Saturday, 6 April 2013

Islam or Atheism - Which makes more sense?

Written by Rich

This 'Big debate' was put on by the iERA (The Islamic Education and Research Academy) and by the Big debates project. The Debaters were the renowned cosmologist Lawrence Krauss (arguing for Atheism), and the Islamic activist and lecturer Hamza Tzortziz (arguing for Islam). This debate made a bit of a splash in the papers because Krauss refused to debate in a segregated room and threatened to abandon the event. We at theneuroatheist think that of course segregation of any kind is generally a poor way of operating with groups of people, and also believe that segregation retards the mental health of those taking part. It is shocking that it was even suggested that a room be segregated by gender on one of London's University campuses in a 21st century academic event. After Krauss expressed his sanity and disgust for the idea, the event organisers agreed to non-segregate (un-segregate?) the room. Now it would be nice to describe this as a success, but this word seems too strong because in my non-dictated and atheistic worldview all humans are equal and ya'know considered barbaric to discriminate those based on biology at least. Non-segregation is my norm and consequently rather trivial. Perhaps the success here is that the debate was already won before it even started? Bravo Zulu to you Prof Krauss. 

The traditional format for each speaker to speak for 20 minutes or so didn't last too long in this case. The debate quickly turned into more of a heated discussion between the two speakers. Krauss becoming more of an educator toward Hamza, as Hamza attempted to tie science into his 'linguistic' argument for the rationality of Islamic theism. Krauss picking up the simple errors made by Hamza, began to school his opponent in such a way that Hamza ended up looking rather foolish. Despite this early lead for Krauss, the overall quality of the debate was rather disappointing. The moderator clearly was not acting as a neutral party as he kept slipping into Arabic and references to god throughout the debate and overall the debate had an air of immaturity throughout. This may be because of the poor sportsmanship and desperation shown by Hamza, who at one point, pulls out a copy of Krauss's Universe from Nothing book and starts quoting lines from it. Moreover the audience were heavily one-sided and misunderstood Krauss many times giving them the inappropriate excuse to act out shocked gasps and over-zealous mocking laughter. Hamza, probably knowing each member of the crowd, definitely used this to his advantage and continued to use his frustrating deductive arguments for the existence of god, and hence the rationality of Islamic theism. Frustrating not because the arguments posed as a threat, but frustrating because they were ancient arguments that rely on a priori 'armchair' thinking, that in this case posed irrational conclusions that were void of any evidence or data to support his premises.

The whole debate reminded me of the agonising interview between Richard Dawkins and Wendy Wright (the fundamental christian creationist), where in both cases the theist is being presented high quality evidence and just simply rejecting it. For example, Hamza, towards the end of the debate unashamedly admits to Krauss that he would willingly reject any evidence that would directly contradict the Qu'ran. Meaning that faith trumps reality. So there you have it, the impasse. "I, as a believer, will not accept any presentation of reality because my book would be proved wrong." My head aches just trying imagine the sort of cognitive dissonance vacuum cleaner required to live in the age of science, or maybe it's from the wall I just headbutted. The frustration of hearing phrases like these is literally painful.

For those yet to watch the debate:
If that hasn't angered you enough, watch the Dawkins vs. Wright interview: