zyzzx: I really don't know. I suspect it's something to do with a combination of two things. One is how fatalistic their religion seems to be, especially as summarised by the term "Inshallah" and that the very name of their religion means submission. It's a very Weberian analysis, I know.
The second is that they seem to have a highly developed sense of pride, to the point of really shooting themselves in the foot. This seems to manifest itself in a really, really heightened sense of being agrieved over their relations with the West, specifically the U.S. and Israel (which may or may not be considered Western, but that's beside the point), both formerly and presently.
Regarding China's lack of Nobel Laureates, I would say two things about that. Firstly, China does kick goals in other areas. Secondly, I have no doubt that within twenty years, we're going to see a massive increase in the amount of high-end manufacturing and innovation coming out of China. It's already doing all sorts of interesting things with renewable energy as well as cars. I don't quite know that it will surpass the scientific output of the West in that time (though it could if the West had to slash funding or made it very unattractive for innovators to base themselves there), but the scales will certainly tip at least a moderate amount in their direction. Almost by necessity, China will have to move away from being the world's producer of cheap crap since it can't continue to advance its people without going more high-end. I just can't see it with the Muslim world generally. Sure, they're trying to put together some interesting universities and so on in various parts of the Gulf, but it doesn't seem like it's on a large enough scale or that they could even implement such things on a societal level without radically changing their cultures. I think the one thing the West has going for itself against China and many parts of Asia at the moment is that the West has better institutions and methods for producing really great innovators. Much of Asia still seems to focus on working really hard in school, rather than working really smart in school. Perhaps, as they develop, Asian nations will put more of a focus upon quality of life. We'd better hope so in a way. Otherwise, when they're working both hard and smart, they're going to have it all over the West. I just don't see the Muslim world being anywhere near being in that game. The West's long term economic and military rivals (and role models, I might add, since it doesn't have to be seen entirely in a negative light!) will not be in the Muslim world, which is why I think the whole War on Terror is a massive distraction that only hastens the shift in power from the West to the East.
I'm sceptical about the effects of Christianity on a society in many respects, although that said, whilst I really don't like the Mormons, if everyone followed their example, they'd work a lot harder and be a lot more successful. They have both positive and negative aspects to their religion from an atheist's perspective.
Yet my observations of people in the four Muslim nations I have been to (Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, in that order) is that they seem to have an inordinate amount of time to sit around and drink tea, play backgammon or go to the mosque, or they're involved in the tourism industry shaking down foreigners (which is not specific to Muslim nations, of course) and it's hard to figure out who does the actual work there. It doesn't strike me as a coincidence at all that Taiwan is quite developed, despite being an agricultural backwater a couple of generations ago. Walking around here, everyone is always busy. It's go, go, go 24 hours a day here, which does have its drawbacks, but also provides lots of benefits. It's a world away from the Muslim nations I've been to. For someone whose life ambition or family examples consisted of wanting to sit around doing bugger all (which, from my observations, seemed to be quite common), I should imagine sucking on the teat of European welfare would be vastly preferable to actually having to work hard in a country like America or Canada, which is probably why the latter possibly get the cream. That said, in Australia (which you'd think would be more in line with America than Europe), getting a class full of Chinese kids is a dream gig because they actually ask for more homework and want to impove their test scores and so hang on your every word, written or spoken. Aside from white trash, getting a bunch of Muslim kids would have to be one of the worst gigs because not only will they not do the homework, they'll argue constantly with you about why it's somehow not their fault, but is in fact your fault.
And you coming in to scold us all like some kind of sour-puss kindie assistant who favors olive cardigans and lemon drinks without sugar. -- Muzha Man
One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure" quack, pacifist, and feminist in England. -- George Orwell