Poeticising Da’wah: An Atheist Critique.

December 9, 2013

There is a video currently doing the rounds across social media platforms that appears to have great power over Muslims. The video is produced by “Talk Islam” and features a speaker poetically expressing his understanding of the universe, and his dismissal of science. Those who have commented on the video range from some who find it the most inspiring poetic expression of Islam in years, to those who it drives to tears – that’s right, I can be poetic too! – and this surprises me for something that is so poorly written.

The video in question is here:

You may think “It’s just poetry, why address it? Let it be….Whisper words of wisdom…. let it be.” I would note that this video is being touted as a video that converts people the moment they see it. It is shown to non-believers as a form of beautiful proselytizing, of da’wah and so it becomes more than just a poem. Therefore, criticism is required.

I am a big fan of poetic creativity, and the poet in this video is expressing his. On a poetically creative level, I fully appreciate his work. But the content – as a form of da’wah – I find to be woefully misleading, scientifically illiterate, and full of fallacy and ignorance. I thought I’d deal with several of the points it raises here. The video is only 6 minutes long, but contains a lot of points, which would take up several thousand words to address. So I thought I’d stick to the first half of the video here, and limit my arguments, in an attempt to show that if the first half can be dismissed as nonsense, the second half isn’t likely to produce anything better.

It is also important to note that he isn’t saying anything new. The cosmological “proof” is used, the God-of-the-gaps is used, and commenting on his own misunderstanding of science is used. These widely used religious non-arguments are simply used a little more poetically here.

So, here are the five points:

“Don’t ask any questions, just go with the flow.” “Just make as much money as you can”.

– Here, the speaker is critiquing Western values. The audio is interlaced with a video showing US dollars. The implication being, the reason we non-Muslims haven’t asked questions, and come to Islam yet, is because we’re too busy obsessed with money. That is his only explanation. We must be too distracted by the accumulation of material goods, to embrace Allah. Both the poet and I agree that the Western World has placed money as a sort of quasi-God, and that this is deeply problematic. Though I would describe an obsession with religion as just as problematic, inhumane and dangerous, as an obsession with money. The two are very similar to me.

What the speaker is doing is a tried and tested method – usually by Muslims – to deflect from the issues their own system creates (institutionalised homophobia, for example), their lack of reasonable argument, and instead seeks to amplify the worst of Western, secular values – to the very extreme – as if they are representative of the entire region and everyone in it. It is of course, deeply misinformed. Indeed, the secular World has created some of the greatest universities in the World, encouraging free thought and wonderful advancements – far more so than any religious state has ever achieved – we do not ban books or words that run contrary to prevailing wisdom, we do not threaten people if they make films or books satirising secular customs.

The very reason I am an Atheist, is because I question (and not least because I wont be arrested, or have my life threatened by the state for questioning). The very reason I reject the Qur’an is because the Qur’an seems so inadequate; is scientifically less impressive than the Greeks were 1000 years earlier; offers no proof or even a shred of evidence for its claims on divinity; is rather badly put together; incredibly inaccurate; is far better explained by its links to the early Caliph’s need to control and unify; spends far too much time on meaningless tribal squabbles and Muhammad’s love life; and anchors “morality” to a single place and single time. And this is before we’ve even started to discuss the possibility of a ‘creator’. But we’ll come to that shortly. I wrote here on where I believe Islam – as we know it – took its roots and why.

It would also appear to me that the phrase “don’t ask questions” is better placed as a description of religion. Apostasy laws, blasphemy laws, attempting to prohibit the teaching of evolution, placing “God” in the gaps of understanding as if that’s reasonable, dismissing contrary arguments as of the “kuffar”, and threats to those who question or criticise certain religions ensure uniformity of belief among those under states that are entwined with the religion. It is a very difficult venture indeed, to locate a page in the Qur’an that doesn’t threaten those who are not Muslim, with terrible pain and torture simply for asking questions. This isn’t the promotion of freedom of thought and critique, this is the business of controlling thought processes and ensuring conformity through threats. The speaker in this video casts stones that boomerang back and hit him square in the face.

“How did we get here, and who made us so perfect?” “Did you create yourself or is it someone else that fashioned you?”

– Hideously false dichotomy. The choice isn’t “either you made yourself, or God made you“. We didn’t just appear, as we are today. Our ancestors – from the single cell, to homo sapien – have weathered such incredibly tough climates and challenges, fought rival species for survival, endured close to starvation and extinction, fostered ingenuity on a wonderful level, created language and tools, adapted to conditions and threats along the way, and died of the most easily curable diseases. That is how we are here. We have our ancestors to thank. We didn’t create ourselves. We didn’t require a God. Natural selection is as close to fact as any scientific theory you will ever come across – including gravity.

The question of how the entire universe got here – well, we don’t have a definitive answer yet, just like we didn’t have a definitive answer as to the nature of a lunar eclipse, centuries ago. This gap in our knowledge did not then render the Viking explanation of two wolves chasing and trying to eat the sun, any more credible. We place myths in the gaps in knowledge, always have. But we advance because we question. A ‘creator’ of the universe, is simply another gap plugged with an ill-fitting myth.

The speaker then goes on to show a video of Dawkins and Krauss, and subtly hints that an absence of God in our lives, is by extension, an absence of purpose. I find this to be a weak point, and one made out of malice and desperation rather than thought. Oprah Winfrey – a Christian – made the overly obtuse comment that non-believers just don’t understand awe and beauty. This is of course ridiculous, and I addressed it here. It is awe and beauty that drives curiosity and scientific inquiry. The same is true of purpose. As a non-believer, I create my own purpose. My purpose – as a human, with 70 or so short years in which to cram everything in – is to love, to be happy, and to obtain knowledge to the best of my ability, to see as much of the World as I possibly can, and when my time is up, I want to die feeling fulfilled. That is my purpose. I do not require a promise of heavenly reward, or a fairy sky man for that.

“For there isn’t a camera on this Earth that can come close to the human eye. If the whole world was to come together we wouldn’t be able to create a single fly…. so many signs.”

– This is scientifically illiterate creationism, and nothing less. It is a full dismissal of evolution via natural selection. Therefore it is also a dismissal of every subject that is based on evolution; genetics, biology, medicine, zoology, and many more. I am still waiting for a thesis from any creationist that proves the basis of all of those studies to be entirely false. So far, their criticism seems to amount to nothing more than “why are there still monkeys?

The eye is a beautifully elegant product of natural selection. We know this. It isn’t a guess. From simple photoreceptor structures that could recognise basic light in unicell organisms, to the evolution of lenses that regulate light intensity, to the complex structure we now have; each step along the way has endowed the species with a genetic advantage, and so has become increasingly complex in structure. Natural selection can and does explain the evolution of the eye. And it has taken around a billion years.

The speaker weirdly compares this, to a modern camera. Photography has existed since around 1840. Less than 200 years. Which, you will perhaps note, is a little bit less than a billion years – about a billion years less – so yes, we’d expect a bit more complexity, especially with natural selection as the driving force. I’m sure in a billion years, the camera might be a little more complex too.

A predator that has a greater – even to a very small degree – perception of light and depth through mutations to a form of photoreceptor, has an evolutionary advantage and the gene will eventually pass on and slowly improve if necessary. Basic science. It is the reason bacteria become immune to vaccines. They adapt. The eye did the same thing. The eye is naturally advantageous, so of course it is complex. There are not “so many signs” for a creator. There are however vast amounts of collected evidence, and vast amounts of significant study into the evolution of the eye. The speaker here dismisses them all. He isn’t challenging the litany of thesis backed by evidence, he’s simply displaying his ignorance of it. Therefore, he is not promoting thinking, as he seems to believe he is.

“Science tries to justify that all this can come from none, when it’s a simple sum, zero plus zero plus zero can not possibly give you one.”

– Yes. I guess if you’re willing to suggest that all physics can be reduced to basic 2nd Grade maths, this is true. In reality, it’s nonsense. I also suspect he abandons that sum, the moment that the “one” in the equation is called “God”. Indeed, it isn’t science that says we “came from none”, it’s his own faith:
Qur’an 19:67:

“We created him before out of nothing.”

– What the poet is telling us then, is that whilst science is wrong to suggest “something came from nothing” (incredibly simplistic interpretation of scientific inquiry), it’s fine for religious folk to say “something came from nothing…. when eternal magic sky man does it”.

Science has never suggested something comes from nothing. It claims a singularity. The big bang was an incredible moment at which the form of energy that existed at the unfathomable singularity changed and began to expand. We know this. We don’t know how it began to expand (there doesn’t need to be a ‘why’ is began to expand). But not knowing, is not evidence for a God. It never has been. We also know that at a quantum level, virtual particles spring in and out of existence – from nothing – all the time. It is only scientifically illiterate religious folk that cannot comprehend science; they prefer the simplistic answer.

Science goes where the evidence points, not where philosophical conjecture points, and science is not here to place “God” in the gaps of understanding. It is an accumulation of knowledge, not a guess. The existence of “nothing” is of course, self defeating. There has always been something. Existence requires time. Time and space are necessary for causation to exist. Time and space sprang into existence at the singularity, therefore, there was no time or space for a cause of time and space to exist. Causation is a product of the universe and applies to the sum of its parts, it need not apply to the universe itself.

“Everything has a maker, a creator”. “We can believe in the Big Bang but I’d rather believe in He who caused it to explode.

– Again, I suspect this little equation is abandoned, the moment we ask “so who made God?”

I wrote on the idea of “before” the Big Bang here and so wont repeat myself too much, but an excerpt of my argument is important for this point:

“If you conceive of a “before time”, you have created Neverland. A place where time doesn’t exist, but causation exists. You have divorced causation from time, you have divorced time from the universe. I see no reason to accept this as a reasonable proposition, simply because not a shred of evidence is ever provided for such an extraordinary revision of all known physical laws.”

– Following from this, and in relation to the poem, the speaker uses the term “caused”, which suggests that he believes causation has no link to time or space. He of course provides no evidence for this extraordinary claim. He simply places ‘God’ in the gap in our understanding, and has decided that is a logical position to hold, despite the fact that every time the God of the gaps has been invoked throughout history, it’s always turned out to be wrong.

For a poem that is being promoted as some sort of supreme da’wah, it is inconceivably weak on absolutely every point it endeavours to make. It achieves the opposite of what it sets out to achieve, it is several minutes worth of trying to justify the dogma of the God-of-the-gaps. Whilst the poetics, and the over dramatic pronouncements make it seem attractive, the proselytizing fails the moment it begins. Though if we are to take one thing from this video, one idea that the poet makes, that is to question everything, including claims made by way of poetic da’wah.