Islamists have brain leeches!

Susan Blackmore always lectures entertainingly -- really, if you get a chance to hear her, you should -- so I can guess how surprised she was when students claimed offense and walked out on her talk. They were religiously indoctrinated, and simply shut down their brains when the word "evolution" came up, and when she started presenting rational and secular explanations for the existence of religion, just forget it -- there were a lot of students who thought you could only quote the Bible and Koran with unstinting reverence, accepting their divine claims at face value.

It is sad to see young people with such closed minds.

But one comment jumped out at me -- it was so familiar.

Outside, some young Muslims were waiting for me. I was angrily told that I’d made them feel ignorant. They asked whether I’ve read the Koran – at least I could say that I’ve read an English translation (of the whole horrible book). I was asked whether a leech looks like an embryo. (What ???) ‘A little bit,’ I agreed, ‘and there are good biological reasons why animal shapes are … ‘There you are then, that’s why I believe the Koran is the word of God. This is true, like everything in the Koran’.

OK, first: young people are ignorant. So are old people, but hopefully less so. That religious people who claim that everyone is born sinful and evil and deserving of hell should take exception to the demonstrable fact that everyone is actually born ignorant is simply bizarre. That's why we have schools! That's why we supposedly have organizations like the "Oxford Royale Academy", where she was speaking. You don't go to school to have your uninformed biases affirmed, you go there to learn.

But that leech nonsense -- oh, I have run into that. At least once a week I get email from some determined Muslim declaiming that al-alaqa means Mohammed had divine insight. That because he wrote that embryos were slimy things hanging from the uterus, he had super-human knowledge of embryology…when none of his descriptions said anything more than what was common knowledge at the time, and was actually factually incorrect in detail.

There are similiarities between leeches and people, because both evolved from ancestral segmented worms. The Koran offers no details on that at all, but simply makes a metaphorical comparison of embryos with small slimy living things, which does not require any magical power to do.

Blackmore links to a dismayingly stupid video.

Besides making my head hurt, this video presents no evidence. It is simply repetitious riffing on the one short paragraph in the Koran that talks about embryos, at a level of disingenuous shallowness that makes it absolutely useless. It does two things: it repeats those verses from the Koran with flashy cuts and splices.

We created man from an essence of clay, then We placed him as a drop of fluid in a safe place. Then We made that drop of fluid into a clinging form, and then We made that form into a lump of flesh, and We made that lump into bones, and We clothed those bones with flesh, and later We made him into other forms.

That's it. Every two years I teach a course in development, which only touches lightly on major themes in the science -- it sure would make it easier if all I had to do was talk about two sentences. But I can't, because Islamist embryology is over-hyped nonsense.

The other thing the video does, since it has no evidence to back up its claim that the Koran is magically perceptive, is strain to make comparisons to show that human embryos are just like a leech. We must make Mohammed true by shoe-horning embryos into being exactly like leeches! It claims that the internal anatomy is similar…never mind that leeches are acraniate, have a ventral nerve cord rather than a dorsal one, and that they are comparing adult leeches to embryonic humans. And then there's this bit, startling in how ludicrous it is.


That's right. They are explicitly claiming that the developing human brain is exactly like the muscular sucker at the ass end of an adult leech. It's "mind-blowing", they say.

Anyone who falls for this bullshit has a blown mind, that's for sure. I wouldn't be surprised if they had a bloated worm sphincter for a brain, either.

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How is a raven like a writing desk?
Because Poe wrote on both.

Maybe you should first teach in coming students a segment on the pitfalls of reasoning by analogy before disorienting them with shocking reason.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 20 Aug 2014 #permalink

I thought it was 'because both have inky quills'.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 20 Aug 2014 #permalink

"at least I could say that I’ve read an English translation (of the whole "horrible" book)"

just because you don't understand or agree with a religion doesn't give you the right to insult it.

With all due respect that is.

We DO have the right to insult or critique a religion Luna.

That always seems to happen whenever you criticize some Islamic nonsense on the internet. You always get people in the comments showing up butthurt because you "disrespected their religion you MEANIE!".

You don't get to be offended by other people talking about your religion when its proponents keep bringing it into public debate, about science, politics and policy, and trying to get even people who do not believe it to "respect it" by doing what they say. If this displeases you then work against the vocal extremists, don't defend them.

Hank, excellent!


By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 21 Aug 2014 #permalink

Religionists and sCAM proponents unremittingly invoke their right to insult science yet they complain each and every time someone even dares to ask them to provide solid evidence; and they scream from the rooftops whenever their belief system is critiqued in a public arena.

If I was to write "2+2=5" then it would be perfectly acceptable (even politically correct) for anyone on the planet to point out the absurdity, even the stupidity, of my statement. It would be wholly incorrect behaviour to avoid challenging my statement and let me spread it around the globe as an established fact (or even just a valid opinion). It matters not whether I'm an uneducated misguided fool, a Professor of Alternative Arithmetic, a New Age pop-psychologist, a religionist, or a fully-licensed practitioner of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: none of these should ever be allowed to become exempt from critique.

It is impossible to insult science because science is not a person. Indeed, science is self-correcting because it welcomes (and thrives on) criticism. Conversely, proponents of belief systems have to cower behind the shields of "being offended by criticism" and "the right to have faith and proselytize it" because their belief systems are maintained by dogma rather than by evidence and external examination plus auditing using the scientific method combined with epistemology.

The notion of insulting a religion and its believers being offended is as bizarre as being offended when someone points out that Santa, the tooth fairy, and my "2+2=5" don't actually exist in reality. If I start a Two plus Two equals Five religion them I'm reasonably certain that religionists around the globe would be the first to hurl insults at it. Islam would be a notable exception because it teats all non-Islamists equally: infidels.

Oops: I meant to write "it treats", but on reflection, my typo was perhaps more appropriate in this context.

All well and good. I pretty much agree. However personally, I don't take a one size fits all approach when it comes to addressing different audiences; harsher on secific points, if needs be, with Islamists; more chilled and less rhetorical with Muslims in general, for instance.

It's a matter of being aware of how your audience perceives you. A discussion may be couched in religious terms, but if it's pushing buttons about imperialism, then the distinction between a principled atheist and a crusader becomes moot when you're bashing a cultural symbol--especially if you're doing it at the same time that your tax dollars are being used to blow up ordinary people in their homes.

Like I said IMO, for me personally, while I think it's important to be logically consistent across the board, I also make a point of not breathing fire in everyone's faces all the time. That might also include what could, under ordinary circumstances, seem to be no more than habitual professorial condescension.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 21 Aug 2014 #permalink

It is also disrespectful of those people to walk out on the lecture.
We can all say if you don't like it or agree you don't have to listen. That being said, many people in the middle east are being killed if they don't convert to their views. So those people can't just 'Not listen'.
People need to open minded and be open to listen and have a healthy debate otherwise this could get worse.

IMHO 'twas Blackmore who blew it, bigtime.

The way to convey a subject matter, not to mention convey an attitude or outlook, isn't by mocking people in an intimate part of their lives, but by building bridges between where they presently stand and where you're trying to take them.

She may as well have been trying to promote safe sex to a crowd of gay men by making nasty right-wing jokes about gay sex. "But if you insist on putting something where it doesn't belong, then..." Fail.

I frequently run across the attitude of mocking and triumphalism from atheists attacking religious believers in another public forum in which I participate. They are doing a sh*tty job promoting atheism, and a sh*tty job promoting scientific thinking and rationalism. What they are actually promoting is retrenchment, whether they know it or not, and whether they like it or not.

Since _we_ claim to be rational people, the onus is on _us_ to live up to that claim and set the example. That means making well-reasoned arguements and _not_ indulging in crass emotionalisms to attempt to hector people who don't agree.

I've had a decent run of success in that other public forum, paradoxically by conceding the limitations of scientific method (e.g. "it can't make value judgements and does not purport to do so") while at the same time pointing out its successes in a way that appeals to the sense of awe and to recognition of the scope and capacity of science: "...understanding a vast array of natural phenomena from the scale of subatomic particles to the scale of the cosmos..." and "...launch a probe to Jupiter and predict to within 1/2 hour when it will arrive..." etc.

See also Ethan Siegel's column here, "Starts with a Bang." He is a brilliant science communicator, in the lineage of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

If your goal is to get people to embrace scientific methods and findings, start by building bridges that link to wherever they presently stand.

If your goal is to get people to stop believing in deities, start by getting them to embrace scientific methods and findings, and then, in a manner that is not emotionally loaded, mention in passing that "the natural universe is sufficient as it is" and let that meme go to work on its own.

But don't expect to make any progress on either of the above axes by mocking the intimate parts of others' lives or telling them they are stupid. That might get you the pleasant little buzz of righteous superiority, but if that little buzz is your motivator, then, "surprise!," you have that in common with those who go around preaching hellfire and damnation.


I don't see how that follows, even if you accept without reservation the simplistic sociology of the tippling philosopher.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 24 Aug 2014 #permalink

Obstreperous Applesauce, do you have any solid evidence to support the notion that Islam is adapting to reason rather than systematically installing caliphates and Sharia Law across the globe?


First of all, I thought the subject at hand was about how to talk to people concerning science and/or religion. Insult in this context isn't necessarily about content so much as it's about presentation. It is possible to be right about something and to be an offensive jackass at the same time. And let's not be naïve about heated rhetoric. There are those on the far right who would love to co-opt atheists in their nutty (including fundamentalist Christian) pursuit of war, just as they tried to sell it to feminists as being about freeing women.

Realize that if you're going to talk about the politics of the middle east, you are in a whole new arena, and you'll really have to up your game on a whole host of subjects ---understanding at the same time that all religion is malleable over time and is often a servant of politics and not necessarily a driver.

Note too that Islam is also not 'a person' and is not monolithic. What's going on with ISIL has everybody alarmed, including the Saudi's and Iran (who otherwise tend not to agree on things being religiously, politically, and ethnically in different camps).

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 24 Aug 2014 #permalink

Islam is not monolithic? Please debate this with the author of the link I provided and the many scholars who strongly suggest that it is.

I respectfully asked you to provide solid evidence for your assertions.


Muslim Leaders Have Roundly Denounced Islamic State, But Conservative Media Won't Tell You That…

So no, Islam is not monolithic.

Look! Do you ever pay attention to the news? Ever hear of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Wahabis, etc.? How about the Sufis? Do you at least listen to, say, the analysis of what's going on over there on PBS or NPR? Ever spent some time at Juan Cole's site ? Ever read up on the history, politics, demographics of the middle east or the Islamic world? Would you be surprised to hear that it's complex?

This Information is everywhere: books, journals, TV, etc. It's general knowledge. How could you have any interest at all in this area and not know it?

So some philosopher on a blog has facile, monocausal theory. That in itself ought to raise a flag.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 24 Aug 2014 #permalink

@Obstreperous Applause

I hardly think what I pointed out in that linked article is facile in the derogatory way you meant it. For sure, as a blog post, it is streamlined. But what part of the notion that Islam as defined by its holy book, is more immutable than Christianity? This is trivially true by point of fact that there are some 40,000 denominations of Christianity, a real Pick n Mix, and yet Islam has remained fairly unchanged. That one has had a reformation whilst the other struggles to be able to do that on account of it requiring people to reform the actual word of God.

I would like to understand how you see things differently. Yes here re different strands of Islam, but the main divide is historico-political rather than theological in a major way.

As I quoted form a Muslim commentator:

"Let us come back to the Quran. Allah spoke to a seventh century Arab in the latter’s language. And all what he said to this prophet is recorded to fructify a Quran. To sum it up, Allah sent his last message to this same prophet then stopped speaking downright. Because god sent his last message and promised to preserve it forever, he will not speak any more until the day of resurrection. He will not send any prophet, since sending a prophet will stir him up again. This is the end. God sent his final messenger, and even though he did not favor immortality to the messenger, he blessed the message with immortality.

So, Quran, Islam’s holy text is not a pushover. It is the ultimate message of god. There is nothing to add or subtract in it. All of its components are divine, equally divine. All are applied to all and all.

In conclusion, if there is a command in Quran, there is no need to look for its historical context since humanity from the formation of Quran to the end of times are living in the context of the text. It is the Muslim belief. God, Gabriel, Muhammad, three key figures formed Quran have infinite relevance, so the making (Quran) too necessarily possess the quality of being interminably relevant. If this is the common Muslim belief pertaining to Quran, there is no room for a context excuse in its case.

Thus, the context excuse in the case of Quran is flawed in its fundamentals."

Jesus, look at the fact that Christianity assimilated rival contexts to help it work: Easter is named for the pagan goddess Eostre! Christianity is superb at adapting to its environment - have you seen the crossover beliefs and practices in some parts of Africa? It really is a memetic adaptation success story.

Surely you can see that Islam is more rigid?

The idea is that this comes from the rigidity of the interpretative process of the holy book, in comparison to the Bible.

How many Islamic and secular scholars are presently publishing big works of Qu'ranic criticism?

The last big one I know of in the UK was The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Qur'an by Luxenberg, which was written under a pseudonym, and was banned by the Pakistani government!

The recent Ch4 documentary on Islam had its public screening cancelled amidst security fears, and the maker threatened with death. All of this generally stifles the development of a critical exegesis of the Qu'ran, which itself inhibits change and adaptability.

By Jonathan Pearce (not verified) on 24 Aug 2014 #permalink


Well, I was responding to Pete A and what he seemed to be all about. But since I've apparently been fobbed off on you, I'll try to respond to what it is that you want to talk about, which as I understand it is how I see things differently from the way you see them.

First and foremost, you can probably get a sense of where I'm comming from based on my previous comments on this thread. Among other things you might guess that I don't put a lot of stock in exegesis of religious texts in a quasi-historic context as a primary method of doing sociological or, most especially, political analysis. That's not to discount the role of religion in constraining or even motivating politics even in non-theocratic entities.

I just think that there's a lot more going on in the rising and falling of secularism in the middle east than the idea that Islam necessarily programs people to be idiots (not to put to fine a point on it). People will make of their holy doctrines what they need to, or what suits them or their purpose (… ) and as well, I can tell you that I've known many compassionate and thoughtful, secular Muslims.

For comparisons sake and historical perspective, it might be worth pointing out that Islam enabled the transition from the dark ages to the Renaissance in Europe. Rather if you're looking for a potentially pernicious idea in the Abrahamic religions, I'd refer you instead to this business of being chosen by God, while pondering the Christian justifications for slavery of not too long ago--among many, many other things.

So basically what I'm saying is that when the rubber hits the road, it's the realpolitik that rolls. And yes it's often cynical, messy, foolhardy, stupid, and ill advised to put it mildly.

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 24 Aug 2014 #permalink

I think you are certainly right in much of what you say. The media helps not one jot (think of the thinly veiled racism in the anti-Islamic rhetoric of the UK's Daily Mail).

The challenge is not let let this kind of approach and rhetoric stifle genuine criticism of Lasma. IT isn't an either / or.

By Jonathan Pearce (not verified) on 25 Aug 2014 #permalink

Fair enough!

By Obstreperous A… (not verified) on 25 Aug 2014 #permalink

@Obstreperous Applesauce -- now you know what Pete A "seemed to be all about".

@Jonathan Pearce -- thank you for your insightful input to this discussion.

No worries.


By Jonathan Pearce (not verified) on 27 Aug 2014 #permalink

Wiki: "This is a list of religious populations by proportion and population (estimates). The CIA's World Factbook gives the population as 7,021,836,029 (July 2012 est.) and the distribution of religions as Christian 33.39% (of which Roman Catholic 16.85%, Protestant 6.15%, Orthodox 3.96%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.74%, Hindu 13.8%, Buddhist 6.77%, Sikh 0.35%, Jewish 0.22%, Baha'i 0.11%, other religions 10.95%, non-religious 9.66%, atheists 2.01% (2010 est.)."

If these figures are even close to accurate, atheists are a minority. In the event that there is a God (I'm confident that there is, but for the sake of humility I'll state that there is an EXTREMELY STRONG probability), religious people at least have enough fear and reverence to acknowledge and respect it, Him, them or however they choose to name the Creator. It's true that we can't all be right about the Personality, attributes, revelation and/or requirements of this Being (a deeper discussion about that some other time), but acknowledgment with humble reverence of Someone greater than yourself is better than a flat out denial in my book. I've heard PZ Myers (and others) say with all confidence and pride: "I'm an atheist, because there is no God." A silly assertion right? They obviously don't/couldn't know for sure so; "I'm an atheist, because I don't believe in God" would be more accurate. Just because one hasn't seen, experienced or interacted with supernatural Intelligence doesn't mean that they should assert or imply that there isn't such a Being(s) or that others cannot or have not encountered Whomever. If you choose to deny an Intelligent Designer, be humble about your lack of belief considering that your lack of belief doesn't eliminate the existence - and consider the possibility that some on that wiki list (may have) already passed the test that you're still studying for. AND if you're Godless, go ahead and be proud about what you don't know or haven't experienced (if you insist), but don't pretend to know more than anyone else or assert guesswork as knowledge or revealed truth. At the end of the day, you might just be studying God's work and calling it science, and learning all you possibly can about creation while denying a Creator = ignorance. God bless those offended students.

By Feelgood Goodman (not verified) on 31 Aug 2014 #permalink

There are two basic definitions of faith:
1) A personal belief that lacks empirical evidence.
2) Pretending to know things that you don't know.

I have no problem whatsoever with the first definition, by which I mean people who keep their personally-held religious beliefs to themselves.

However, the second definition is all about those who actively proselytise their beliefs; claim that those who do not believe will suffer eternal damnation because they are vile creatures; and try to dictate government policy. Personally, I don't much like dictators, and I'm very fortunate to still live in a democratic region of our planet. I hope you won't object too vociferously while I try to maintain this 21st Century Human Right.

If solid empirical evidence ever comes to light for the existence of a deity then, by definition, skeptics and science would shift there positions from non-believers to believers because this is how both critical thinking and science works. Conversely, religion is not self-correcting, it has no option other than to rely on dogma.

Which system (science or religion) do you think best demonstrates humility, Feelgood Goodman? And which system exemplifies placing feel-good factor far above the humility required to accept reality for what it is?

Are we really surprised that religion can subject the mind to all sorts of deranged insanities? If you can believe in a god, you can believe in anything. Religion is the impetus, insanity is the result.


Is it possible that God has been revealed on earth, and in the actual lives of some people presently living? I recently posted that "the mystery of God has been revealed (in part) with MUCH MORE to come" and I speak from experience when I say that He has revealed Himself in my life and a few other people I know. You stated: "There are two basic definitions of faith: 1) A personal belief that lacks empirical evidence. 2) Pretending to know things that you don’t know." A definition of empirical evidence is evidence relating to or based on experience or observation. Based on that, I don't lack empirical evidence of God because I am having an experience, a relationship, an interaction that I can clearly observe. This experience and relationship is indisputable (though some here would surely try) which is why it's frustrating to hear people assert their own incomplete "intelligence" on the topic of God and/or His nonexistence. Like I said, be humble about your lack of belief or experience because that's all it is, and you certainly can't comment on someone else's experience with any insight or intelligence.

In light of this ongoing relationship, I would not consider myself a person who's "pretending to know things or Someone I don't know" (to deal with your 2nd definition of faith), but one who is extremely blessed to know God and receive guidance and provision from Him (among other things). Proving this to skeptics and critics would of course be difficult due to God's invisibility, but still I testify. More than dogma, I rely on relationship and revelation.

A discovery or experience of God would be the most important and detrimental piece of knowledge any human being could ever possibly attain. Finding life on Mars, finding a cure for cancer or AIDS would all be lesser headlines than; "GOD IS AMONG US!!!" (there's still a loud echo resonating from the one time that allegedly happened). As you pointed out, (another) physical manifestation would (possibly) shut skeptics up forcing them to finally believe, but the first one resulted in a famous execution so I'm skeptical. Like you, "I don't much like dictators" and I actually hate authority. From parents, to grade school teachers, to employers, to cops, I've always hated people laying down the law and telling me what to do or not do - while having the audacity to hold me accountable threatening me with punishment if I didn't comply with their rules. I hate submitting and I hate being defined or ruled by anyone but myself. This I have in common with more than a few people, which is why I don't think it's a guareentee that "skeptics and science would shift their positions from non-believers to believers" if God physically showed up on earth. I keep going on about this relationship (and I've had personal OMG miracles occur as well), but even with that I still don't want to submit/obey at times - so for another person with no relationship, reverence or conviction I can only imagine how difficult it is to yield. Nevertheless, we have to be somewhat grateful for rules and justice as they help maintain order while diminishing crime, chaos and self-destruction. And grateful God is not a dictator, but ultimately allows us free will to choose - with appropriate rewards and consequences of course. The issue is I believe less "about those who actively proselytise their beliefs claiming that those who do not believe will suffer eternal damnation" and more about the Person who claims to be an Authority and Judge on such matters. Believers just reiterate what's been said by God, communicating the grace, reconciliation and blessings that we ourselves ("vile creatures") receive.

Communicating good news is not so much about a "feel-good factor" as it is about the URGENT love of another human being. Your own personal discovery of God's existence is inevitable (in my humble opinion), so I'd assume you'd be grateful that someone tried to convince or warn you before you actually faced the Individual. Wouldn't you (if in fact such a Person exists)? If you had lived your life as a poor orphan and I knew your actual father was a rich king, I would gladly enlighten you of your rightful inheritance informing you that you were descended from royalty and no longer needed to live ingnorant of your true identity. If there is a God and He has a purpose for people, people should know Him and know what that purpose and expectation is.

In closing; a soul is defined as the animating principle or actuating cause of a person's life or one's life force. This component has yet to be completely proven or disproved though we are without a doubt animated with life. Is there more than just food, water, oxygen, etc. energizing and sustaining us? Do we consist of more than flesh and intellect? I'd say ABSOLUTELY for myself, and if it's true for one of us it's true for us all (at different degrees of awareness of course). If this spiritual component exists, and some are oblivious to it, what might they be missing by not being intimately acquainted with that part of themselves? What might they be blind to, or fail to perceive or discern? What I know, I know intellectually, but also in my soul which generates a confidence that supersedes the assurance I might gain through the natural senses. Despite differing beliefs and the lack of belief, I think most would agree that it's "possible" that God exists - therefore, it's possible for people to (not "pretend" but) actually KNOW Him in this present generation. I'm just one of billions.

"Which system (science or religion) do you think best demonstrates humility? And which system exemplifies placing feel-good factor far above the humility required to accept reality for what it is?" I've heard some quantum physicists say something to the effect that our present "reality" is nothing more than an illusion made up of invisible particles that appear to make up what we PERCIEVE as reality. I remind that a few centuries ago these subatomic particles were not observable and were once completely invisible and undiscovered – despite always being there. Could the same be true of God - invisible but always there, causing things to exist? Will future generations (maybe us in our post physical lives) be able to observe and understand more than we do now? Probably so. I'll re-establish the possibility that the "reality" we observe with our natural senses is only a portion of what's "real" - and what's invisible is more real or substantial than what is visible. I'm fairly certain that no one knows everything - consequently, humility is in order from both the scientific and religious community considering that "reality" in it's ENTIRETY is still unfolding.

By Feelgood Goodman (not verified) on 02 Sep 2014 #permalink