A friend of mine, Don Wharton, the coordinator of my monthly discussion group from WASH, the Washington Area Secular Humanists group, posted in an email thread on Meetup a link to a video of Neal DeGrasse Tyson demonstrating how Islam turned a progressive and successful Arab culture into "an abyss of intellectual darkness", as my other friend Lance, put it.
His methodology involved an examination of two things:
The scientific principle of naming rights.
The numbers of various nationalities/ethnicities with Nobel Prizes for scientific advancements.
First, he noted how the naming rights thing works, that whomever first works on something or discovers it has the rights to name that thing. Which is why so many heavy metals are named after parts of the U.S.- cause the people who discovered them were working here in this country. He noted that the constellations are largely named in Greek, because the Greeks were the first to really do that (at least in western civilization).
Yet, the stars themselves largely have Arab names. Why? Because the period in which they were discovered and named was during a period when Baghdad was the cultural center of the world.
Which ended when a fundamentalist form of Islam took over that culture and shut down the scientific inquiry.
He also notes the fact (which some have tried to call Islamophobic) there are only about two Nobel Prize winners of Muslim belief, while the rest are either Christian or (a full 25%) Jewish.
All of which he uses to drive home the point of Islam's tendency to harm the cultures in which it holds power.
I would like to expand on that thought, lest people think that this applies only to Islam. Some may point out that almost 75% of Nobel Prize winners are Christian, and the founder of that prize was too. Yep, no argument about that.
But I would counter that some politicians in this country, who are being courted by the Republican Party, have made statements to the affect of denigrating science, and in fact, have promulgated laws which are decidedly anti-science in their affect and intent. Every one of those politicians identify themselves as devout Christians, and use that anti-science attitude to pander to a fundamentalist audience.
Remember that Arab culture? How they named a huge percentage of the stars we now know? How they invented advanced forms of mathematics, including the concept of zero? Tyson's point was that they haven't done that for a thousand years.
Over a THOUSAND years. Until Islam killed that culture's scientific progress, it was the one culture that was preserving mankind's scientific knowledge, after the fall of the Romans. Think for a moment, how much scientific progress was lost. How many advances in science were NOT made over that thousand years? What might we now know, scientifically, had that progress a thousand years ago not halted? Would we have invented chemistry over half a millennium earlier than we actually did? Imagine for a moment if the Industrial Age had begun over five hundred years earlier. How many medical advancements would have occurred, how many diseases defeated? Would we now have a cure for cancer?
All of these things are now little what-ifs, because a fundamentalist form of Islam shut that all down.
Do we really want to do that here, today? Do we really want to take the wealthiest country on earth, where the resources abound and we have already done so much, and make it an intellectual desert? Do we want to allow a few (less than 20%) Americans to dictate to the rest of us what kind of a culture we will have going forward? Do we really want to take the scientific community of which we have been so rightfully proud and set it back a thousand years?
Do the Christians of this country want their religion to be the cause of that disaster? For history to record such shame?
Somehow, I doubt that.
But without a concerted effort, a minority of Christians in this country will use their religion's written tenets to do just that.
Which is why I have written about how harmful religion is and can be. It doesn't have to be that way, but sooner or later, because the words are written in their holy books, someone somewhere will take those words and act them out, which will cause untold harm to individuals as well as the entire human race.
It isn't because religion is always used that way that is the problem, it is a problem because it always CAN be. At any time, by anyone, anywhere. And because those words are written in their holy book, people will take them seriously.
And the rest of us will suffer for it.