned people are Hindus or Sikhs or Buddhists. But in any case, I’m a lot less interested in skin colour than you seem to be. I don’t think skin colour has the slightest bearing on ability to win Nobel Prizes, whereas it is highly probable that childhood education in a particular religion does. Educational systems that teach boys only memorisation of one particular book, and teach girls nothing at all, are not calculated to breed success in science.

OK, you aren’t a racist at all, but you are a bigot, giving needless hurt and offence

How can the assertion of an undeniable fact be bigotry? Do you deny the fact that Trinity College has produced more Nobel prize-winners than all the billions of Muslims? Actually this raises the interesting question of whether, and under what circumstances, we should refrain from stating uncomfortable facts for fear of giving hurt and offence. I raised this question in a later tweet, out of genuine curiosity. The answers I got were all of the “white lie” form. You don’t go out of your way to tell people they are fat. You may even lie to cheer them up. Fair enough.

Well, quoting an undeniable fact may not be bigotry in itself but you left an offensive, though unstated, implication dangling on the end of the fact

You may be reading in an implication that I didn’t intend. Since (unlike many tweeters, apparently) I am firm about Islam being a religion and not a race, I certainly didn’t, and don’t, imply any innate inferiority of intellect in those people who happen to follow the Muslim religion. But I did intend to raise in people’s minds the question of whether the religion itself is inimical to scientific education. I don’t have the answer, but I think it is well worth asking the question. Has something gone wrong with education in the Islamic world, and is it a problem that Muslims themselves might wish to consider? Just to throw in a separate piece of information, colleagues lecturing to aspiring doctors in British universities inform me that Muslim students boycott lectures on evolution. And I have myself interviewed, for television, pupils and teachers at one of Britain’s leading Islamic secondary schools – one with impeccable Ofsted ratings – where I was informed by a teacher that literally all the pupils reject evolution.

Cambridge University, like other First World Institutions, has economic advantages denied to those countries where most Muslims live.

No doubt there is something in that. But . . . oil wealth? Might it be more equitably deployed amongst the populace of those countries that happen to sit on the accidental geological boon of oil. Is this an example of something that Muslims might consider to improve the education of their children?

Why pick on Muslims? You could arbitrarily pick on plenty of categories of people that have achieved far less than Trinity College, Cambridge

Again, fair point. Somebody mentioned redheads (neither he nor I have figures on redheaded scientific achievement but we get the point). I myself tweeted that Trinity Cambridge has more Nobel Prizes than any single country in the world except the USA, Britain (tautologically), Germany and France. You could well think there was something gratuitous in my picking on Muslims, were it not for the ubiquity of the two positive boasts with which I began. Redheads (and the other hypothetical categories we might mention) don’t boast of their large populations and don’t boast of their prowess in science.

Trinity College is a Christian foundation. Its full name is “the College of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity”.

Er, yes, that could be kind of the point. Christendom has moved on since 1546 when the college was founded. If Islam has not moved on during the same period, perhaps Muslims might consider asking why, and whether something could be done about it. That was sort of why I added the final sentence of my original tweet: “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

Muslim scholars gave you algebra and alchemy

Thank you, I’ll take algebra. But alchemy? Are you sure you want to own alchemy? In any case, once again, a substantial half of my point was that Muslim scholars did indeed grace a golden age, so it is all the more poignant to ask what went wrong and what should be done about it.

How many Nobel Prizes has Richard Dawkins won?

This is getting silly, it really has the scent of desperation but it was tweeted remarkably often. I am one person, Muslims are 1.6 billion.

How many Nobel Prizes have been won by atheists?

Now that’s a really interesting question, one that I would sincerely love to see answered. I suspect that the truculence with which the question was posed might turn out to be misplaced – and that’s an understatement. Polls of the US National Academy of Sciences and of the Royal Society of London give almost identical results and suggest that an overwhelming majority of elite scientists (and a lesser majority of scientists as a whole) have no religious faith, although many might nominally be recorded as, say, baptised Christians or Bar-Mitzvahed Jews. I would love to see a well-conducted study of the beliefs of Nobel prizewinning scientists. My guess is that a large majority would self-describe as atheist or agnostic. And a further substantial number would say something like “I might characterise my awe at the universe as ‘spiritual’ but, like Einstein, I have no belief in a personal god and follow no religion.” I’d be very surprised if a single prize-winner were to say “I believe Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead” or “I believe Mohammed rode through the sky on a winged horse”. But those are all conjectures and I would love to see the research done.

Henry Kissinger won a Nobel Prize. That just shows how worthless they are.

That was a Peace prize, and the Peace prize does have a rather more controversial reputation. Mother Teresa won it, after all, and said in her acceptance speech that abortion was the “greatest destroyer of peace in the world”. I’d be happy to subtract the Peace prizes. Trinity would lose only one of its 32 and Muslims would lose fully half their tally. Because of the second of the two boasts that I mentioned at the outset, I was in any case primarily interested in scientific achievement. If we count only science prizes, discounting Economics, Literature and Peace, Trinity’s count drops to 27 and the Muslim count drops to two (and even that includes the great theoretical physicist Abdus Salam, who left Pakistan in 1974 in protest at his particular version of Islam being declared “non-Islamic” by its parliament). Bizarrely, some counts of Muslim scientific Nobelists are boosted by inclusion of that quintessential Englishman Sir Peter Medawar (born in Brazil, his father was Lebanese, a Maronite Christian).

Your a dick.
I’m an athiest but you make me ashamed to be an athiest.
Your a disgusting piece of shit

Oh dear, you’ve got me there. Devastating arguments, no come-back.

Chłodne refleksje po burzy w szklance wody

Autor tekstu: Richard Dawkins
Tłumaczenie: Małgorzata Koraszewska

Z pewnością słyszeliście wersje następujących dwóch zdań, wypowiadanych często z dawką buńczuczności:

1. „Jest 1,6 miliarda muzułmanów, niemal jedna czwarta populacji świata i szybko powiększamy się". Czasami jest w tym nawet odcień groźby. Słowami Houariego Boumediene’a, prezydenta Algierii: "Le ventre de nos femmes nous donnera la victoire"(brzuchy naszych kobiet dadzą nam zwycięstwo).

2. „Nauka islamska zasługuje na olbrzymi szacunek". Istnieją dwie wersje tego drugiego twierdzenia, od żałosnej desperacji w „Koran antycypował nowoczesną naukę" (zarodek rozwija się z kropli, góry mają korzenie, które utrzymują ziemię w miejscu, woda słona i słodka nie mieszają się) do tego, co jest całkiem poprawne historycznie: „Uczeni muzułmańscy utrzymywali przy życiu płomień nauki greckiej w czasach, kiedy chrześcijaństwo pławiło się w mrokach Średniowiecza".

. . .

Czytaj dalej

Written By: Richard Dawkins
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