Do Ideas Have Consequences Only When They're Associated with Radical Islam? - Evolution News & Views

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Do Ideas Have Consequences Only When They're Associated with Radical Islam?

Why do so many writers who insist on emphasizing the consequences of radical Muslim belief tend to ignore the social consequences of other belief systems -- for example, Darwinism?

My question is prompted by reflections that are being published about the Fort Hood massacre. Darwinist blogger PZ Myers is among many voices to be raised in protest that shooter Nidal Hasan's Islamic beliefs are getting too little attention: "Unfortunately, there's [a] factor that seems to be getting minimized in the press accounts: [Hasan] was also a member of an Abrahamic death cult" (i.e., Islam). 

PZ quotes Ibn Warraq's comment on Hasan's crime, "To leave Islam out of the equation means to forever misinterpret events," before broadening the scope of the discussion with a concluding line about religion as a whole. "Too often," notes PZ, "[religion] has a complex causal relationship to evil."

My own view is that when you are taking the measure of an idea -- let's say Islam, or Darwinism -- it's a good rule of thumb at least to consider the relationship between it and its consequences, judged by the behavior of people who espouse the idea and publicly proclaim themselves as acting upon it. Sure, an idea could be ugly or dangerous, yet true. But I like David Berlinski's point, citing Keats, that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." At the very least, you might think, an idea that has a record of persistently inspiring evil is worth a second, skeptical look, rather than your simply swallowing it because the prestige authorities around you say you should.

Or perhaps when someone claims to be acting on the basis of an idea and then does something monstrous, would you say we should assume that it was really some other factor, personal and psychological, that drove him to the wicked deed? That's our culture's general approach when considering the motivations of mass killers in other contexts. When there's a slaughter at a shopping mall, a university, a church, a post office, or some other workplace -- alas, in our country, none of these is an infrequent occurrence -- nobody much asks about what motivated the murderer. 

I've expressed frustration about this in the past, as when the Darwinian musings of Columbine killer Eric Harris, or Holocaust Museum shooter James von Brunn, were studiously ignored.

There's a whole community of professional Islam-bashers out there, writing online and in books that sell pretty well, who have been riding the Hasan story full time since it broke, hammering home their habitual point that Islam is an evil religion and always has been, going back to the days when it original source texts were composed.

Islam doesn't particularly interest me -- any religion can be made to look inherently wicked by a selective quoting of sources -- but this angle does. PZ Myers is among those who can be relied on to dismiss every attempt to point out the social consequences of Darwin's famous idea. So too biologist and blogger Jerry Coyne, who mocks what is actually a pretty interesting article in the London Sunday Times by Dennis Sewell on the theme. Sewell writes:

In America, where Darwin's writings on morality and race have come under particularly intense critical scrutiny because of the enduring creationist debate, he has been accused of fostering moral nihilism and scientific racism, and even of promoting an ethic that found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust. Most startling of all, a connection has now been drawn between Darwin's theories and a rash of school shootings.

The piece is worth reading, even though Sewell singles me out for criticism:

The connection between Darwin's ideas and the Holocaust remains hugely controversial, not least because many creationists try to reduce it to a crude blame game. The writer David Klinghoffer, an advocate of intelligent design, which many regard as creationism in disguise, claims: "The key elements in the ideology that produced Auschwitz are moral relativism aligned with a rejection of the sacredness of human life, a belief that violent competition in nature creates greater and lesser races, that the greater will inevitably exterminate the lesser, and finally that the lesser race most in need of extermination is the Jews. All but the last of these ideas may be found in Darwin's writing."

"Crude"? I don't see what's crude about what I wrote. On the contrary, it seems transparently, obviously true. Anyway, the simple point bears repeating. Either ideas have consequences or they don't. If they do, then ideas you happen to feel favorably disposed to shouldn't get a free pass.

Note: Cross-posted from David Klinghoffer Beliefnet blog, Kingdom of Priests.


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