Monday, June 08, 2009

Islam's influence

My blogging may be spotty for the next few weeks, as I'll be traveling to the States because of a family emergency. In the meantime, here's an essay by physicist Frank Tipler arguing that Islam's contributions to science, mathematics, etc. have been greatly exaggerated:

If one reads history of science textbooks prior to about 1980, one will find very little mention of Muslim “contributions” to physics and astronomy. This is reasonable, because there weren’t any. In the past generation, however, political correctness has dictated that Muslims be given credit for discoveries they did not make.
During the Cold War, it was commonplace for leftist academics to attribute many discoveries to scientists in Communist countries, discoveries that had actually been made in the West. So now leftist academics attribute to Muslims discoveries that had actually been made by others.

(cross-posted at Agent Intellect)

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


James said...

Given Tipler's total ignorance about medieval science and his assumption of a straight jump from Archimedes/Ptolemy to Copernicus/Galileo, I'm not sure I'd rely on what he has to say about Islamic science either.

That Copernicus uses mathematical constructions from Islamic texts that are not in Ptolemy is beyond reasonable doubt.

Jim S. said...

Yeah, I had the same thought. I'm not endorsing Tipler's views of course, I just thought some folks would be interested in hearing what one side is saying.

Humphrey said...

I think he's gone too far to the other extreme. For example, Alhazan's work in optics was not bettered until Newton came along. Averroes's commentaries on Aristotle were immensely useful. Avicenna's 'Canon' of medicine held sway in Europe until the 16th century. The Islamic contribution was important (although overstated on wikipedia for ideological reasons).

Where there is legitimate debate is to whether all this constituted a 'scientific revolution'. The waters are muddied here because the term 'scientific revolution' has been called into question as there was a considerable degree of methodological continuity in the 17th century. I would say that there was a scientific revolution in the 17th century but the 'revolutionary' elements were metaphysical in character (i.e the mechanical philosophy and the overthrow of Aristotle; the development of programs of natural philosophy in response to the intellectual climate of the Reformation). The Islamic contribution was impressive but still firmly in the Aristotelian mould.

Anonymous said...

The New Scientist has , with good reason, rubbished Tipler's book The Physics of Christianity. Unwise to give him very much credence.

Matthew said...

His book with John Barrow on the antropic principle however is pretty good.

But that's no reason to accept him as an authority on the history of science.

Anonymous said...

overstated on wikipedia for ideological reasons [citation needed]