The great “clash of civilisations”, according to Samuet P Huntington in his seminal article for Foreign Affairs in 1993, was between a belligerent Islam (whose characteristics are taken from Bernard Lewis’s 1990 analysis of “Muslim Rage”) and the civilised West, which must not continue to accomodate but needs to challenge the upstart Muslims.
Twenty years on, Huntington’s view seems woefully antiquated. Christians and Muslims (and all believers) stand cheek to jowl against the strident atheists who run the British Establishment (and are increasingly vocal in America too). Here is a clash of civilisation, 2012-style: Mehdi Hasan, a practising Muslim, took on evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins at the Oxford Union earlier this month, during an interview for Al Jazeera.
Those atheists [explains Hasan] who harangue us theists for our supposed lack of evidence should consider [that: first]… it may be a tired cliché but it is nonetheless correct: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I can’t prove God but you cant disprove him. The only non-faith-based position is that of the agnostic.
Second, there are plenty of things that cannot be scientifically tested or proven but that we believe to be true, reasonable, obvious even. Which of these four pretty uncontroversial statements is scientifically testable? 1) Your spouse loves you. 2) The Taj Mahal is beautiful. 3) There are conscious minds other than your own. 4) The Nazis were evil.
Hasan goes on to question Dawkins’s definition of science as offering only proveable theories:
science itself is permeated with unproven (and unprovable) theories. Take the so-called multiverse hypothesis. “It says there are billions and billions of universes, all of which have different settings of their fundamental constants,” Dawkins explained to a member of the audience in Oxford. “A tiny minority of those billions and billions of universes have their constants set in such a way as to give rise to a universe that lasts long enough to give rise to galaxies, stars, planets, chemistry and hence the process of evolution…”
Hmm. A nice idea, but where’s your evidence, Richard? How do we prove that these billions and billions of universes exist? ”The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language,” the cosmologist Paul Davies has admitted, “but in essence it requires the same leap of faith [as God].”
The culture war today is, pace Huntington, Lewis et al, waged on a new battlefront, with new allegiances.