Thursday, July 31, 2008

George Saliba's Islamic Science

Sorry for the recent lack of posts. Things have been a bit busy. Actually, they still are and posts will remain infrequent for the moment.

The main object of this post is to report on George Saliba’s Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance. I’ve got no time for Edward Said and I expect Saliba’s politics would disgust me, but he knows a great deal about Islamic Science. Let me make absolutely clear that this book is no fun to read. It is terse, badly edited and Saliba’s writing style is that of a professor who has no interest in attracting lay readers. It is the content of the book which makes it important and worth struggling through.

Saliba has two targets in view and he hits both of them. Firstly, he rejects the classical narrative that the conquered Syriac-speaking Christians population taught the Arabs Greek philosophy. He insists, I think quite rightly, that the assimilation of Greek learning into Arabic culture was an internal process within the Caliphate. It was not a case of ignorant Arabs learning philosophy from the Syrian Christians who had already mastered it. Rather, people living under the Islamic Caliphate decided for themselves that they wanted to acquire the philosophy of the classical Greeks and so went off to find it. There was no pre-existing advanced culture for them to take over – they created it from scratch. I don’t agree with all the details of Saliba’s case. He assumes on too little evidence that there was no indigenous scientific tradition in Byzantium at all. I think there was but it just wasn’t from this source that the Arabs acquired their own knowledge.

Why does this matter? In part, because it means the Arabs picked up ancient Greek philosophy in much the same way that Western Christians discovered Arabic thought in the twelfth century. In both cases, no one came to teach the new learning. Both the medieval Arabic and Catholic worlds were autodidacts. Contrast this with the recovery of Greek language scholarship in Renaissance Italy. That was very much driven by teachers fleeing from the wreck of Byzantium and educating the ignorant (but interested) Italians.

Saliba’s second attack is on the widely held belief that Arabic science declined after the thirteenth century, either due to religious pressure or the Mongol invasions. Saliba makes two points. The first is that Arabic science continued to advance until at least the sixteenth century. He convincingly shows how Copernicus used several unacknowledged cutting-edge astronomical techniques from Arab sources. These techniques for calculating planetary movements were not developed in Western Europe, but in Persia after the Mongol invasion. His second point is that talk of a decline is misleading. What needs explaining is how western science began and maintained its stratospheric progress from the fourteenth century onwards. Noting that Arabic science couldn’t keep up is not something that needs an explanation. The historical conundrum is western advance, not eastern stagnation.

I also tried Michael Morgan’s Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists. It’s awful and I couldn’t get through even one chapter. Avoid.

Discuss this post at Science, History and Religion - James Hannam's Forum

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Shattering the Christ Myth

J.P. Holding of Tektonics apologetic ministry has edited (and substantially written) a new book providing a detailed rebuttal of the Christ Myth in its various guises. I have written an introduction to the book which compares the Christ Myth to the theory that Shakespeare didn't write the works of Shakespeare. I also offer a brief resume of the historiography of the Christ Myth going back to its nineteenth century origins.

This book should now, I believe, be the standard reference for anyone wanting to find a response to the various internet and published mythologists. You can get it from or However, best of all would be if you order a copy from your local store and demand to know why they aren't stocking it.

No reviews yet, but do please let me know if you see any.

Discuss this post at Science, History and Religion - James Hannam's Forum

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Implant Update

I owe you all an update on how I’ve been getting on with the cochlear implant. It has been turned on for almost three weeks now and the prognosis so far is very good. I went to Guy’s Hospital in London for the switch-on not really knowing what to expect. After some diagnostics to make sure it was working properly, Terry, the audiologist in charge of my case, ran through the different frequencies that the implant can deliver. They were all functioning and I could hear up to 8000Hz which is more than I managed in my early teens and a huge improvement on the 300Hz or so that I’ve been functioning with recently.

The implant initially made everyone sound like R2 D2. All I seemed to get were bells, whistles and beeps. Despite this, I could understand my wife quite well, but that might be more down to empathy than hearing. Over the following few days I still needed my hearing aid in the other ear to get by but it also distracted me from the sounds coming from the implant. So, as I had a week off work, I ditched the hearing aid (big relief – it was uncomfortable and I hated it) and just used the implant from then on. Gradually, the R2 D2 sounds began to resolve into voices, especially while following the subtitles on television. I also found I could hear my three year old a bit better.

When I got back to work on Monday, it was clear that I had already exceeded how well I had managed with the hearing aids. Colleagues whom I had previously had enormous trouble understanding even when I was lip-reading had become much clearer. On Tuesday, I went back to Guy’s Hospital for the implant to be retuned (which is necessary as I get used to it). Terry also ran some comprehension tests. I scored 92% in the hearing while lip-reading test (up from 86% with the hearing aids) and 55% when not lip reading (twice what I had managed before).

Already, things are a lot better and I can expect continuing improvement over the next few months. Aside from feeling very tired from having to interpret all the extra aural information, the implant has been a huge blessing already.

Discuss this post at Science, History and Religion - James Hannam's Forum

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.