Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Science and Islam
In both cases, it is one group described by the former, conquering many groups described by the later, thereby acquiring the later's attribute without processing it in the first place.
One only has to look at the Islamic center of learning to see this. Baghdad and Cairo were respectively Persian and Byzantium before their conquest. The fact that they were the centers of learning was in spite of Islam instead of because of it. On the other hand, if we were to look at the historic home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, we can see almost no scientific output.
The relation between Islam and science is best described by the great Islamic scientist and historian Ibn Khaldun in his seminal work the Muqaddimah:
"The Arabs dominate only of the plains, because they are, by their savage nature, people of pillage and corruption. They pillage everything that they can take without fighting or taking risks, then flee to their refuge in the wilderness, and do not stand and do battle unless in self-defense. So when they encounter any difficulty or obstacle, they leave it alone and look for easier prey. And tribes well-fortified against them on the slopes of the hills escape their corruption and destruction, because they prefer not to climb hills, nor expend effort, nor take risks. In that connection, "non-Arab" meant non-Arab by descent. Such non-Arabs had a long (history of) sedentary culture which, as we have established, causes cultivation of the crafts and habits, including the sciences. This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and the Persian countries, the 'Iraq, Khurasan, and Transoxania, retained their sedentary culture. But when those cities fell into ruins, sedentary culture, which God has devised for the attainment of sciences and crafts, disappeared from them. Along with it, scholarship altogether disappeared from among the non-Arabs (Persians), who were (now) engulfed by the desert attitude. Scholarship was restricted to cities with an abundant sedentary culture."
The lack of Islamic scientists cannot only be explained by stinginess of their governments. The Russian and Indian governments aren't known for their generosity in that field either, but these countries produce many scientist anyhow. Also, the fact that Israel spends so much on research is inherent to the Jewish culture that values learning, so it has backing among the people.
The success of Islam in the "Middle Ages" was due to the fact that the Islamic warriors conquered many high civilizations in a short time. From the Jews they learned writing and encoding scriptures, from the (then Christian) Egyptians architecture and agriculture, from the (Christian) Syrians state organization, from the late (Manicheistic) Mespotamians astronomy, astrology and geometry, from the (late classic and Christian) Greeks philosophy, logic and scientific thinking, from the Mazdaist Persians medicine and hygiene (Jundishapur), and from the Hindu's mathematics (algebra was an Indian invention).
Many of these scientist were forced to become Muslim in order to survive. That's why the world knows them as "Muslim" savants. But due to religious dogma, that vast wealth of knowledge was suffocated after 1200. It's significant, that of the two big 'Muslim' minds of that time, Ibn Rushd was of Jewish ancestry, and Ibn Sina of Manicheist Persian. After 1200, when the religious pressure increased, Greek, Armenian and Jewish scholars fled to Europe, and helped develop the Renaissance. There was a reason why they chose to move to Europe.
The concept that Europe was in the "Dark Ages" before that time is, in fact outdated.
Even in the "Middle Ages" many monasteries and convents were places of active learning and research. How could Thomas of Aquino have been allowed to declare the search for a synthesis between Christianity and Arestotelian logic? Could Copernicus, Galilei, Da Vinci and many others, in spite of being banned by the Church, have been able to develop their scientific research if they came right out of the Dark Ages? The reason is, that although the Church has shown its ugly side many times, Christianity as such, as well as Judaism, allow for independent thinking. However, Islam does not.