History of Science and Religion
20 Nov, 2005
Again and again Islamists are coming with the 'cannons and guns' of Islamic Science, if there is such a thing in this world call 'Religious Science.' That is, blind-folded Muslims attempt to claim that: Islam brought science and modernity to this world.
I am a small person in this vast scientific field, i.e.; I make my ends meet by providing scientific knowledge to my employer in an extremely narrow area. For the last 30 some years, I am dealing with science, but unfortunately, I never found anywhere in the universe of modern-day science that is made by any world religion. That is, I did not find Islamic science, Christian Science or any Hindu science. I have written many times that "No religion can claim science its property." All my life I have been hearing that, religion and science do not mix and match all that wells. Some may even say that science and religion do not see eye-to-eye. Again, some person with an extreme view may also bluntly put before you that science and religion are the enemy of each other. I have also learned that, if I believe in science, then it is difficult to believe in religious dogmas. That means these two things (religion and science) are like oil and water-can not go mix. In the most religious schools (Madrashas) of Bangladesh, it is prohibited to study science. Take for example Sir Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Although widely and totally accepted by modern science, the religionists will have hard time accepting Darwin's conclusions. Therefore, Bangladeshi Mullahs or the Mullahs throughout the world do not believe in evolution one hundred percent. So, what makes science and religion a good match?
In the preface of Dr. Parvez Hoodboy's (M.I.T. educated Nuclear Physicist) book, Pakistani Nobel laureate Physicist DR. ABDUS SALAM wrote:
"There is only one universal Science; its problems and modalities are international and there is no such thing as Islamic Science just as there is no Hindu Science, nor Jewish Science, no Confucian Science, nor Christian science".
The Muslim-background Nobel laureate Dr. Salam also could not find any science that belongs to any religion. But interestingly enough, Dr. Salam also became an Islamic scientist by the wishful dream of some Islamists around the world. And that of course, after his Nobel award. Before that-he was a Kafir. World knows well that Pakistan had constitutionally declared Ahmedias a Kafir. Since Dr. Salam was a son of Ahamedia (Kadiani), he also was a Kafir for sure. But after he received Nobel award-Dr. Salam became pious Muslim overnight. What a miracle? Some over zealous Islamists called Dr. Salam's achievement as "Islamic science". Question is how can the science do possess any religion? Dr. Salam (a son of Muslim) and Dr. Weinberger (an atheist) jointly discovered the scientific theory of "unification of weak and electromagnetic forces". Now should we call it an Islamic science or an atheist science? What should we call it?
If this kafir Kamran Mirza (son of a Muslim) some day receives Nobel Prize-then obviously Mirza will be a pious Muslim and he will stop his so-called Islam bashing business indeed. And Islamists will start in earnest to claim that this "pious" Muslim Kamran Mirza learned all his science from Qur'an and Hadiths! Therefore, all credit should go to the Bhandar (repository) of world knowledge, which is of course Qur'an. Well, such are the chicaneries of Islamists!
Regarding Muslim scientists such as al-Khwarizmi, al-Biruni, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, etc. it will be prudent to say--All those Muslims were scientists and scholars by dint of their critical mind and thinking, being inspired by Greek, Indian and Babylonian civilizations. It was not DUE to Islam that their talent flourished and shone. There is no Islamic gene. Rather their achievements can be characterized as DESPITE Islam. All these scientists, physicians were champions of reason and critical thinking; they never credited the scripture for their success or for inspiration. It is well known that talents thrive in an open atmosphere, when no divine restrictions are imposed on the pursuit of knowledge.
Religion had been at odds with science, still is at odds, and it will remain so until all religions would take demise from this mortal world. After the renaissance (i.e. during the last 3-4 centuries)-in the marathon race of dominance, science had won and religion had lost. This is pure and simple. Now, to compete science, every religionists searching science in their scriptures with a massive magnifying glass. Islam is the champion in this line. Alas, there could be no science in the scriptures of Islam or in any religion for sure. I myself first read Qur'an and Hadiths (after I read the book of M. Bucaille) in search of science, but could not find/match a single verse/Hadiths with modern-day science. I was dismayed how M. Bucaille fooled Muslims to earn his millions. He surely fooled the gullible Muslims while pocketing a large sum of money. This does not bode well for Muslims. They have been portrayed as cretins in the eyes of modern world, which I hate to admit.
Allow me to juxtapose Secularism and democracy vis--vis a blind faith we lovingly call the religion. It is the "SECULARISM AND DEMOCRACY" which can boost for science and not any RELIGION for sure. The European Renaissance was born in the yoke of SACULARISM AND DEMOCRACY. Europe was at the dark as long as they were submerged with religious dogmas. Scores of scientists, freethinkers lost their lives at the hands of fantasist religionists. Even today, any country that took the religion as their state constitution is living under the spell of darkness and they are taking a journey driving their locomotive in the reverse gear. And this is very true in the field of science. Good examples are Iran, Afghanistan, and all other Muslim countries as well. As long as all the Muslim countries remain under the clutch of Islam-Muslims will never be able to compete in the field of science with the rest of the world. The less religious orthodoxy, the more achievement in science. That explains Muslim's relative advancement around tenth century (less orthodoxy) and Christian Europe's backwardness (more orthodoxy).
Science and Civilizations:
Science started its journey right from the day when ancient cave peoples made their first weapon from the stone. Necessities and human curiosities were the engine of all sciences. Science never dropped from the sky for anybody. Science is the continuous product of human civilizations. Not by one or two, but by all civilizations of the world such as: Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Indian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek (Hellenistic), Roman, Islamic Arab, etc. All of this civilization took part in the "RELAY RACE" of shaping up ancient science, which was the building block of modern science. Ancient Egyptians (3000 BC) studied the heavens to forecast seasons, used advanced geometry to build Pyramids. They also learned human anatomy, physiology, surgery and medicine, etc. All of the above mentioned ancient pre-Arab civilizations were very advanced in medicine, astronomy, geometry, mathematics and other scientific fields much before the arrival of Islamic-Arab civilization.
Ancient Greeks left the greatest scientific heritage of all the ancient peoples. Most scientific successes were achieved during the Hellenistic period who established world's largest ancient library at Alexandria (Egypt), where half a million books were kept. No one can think about ancient science without naming Hippocrates, Aristotle, Thales, Pythagoras, Euclid, Galen, etc., and obviously, those scientists did not learn science from Bedouin Allah. Another very interesting factor is-all the above mentioned civilizations, somehow or rather, came in contact with each other (overlapping one by the other) at the Middle Eastern region. Had there been no ancient Egypt, Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, etc., there could be no science available to Arab to transmit them to the west. Just as, had there been no Judaism, Paganism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism and Bahaism was existed in the Middle east-there could be no Islam or no Qur'an written/produced by Muhammad. It should not elude any inquisitive mind that there is an awful lot similarity between the Old Testament stories and Qur'anic folklore. Even the tenor of Old Testament God and Bedouin's Allah seems to be very similar. Coincidence, huh?
Let me cite a quotation of George Sarton (History of Science): "The foundations of science were laid for us by the Mesopotamian civilizations, whose scholars and scientists were their priests, and to them we owe foundations of medicine, navigation, astronomy and some mathematics. The second development came through the Greeks as taught in the traditional way in Western schools and colleges. The third stage of development, however is to be credited to the dazzling rise of Islam, whose Abbasid caliphs drank avidly at the foundation of the ancient Persian and Hindu as well as Greek sources of knowledge. For nearly four hundred years Islam led the world of science. From > Spain to India, the great body of past knowledge was exchanged between her scholars and the torch carried forward with new discoveries. Scholars of Christendom from about the eleventh through the thirteenth century were mainly occupied with translating books from Arabic to Latin. Thus, Islam paved the way for the renaissance which in turn led to science's fourth great development in the modern western world".
Now, what have we learned from the above quotation? One could see in the statement of George Sarton the echo of my thesis. That is science is the product of continuous RELAY RACE (development/research) by many different civilizations one after another. In the history of mankind, civilization always took shape by some popular slogans/manifesto by different nations. Some came with nationalistic spirits (such as Persian, Roman, Chinese, Indian, etc.), and some came with the popular slogans of religion (such as Arab). In true sense, all of them were imperialistic forces in some different names and identity, and their main objective was to conquer new lands to gain wealth and power. Every civilization when got some tranquility and peaceful times, it flourished in various (scientific, social, political, etc.) fields. Islamic-Arab revolution was no exception. The recent PBS documentary by Mr. Robert Gardner, "Islam: Empire of Faith," clearly showed the Arab imperialistic history. This film failed to show any spirituality or, should I say divinity, which was purely absent in Islamic utopia. The viewers will have hard time forgetting that violence ad infinitum, those naked terrorizing bend swords, or scores of conspiracies to kill the rivals, own sons, own friend. These are of course not at all signs of so-called peaceful religion. Instead, the viewers will mostly remember Islam as the NAKED SWORD WAVING MEGALOMANIAC IMPERILISTIC FORCE getting ready to swallow the entire world. The present-day Ummatic belief among Jihadist Muslims is remnants of the same belief.
Fact of the matter is the golden age of Islamic Empire (Abbasid) happened only because the natural sciences and the so-called Islamic sciences (read- religious study) were kept separate in the colleges of the day. It seems no coincidence that only when the religious authorities started to interfere with the natural sciences, starting in the 11th century, did the golden age of Islamic civilization lose its glitter.
What were the sources of Arab/Islamic Science?
Nevertheless, we must give credit to Arab-Islamic civilization for their role of obtaining, preserving and some improvement of that available ancient science left by other different civilizations and finally transmitting them to the West. Islamists very often talking about the modern scientific debt to Islamic civilization, but they never say anything about the Arab's scientific debt to those ancient civilizations, and I wonder why they are so reluctant to give any credits to those who deserve it? Can any Islamist tell us what the source of Islamic science was? Was it from Qur'an or Hadiths, or did it come from the heaven through the courtesy of winged archangels? Certainly not! Arab civilization did not see the light of science until the middle of 8th century. There was hardly any science developed during the time of Prophet Muhammad and his 'Caliphate-e-Rashedins' period. It was the period of liberal Muslim kings of Abbasid and Ottomans when Arab civilization finally begun to see the light of science. There is no scope to give the detail history in this short essay, but it is prudent to note that-Arabs during the Abbasid kingdoms at Baghdad actually got hold to those ancient science through their conquests.
They were clever and open minded enough to know that a kingdom could make awful lot of money by exploiting science. They got hold to the Greek (Hellenistic) library and begun to translate all those available scientific books of Latin/Greek into Arabic for a good reason.
The point of this history is to show how the golden age that Islamists/ fundamentalists refer to was achieved only because Baghdad was wide open to foreign influences, much as the United States at its birth imported ideas of the enlightenment from Europe and made more of them than did the Old World. One can go further. Many of the scholars who translated the manuscripts of the Greeks, Indians and Chinese, and who flocked to Baghdad in the golden age, were Christians, Jews and pagans. Although the West as we know it today didn't exist in the 9th and 10th centuries, one could say that the Arab world was, for a time, part of the intellectual circle that would become the West. Many of the Greek classics reached Europe via Muslim Toledo, in Spain, where they were translated from Arabic into Latin.
These people were not religious priest or Mullahs; they were intellectuals of that particular civilization. Islamic civilization actually acted as the conduit between the ancient science and western receiver who actually better utilized the ancient product. Had there been other civilization such as Mongols or Chinese dominant at that very period instead of Arab civilization-same thing could have happened with the transmitting of science to the West. We must not forget that major breakthrough in science that world knew about the Arab civilization are the Arab numerals, Gunpowders, paper, medical knowledge, etc. And it is interesting to note that among those ancient science-Arab actually got numerals from Indian mathematicians called "Hindu-Arabic Numerals" Gun powder and papers technology from Chinese; and Medical knowledge from Indian, Egyptians, Persians, Mesopotamians, and Chinese.
Liberal Freethinking Abbasid Caliphs:
The so called Islamic science flourished entirely during the period of liberal freethinking Caliphs of Abbasid dynasty. The seventh Abbasid caliph, al-Ma'mun (813-833), was even a greater patron of education and science than Harun al-Rashid. He took considerable pains to obtain Greek manuscripts and even sent a mission to the Byzantine Emperor Leon the Armenian (8l3 to 890) for that purpose. He ordered the translation of these manuscripts. He organized at Baghdad a sort of scientific academy called the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-hilkma), which included a library and an observatory. He encouraged scholars from all kinds (various religions), and an enormous amount of scientific work was done under his patronage. This was the most ambitious undertaking of its kind since the foundation of the Alexandrian Museum (q. v. first half of third century B. C.).
Al-Ma'mun 'Abdallah al-Ma'mun' was born in Baghdad in 786, and he died near Tarsus in 833. Al-Ma'mun was the seventh and greatest 'Abbasid caliph (813-833). His mother and wife were Persians, which explains his Persian and 'Alid proclivities. He was an ardent Mu'tazil, tried to enforce his views by means of violence. He wrote four long letters to explain the Qur'an was created, and he cruelly punished those who dared entertain different views (e.g., Ibn Hannibal). He thus combined in a remarkable way free thought and intolerance. While persecuting those who objected to Mu'tazilism, Jews and Christians were very welcome at his court. History is the witness that, the religion Islam was not the real factor behind the success of medieval Muslim scientists.
Brief History how Arabs did get science:
The Paper: It was a Chinese invention of the first centuryA.D. and it reached the Middle East via the Battle of Talas(near Tashkent) in 751, when some Chinese paper makers were captured by the Arabs. But it was the Arabs who raised paper making to new heights.
hospital: was a Persian idea from as early as the sixth century,
name "bimaristan." But in Baghdad the institution became much more sophisticated, with special wards for internal diseases, contagious cases and psychiatric patients. Field hospitals accompanying Arab armies were also introduced.
The Mathematics: In the late eighth century, an Indian merchant brought to Baghdad two seminal mathematical works. One was the Brahmasphuta Siddhanta, known to Arabs as the Sindhind, the work of the great seventh-century Indian mathematician Brahmagupta. This contained early ideas about al-jabr, to give algebra its Arabic name. It was this work that Muhammad ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi in the ninth century was to expand on so successfully. Khwarizmi became known as "the father of algebra" and gave his name to algorithms.
The same Indian merchant also brought a manuscript that introduced for the first time outside India the nine Hindu numerals we use to this day and are now called Arabic numerals. (Before that, numbers were written out as words or notated with letters of the alphabet.) This document also contained the first mention of the 0, which the Arabs called zephirum, from which our words zero and cipher are derived. But again, it was the Baghdadis who built on these imported innovations, to create what one historian of mathematics has called "the Arabic hegemony." In addition to Khwarizmi, this group included Ibn Turk, al-Karkhi, al-Biruni, al-Haytham (called Alhazen in the West), Nasir
Eddin and Omar Khayyam (he of "Rubaiyat" fame).
Finally, Aristotle. As a pagan, he posed a problem for Muslims - as he did for Christians a couple of centuries later. Nevertheless, the power of his ideas triumphed, and a whole slew of Arab "falasafahs" were influenced by Aristotle - al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Ibn Khaldun among them. In addition, al-Farabi glossed Plato, al-Rhazi (Rhazes) built on Galen and Hippocrates, and Ibn Qurrah added to Euclid and Archimedes.
Of course, Muslim scientists did some improvement or improvisation to that ancient science. In modern time, Japanese are known to be a practitioner of that policy. Another interesting point is most of those renowned Muslim scientists were non-Arab. Such as: Al-Khwarizmi (Uzbekistan); Al-Razi (Tehran); Al-Ghazzali (Khorman, Iran); Al-Tabari (Tabristan); Al-Farabi (Turkistan); Al-Biruni (Khwarizm, Uzbekistan); Ibn Sina (Bukhara, Central Asia); Ibn Rushd (Cordoba, Spain) and so on. All those scientists/philosophers happened to be sons of Muslim. None of them were a Mullah or Maolana, and none of them ever claimed that they got scientific theory by reading Qur'an or gobbling the Hadiths. Then, why do all those Islamists bring religion in the field of science? Is there any ulterior motive?
Religion of any type (Christian, Jews, Islam, Hinduism etc.) can never claim Science as their own property. Similarly, religion should never claim any credit whatsoever, for the advancement of any science. Galileo was a great scientist by his knowledge not because he was a son of Christian. In the same vein, Ibne Sina was a scientist by virtue of his quality and not because he was a son of Muslim. Einstein was a great scientist because of his intellect and acuity, not because of his knowledge of Torah. Today, almost 95% of world's leading scientists are the sons of Christians. Should we then consider that Christian religion/Bible are the storehouse of all science? Does the world history support this? Or, should we say that ancient Hindu Kafirs got science of mathematics (numerals) from Rada krishna?
Islamists frequently claim that the Koran is full of exhortation to the believers to study nature and to find the signs of God in the phenomena of nature. But I did not find any Qur'anic verse that asked people to study the nature, rather Allah tried to show those nature (Sky, Earth, Sun, Moon, Stars, etc.) as the evidence that Allah is really very powerful who can create all those naturally impossible things. Now, do we have to believe that, before the arrival of Qur'an mankind never saw the sky (heaven), earth, sun, moon and stars? What Qur'an told about the nature, even cave peoples could have seen them very well by their own bare eyes. Yes, Qur'an repeatedly talked about heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, etc., just to exhibit the strength (threat) and might of Allah and repeatedly told human being to think about this miracle of placing sky as the canopy (which is ridiculous) without pillars, making stars to shoot the Satan, placing mountain to make the earth immovable, created thunder to shoot the sinners, created earthquake to punish the kafirs, revolving poor sun daily to make day and night, making wide and flat earth, etc. and a whole slue of other things to reel your head. So, are those Allah's assertions anyway to be taken as scientific theory? What is the actual point? Should we go back to fundamentals of Islam and establish true Islamic dogmas (because according to some apologists only Islam can inspire science) like Afghan Talibans? Should we banned all western style education systems; should we banned all secularism, and establish "Kaoumi Madrashas" or "Alia madrashas" to bring back our Islamic science? Come on give me break !
Now let me put some very prudent questions: (a) If the Islamists still consider that Arab got the ancient science from Qur'an or Hadiths, then would it not be normal that those Islamic Mullahs would discover the science first? (b) Would it not be normal to expect the revolution of science coming first from all those Maulanas, Qaari, Imams, Muftis, teachers of all Madrashas, all Madrassah students, all Talibans-simply because these are the people who are really expert in Qur'an and Hadiths? (c) If Islamic Arab civilization derived scientific knowledge from the religion (Qur'an and Hadiths) and they brought some science to the West, then after that, what made those Muslims totally burned out and become obsolete in the field of science today? (d) Should it not be a normal phenomenon that, in today's modern scientific race, Muslims would still lead the rest of the world? (e) Since some apologists believe religion has no quarrel with science-could we ask all Islamic Mullahs to declare Darwin Evolution Theory is acceptable to Islamic theologians? (f) Could any Islamist tell us what are the reasons that none of the Muslim nations come even close to other advanced nations in the field of science?
There is still time left for writers who are sympathetic to science and who are driven by logic to join us in our fight to break the manacles of repressive age-old religions. There shouldn't be any room for faith-based systems that would push us back a good fourteen centuries. The world is driven by science. In case, we already forgot that.
1. The Holy Qur'an, Translated by A. Yousuf Ali, Published by Amana Corporation, Brentwood, Maryland, 1983
2. Buchari Sharif, Bengali Translation by Maulana Muhammad Mustafizur Rahman, Sulemani Printers and Publishers, Dhaka, Second edition-1999
3. A History of the Arab peoples, by Albert Hourani, the Belknap press of Harvard University press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991
4. Roots of the Western Tradition, (a short history of ancient world) by C.Warren Hollister, Library of congress cataloging-in-publication data, 6th edition, 1996
5. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, Arthur Cotterell and Rachel Storm, Lorenz Books, New York 10011, Anness Publishing Limited 1999
6. Time magazine, November, 2001
7. Crossroads of Culture by Peter Watson, NY Times on April 21, 2003
Syed Kamran Mirza is the author of Roots of Terrorism in Islam. He has also contributed in Beyond Jihad — Critical Voices from Inside Islam and Leaving Islam — Apostates Speaks Out. He can be contacted at email@example.com.