Islam and science

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This article is about the relationship between Islam and science. For the historical development of science in the Islamic world, see Science in medieval Islam. For the belief that scriptures such as the Qur'an prophesied scientific theories and discoveries (known in Islam as Ijaz al-Qur'an), see Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts.

Islam and science addresses the relationships between the religion of Islam, its adherents' (Muslims) communities and the activities known collectively as science. As with all other branches of human knowledge, science, from an Islamic standpoint, is the study of nature as stemming from Tawhid, the Islamic conception of the "Oneness" of God.[1] In Islam, nature is not seen as something separate but as an integral part of a holistic outlook on God, humanity, the world and the cosmos. These links imply a sacred aspect to Muslims' pursuit of scientific knowledge, as nature itself is viewed in the Qur'an as a compilation of signs pointing to the Divine.[2] It was with this understanding that the pursuit of science, especially prior to the colonization of the Muslim world, was respected in Islamic civilizations.[3]

Theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili believes the modern scientific method was pioneered by Ibn Al-Haytham (known in the Western world as “Alhazen”), whose contributions he likened to those of Isaac Newton.[4] Alhazen helped shift the emphasis on abstract theorizing onto systematic and repeatable experimentation, followed by careful criticism of premises and inferences.[5] Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged in Islamic civilizations during this time.[6]

Muslim scientists and scholars have subsequently developed a spectrum of viewpoints on the place of scientific learning within the context of Islam, none of which are universally accepted.[7] However, most maintain the view that the acquisition of knowledge and scientific pursuit in general is not in disaccord with Islamic thought and religious belief.[1][7]

Overview[edit]

The religion Islam has its own world view system including beliefs about "ultimate reality, epistemology, ontology, ethics, purpose, etc."[8] Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the final revelation of God for the guidance of humankind.

Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.[9] It is a system of acquiring knowledge based on empiricism, experimentation and methodological naturalism, as well as to the organized body of knowledge human beings have gained by such research. Scientists maintain that scientific investigation needs to adhere to the scientific method, a process for evaluating empirical knowledge that explains observable events without recourse to supernatural notions. Islam, like all religions, believes in a supernatural that is accessible or interacts with man in this life.[citation needed]

History[edit]

Classical science in the Muslim world[edit]

In the history of science, science in the Muslim world refers to the science developed under Islamic civilization between the 8th and 16th centuries,[10] during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age.[11] It is also known as Arabic science since the majority of texts during this period were written in Arabic, the lingua franca of Islamic civilization. Despite these terms, not all scientists during this period were Muslim or Arab, as there were a number of notable non-Arab scientists (most notably Persians), as well as some non-Muslim scientists, who contributed to scientific studies in the Muslim world.

A number of modern scholars such as Fielding H. Garrison,[12] Abdus Salam and Hossein Nasr consider modern science and the scientific method to have been greatly inspired by Muslim scientists who introduced a modern empirical, experimental and quantitative approach to scientific inquiry. Some scholars, notably Donald Routledge Hill, Ahmad Y Hassan,[13] Abdus Salam,[14] and George Saliba,[15] have referred to their achievements as a Muslim scientific revolution,[16] though this does not contradict the traditional view of the Scientific Revolution which is still supported by most scholars.[17][18][19]

It is believed that it was the empirical attitude of the Qur'an and Sunnah which inspired medieval Muslim scientists, in particular Alhazen (965-1037),[20][21] to develop the scientific method.[22][23][24] It is also known that certain advances made by medieval Muslim astronomers, geographers and mathematicians were motivated by problems presented in Islamic scripture, such as Al-Khwarizmi's (c. 780-850) development of algebra in order to solve the Islamic inheritance laws,[25] and developments in astronomy, geography, spherical geometry and spherical trigonometry in order to determine the direction of the Qibla, the times of Salah prayers, and the dates of the Islamic calendar.[26]

The increased use of dissection in Islamic medicine during the 12th and 13th centuries was influenced by the writings of the Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, who encouraged the study of anatomy and use of dissections as a method of gaining knowledge of God's creation.[27] In al-Bukhari's and Muslim's collection of sahih hadith it is said: "There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment." (Bukhari 7-71:582). This culminated in the work of Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288), who discovered the pulmonary circulation in 1242 and used his discovery as evidence for the orthodox Islamic doctrine of bodily resurrection.[28] Ibn al-Nafis also used Islamic scripture as justification for his rejection of wine as self-medication.[29] Criticisms against alchemy and astrology were also motivated by religion, as orthodox Islamic theologians viewed the beliefs of alchemists and astrologers as being superstitious.[30]

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209), in dealing with his conception of physics and the physical world in his Matalib, discusses Islamic cosmology, criticizes the Aristotelian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe, and "explores the notion of the existence of a multiverse in the context of his commentary," based on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds." He raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." On the basis of this verse, he argues that God has created more than "a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has."[31] Ali Kuşçu's (1403–1474) support for the Earth's rotation and his rejection of Aristotelian cosmology (which advocates a stationary Earth) was motivated by religious opposition to Aristotle by orthodox Islamic theologians, such as Al-Ghazali.[32][33]

According to many historians, science in the Muslim civilization flourished during the Middle Ages, but began declining at some time around the 14th[34] to 16th[10] centuries. At least some scholars blame this on the "rise of a clerical faction which froze this same science and withered its progress."[35] Examples of conflicts with prevailing interpretations of Islam and science - or at least the fruits of science - thereafter include the demolition of Taqi al-Din's great Istanbul observatory of Taqi al-Din in Galata, "comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe." But while Brahe's observatory "opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science," Taqi al-Din's was demolished by a squad of Janissaries, "by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," sometime after 1577 AD.[35][36]

Arrival of modern science in the Muslim world[edit]

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, modern science arrived in the Muslim world but it was not the science itself that affected Muslim scholars. Rather, it "was the transfer of various philosophical currents entangled with science that had a profound effect on the minds of Muslim scientists and intellectuals. Schools like Positivism and Darwinism penetrated the Muslim world and dominated its academic circles and had a noticeable impact on some Islamic theological doctrines." There were different responses to this among the Muslim scholars:[37] These reactions, in words of Professor Mehdi Golshani, were the following:

Decline[edit]

In the early twentieth century, ulema forbade the learning of foreign languages and dissection of human bodies in the medical school in Iran.[38]

In recent years, the lagging of the Muslim world in science is manifest in the disproportionately small amount of scientific output as measured by citations of articles published in internationally circulating science journals, annual expenditures on research and development, and numbers of research scientists and engineers.[39] Skepticism of science among some Muslims is reflected in issues such as resistance in Muslim northern Nigeria to polio inoculation, which some believe is "an imaginary thing created in the West or it is a ploy to get us to submit to this evil agenda."[40]

The relative lack of Muslim Nobel laureates in sciences in comparison to their population has been attributed to more insular modern interpretations of the religion, in comparison to how in the Middle Ages it was open to foreign ideas.[41]

Islamic attitudes toward science[edit]

Whether Islamic culture has promoted or hindered scientific advancement is disputed. Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb argue that since "Islam appointed" Muslims "as representatives of God and made them responsible for learning all the sciences,"[42] science cannot but prosper in a society of true Muslims. Many "classical and modern [sources] agree that the Qur'an condones, even encourages the acquisition of science and scientific knowledge, and urges humans to reflect on the natural phenomena as signs of God's creation."[citation needed] Some scientific instruments produced in classical times in the Islamic world were inscribed with Qur'anic citations. Many Muslims agree that doing science is an act of religious merit, even a collective duty of the Muslim community.[43][page needed]

Others claim traditional interpretations of Islam are not compatible with the development of science. Author Rodney Stark argues that Islam's lag behind the West in scientific advancement after (roughly) 1500 AD was due to opposition by traditional ulema to efforts to formulate systematic explanation of natural phenomenon with "natural laws." He claims that they believed such laws were blasphemous because they limit "Allah's freedom to act" as He wishes, a principle enshired in aya 14:4: "Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will," which (they believed) applied to all of creation not just humanity.[44]

Abdus Salam, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his electroweak theory, is among those who argue that the quest for reflecting upon and studying nature is a duty upon Muslims, stating that 750 verses of the Quran (almost one-eighth of the book) exhort believers to do so.[45]

Scientific topics in the Qur'an and Hadith[edit]

See also: Bucailleism

The belief that the Qur'an had prophesied scientific theories and discoveries has become a strong and widespread belief in the contemporary Islamic world; these prophecies are often offered as evidence of the divine origin of the Qur'an;[46] see scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts for further discussion of this issue.

In 1976 Maurice Bucaille published his book, The Bible, The Qur'an and Science which argued that the Quran contains no statements contradicting established scientific facts.[4] Bucaille argued that the Quran is in agreement with scientific facts, while the Bible is not. He states that in Islam, science and religion have always been “twin sisters” (vii). According to Bucaille, there are monumental errors of science in the Bible and not a single error in the Quran. Bucaille's belief is that the Quran's descriptions of natural phenomena make it compatible with modern science According to The Wall Street Journal, Bucailleism is "in some ways the Muslim counterpart to Christian creationism" although "while creationism rejects much of modern science, Bucailleism embraces it". It described Bucailleism as being "disdained by most mainstream scholars" but said it has fostered pride in Muslim heritage and played an important role in attracting converts.[47]

Taner Edis wrote An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam.[48] Edis worries that secularism in Turkey, one of the most westernized Muslim nations, is on its way out; he points out that Turkey rejects evolution by a large majority. To Edis, many Muslims appreciate technology and respect the role that science plays in its creation. As a result, he says there is a great deal of Islamic pseudoscience attempting to reconcile this respect with other respected religious beliefs. Edis maintains that the motivation to read modern scientific truths into holy books is also stronger for Muslims than Christians.[49] This is because, according to Edis, true criticism of the Qur'an is almost non-existent in the Muslim world. While Christianity is less prone to see its Holy Book as the direct word of God, fewer Muslims will compromise on this idea - causing them to believe that scientific truths simply must appear in the Qur'an. However, Edis opines that there are endless examples of scientific discoveries that could be read into the Bible or Qur'an if one would like to.[49] Edis qualifies that 'Muslim thought' certainly cannot be understood by looking at the Qur'an alone - cultural and political factors play large roles.[49]

Conception and inherited characteristics[edit]

Islamic sources like the Qur'an and Hadith emphasize the role of God as a creator, and thus frequently refer to the creation of new individuals. Medieval Muslims relied heavily on their scientific tradition to interpret these statements, which vary in explicitness and clarity.[50] The most prominent of the ancient Greek thinkers who wrote on medicine were Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Hippocrates and Galen, in contrast with Aristotle, wrote that the contribution of females to children is equal to that of males, and the vehicle for it is a substance similar to the semen of males.[50] Basim Musallam writes that the ideas of these men were widespread through the pre-modern Middle East: "Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen were as much a part of Middle Eastern Arabic culture as anything else in it."[50] The sayings in the Qur'an and those attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith influenced generations of Muslim scientists by siding with Galen and Hippocrates. Basim Musallam writes: "... the statements about parental contribution to generation in the hadith paralleled the Hippocratic writings, and the view of fetal development in the Qur'an agreed in detail with Galen's scientific writings."[50] He reports that the highly influential medieval Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim, in his book Kitab al-tibyan fi aqsam al-qur'an, cites the following statement of the prophet (found in Musnad Ahmad),[51] when asked the question "from what is man created,":

Modern hadith scholars and some early ones consider the chain of transmission of this hadith to be weak.[53]

Creation and evolution[edit]

The Quran contains many verses describing creation of the universe; Muslims believe God created the heavens and earth in six separate eras;[7:54] the earth was created in two eras[41:9], and in two other eras (into a total of four) God furnished the creation of the earth with mountains, rivers and fruit-gardens [41:10]. The heavens and earth formed from one mass which had to be split [21:30], the heavens used to be smoke [41:11], and form layers, one above the other [67:3]. The angels inhabit the seventh heavens. The lowest heaven is adorned with lights [41:12], the sun and the moon (which follow a regular path) [71:16][14:33], the stars [37:6] and the constellations of the Zodiac [15:16].[54]

As in many other religions, a majority of Muslims are at odds with current scientific theories about biological evolution and the origin of man. According to a recent Pew study[55] large fractions of Muslim countries do not accept that humans have evolved over time. For instance, a relatively large fraction of people accept human evolution in Kazakhstan (79%) and Lebanon (78%), but relatively few in Afghanistan (26%), Iraq (27%), and Pakistan (30%), with most of the other Islamic countries somewhere in between.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Muzaffar Iqbal (2007). Science & Islam. Greenwood Press.
  2. ^ Toshihiko Izutsu (1964). God and Man in the Koran. Weltansckauung. Tokyo.
  3. ^ A. I. Sabra, Situating Arabic Science: Locality versus Essence.
  4. ^ The 'first true scientist': "Ibn al-Haytham is regarded as the father of the modern scientific method."]
  5. ^ Rosanna Gorini (2003). "Al-Haytham the Man of Experience. First Steps in the Science of Vision", International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine. Institute of Neurosciences, Laboratory of Psychobiology and Psycho-pharmacology, Rome, Italy. Quote from article: "According to the majority of theadd historians al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method...and established experiments as the norm of the proof in the field. His investigations are based not on abstract theories, but on experimental evidences and his experiments were systematic and repeatable."
  6. ^ Robert Briffault (1928). The Making of Humanity, pp. 190–202. G. Allen & Unwin Ltd.
  7. ^ a b Seyyid Hossein Nasr. “Islam and Modern Science”
  8. ^ a b Mehdi Golshani, Can Science Dispense With Religion?
  9. ^ "What is science?", ScienceCouncil.Org
  10. ^ a b Ahmad Y Hassan, Factors Behind the Decline of Islamic Science After the Sixteenth Century
  11. ^ Sabra, A. I. (1996), Situating Arabic Science: Locality versus Essence, Isis 87 (4): 654–670, doi:10.1086/357651, JSTOR 235197. 

    "Let us begin with a neutral and innocent definition of Arabic, or what also may be called Islamic, science in terms of time and space: the term Arabic (or Islamic) science the scientific activities of individuals who lived in a region that might extended chronologically from the eighth century A.D. to the beginning of the modern era, and geographically from the Iberian Peninsula and north Africa to the Indus valley and from the Southern Arabia to the Caspian Sea—that is, the region covered for most of that period by what we call Islamic Civilization, and in which the results of the activities referred to were for the most part expressed in the Arabic Language. We need not be concerned over the refinements that obviously need to be introduced over this seemingly neutral definition."

  12. ^ Fielding H. Garrison, History of Medicine
  13. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan and Donald Routledge Hill (1986), Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History, p. 282, Cambridge University Press.
  14. ^ Abdus Salam, H. R. Dalafi, Mohamed Hassan (1994). Renaissance of Sciences in Islamic Countries, p. 162. World Scientific, ISBN 9971-5-0713-7.
  15. ^ George Saliba (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, p. 245, 250, 256-257. New York University Press, ISBN 0-8147-8023-7.
  16. ^ Abid Ullah Jan (2006), After Fascism: Muslims and the struggle for self-determination, "Islam, the West, and the Question of Dominance", Pragmatic Publishings, ISBN 978-0-9733687-5-8.
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  18. ^ Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800.
  19. ^ Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Pr., 1957), p. 142.
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  21. ^ Steffens, Bradley (2006), Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, Morgan Reynolds Publishing, ISBN 1-59935-024-6  (cf. Steffens, Bradley, Who Was the First Scientist?, Ezine Articles )
  22. ^ Ahmad, I. A. (June 3, 2002), The Rise and Fall of Islamic Science: The Calendar as a Case Study, Faith and Reason: Convergence and Complementarity, Al Akhawayn University. Retrieved on 2008-01-31.[dead link]
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  25. ^ Gandz, Solomon (1938), The Algebra of Inheritance: A Rehabilitation of Al-Khuwārizmī, Osiris 5: 319–391, doi:10.1086/368492, ISSN 0369-7827. 
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  30. ^ Saliba, George (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, New York University Press, pp. 60 & 67–69, ISBN 0-8147-8023-7 
  31. ^ Adi Setia (2004), Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi on Physics and the Nature of the Physical World: A Preliminary Survey, Islam & Science 2, retrieved 2010-03-02 
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  34. ^ Islam by Alnoor Dhanani in Science and Religion, 2002, p. 88.
  35. ^ a b Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan and Donald Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 282.
  36. ^ Aydin Sayili, The Observatory in Islam and its place in the General History of the Observatory (Ankara: 1960), pp. 289 ff..
  37. ^ a b Mehdi Golshani, Does science offer evidence of a transcendent reality and purpose?, June 2003
  38. ^ Mackey, The Iranians : Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation, 1996, p. 179.
  39. ^ Abdus Salam, Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam (Philadelphia: World Scientific, 1987), p. 109.
  40. ^ Nafiu Baba Ahmed, Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, telling the BBC his opinion of polio and vaccination. In northern Nigeria "more than 50% of the children have never been vaccinated against polio," and as of 2006 and more than half the world's polio victims live. Nigeria's struggle to beat polio, BBC News, 31 March 20
  41. ^ "Why Muslims have only few Nobel Prizes". Hurriyet. 14 August 2013. Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  42. ^ Qutb, Sayyid, Milestones, p. 112
  43. ^ Qur'an and Science, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  44. ^ Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, Random House: 2005, pp. 20–1.
  45. ^ "Islam and science - concordance or conflict?". The Review of Religions. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  46. ^ Ahmad Dallal, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, Quran and science
  47. ^ Daniel Golden (23 January 2002). "Western Scholars Play Key Role In Touting 'Science' of the Quran". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 19 September 2007. 
  48. ^ "An Illusion of Harmony: Science And Religion in Islam: Taner Edis: 9781591024491: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  49. ^ a b c "Reasonable Doubts Podcast". CastRoller. 2014-07-11. Retrieved 2014-07-23. 
  50. ^ a b c d Basim Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam. Cambridge University Press. 1983. pp. 39–59.
  51. ^ Musnad Ahmad: Musnad of Abdullah bin Mas'ood - number 4424
  52. ^ Basim Musallam, Sex and Society in Islam. Cambridge University Press. 1983. p. 52.
  53. ^ Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid. "مسائل في أصل خلق الجنين، وفي كونه ذكَراً أو أنثى، وفي شبهه بأبيه أو أمه". Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  54. ^ Angelika Neuwirth , Cosmology, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an
  55. ^ The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, Pew Research Center, April 30, 2013 [1]

External links[edit]