In November 2011, Warren Ross presented a talk and moderated a discussion of a book titled The Closing of the Muslim Mind – How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, by Robert Reilly. The presentation covered the battle for reason that took place within the Islamic world in the 9th century AD. Islamic theologians debated the same questions as Christian theologians did centuries later – but came to opposite conclusions. In the West, Christian theologians left room for man to reason even though they counseled adherence to faith on religious questions. Thomas Aquinas went further: he concluded that even “the erring reason binds,” that is, that man should follow reason even when it gives him wrong conclusions, as long as he does it honestly and without evasion. The Islamic theologians concluded the opposite: Reason, in their view, is a limitation on God’s omnipotent Will, and therefore is blasphemy. Although there was a short movement toward reason during the time of the “Mu’tazilite” thinkers in the 9th century, it was squashed with a virulent reaction promoting complete submission to God’s Will, and a voluntarist view of reality (this view held that there is no natural law or identity – God wills entities to remain unified and appear to operate consistently, but that is only an illusion as God could choose otherwise at any instant).
The consequences today of these two world-shaking outcomes are everywhere to be seen. The West, despite its recent reversion to unreason and religion, has predominantly followed reason, developed science and technology, and raised its quality of life through industrial production and the advanced financial system that supports it. The Islamic world, by contrast, is dominated by unreason, by superstition and conspiracy theories, by the belief that God is responsible for every event, especially natural disasters, and by hatred of the values of the West (such as science, money, planning for the future, and living prosperously on this Earth).
The presentation and the discussion that followed highlighted the fundamental requirements of changing a society or a culture for the better: the appearance of a great thinker to present rational alternatives, the choice of the members of the culture to adhere to the rational path, and the relative freedom to implement that choice. Each of these is necessary, but all of three of them together are required to be sufficient for a cultural change.
The handouts and audio for this meeting are available for $10. Payment can be made via PayPal. After payment, you will be taken to a page for downloading the materials.