Tequilla Trap

More and more people in the public realm are voicing the opinion that Islam is not a religion, but a political ideology. Some add: like communism or fascism. A Dutch politician has even dared to compare the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. Islam, as a political ideology, is alleged to strive for world domination, nothing less.

The nasty thing is: this is correct. You cannot disprove the idea that Islam is a political ideology. Not because Islam is more of a political ideology than any other religion, but because everything is political. Neither can you disprove the idea that Islam wants to take over the whole world, because every world religion either wants to or would at least prefer to convert the whole world.

A number of critics of Islam has added an idea to all this that has become increasingly popular. It is not only working in the political realm. Politicians have found support for it with scholars of Islam: in order to attain their political goals, Muslims may lie and cheat. It is a concept known in Islam as taqiyya, usually translated as ‘dissimulation’. The Dutch politician I mentioned has alleged this too in court, while on trial for his comparison of the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, among others.

Somehow this idea has so far only been unmasked as factually incorrect. Taqiyya is a concept from Shia Islam. Shiites are a minority of about 10% among all Muslims. They have not, and are not, always treated as equals by their Sunni coreligionists. In Shia Islam the concept of taqiyya was developed for those Shiites that had reason to fear for their lives if they would continue practicing their religion as Shiites among Sunnis. In cases of mortal danger Shiites are allowed to act like Sunnis. For the Calvinists among us: yes they are allowed to lie and cheat to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Naturally, taqiyya is loathed by Sunnis and Shiites are regularly criticised by Sunni clerics for being liars and cheats. They have an easy target, because it can be proven from their own writings. For ease, the critics forget that it is an institution that is intended at escaping death from persecutors, not an instrument to promote Shia Islam.

The theological-moral concept taqiyya plays no role in Sunni Islam, for the simple reason that Sunni’s have always been in the majority. However, Arabic being the language that it is, the word taqiyya is sometimes used in Sunni writings concerning a Muslim’s behaviour in war. It may come as no surprise that cheating is allowed in wartime. It has always been everywhere.

Unfortunately the western world has -through Christianity- become thoroughly unacquainted with halakhic religions, where even the simplest moral questions can become the object of lengthy theological debates. Like the question: may a Muslim general use deceit as a weapon?

The fact that it is easy to find writings on the allowed use of deceit in war by Muslims has nothing to do with Muslims being especially deceitful (they are not more that others) it’s just because Islam is a halakhic religion.

But combine the original concept of taqiyya with the (perfectly sensible) idea that deceit is a weapon in war, with the Islamic concept op the realm of Islam (dar al-islam) vs. the realm of war (dar al-harb) and with some qur’anic quotes about the early wars between the Muslims and their opponents (referred to as ‘unbelievers’) and it is easy to write a scholarly-looking piece that seems to prove taqiyya refers to a worldwide Muslim conspiracy to take over the world by deceit. It is in fact just one fallacy: a syllogism of the fourth term.

But besides being factually incorrect it is also nonsensical. That is an aspect of this idea that so far nobody has ever payed attention to. This is because it requires a lot of explanation and because it is thoroughly counter-intuitive.

It starts with Karl Raimund Popper who invented the first major shift in thinking about science since the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment taught us to look at nature and the world as it is in order to attain scientific knowledge about it. If we wanted to know what colour bears were, the only thing we needed to do is look at many bears and determine their colour. Every single new brown bear added credibility to our theory that all bears are brown.

Popper invented the idea that in order to prove us wrong, we only needed one white bear. No matter how many brown bears there were: one white bear would be enough. Instead, Popper proposed that the theory ‘all bears are brown’ did not gain credibility by finding more brown bears, but by the amount of attempts that failed at finding a differently coloured bear. Scientists, in other words, should aim at falsifying theories.

There are two beautiful advantages to this approach. The first is that you can try to falsify a theory in a methodical way. You can go look around for non-brown bears in the same way you’ve so far counted the brown ones, but that will not get you much further unless you are lucky. Instead you can refine your search. You might for example come up with the idea that a lot of mammals on the North Pole are white, for obvious reasons. You might then surmise that if there are bears up there, there’s a fair chance they will be white. This will make your search less random and much more aimed.

The second advantage is even bigger: theories need to be falsifiable. The theory ‘all bears are brown’ can be proven wrong as soon as a non-brown bear is found. This means that there is a specific set of theories that scientifically mean nothing: theories that cannot be falsified. This is not the same as a theory that has been proven right, although the general public tends to see it that way.

A good example of a scientifically nonsensical theory is one of the creationist views of the universe: it was created 6000 years ago, and anything that points to the contrary (fossils, isotope dating) was created with it. Any chance at falsifying this theory founders on the fact that every single counter-argument is already explained by the theory itself. Contrary to popular opinion, science cannot disprove this theory. Nor can it disprove the theory that the universe was created six minutes ago, and everything that points to the contrary with it.

This does not mean that the universe was created 6000 years ago, nor does it mean it was six minutes ago. The two theories are just scientifically nonsensical: they can neither be proven nor disproven, because they’ve been formulated wrong. They should be falsifiable.

The same goes for the theory that Islam is out to attain world domination: anything that might prove the contrary is the result of taqiyya, deceit that is part of the ideology that wants to take over the world. Any Muslim that gets caught up in a discussion about this idea is caught in a trap he cannot reason his way out of, unless he knows his Popper. And even then he’s not in the safe zone: because even if the idea is nonsensical, it might still be true, just like it might still be true that the universe was created six minutes ago.

Unfortunately, the people who divulge these theories are usually not the ones who have read up on theory of science, let alone Popper. They have worse things to do.


5 Responses to “Tequilla Trap”

  1. Nice piece boy, nice piece.

  2. I think that Islam is primarily a religion but is also more of a political ideology than most other religions. Look at the political situation in countries where Islam is the dominant religion: it also contributes significantly to politics, laws, etc, far more so than Christianity would in a similar situation.

    I agree that Popper’s idea of the importance of falsification is an important part of science but I get the impression modern philosophers of science are suggesting it’s not quite as critical as it was considered in the past. I do agree though that any good theory (scientific or in any other field) should have some way it can be disproved.

    I disagree that creationism isn’t good science because it can’t be falsified. The problem isn’t that it can’t be proven wrong. There are plenty of genuine predictions: the age of the Earth, the order species appeared, the Flood, etc. The problem is that when these things are shown to be wrong the believers won’t accept it. That’s quite a different issue, I think.

  3. shirhashirim Says:

    If you are a good creationist, all the indications that may prove the theory wrong are an artifact of creation: fossils, isotopes, anything was simply created at one point in time as it seems to us to be today.
    So when Kalium Argon dating ‘proves’ that the oldest rock on our planet are x billion years old, to the creationist that is simply how God created those rocks. Same thing with fossils. Same thing with any other method we might discover in the future to determine the age of the earth: all physical evidence is simply that: physical phenomena created in that way, proving nothing.
    A theory like that can really not be disproven. Try.

    Of course there are also creationists that venture in the realm of science, they run more risks so to say, but I’ve noticed that when the ground beneath their feet gets too hot, they’ll take refuge into the realm of the undisproveable theories.

  4. Yes, I have tried and I have come up against exactly the mindset you describe above. Someone who has already decided what he wants to be true will always find a way to warp the facts to that belief system no matter how poorly they fit them.

    Ultimately he can claim all the evidence of an old Earth was put there by the devil to test our faith. In the face of such self-delusion it’s impossible to make any progress. Why he doesn’t also question the evidence he does prefer to accept is never fully explained.

    What I was saying is that creationism can be (and has been) disproved. The problem arises when people refuse to accept that disproof not in the disproof itself.

  5. shirhashirim Says:

    That too happens: proof is disregarded, but disproof is embraced. It’s hard, but ultimately lethal because not consistent. You can disprove creationism that’s based on this. It just requires a measure of foolhardiness that is larger than that of the creationist on duty and it is this (but only this) that proves difficult, because foolhardiness seems to be distributed unequally among humans… 🙂

    But that’s not the ‘good creationist’ I was talking about.

    I meant the people who think “all the evidence of an old Earth was put there by the devil to test our faith”, or something to that effect (usually it’s God himself, not the devil). That hypothesis cannot be disproven, at all. Don’t even think about it. It’s hopeless. It’s a tequila trap.

    But you can make some progress with it by explaining that their theory may be unassailable, but that it is just as useless. The ‘six minutes ago’ hypothesis then functions as a good illustration.

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