News desk here, weighing in on the hot weather uproar around Darwinian atheist Richard Dawkins’s recent tweet:
All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.
Dawkins, who likely received mostly praise for claiming that “sex abuse does ‘arguably less long-term psychological damage’ than being brought up a Catholic” may be in even bigger faux trouble for this tweet than he was when he weighed in on the atheist “elevator” melodrama. We took his side on that latter one (= big fuss about nothing), so perhaps we ought to say something again.
Nesrine Malik ripostes,
To wearily engage with his logic briefly: yes, it is technically true that fewer Muslims (10) than Trinity College Cambridge members (32) have won Nobel prizes. But insert pretty much any other group of people instead of “Muslims”, and the statement would be true. You are comparing a specialised academic institution to an arbitrarily chosen group of people. Go on. Try it. All the world’s Chinese, all the world’s Indians, all the world’s lefthanded people, all the world’s cyclists.
Fair enough. We could also point out that vanishingly few Middle Eastern Muslims make it into the National (ice) Hockey League, but that over half the League is Canadian born. Lesson?: Next time, bring your own ice, fellas.
Malik’s point is well taken. But a comparison of the achievements of universities as such would bear out Dawkins’s point. The ones noted for ground-breaking research are not in the middle East (except for Israel, a widely recognized exception with 10 Nobels).
The main lesson is that human achievement is widely variable by time, place, and circumstance, and within those limits, it depends a great deal on how people want to spend their time, what they want to do with their lives. The role religion plays is highly variable because it depends so much on the content of the religion as it plays out in people’s lives. Not necessarily as proclaimed by prophets, apologists, or spokespeople.
American atheists were raising cain about the supposed bad influence of religion on public life in the United States at the same time as the astronauts read from Genesis while floating in space. Go figure.