American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in a speech he gave to the Beyond Belief Symposium, 2006, talked about the 'naming rights' which are naturally assumed by peoples and societies at the vanguard of scientific discovery. In particular, he drew attention to the extraordinarily fertile period of enlightenment within Islamic culture, which lasted for about three hundred years (AD 800 --> 11000). During this period, Baghdad was at the intellectual centre of the world and their culture was completely open to all visitors and travellers--be it Jews, Christians, agnostics, whatever--and where a free exchange of ideas led to major advancements and discoveries in the fields of engineering, and biology, and medicine, and astrology, and mathematics, to name but a few. Two thirds of all the stars we know of today have Arabic names which were given during this period--hence the earlier reference to 'naming rights.'
But something happened to that culture around the twelfth century which put an emphatic stop to all of that. DeGrasse Tyson--rather unfairly in my view--puts most of the blame on the influence of one man, Hamid al-Ghazali. But that is somewhat academic now; regardless of who was to blame for the change--I happen to think it was probably a collective effort by many religiously motivated scholars from the period--the elevation of religious considerations over science saw Islamic nations go from being at the centre of enlightenment to becoming the generally backwards nations that we still consider them to be today, almost nine hundred years later!
Now, deGrasse Tyson's point, of course, is that our own 21st century (Western) culture--which has seen another extraordinary period of enlightenment--could also, if we are not careful, be undermined from within by similar religious considerations. You might think it is different now to then--that what happened to them couldn't possibly happen to us--but I think that is a conceit we can ill afford to assume. Consider the growth of the religious right, which attacks and ridicules scientific discoveries such as evolution and wants intelligent design to be taught alongside science in our children's classrooms. Think how there are battles still raging about whether our societies should separate church from state--many of us thought those issues were settled decades ago, but if anything they are becoming even more problematic now. It is all too easy for us to sit back and think we are probably safe, but I say we need to be as vigilant as ever in upholding and promoting secularism in our countries. What say you?