Thursday, 25 July 2013

Refusing Galileo's Telescope

When I say "Islam", they hear "Muslim". - Eric Allen Bell


There is a story from our changing vision of the universe which parallels our current difficulties in seeing the realities of Islam. This story concerns the transition from a geocentric (earth-centred) view of the universe to a heliocentric (sun-centred) model of the solar system during the 16th and 17th centuries. This transition was so radical that not only was the earth no longer considered to be the centre of everything, it was also open to question as to whether there even was a “centre of everything”.

Despite being completely wrong, the geocentric model of the universe made perfect sense to those who held it. It explained what they could see of the sky by night and of the sun by day. This is very much like the liberal orthodoxies of today with regard to Islam and Muslims. Liberal explanations of the behaviour of Muslims and Islam as a whole make sense of people’s observations (to some extent) but they miss out information which is not immediately visible but which nonetheless is crucial for understanding reality. That is the subject of this essay.

The Ptolemaic system

When you ask a child if the earth travels around the sun or the sun around the earth there is a high likelihood that they will tell you the sun travels around the earth. This seems intuitively obvious to them. They see the sun move from one side of the sky to the other during the day and the position of shadows changing accordingly. The sun certainly appears to travel around the earth. But as we grow up we are taught that the apparent motion of the sun is caused by the daily rotation of the earth about its axis. We thereby gain an understanding of reality which is not easy to come by with common sense alone.

Prior to the 17th century most astronomers would have told you that the sun travels around the earth; they would have told you that the earth was the centre of the universe and that not only the sun but everything in the heavens rotated around the earth. Just look at the night sky, they would say, and see how the stars all move in unison but are fixed in relation to one another, this proves that the earth is at the centre of everything.

Beginning with these assumptions, a complex model of the universe was built with the earth in the centre and the planets set in concentric crystal spheres with the stars set in the outermost sphere. Greek philosophy dating back to Plato had determined that the sphere was the most perfect form and, since heaven must be perfect, it was only logical that the planets and stars were set in spherical forms. This also led to the conclusion that the planets must move in perfect circles and astronomers spent centuries developing extremely complex models which could account for the apparently elliptical orbits of the planets in terms of perfect circles. The planets do in fact move in elliptical orbits.

Immutability was also a logical attribute of the heavens because, being heavenly, they were perfect and perfection could not be altered as it would thereby become imperfect. So how were observed changes in the sky, such as comets, to be accounted for? The sphere in which the moon was set represented the innermost limit of the unchangeable, perfect universe and everything within the Lunary Sphere was not perfect and therefore changeable. Comets were therefore understood to be occurences within the Lunary Sphere.

This cosmology also sat well with other ideas about the nature of the world and the nature of heaven. Aristotle’s concept of the “Great Chain of Being” represented the whole scale of life, starting right at the top with God and moving downwards to the lowliest forms of life. This accorded Man a place in the chain of being between God and the animals, a position with which he could feel satisfied. It also had an explanation for the tendency of things to fall towards the earth. Since the earth was the centre of all things, it naturally attracted all things towards it.

The Ptolemaic Universe

This view of the cosmos prevailed for approximately 15 centuries. It afforded people a sense of knowing the cosmos and their rightful place within it. The Aristotelians were a dominant intellectual force during this whole period and the Ptolemaic cosmos formed part of a larger explanatory system known as Aristotelianism; a system covering politics, ethics, physics, law, education etc. No less a person than Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle personally.

Challenges to the Aristotelian universe


During the first half of the 16th century, Nicholas Copernicus gradually allowed his ideas of a heliocentric solar system to leak out. He provided a theoretical challenge to the geocentric model. This did not arouse all that much attention. Outsiders deemed to be eccentrics or even heretics are generally ignored – or worse. Giordano Bruno, who admired Copernicus, was burned at the stake in 1600 for asserting that the universe was infinite.

The New Star of 1572

In early November 1572 a “new star” appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia. In fact a star had exploded becoming a far brighter object in the sky. It did not explode in 1572 but some 15,000 years earlier, the light only reached the earth in 1572. So what were the Aristotelian astronomers to make of this? The heavens were perfect and immutable so the change must be occurring in the Lunary Sphere they thought. How could this be checked?

Tycho Brahe points to the "new star" with a recent image of the supernova remnant

Fortunately an astronomer called Tycho Brahe had spent his life studying the stars and developing more and more accurate instruments for making astronomical measurements. He determined that the “new star” was well outside the Lunary Sphere where change was not supposed to occur. The Ptolemaic system had suffered a serious blow. Nevertheless, as Bruno’s death above attests, entrenched opinion was still very strong and capable of exercising its will with utmost severity.

There was a further “new star”, or supernova as they are now known, in 1604 and similar conclusions were reached.

The Moons of Jupiter

Galileo Galilei is one of the best known figures of scientific history. In 1608 he adapted the telescope for astronomical observations and two years later he noticed that Jupiter had its own orbiting satellites or moons. He could see four. This information provided Galileo and other astronomers with a very significant insight, one which literally shook the foundations of their universe: the earth was not the centre of everything.

Just imagine yourself in a world that you had taken for granted was the centre of the universe, a view which had prevailed for 15 centuries; imagine the sense of stability, anchorage, the status of being at the centre of all things and suddenly you discover that you are not. That’s what Galileo’s discovery implied.

What Galileo had discovered was a system, a group of objects in organised relationships to each other. This system had a planet at its centre and four moons orbiting around it. That provided the crucial insight. The existence of this system was not visible to the naked eye but with the aid of the correct instrument, a telescope, it could be clearly seen.

This discovery landed Galileo in hot water, not only with the Catholic Church but also with the Aristotelians. The hostility of the Aristotelians towards Galileo never abated and the Church forced him to abjure the moons of Jupiter in 1633.

His story has long provided Western civilisation with a legendary story of ignorance trying to suppress knowledge; of orthodoxy attempting to change reality simply by refusing to look at it. Some accounts of the episode say that various contemporaries of Galileo were unwilling to look through his telescope for fear of what they might see.


Galileo also went on to study the phases of Venus which proved that Venus travelled around the sun. This led to the adoption of the Copernican model of the solar system and we now refer to this transition as the Copernican revolution. So the grip of orthodoxy finally loosened and the Church now looks back with shame to this episode.

We are now engaged in a similar battle between knowledge and orthodoxy. This time the battle is between those who have seen the Islamic system for what it is and those who refuse to look through Galileo’s telescope. The forces of orthodoxy today consist of established liberal thinking.

Now call me fanciful if you wish but this viewpoint is not so very different from the geocentric view of the universe, though in this case the universe we are talking about is the universe of values. Liberals even tend to assume that all people will gradually gravitate towards their way of seeing things; that is, towards liberal values. We see this kind of thinking at work when liberals assume that history is gradually moving in their preferred direction. President Obama is fond of saying that those opposed to his viewpoint are “on the wrong side of history”, as if history has a predetermined destination and anything at odds with that is on the “wrong side”. We also see this thinking at work when people argue that Islam is where Christianity was 500 years ago and that if allowed to take its course it will arrive at exactly where we are now. This thinking definitely betrays a sense that everyone will gravitate towards the liberal position.

That’s really just an aside, what I really want to focus on is the new insight that the counter-jihad movement has gained into the nature of the Islamic system. We are probably unique in the history of societies facing the threat of Islamic conquest in having a detailed forewarning of the nature of the system we face. And yet there are so many who refuse to look at the nature of that system. They are the counterparts to Galileo’s contemporaries who feared to look through his telescope and some, like the hard left and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, are the equivalent of those who intimidated people to restore the state of ignorance. It seems we are always destined to live with a faction of people who brand others as heretics and resort to mob rule.

On the nature of systems

Just as the internal dynamics of Jupiter’s system gave the game away for astronomy so too do the internal dynamics of the Islamic system for us today. Let’s have a look at the nature of systems and then look at some specifics of the Islamic one. This system, like Jupiter’s, is not visible to the naked eye but with the help of the correct viewing equipment you can clearly see it. Once you have seen it, as the counter-jihadists have done, your thinking undergoes a Copernican revolution.

Systems are organised wholes which are greater than the sum of their parts. They are made up of smaller sub-systems or components. They consist of organised complexity.

Mechanical Systems

Mechanical systems are those which are based on relationships between mechanical components. They are designed and assembled by people and are also controlled by them. In some cases they can be automated. A bicycle is a system of mechanical components which is a dead mechanical structure but combined with the energy and intelligence of a cyclist it and the rider become a dynamic whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. Also, if the rider just sits on the bike he/she will fall off but once in motion the whole system achieves a dynamic equilibrium.

There are some mechanical systems which are not assembled by people: Jupiter and it's moons is a system of mechanical relationships governed by the laws of motion.

Computer systems

Computer systems are very complex and consist of computer hardware, software and data. The system will consist of thousands of sub-systems and components both at the hardware level and the software level. The thing that really determines how a computer system will behave is the software, the computer code. It is through the computer code that people are able to specify in detail what the system should do under a whole variety of different conditions. It is the code that determines whether the computer operates as a gaming machine or a word processor. Within either of these broad operational categories there are thousands of sub-systems which contribute to the operation of the whole.

Computer systems at their core are systems of relationships between data. In order to do anything a computer system must carry out operations which base decisions on comparisons between data items in one location and those in another. They do this extremely quickly but that is fundamentally what they are doing.

Living systems

Living systems are even more complex and consist of biological components and sub-systems that contribute to the existence of the whole organism. Respiratory systems, digestive systems, nervous systems, sensory systems, cellular systems are all examples of the kind of sub-systems operating in living organisms.

Another key feature of living systems which distinguishes them from mechanical or computer systems is that they are self-created; they have evolved into what they are. They also have the ability to self-regulate or self-organise and they can replicate themselves.

In order to create copies of themselves living systems make use of genetic code. This code provides the instructions for building every system and component of the whole organism. What the organism will be and what sort of survival strategies it will use, the way it will self-replicate and self-expand is written in this code.

One example of a living system is the rhododendron bush.

Rhododendrons are an invasive species which gradually create an ever-widening area which is exclusively inhabited by rhododendrons. Once a dense thicket of bushes is established nothing else can grow there, the dark canopy blocks all the light. This quality of rhododendrons is written in their genetic code. It is part of their nature.

Rhododendron Bush

The Islamic system

Islam is a system. It is a recognisable set of behaviours persisting through time. Just like a species of animal or plant it has distinct patterns of behaviour, a strategy for survival, and a strategy for self-replication and self-expansion. It is composed of millions of sub-systems which contribute to the operation of the whole. That whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Like the computer system and the living system its behaviour is encoded in some form and that code is distributed throughout the system.

In the case of Islam, the behaviour of the different sub-systems and the system as a whole is encoded in the canonical texts: the Koran, the Hadith, and the Sira. These texts represent the source code for the system. Interestingly, this source code also provides rules for how it is to be translated. Once it is translated it forms the organising principles for the system as a whole. For example, the Koran is not ordered chronologically and in order to decode it properly you have to refer to the Sira to find out what episodes in Muhammad’s life the different parts of this code refer to. Once you know this you can understand the code much better. You also need to look at the Hadith and the reliability criteria for each of these narratives in order to cross-check and elucidate pieces of the Koran and Sira and vice versa.

The source code also spells out the rules for dealing with contradictions between one set of code and another. The rule is that later code always over-rules earlier code. This is the Law of Abrogation and it is one of the most important pieces of the code because it tells us how Islam is ultimately destined to behave towards us. To distinguish the later from the earlier code we study the Sira.

Obviously this is quite a complicated job but all the work has been done for you just like a computer program that has been written and tested and you just have to learn to use it. So too with the Islamic code, you can read a fairly simple explanation of it and grasp its import pretty quickly. You mustn’t be intimidated by computer nerds or Islamic scholars! It’s all very logical and you can easily understand how it fits together. Once you have an understanding of the code, you can then see why Islam and Muslims are the way they are. Just as the genetic code for the rhododendron bush illuminates why it lives the way it does.

Having studied the system code of Islam, we know that it is an invasive system, a pattern of living which renders an area hostile to all other patterns of living, just like the rhododendron: invasive, exclusive, unyielding. We also know its prime directive: to dominate the world.

So, to observe the moons of Jupiter we use a telescope and that reveals the existence of the Jovian system. To observe the Islamic system, we read its source code and the built-in rules for interpreting that code into system code. Unless we look at this system code we are easily fooled by a plethora of superficial details and the soothing messages of Islamic apologists.

Unknown unknowns

Former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was famous for saying that there were known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. His political opponents loved to ridicule him for this observation but it actually says important things about the different states of unknowing.

Donald Rumsfeld

The profoundest ignorance is that which arrogantly assumes that most of what is important is known already whereas an appreciation of the unknown and of what is not even known to be unknown shows humility and respect.

Before the supernova of 1572, the possibility of a “new star” was an unknown unknown. Once the event had occurred it became necessary to answer some questions about it in order to test the existing theory of cosmology. Was what we thought to be true really true? The news of this event took about 15,000 years to reach the earth travelling at the speed of light (300,000 kms per second).

We have a situation today where liberal thinking holds sway in the West. In many ways this is a good thing for there are many good aspects of liberal thought. Nothing is perfect however and liberal thought is no exception. One of the big failings of liberal thought today is probably rooted in its widespread acceptance, and that failing is its assumption that liberal thinking is more widespread than it really is. Richard Landes has called this Cognitive Egocentrism and he describes it in the following terms:

The projection of one’s own mentality or “way of seeing the world” onto others, e.g., the teenager who is obsessed with sex, and assumes the same about everyone else. In the current situation of globalization, cognitive egocentrism has its greatest impact in the political relationships between people coming from civil societies and those raised in prime divider societies. Since the basic political principle of Prime divider societies is “rule or be ruled,” “do onto others before they do onto you,” political actors from those cultures assume the same zero-sum, domineering intentions in their opponents (the “enemy”). Since the basic political principles of civil societies is “I’ll give up trying to dominate and trust you to give it up as well,” “if I’m nice to you, you will be nice in return,” assume positive-sum attitudes in their opponents (the “other”). The current situation testifies to a dangerous mis-apprehension that works to the distinct disadvantage to civil society. The media, in particular, as the representative of civil society, emphasizes its role as empathizer, often failing to defend civil society, even exposing it to danger.

Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism (LCE)

The projection of good faith and fair-mindedness onto others, the assumption that “other” shares the same human values, that everyone prefers positive sum interactions. In a slightly more redemptive mode, LCE holds that all people are good, and if only we treat them right, they will respond well. This is a form of empathy that… aspires to the radical victory of justice, and robs the “other” of his or her own beliefs and attitudes. It projects onto rather than detects what the “other” feels.

Thus Western liberals inhabit a world in which their typical habits of thought and belief are seen to be operating in peoples where actually they don’t. This fallacy sits at the heart of their perception of the world. It is a habit of mind which is unreflective and fails to take sufficient account of unknown unknowns.

On September 11th 2001, passenger aircraft were pressed into the service of a system developed in the Dark Ages for the conquest of the world under one god. Prior to this event, the Islamic system was an unknown unknown to most people (many knew of the existence of Islam but not the Islamic system). Just like the 1572 supernova, these aircraft carried important information about the nature of reality.

Some took note of the event and began to ask questions. They turned to the source code of Islam and looked for explanations for the attack. Others remained firmly locked within their own version of the Ptolemaic system, liberal thought, and explained the event in terms of inequality, discrimination, lack of respect, neo-colonialism, poverty, lack of education. Liberals clung to their cognitive egocentrism like a baby blanket.

But those who turned to the source code discovered the existence of a system just as Galileo had revealed the existence of a system (in fact a sub-system with profound implications for the nature of the system as a whole). The existence of this system changed everything, just as Jupiter’s system had knocked the earth from its position at the centre of the universe. It told pioneers like Bat Y’eor, Robert Spencer, Bill Warner and Mark Durie that we were faced with a system that radically changed our position in the world. Everything did not revolve around us and our way of thinking at all. There was a system that had its own organising principles, its own strategies for self-expansion and self-replication, and its own goals.

Unfortunately Western liberals continue to see Muslims as discrete individuals with rights to religious freedom rather than as members of a system (this problem was expressed very succinctly by Eric Allen Bell when he said, When I say "Islam", they hear "Muslim". It is true that each Muslim is an individual, a definable system composed of sub-systems, but each Muslim is also a component, a sub-system within a superordinate system, one with emergent properties of self-organisation. The system in the case of Islam is like a vast war machine. It is this perception of Muslims as members of a larger system with quasi-self-organising properties which has radically altered the worldview of the counter-jihadists. It is this fact which we struggle to communicate to our contemporaries who continue to live in the equivalent of a Ptolemaic universe. They thus tend to see the counter-jihadists as malevolent people with some irrational mistrust of people different to themselves. They continuously make fools of themselves by calling us racists, for example. They are also easy prey for the Muslim spokesmen who can seduce them with soothing words about inter-faith dialogue and co-existence.

The counter-jihadists know, having studied the system code, that Islam does not intend to engage in co-existence any longer than it has to. Any co-existence is purely illusory and tactical. The counter-jihadists also know that what individual Muslims think about the meaning and destiny of Islam is largely irrelevant since the meaning and destiny of Islam is clearly (once decoded) set out in the system code. Individual Muslims come and go but the system code remains.

The counter-jihadists have tried to show Western liberals the existence and meaning of the Islamic system just as Galileo tried to show his contemporaries the existence of Jupiter’s moons. And just as his contemporaries equivocated, avoided and procrastinated when it came to looking through his telescope, the forces of orthodoxy today (Western liberals) are doing exactly the same.

The question for us is how soon can we persuade Western liberals, and especially our elites, to look through our telescope and see the system that we have discovered. At present they seem more inclined to make us abjure the existence of this system, just as the Church forced Galileo to abjure the existence of Jupiter’s moons. On the positive side, more and more people are having a look and once they look we have a very high conversion rate.

Will more people summon up the courage and have a look at reality or will they refuse Galileo’s telescope?