Re: Islam, theology and politeness

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 10:05:42 MST

On Mon, Mar 05, 2001 at 05:05:15PM -0800, J. R. Molloy wrote:

> > There was a question about how Islam (about 25% of the planet's
> > population) would respond to the types of technology we are interested
> in.
> If it's important to consider how Muslims respond to extropic technology,
> then it's three times MORE important to question how non-Muslims (about
> 75% of the planet's population) would respond to extropic technology,

Um, no.

25% of the earth's population are Muslim. Another 15% or thereabouts
are Hindu. A whopping great 25% are Chinese. Between them, these three
groups amount to 65% of the planet's population -- nearly two-thirds. Yet
discussions of the intersection between extropian issues and religion
focusses almost entirely on Christian religionists (another 25-30% group).

It seems to me that one of the consequences of a mature molecular
nanotechnology is that manufacturing technologies spread like
crazy: physical goods tend towards the state of software, with
non-informational replication costs directly proportional to mass,
mineralogical availability, and energy. This in turn suggests that a
working nanotechnology industrial base with replicators can very rapidly
raise the availability of material goods throughout the third world to
at least the level we in the developed world are accustomed to.

Now, given that a lot of the political conflicts, famines, and other
unpleasantnesses we live with today are scarcity-related, doesn't it
make sense to try to understand how two thirds of the human species
will respond to technologies that promise to make most of the roots of
conflict magically go away?

> because there are three times more of them. Since this is the Extropy list
> (not the Muslim theology list), it seems somewhat OT to discuss Islamic
> responses and/or theology. But since no one has complained...
> Muslims, just like Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and any other
> faith-based creeds, have a small percentage of true believers, and the
> rest are content to identify themselves with their parents' denomination
> and go about their business, not giving it much thought.


There's a complicating factor, though. Just as legislative infrastructure
in the west is dominated by Christian ideas of moral behaviour, so are
legislative systems in the non-Christian world dominated by other belief
systems. Even if the people living there don't actively believe, the way
their systems have developed have their roots in a religious culture.
Consider the strength of Sunday-opening laws for shops in various parts
of the west, or the way the institution of marriage is handled. Societies
with a western take on these may not be inhabited by fundamentalists, but
those laws were put into shape by a predominantly Christian-influenced
legislature at some time in the past.

> As Max's recent
> presentation at a Jewish school shows, normal, healthy kids don't let
> religious memes interfere with their perception of reality at large. I
> imagine that most of these kids are smart enough to ask questions like the
> following.

(Snipped -- parody piece off usenet.)

What you just quoted was a bunch of questions intended to mock biblical
literalists. The fact that you can post such questions means that your
society isn't dominated by such people.

It's worth noting that in the Islamic world, there is a small but vocal
minority who, if you posted equivalent questions, would accuse you of
blasphemy and apostasy and (within their legal system) sentence you to

Those guys have their equivalents in our own culture, although they're
better controlled here: questions we need to ask include "will extropian
technologies damp down fundamentalist fervour (there) or increase it

Just because you don't approve of somebody's beliefs, it does not follow
that you can safely ignore them.

-- Charlie

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