In the early 80s when I was in elementary school, my friend built a computer for the science fair. She was probably about the same age as Ahmed Mohamed, the kid who recently got arrested for building a clock and bringing it to school because police thought it was a bomb.
I should clarify that when I say that my friend “built” a computer, I don’t mean that she personally soldered the microchips on to the circuit boards. I mean that with the help of her father, she inserted circuit boards into the motherboard. Basically, her and her father went to a computer show and bought a bunch of parts and assembled them together to form a working computer. I did the same thing in college with the help of friends and it wasn’t that difficult. But there is a difference between a college student and an elementary school kid doing this type of thing.
Ahmed Mohamed took apart a clock and reassembled it. Now, I don’t know the exact details of what he did exactly and maybe it wasn’t that impressive to an evolutionary biologist, but for a 14-year-old, it was pretty fucking impressive.
Here we have a young kid who seems interested in science. So interested, that he wears a NASA shirt and plays around with assembling clocks. That’s awesome! If he were an atheist, everyone in our community would be supporting him. But he isn’t an atheist… at least not an open atheist.
Young Ahmed has Muslim parents and is living in a Muslim household. When I was 14, I was living in a Jewish household and had only recently de-converted. If people asked me about my religion I might have still told them that I was Jewish. That was the culture and tradition I was raised in. Ahmed might not believe in any of the religious aspects of Islam or he might believe in the same way his parents believe. I don’t know what is in his “heart of hearts” as the Christians say. I do know that he loves science and that a love of science is probably likely to conflict with the religious beliefs of his parents if it hasn’t already.
The fact is that even if he were an atheist in the sense that he currently lacks belief in deities, he would still probably be in the closet about it because he is 14-years-old and still dependent on his religious parents. This would be the case even if his parents were Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Or, he could still be religious himself.
Most atheists I have talked to understand this and are supportive of him because aside from the ridiculousness of religious holy books, science is the best tool to de-convert religious believers. A young kid interested in science has a much better chance of de-converting. Besides, doing science is cool and productive in and of itself.
Dawkins is wrong on this one. In a recent Tweet, the media proclaimed “Pope of Atheism,” Richard Dawkins answered the question, “what do you think Ahmed’s motives were?” with this response, “I don’t know. Possibly wanted to be arrested? Police played into his hands? Anyway, now invited to White House, crowdfunded etc.”
I’m sorry, but that is just ridiculous. This 14-year-old kid almost certainly did not hatch a clandestine plot to get himself arrested so that he could get invited to the White House and make a few bucks on the interwebs. If Dawkins took a few minutes to think that through, I would hope he would see just how ridiculous that sounds. It is almost as ridiculous as believing in a god. Okay, nothing even comes close to that one, but still you get my point. Here is a tip for Dawkins: Either run your Tweets by someone before you Tweet them or stay off of Twitter.
As for Ahmed Mohamed, I am delighted that a 14-year-old kid is interested in science. Atheists should be encouraging more young kids, religious and non-religious alike, to take an interest science. By standing with Ahmed, we are standing with the promotion of science and the value of curiosity. I think it is great that this kid’s love of science has made him a celebrity. I also think that if my white, atheist, female friend who assembled a computer in elementary school got arrested for it people would have lost their minds.
We know why Ahmed was arrested. It is obvious. He looks like a Muslim and may even be a Muslim in a time when many Americans still remember vividly when a handful of Muslims flew planes into buildings. But America has been down this road before. We threw people like George Takei into internment camps because he and his family shared a key trait with a then current enemy. George and his family were Americans and Ahmed and his family are also Americans. They are not our enemy; they are us!