Monday, August 13, 2007

THE TURNING POINT. Salon runs an interview with Turkish science writer Taner Edis about the parlous state of the sciences in the Islamic world. Edis lays it on the line from the get-go:
Right now, if all Muslim scientists working in basic science vanished from the face of the earth, the rest of the scientific community would barely notice. There's very little contribution coming from Muslim lands.
He's very explicit that religious fundamentalism is the main problem: whereas "Europe got lucky" and shook off Church control of science centuries ago, in Islamic countries religion actively stunts scientific enquiry:
[Q.] I suppose [Islamic countries] could just import the science that's developed in the West. Is this really a big problem?

[A.] Falling further behind in something like condensed matter physics means that you'll have a harder time adapting technologies that are going to be based on this new knowledge of physics. And you're excluding Muslims from the creation of new technologies. It permanently locks the Muslim world into a subordinate position in those aspects of modern life that depend on creativity in technology and science. And this is a huge swath of modern life....

[Q.] ...I'm willing to bet that many Islamic thinkers would say the price of scientific success in the West has been too high. Once science was divorced from religion, you could argue that it was only a matter of time before secular values would triumph, atheism would become a viable option, and the modern world would end up with the rampant materialism and consumerism that we have today...

[A.] This is a dilemma for many people in the Muslim world who are thinking about science and religion... You can find many Muslim thinkers who say that Western Christians made a mistake by allowing science to operate independently of religious constraints. However, that is the way modern science has achieved the success it has. So it's hard to negotiate between these options.
Fascinating article. Guess how Ace of Spades reads it?
What is shocking is the interviewer's combative apologism on behalf of the benighted and backward state of Islamic science -- or pseudoscience, in the main. A science writer for an NPR station, no less.

Watch how the interviewer continues insisting, in the face of an expert telling him "no, no, no" that Islamic religious orthodoxy prevents genuine science. And then set a pillow beneath your jaw as he begins arguing on behalf of creationism -- Creationism, that most hated of all beliefs, to liberals -- so long as the creationism in question is of a suitably privileged foreign, non-western culture. And then it just gets more ludicrous as this supposed writer on science issues for NPR begins arguing for a more humanistic approach to science -- one that incorporates Islamic style religious dogma, apparently -- as preferable to cold, clinical (monstrously successful) Western science.

There's no "right" way to do science, this NPR science writer seems to believe, just different views of it. And, of course, the ultimate moral this story is driving towards is that we can both learn equally from each other.
Go read the article. There's nothing in it remotely like what Mr. Spades describes.

At first I thought maybe Mr. Spades had just misunderstood the devil's-advocate questioning style -- an ancient journalistic device, examples of which appear in the excerpt above. But as I read on, and saw the unquestioning linkage from Ole Perfesser Reynolds, I realized that we were on a cusp of a massive shift: conservatives have actually begun speaking a different language than the rest of us. When we say "creationism bad," they hear "Islam roolz," and tell each other how stupid we are to say "Islam roolz" when what we should have said was "creationism bad."

I'm beginning to get nervous about them. I've thought before that they'd crossed the final frontier, but they've always managed to kick the madness up a notch. This new threshold must surely be the very end -- but I know they'll try to outdo it, and by God, knowing the moxie they bring to such tasks, they might just make it. What will be the bone-chilling result? Will they draw the very fabric of time and space in upon itself, dooming us all? Or will they just start wearing their pants inside out like Dexy's Midnight Runners?

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