Richard Dawkins, the British scientist who is arguably as famous for his zealous promotion of atheism as he is for his groundbreaking work in evolutionary biology, found rare common ground with Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who wears his devotion to Christianity on his sleeve, yesterday.
Both men, it turns out, don't like Muslims very much. While Dawkins' comments were milder, they betrayed a generalized distaste for Muslims surprising in a man noted for his devotion to science and distaste for simplistic explanations of complex phenomena.
It is true of course true that Trinity College's 32 Nobel Prizes are more than the 10 awarded to Muslims. But what makes this an "intriguing fact" to Dawkins? The fact that Muslim majority societies have been generally poorer than Western ones for centuries is well understood. When the Nobel Prize was founded in 1901, the vast majority of the world's Muslims lived in countries ruled by foreign powers, and for much of the 20th century Muslims did not have much access to great centers of learning like Cambridge.
The ranks of Nobel prize winners have traditionally been dominated by white, Western men – a reflection of both the economic might of the West in the past century, preferential access to education for that class of people and also, it must be added, a wonderful intellectual tradition. But one might as well be intrigued by the fact that Africans have fewer Nobels than Trinity (nine) or that Indians do (four) or that Chinese do (eight). Or perhaps Dawkins is "intrigued" that women have only won 44 Nobel Prizes, compared with 791 for men?
All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 8, 2013
You can attack someone for his opinion. But for simply stating an intriguing fact? Who would guess that a single Cambridge College . . .— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 8, 2013
Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 8, 2013
Dawkins, as an educated man, should be well aware of the legacy of colonialism and of simple poverty. And he is certainly aware that the divergence of academic achievement across the world is a complex topic that needs to take into account culture, politics, and economics. His comments today did not indicate that.
Well, at least he has company.
Mr. Huckabee had a few words about Muslims in general on his syndicated radio show yesterday. Responding to the US embassy closures across Africa and the Middle East this week, he targeted the entire faith, saying that attendance at Friday prayers whips Muslims up into a violent, animalistic frenzy and linked terrorism to the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which was yesterday.
I know we’re not supposed to say anything unkind about Islam... I mean, it’s politically incorrect. I get that. But can someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days.'
You know, if you’ve kept up with the Middle East, you know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals — throwing rocks and burning cars.
You know, I’m just pointing out that for all of the demands that we’re supposed to be so very polite, and I’m not saying all Muslims are radical and I am not saying that all Muslims are violent. I’m not. But we as a government recognize that the most likely times for them to erupt in some type of terrorist activity, violent storming of an embassy, is on their holy days.
The good news for "them" is that so far no animals, uncorked or otherwise, have been observed emerging from mosques as the world's estimated 1.3 billion Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr.
It's always nice when atheists and men of faith can find common ground. Isn't it?