Professor Lawrence Krauss stands up for gender equality at Islam vs Atheism debate

“Science enhances the moral value of life, because it furthers a love of truth and reverence—love of truth displaying itself in the constant endeavor to arrive at a more exact knowledge of the world of mind and matter around us, and reverence, because every advance in knowledge brings us face to face with the mystery of our own being.” -Max Planck


Saturday night the auditorium at University College of London swelled with people from numerous cultural backgrounds and religious traditions assembling to debate Atheist and Islamic worldviews. The debate itself, which was sponsored by the iERA (Islamic Education and Research Academy), pondered the question Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a renowned theoretical physicist and director of the Origins project, spoke on behalf of the atheist worldview. Speaking on behalf of Islamic tradition was Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer and iERA member.

In the week before the event, word of a segregated seating arrangement began circulating. On Friday, Dr. Krauss posted the following status on Facebook:

 News update: Have now been informed that the event in London will NOT be gender segregated.

Despite the earlier assurances from UCL security, this unfortunately did not turn out to be the case. Upon arrival at the auditorium, event staff asked men and couples to go downstairs and enter the auditorium in front while ladies were asked to stay behind and use an alternate entrance. An apparent “staff miscommunication” was to blame for the confusion in regards to this seating arrangement scandal. As the men and couples started towards the auditorium, I turned to the gentleman standing next to me and asked if I could come with him so that I could sit down towards the front. He kindly agreed, and we filed into the front row as a “couple.”

As everyone was filling in and taking their seats there was a commotion near the back door of the auditorium. Two gentlemen unknowingly entered through the door allocated for women and were promptly asked to leave. One of the gentlemen who had been asked to leave was arguing with the event staff when Krauss went over to alleviate the situation. He spoke briefly with the gentlemen and the event staff before declaring that he would not participate in a debate in which the audience was segregated by gender. (See the video here). So Krauss packed his bags, apologized, and headed for the door. As he was walking out, a chorus of boos and applause filled the auditorium. Event staff quickly intercepted Krauss on his way to the door, assuring that the gentlemen could come back in and that segregated seating would not continue to be enforced. Krauss agreed to stay, and after a bit more shuffling around everyone took their seats, anxiously waiting to hear what the two had to say.

The debate began with Hamza’s opening remarks. He outlined the following four explanations for the existence of a universe: 1. The universe was created from nothing 2. It created itself. 3. It was created by something else that was created. 4.Or it was created by something else that is uncreated. He followed with some contrived examples of inductive and deductive reasoning. Hamza argued that the universe began at some point and was therefore preceded by nonexistence.  The conditions for this beginning have to be something instead of nothing. The nature of infinity, in Hamza’s opinion, is not quantifiable. He stated in a synopsis of the debate, “The Professor also misread his own book concerning what he wrote on the infinite. I tried to explain to him that he even agrees to the fact that the actual quantifiable infinite doesn’t make sense.” Perhaps it’s best to leave the math and science to the physicists. Although Hamza made a couple valid points, the incredibly biased audience and home-court advantage tainted his argument, rendering his rhetoric crass and condescending.

Krauss’ argument followed, illuminating such concepts as: the existence of infinity, the creation of the universe out of nothing, and Occam’s razor, which Hamza’s argument failed to fully explain. In his bestselling book A Universe From Nothing, Krauss explains that no deity is necessary to explain the formation of the universe. On this topic he remarks, “…forget Jesus, the stars died so that you could be here today.” Because of an ongoing research project at CERN in Switzerland, scientists are now discovering more about the formation of matter out of opposing forces of energy. The Higgs Boson, or “God Particle,” effectively completes the existing Standard Model of physics. (See my post on the Higgs Boson for more information). If scientists at CERN are able to prove the existence of this quantum excitement, we will be able to uncover some fundamental truths about the creation and existence of our universe.

In the premise to his debate, Krauss noted that he did not wish to single out Islam in his argument, but indicated that, “all religions make mutually inconsistent claims.” Arguing that Islam and Atheism cannot be compared and contrasted as two different belief systems, as atheism is not a belief system at all, but rather the rejection of one, he boldly stated, “as a scientist, I believe nothing.”  Nothing, Krauss explains in his book, does not necessarily mean nothing; instead, this “nothing” holds the potential to create particles as if out of thin air. This phenomenon, according to Krauss, accounts for the formation of the universe and somehow incredibly created the perfect conditions to support life on our planet. In A Universe From Nothing, Dr. Krauss explains, “So the real thing that physics tell us about the universe is that it’s big, rare event happens all the time — including life — and that doesn’t mean it’s special.” Because space is so unimaginably large, unlikely events—such as supernovas, the formation of life, and the potential for a multiverse—are much more prevalent than previously assumed.

This debate on Islam and Atheism attempted to shed some light on important questions pertaining to both sides of the argument. Both speakers expressed opinions on scientific and moral issues including: Sharia law, equal rights, the origins of the universe, incest, homosexuality, evolution, formation of matter, quantum energy, and quantifiable infinity. Although both sides of the argument were enlightening and thought-provoking, the gender segregation in favor of Islamic practices at an event open to people of all faiths and backgrounds reflects poorly on the iERA and its values. I just received an email this morning stating that the iERA will no longer be allowed to host events at UCL. Hopefully this example raises awareness about this scandal, which Richard Dawkins referred to as a “sexual apartheid.”

People will no doubt continue the science versus religion debate despite possessing empirical evidence disproving many of religion’s claims. Part of the concept of faith is to abandon rational thought in favor of something you hope to be true. As Christians, Jewish people, Buddhists, Agnostics, and any organized religion fight to justify their collective beliefs, evidence suggesting otherwise is blatantly disregarded. In a trailer for his upcoming film THE UNBELIEVERS, Krauss declares, “There is no one whose views are not subject to question.” This statement sums up the entire debate, in my opinion. On one side of the argument we have a tradition based on testimony that is accepted as true—and on the other, a worldview that encourages us to question everything and think for ourselves. It’s pretty obvious which view is more rational.

I went into the debate with an admittedly biased view; but it occurred to me that it is this assumed certainty that impedes the advancement of knowledge. As Krauss stated early in his argument, “ridiculing ideas is what makes progress.” It is through the process of hypothesizing and testing new beliefs that we learn and grow both individually and as a society– and it is through discussions such as this one on Atheism and Islam that we will begin to better understand and connect with one another.

Here are some links with useful information!





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28 responses to “Professor Lawrence Krauss stands up for gender equality at Islam vs Atheism debate

  1. Pingback: iERA banned from University College London | Stand for Peace

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  3. The hype around this non-issue has seemingly been manufactured for a variety of personal agendas.

    It has then filtered down into the mainstream as some ‘Rosa Parks’ moment.

    We do like to think highly of ourselves don’t we. Most of the time that is most certainty unsubstantiated confidence.

    The organisation iERA has refuted that they enforced segregation. There was a video, if anyone caught it, showing the layout and no force at all. It’s surprising that we listen to Richard Dawkins even when he ignores the empirical evidence and collapses into subjective rants to support his good friend Lawrence Krauss.

    Anyhow- perhaps it is time we actually listened to the Muslim women involved, rather than portraying them in crude, outdated stereotypes, and speaking up for them as if they have no voice. This is a true injustice. This calls us backwards to the era of imperialism where we though we had some sort of civilizing mission. The events of the 20th century soon refuted that.

    They made their opinions known online, and rejected that they were ‘forced to the back’, ‘forcefully segregated’, and all the other emotive slogans that have been employed recently. But they were of course, ignored. Hence the outpouring of White European, by self-definition ‘secularist’ men and women flowing with guns blazing at strawmen, to explain to us the travesty of tolerance as some affront to their beliefs!

    Where this links to extremism, we can only guess!

    It appears that the only force at the event was from two men who continually harassed these women, even after they moved, until they had enough and asked security to deal with it. I wonder how we English-folk would deal with our mothers, daughters, wives being harassed.

    But alas, the Muslim women isn’t considered British, even when she is. She’s a traitor- from the right and the left. So feminism is now it seems, to, even when she is telling you as an educated young woman that she doesn’t need to be liberated, emancipated etc, have men harass her until she accepts, mock and attack her until she accepts.

    The Muslim woman cannot speak for herself. She’s not allowed to. When she says it was her request to have the section and her choice, she’s brainwashed, lame and confused. She should either accept the European narrative or sit down and shut up, or in this case,as Mr Krauss so eloquently put it- go home.

    The fact is, we don’t even tolerate their opinion. We just rush to the first arguments we can find from the secular worldview without even considering their views. And we call ourselves liberals! We are playing into the EDL rhetoric, and we call ourselves liberals. Embarrassing.

    Regardless, iERA had a duty to accommodate their requests- they were from the orthodoxy of the Islamic religious tradition.

    UCL even agreed to this beforehand, which was conveniently ignored by the press.

    Lo and behold- Muslim women requested something- so they are oppressed because of the choice they made it seems- what arrogance, as if we have something that is universal and unquestionable ourselves.

    Instead of running to condemn organisations, organisations that clearly reach out for open dialogue and the like, why don’t we put equal effort to engage and understand, as history records that trying to understand each other, even when we disagree, can be a lot more fruitful than the militant mindset being offered at this time.

  4. You mean the muslims, right?

    • DA

      It was the Muslims who accommodated both views.

      If you can’t deduce from what AK wrote that the ‘idiots’ in this case were the deliberately provocative atheists, then listen to the part of the debate on deductive reasoning. Maybe you could learn a thing or two from the Muslim debater.

      • I think there is nothing to learn from muslim debaters. On the contrary, we should segregate them in their own medieval realm, together with the christians, set up a reality show, sit down enjoying the show and making huge profit selling the tickets

      • haha sounds like you’ve solved half the world’s current affairs in one simple idea!

        I agree to some extent. but I do believe we can still learn from the traditions of Islam without necessarily having to agree with their cultural decisions. ancient Islam contains many important passages that describe human nature as various points in history. that in itself is invaluable information!

  5. AK

    Over three-quarters of the room was available for both genders to sit together in a mixed arrangement. This catered for both Muslims AND non-Muslims, whether male or female.

    At the back of the room, there was a special provision for conservative Muslim females to sit together away from other males, in line with their beliefs. The organisers responded to the needs of EVERYONE, and ensured that everyone could sit in a manner that was comfortable and appropriate. Instead certain non-Muslim male members of the audience deliberately ignored the mixed-area provided in the middle/front of the room, and chose to sit among the Muslim females at the back. They were asked by the organisers to move, and they objected which resulted in much unnecessary drama and attention. WHY were they deliberately looking for confrontation when there was absolutely no need? The sisters at the back asked for special consideration for their beliefs, in the same way that Jews and Muslims have dietary requirements and who can expect, in this modern society to have their beliefs respected!

    Now I’m willing to accept that there will always be a group of idiots in any given sample of the human population, but what really disappointed me was when Professor Lawrence Krauss (someone who I actually admire for his work in the scientific field and have read his books) decided that he would throw a tantrum like a 3 year old, and demanded to leave unless his intolerant demands for absolute non-segregation were met! He’s walking out of a hugely anticipated event for which many people have travelled great distances in order to debate and learn, and here he is – the grand Professor refusing to even discuss the issue with Hamza Andreas Tzortzis and come to a compromise (a compromise that was already achieved by the seating arrangement already in place!!)

    Absolutely disappointed with Krauss, moreso than the idiots that caused the problem!!

  6. Thanks for the post – a friend of mine at UCL was surprised that so few people heard about this fiasco. And yet when he posted it on the feminism Facebook page, or something like that, by far the most common response was “this reeks of Western superiority”. I’m sorry, but if it’s “Western” to oppose this sort of stuff then Western values really are superior. And I hate having to be in that position.

    • DA

      How is it that you consider it inferior to allow women the option to sit separately to men?

      As AK has articulated, the women attending the event had either the choice of sitting in an area designated for women or the choice of sitting in the mixed sex area.

      This is a classic case of men with their own strongly held beliefs trying to impose it on the rest of the people attending the event, in particular the women. Therein lies the real scandal.

      Did the women who chose to sit separately not have the right to do so? Per their world view there are good ‘biological and psychological’ reasons to sit separately to non-related men. This is indeed a case of a bunch of guys who consider their views western and superior trying to impose it on people whose views they consider inferior. It goes against every notion of freedom of choice and liberty and reeks of hypocrisy.

  7. AK

    Not only does enforced gender segregation exist in Western prisons, toilets and sports, but there is also clear gender segregation of the sexes in education too; in both public AND private education. Here are a few examples of UK segregation of gender in private schools: St Paul’s School – London, Westminster School – London, Eton College and many more! And there are plenty of UK public schools enforcing gender segregation too. One local school in my hometown: Challney High School, enforces segregation of the sexes – one section is all-boys and the other is all-girls.

    In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of single-sex public education in the 1996 case of United States v. Virginia. This ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that single-sex education in the public sector is constitutional only if comparable courses, services, and facilities are made available to both sexes. Which is precisely what Muslim establishments always achieve for both genders!

    So are you atheists going to claim that your Western schools, prisons, toilets and sports are illegally segregated too?!

    • The difference is that none of these examples are separated on the basis of religious principles; there are pragmatic, sensible reasons, both biological and psychological, for all of the examples you just listed. Whereas in a secular society, these are limited to where they are necessary only, under Sharia this is virtually universal law in every social environment. It leads to internal sexualisation and patriarchal violence.

      • AK

        1. “There are pragmatic, sensible reasons, both biological and psychological, for all of the examples you just listed”

        Please list the “pragmatic, sensible, both biological and psychological” reasons for segregated (single sex) schools.

        2. “under Sharia this is virtually universal law in every social environment”

        Absolutely untrue. Please stop the Fox News narrative, and please try to learn more about the Shariah instead of what you read in the press.

        Muslims have no problem with males and females interacting where necessary; teacher-student, salesman-customer, employer-employee, doctor-patient, etc. There are some grey areas too, but mixed seating between opposite genders is seen as unnecessary and distracting.

  8. It’s unbelievable and astonishing to see these bronze-aged, long bearded chimps (evolutionally-wise of course) trying to explain us why it is good to segregate their women. We should be ashamed of ourselves when giving them the right to do so while living in our society. Islam (and other religion too) is a threat to all those values our grandfathers died fighting for

    • AK

      It was precisely because of the sacrifice of those “grandfathers” long ago, that these women had the freedom, liberty and right to sit away from other men. That freedom was stripped away from them, when a bunch of atheistic loons chose to impose their values on these women.

      I think you’ll find that those grandfathers, many of whom were inspired by God, would be rolling in their graves if they knew that the country they fought for was being overrun by atheism.

      • Kavafy

        But the women were imposing their values on men by excluding men from that seating area. The rest of your post is just a distraction from this fundamental problem with your argument.

      • Thank you for articulating exactly what I wanted to say! 🙂

      • DA

        Strange how the debate has now shifted from the women being the victims of segregation to the men now being the victims.

        The women weren’t trying to impose their values by any stretch of the imagination. They were simply sitting in an area designated for women who consider it appropriate that they sit separately to non-related men. They were in no sense being provocative or imposing.

        The men who wanted to sit in that area WERE on the other hand being provocative and imposing. They had the freedom to sit anywhere within the rest of the 3/4s of the venue but chose instead to stoke controversy by sitting in the one area that was set aside to meet the needs of a religiously orthodox section of the crowd.

        An objective view of the situation clearly indicates that the women were non-imposing and the atheist men were being imposing. It would be wise for you to put on an objective lens.

      • DA

        Here is the response from the organisers of the event on the allegations of enforced segregation.

        A fair and balanced response in my view. Would be nice if Krauss, Dawkins et al showed similar courtesy in throwing up their unfounded allegations:

        iERA Investigates Complaints about Seating Arrangements at the debate, “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?”

        The University College London (UCL) has decided to not take any further bookings from the Islamic Education & Research Academy (iERA) after the event entitled: “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?” that took place on its premises on Saturday 9th March 2013.

        UCL’s reasoning is that they do not allow enforced segregation on any grounds at meetings held on campus and their assertion is that “attempts were made to enforce segregation at the meeting (sic).” iERA complied with the request from the University to cater for all preferences by having seating that was open for all attendees, male or female, and two sections to accommodate those that wished to adhere to their deeply held religious beliefs. We also adhered to UCL’s request to make sure that the respective areas were clearly marked and ushers were employed in order to facilitate the seating. Please access the following link that is a time-lapse video which demonstrates this.

        iERA is an inclusive organisation and its lecturers are the most popular on UK campuses. iERA aims to bring different people together and with this goal seeks to accommodate varying needs. It is a common practice amongst Muslim communities across the UK, based across different schools of thought, to have separate seating arrangements for men and women out of modesty. In light of this iERA accommodated various preferences on the matter, whether religious or non-religious, by having areas to suit everyone. iERA has a responsibility under the Equalities Act 2010 to accommodate any reasonable adjustment to enable all members of society fair access of opportunity including those of religious orthodoxy.

        UCL claims to have received some complaints from attendees who say they were asked to sit in a different section to what they chose. In a formal meeting we asked UCL to furnish us with details of those attendees and they were not forthcoming. We then offered UCL our entire guest list to check the email addresses to that of the complainants, they declined this also.

        iERA is an organisation committed to constructive dialogue between people of all faiths and none, people of all colours, creeds or sexual orientation so it takes any complaints very seriously. In the absence of co-operation from UCL (although we are hoping that this will no longer will be the case), iERA is conducting an internal investigation with immediate effect. If we find there were any failures on implementing the agreed guidelines on the day, we will be the first to admit this and we will apologise for not honouring our word to UCL, our attendees as well as the general public. This is in accordance with the ordinance from Almighty God who states in the Quran, the final testament to mankind:

        “You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly– if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.” [Surah An-Nisa, Verse 135]

        For further enquiries, please contact our Head of Public Relations, Saleem Chagtai. He can be reached at

  9. AK

    There is clear precedence in many cultures for gender segregation, including the West. You need to realise that segregated seating is not done on the basis of prejudice, discrimination or to place the said-gender at a disadvantage. If it was so, then the Muslim females in this example would not have been ok with it (by the way, at the end of the Q&A session, one of the Muslim females from the back actually read out a statement to Krauss on behalf of them defending their preferred seating at the rear and that he should not have forced his atheistic rule on them).

    The fact that Islam prefers segregation of the genders is because of a value that you simply won’t understand. Look, just think of the premise, the value, the belief that underpins the segregation before you start to disagree with me. People seem to appreciate the obvious reasons behind gender segregation in sport, toilets and prisons. So how about you try and understand what seems “obvious” to Muslims?

    Muslims recognise the innate nature of both males and females to feel attracted to the opposite sex, and prefer to prevent scenarios where premarital/extramarital relationships may be encouraged. No ones accusing the opposite gender of “pouncing” or lacking self discipline entirely. But humans have time and time again, through what is only a natural and innate instinct, found themselves attracted to / indulging in what is considered to be a sin. High school, college and university romances are not new, so let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen. The only difference between the non-Muslim and Muslim view about this is that Muslims consider such relationships/indulgences to be a sin, hence a measure of prevention is considered necessary.

    Muslims have no problem with males and females interacting where necessary; teacher-student, salesman-customer, employer-employee, doctor-patient, etc. There are some grey areas too, but mixed seating between opposite genders is seen as unnecessary. In any case, this event did NOT enforce segregation, it merely provided a section for those who wanted to reserve their own area while allowing everyone else to sit in a mixed arrangement.

    Disagree all you want, but you can’t call it prejudice, discrimination or a deliberate attempt to place anyone at a disadvantage.

    • bob

      I call it prejudice, discrimination, and a deliberate attempt to place others at a disadvantage. 🙂

      You may think the genders shouldn’t be mixed unless there’s an operational reason to do so. I think the genders shouldn’t be forcibly separated unless there’s an *extremely* good reason for it (I don’t believe in segregated schools, by the way – anachronistic idea). You abuse the term ‘unnecessary’; who are you to judge what level of interaction between one half of the population and the other half of the population is ‘necessary’? That’s for individuals to decide for themselves. And so what if relationships do happen? Why exactly do you have a problem with that – you’re not involved? Why do you think that anybody should care whether you/Muslims in general think that others’ relationships or indulgences are a sin, or whether you/Muslims in general would want to prevent them? In this society you get to decide that for yourself as an individual and NOT for anybody else. So, if you think relationships are sinful, decide for yourself not to have one: tend your own garden. Everybody else can mind their own beeswax, do what they like and sit where they like. And if they find themselves sitting next to someone they don’t like to sit next to, they can decide for themselves to sit somewhere else.

      • AK

        This was an event organised by an Muslim organisation iERA, with an audience largely comprising of Muslims. Therefore it makes sense that the rules surrounding this event are governed by the moral compass of the organisers and that of the audience too, where possible. iERA accommodated for everyone, with a reasonable amount of choice. Nothing that took place at this event was illegal.

        “And if they find themselves sitting next to someone they don’t like to sit next to, they can decide for themselves to sit somewhere else.”

        That’s precisely what the conservative Muslim females did; they sat at the back by themselves. Unfortunately, the atheist loons chose to follow them and sit with them despite their clear protest to sit away from them.

  10. Thank you for a first-hand account. Gender segregation is among the less obnoxious of the values that iERA officials have promoted. Here, for example, is its Chairman insisting that wives should be obedient to their husbands and may be beaten if they refuse to do their bidding.

    I am not sure that Professor Krauss’ response to Tzortzis’ regurgitation of the cosmological argument is an especially compelling one, though. The religious argument has not been over the creation of matter but the creation of anything, and the forces of energy are such a “thing”. David Albert made this point well.

  11. Pingback: Walkout in UCL over Gender Segregation at iERA event | Stand for Peace

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