Posted by: Harold Knight | 06/24/2011

Reprise: choose your fundamentalism (Christianity or Xenophobic Scientific Atheism)

14th-century ignorance

14th-century ignorance

(My apologies for all the hyperlinks; I didn’t know how else to present all the information without writing a book.)

On the same day recently my email brought messages from organizations to which I belong that seem at first to cancel each other out.

The first was notification from the Texas Freedom Network that the State Board of Education continues its campaign to politicize Texas schools through religious indoctrination.

The second was an essay first published in Tikkun (the news magazine of the progressive Jewish newsletter) attempting to explain the irrational thinking of fundamentalist neo-con atheists.

In essence:

Fundamentalist so-called Christians have a stranglehold on the process of textbook adoption in Texas. This process (particularly in scientific education) influences most of the rest of the nation because publishers will not print textbooks that can’t be sold in Texas because it is such a huge share of the national market. And—perhaps conversely, perhaps not—a loosely associated cabal of so-called atheists has a stranglehold on scientific thought in American pop culture.

Two virulent groups of fundamentalists are vying for control of American hearts and minds by controlling the rhetoric of religion in politics.

“Rhetoric” has come to mean something in American politics that it should not. It is not per se a pejorative term.  Aristotle’s definition begins with rhetoric as “discourse,” and continues with the oft-quoted description as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” One needs to remember, particularly in this time of competing fundamentalisms, that rhetoric is not empty political speech. The “available means to persuade” are the tools fundamentalists use to argue either “God is on our side” or “the non-existence of God” is on our side.

Both are equally dangerous to true freedom it appears. However, the religious fundamentalists are on the ascendancy (most likely they have already won the competition), and the atheistic fundamentalists are simply sputtering their last gasp.

Of course, a few folk have straddled the line, but the vast majority of fundamentalists fall into one camp or the other. I don’t particularly care to read Sam Harris or Francis Collins or Dave Barton in order to be indoctrinated into either fundamentalist camp.

Collins is not in the same category as the others because he speaks from his heart (whether or not one agrees with him), not from a fundamentalist doctrinaire position.

A caveat. The Texas State Board of Education’s influence would not be so overreaching except for the control of Rampant de-Humanizing Capitalism. The love of profit guides the decisions of textbook manufacturers. If you own stock in EBSCO, Jones & Bartlett, Oxford University Press, and, most importantly industry giants like  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Holt, Rinehart and Winston, you are participating in the endgame of fundamentalist Christians. Making money is the name of that game. And the fundamentalists have the playing field covered. If you think this is a tempest in a teapot, read about the Texas Republican Party Platform which says the SBOE must “knock off unacceptable instructional materials.”

But back to mulling over the Texas Board of Education v. atheists.

Sam Harris writes vitriol against all religions (quite like fundamentalist Christians write vitriol—and erroneous vitriol at that—against “secular humanists”). I hardly need to remind gentle reader of the kind of judgment of “secular humanism” and other religions, mainly Islam, fundamentalist Christians write and speak (read any speech by Michelle Bachmann).  Harris and other fundamentalist atheists, however, reserve their most vicious attacks (based in error, for the most part) for Islam.

In his letter to Newsweek, Sam Harris says that in Islam

. . . the Koran cannot be challenged or contradicted, being the perfect word of the creator of the Universe. To speak of the compatibility of science and Islam in 2007 is rather like speaking of the compatibility of science and Christianity in the year 1633, just as Galileo was being forced, under threat of death, to recant his understanding of the Earth’s motion (1).

I have little commentary about this except to quote a couple of articles.

Moreover, the various methods had been pioneered by Muslim scholars and scientists and became the foundation of modern sciences, and were taught in European universities up to the 18th Century. [Scientific attitude] is obvious when one takes a look at the Qur’an [which] exhorts the Muslims to do scientific research: “And who bring the truth and believe therein, such are the dutiful” (Quran, 39: 33) (2).

A member of the board

A member of the board

Of modern scientific theories, particularly evolution, Anila Asghar of McGill University, et al, write that

. . . [in] the national high school science curriculum and biology textbooks . . . in Pakistan, where Islamic faith is the cornerstone of the national curriculum. . . [the] religious text presented in the curriculum draws on the relevant Quranic verses about creation, while the scientific text discusses naturalistic, evidence-based theories about the biochemical origin of life and evolution. Evolution by natural selection is discussed in detail . . .  Where scripture is presented in the biology textbooks, it is generally interpreted to be compatible with evolutionary understandings of the living world (3).

When asked if Islamic scientists accept the theory of evolution, Asghar answers

The Scientific Academies of several Muslim countries (Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, Palestine, Iran, Indonesia, and Turkey) recently signed onto a statement proclaiming that evolution is an “evidence based fact” which has never been contradicted by scientific evidence (4).

See the information about the Texas Board of Education cited above. Remembering the U.S. prohibition on free use of human stem cells for research, it is interesting that

The soul is a metaphysical concept which is fundamental in Islam and it defines a human individual. The majority opinion in Islam accepts the 120th day of pregnancy as the time of ensoulment. Even though ensoulment occurs later; the embryo is respected from the onset of fertilization and acquires consideration as a human foetus after implantation. . .  And based on these fundamental premises, at least three Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Councils have given permission for the use of surplus embryos from IVF laboratories for ESC research (5).

By Sam Harris’s reckoning the Bangladesh Journal of Medical Science should probably not even exist.

It’s not difficult to see why the Texas Board of Education has voted to remove positive mention of Islam from textbooks if Islamic scientists and educators teach evolution and allow stem cell research.

It’s a bit more difficult to understand Sam Harris’s uninformed vitriol because he, of course, is an academic, scientific atheist whose writings expose the untruths of religion.
(1) Harris, Sam. “Scientists should unite against threat from religion.” Correspondence. Nature: International weekly journal of science. 23 August 2007. Web. 22 Jun. 2011. (2) Hassan, Aminuddin, Norhasni Zainal Abiddin, and Abdul Razaq Ahmad. “Islamic Philosophy as the Basis to Ensure Academic Excellence.” Asian Social Science 7.3 (2011): 37-41. (3) Asghar, Anila, Jason R. Wiles, and Brian Alters. “The origin and evolution of life in Pakistani High School Biology.” Journal of Biological Education 44.2 (2010): 65-71. (4) Asghar, op, cit. (5) Nordin, Musa Mohd. “Human genetic and reproductive technologies—an  international medico-legal-religious impasse?.” Bangladesh Journal of Medical Science Jan. 2011: 1+.


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