Tag Archives: Islamic science

The Museum of Science and Technology in Islam

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia has an awesome museum, the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam (MOSTI). Here’s their home page.

Take a look at the exhibit on the Elephant Water Clock. Way cool.

An old illustration of said elephant water clock:

There are very many other cool things there. Nice website, too.

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All Science is Catholic?

Raving Bill Donohue and the Catholic League (I know, it’s the same thing) claimed Tuesday that all science is beholden to the Catholic church.

Had it not been for the Catholic Church, the universities would have died during the Middle Ages. Had it not been for the Catholic Church, the Scientific Revolution would never have happened. After all, science did not take root in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Asia. It took place in Christian Europe.

The universities would have died? Like, universities in, say, Egypt, would have died without the Pope?

Because whatever didn’t happen in Europe doesn’t count? Are those the rules we’re playing by?

Thank goodness Wikipedia can give me the straight story. “Science didn’t take root in the Middle East” my shiny metal ass, jerk.

The Islamic golden age:

During the Islamic Golden Age, Muslim scholars made significant advances in science, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, engineering, and many other fields. During this time, early Islamic philosophy developed and was often pivotal in scientific debates — key figures were usually scientists and philosophers.

The number of important and original Arabic works written on the mathematical sciences is much larger than the combined total of Latin and Greek works on the mathematical sciences.[28]

A number of important institutions previously unknown in the ancient world have their origins in the medieval Islamic world, with the most notable examples being: the public hospital (which replaced healing temples and sleep temples)[29] and psychiatric hospital,[30] the public library and lending library, the academic degree-granting university, the astronomical observatory as a research institute[29] (as opposed to a private observation post as was the case in ancient times),[31] and the trust (Waqf).[32][33]

The first universities which issued diplomas were the Bimaristan medical university-hospitals of the medieval Islamic world, where medical diplomas were issued to students of Islamic medicine who were qualified to be practicing doctors of medicine from the 9th century. Sir John Bagot Glubb wrote:[34]

“By Mamun’s time medical schools were extremely active in Baghdad. The first free public hospital was opened in Baghdad during the Caliphate of Haroon-ar-Rashid. As the system developed, physicians and surgeons were appointed who gave lectures to medical students and issued diplomas to those who were considered qualified to practice. The first hospital in Egypt was opened in 872 AD and thereafter public hospitals sprang up all over the empire from Spain and the Maghrib to Persia.”

The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco as the oldest university in the world with its founding in 859.[35] Al-Azhar University, founded in Cairo, Egypt in the 10th century, offered a variety of academic degrees, including postgraduate degrees, and is often considered the first full-fledged university.

Er, thanks, Catholicism?

Another common feature during the Islamic Golden Age was the large number of Muslim polymaths or “universal geniuses”, scholars who contributed to many different fields of knowledge. Muslim polymaths were known as “Hakeems” and they had a wide breadth of knowledge in many different fields of religious and secular learning, comparable to the later “Renaissance Men”, such as Leonardo da Vinci, of the European Renaissance period. Polymath scholars were so common during the Islamic Golden Age that it was rare to find a scholar who specialized in any single field at the time.[37] Notable Muslim polymaths included al-Biruni, al-Jahiz, al-Kindi, Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Razi, Ibn Sina, al-Idrisi, Ibn Bajja, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Tufayl, Ibn Rushd, al-Suyuti[38] Geber, al-Khwarizmi, the Banū Mūsā, Abbas Ibn Firnas, al-Farabi, al-Masudi, al-Muqaddasi, Alhacen, Omar Khayyám, al-Ghazali, al-Khazini, Avempace, al-Jazari, Ibn al-Nafis, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī, Ibn al-Shatir, Ibn Khaldun, and Taqi al-Din, among many others.[37]

Oh, huh? What’s this:

With the fall of Islamic Spain in 1492, the scientific and technological initiative of the Islamic world was inherited by Europeans and laid the foundations for Europe’s Renaissance and Scientific Revolution.[47]

But what about the scientific method?

Muslim scientists placed a greater emphasis on experimentation than previous ancient civilizations (for example, Greek philosophy placed a greater emphasis on rationality rather than empiricism),[11][14] which was due to the emphasis on empirical observation found in the Qur’an and Sunnah,[68][69][70][71] and the rigorous historical methods established in the science of hadith.[68] Muslim scientists thus combined precise observation, controlled experiment and careful records[14] with a new[11] approach to scientific inquiry which led to the development of the scientific method.[72] In particular, the empirical observations and experiments of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) in his Book of Optics (1021) is seen as the beginning of the modern scientific method,[73] which he first introduced to optics and psychology.

The Wikipedia article is too jam-packed with information for me to quote even a representative sampling here, but here is more that caught my eye:

In the zoology field of biology, Muslim biologists developed theories on evolution which were widely taught in medieval Islamic schools. John William Draper, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, considered the “Mohammedan theory of evolution” to be developed “much farther than we are disposed to do, extending them even to inorganic or mineral things.” According to al-Khazini, ideas on evolution were widespread among “common people” in the Islamic world by the 12th century.[186]

The first Muslim biologist to develop a theory on evolution was al-Jahiz (781-869). He wrote on the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and he first described the struggle for existence.[187][188] Al-Jahiz was also the first to discuss food chains,[189] and was also an early adherent of environmental determinism, arguing that the environment can determine the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of a certain community and that the origins of different human skin colors is the result of the environment.[190]

Ibn al-Haytham wrote a book in which he argued for evolutionism (although not natural selection), and numerous other Islamic scholars and scientists, such as Ibn Miskawayh, the Brethren of Purity, al-Khazini, Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, Nasir al-Din Tusi, and Ibn Khaldun, discussed and developed these ideas. Translated into Latin, these works began to appear in the West after the Renaissance and appear to have had an impact on Western science.

Ibn Miskawayh’s al-Fawz al-Asghar and the Brethren of Purity’s Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity (The Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa) expressed evolutionary ideas on how species evolved from matter, into vapor, and then water, then minerals, then plants, then animals, then apes, and then humans. These works were known in Europe and likely had an influence on Darwinism.[191]

Thanks, Catholics Muslims.

I may never get around to writing a blog post on Alhazen, so here’s a link to the Wikipedia article. If you should happen to have a good book to recommend on the subject, I’d like to hear about it.

Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (Arabic: ابو علی، حسن بن حسن بن الهيثم, Persian: ابن هیثم, Latinized: Alhacen or (deprecated) Alhazen) (965 in Basra – c. 1039 in Cairo), was an Arab[2] or Persian[3] polymath.[4] He made significant contributions to the principles of optics, as well as to anatomy, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, ophthalmology, philosophy, physics, psychology, visual perception, and to science in general with his introduction of the scientific method. He is sometimes called al-Basri (Arabic: البصري), after his birthplace in the city of Basra.[5] He was also nicknamed Ptolemaeus Secundus (“Ptolemy the Second”)[6] or simply “The Physicist”[7] in medieval Europe.

*cough* Bill Donohoe is a jackass *cough*

During the Middle Ages, observational astronomy was mostly stagnant in medieval Europe, at least until the 13th century. However, observational astronomy flourished in the Islamic world and other parts of the world. Some of the prominent Arab astronomers who made significant contributions to the science were Al-Battani and Thebit. Astronomers during that time introduced many Arabic names that are now used for individual stars.[11][12] It is also believed that the ruins at Great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu[13] may have housed an astronomy observatory.[14] Europeans had previously believed that there had been no astronomical observation in pre-colonial Middle Ages Africa outside of Nubia and Kush but modern discoveries show otherwise.[15][16][17]

Oh, here’s something interesting:

…and [Bill Donohue] has also spoken of the crisis over sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests as “a homosexual scandal, not a pedophilia scandal”.

Update. From commenter fred:

In 1054CE, a nearby star destabilized, producing a supernova bright enough to be seen in daylight (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_1054).

Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers recorded the event, as did a couple of “savage” societies in the Americas. The event occasioned no remarks in Christian Europe, however, because that would have implied that god’s handiwork had not been completed in six days.

I figured science was also going on in other parts of the world. Why is it that Donohue “knows” there wasn’t? It takes a special kind of mind to ignore evidence to that extent.

By the way, a good book about what was going on in the Americas before the Spanish “discovery” is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

Another update: here’s a link to Bradley Steffen’s book, Ibn al Haytham – The First Scientist


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