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Old July 10th, 2011, 04:33 PM   #1
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Arabic influence on European Science


Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
The Muslims were certainly fascinated with Roman/Byzantine building practices.
Fascinated? The Byzantine influence on Islamic architecture was more than just a mere source of fascination (below quote from Byzantine architecture):

In the East it exerted a profound influence on early Islamic architecture, During the Umayyad Caliphate era (661-750), as far as the byzantine impact on early Islamic architecture is concerned, the byzantine artistic heritage formed a fundamental source to the new Islamic art, especially in Syria and Palestine . There are considerable byzantine influences which can be detected in the distinctive early Islamic monuments in Syria and Palestine, as on the Dome of the Rock (691) at Jerusalem, the Umayyad Mosque (709-15) at Damascus. While the Dome of the Rock gives clear reference in plan - and partially in decoration - to byzantine art, the plan of the Umayyad Mosque has also a remarkable similarity with the 6th -7th c. normal Christian basilicas, but it has been modified and expanded on the transversal axis and not on the normal longitudinal axis as in the Christian basilicas. This modification serves better the liturgy for the Islamic prayer.
...
The tile work, geometric patterns, multiple arches, domes, and polychrome brick and stone work that characterize Islamic and Moorish architecture were influenced to some extent by Byzantine architecture.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Well the Greeks did in fact derive a great deal from previous cultures. Especially in religion, medicine, mathematics and art. They wrote in a script derived from Egyptian-Hieratic and counted using Egyptian alphabetic numerals - granted the former via Phoenicians and the latter via Ionians. Original contributions of individual thinkers are hardly in dispute. What's controversial is this idea of a "Greek Miracle" - that everything they did was completely original. One need only peruse the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, whose author - Ahmose - is the first mathematician known by name, or the Eber or Edwin Smith Papyri to see that, by post-dark age Greece, many of these disciplines were already highly developed. Try reading The Crest of the Peacock. In many respects there were few "original" contributions until the High Middle Ages.

"We are certain that much of the Greek knowledge was borrowed from eastern sources but we do not know exactly when or how the borrowings took place. [...] It is not too much to say that the Asclepeia were the cradles of Greek medicine, and they help account for the extraordinary richness of the Hippocratic collection, - but we must not forget that they themselves inherited and continued Egyptian traditions." - George Sarton, "The History of Science and New Humanism"; pp 71-72

"Greek intellectuals of the historical period proclaimed that Greeks owed a great deal to the older civilization of Egypt, in particular in religion and art. Recent research agrees with this ancient opinion." - Thomas R. Martin's "Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times" (2000) Yale University Press
I never claimed that Greek culture and science was created in an absolute vacuum. No culture is. What I reacted against was the obfuscation and belittling of ancient Greek achievements. Ancient Greeks are not famous for being the first who did practical math by calculating areas or volumes for practical purposes (such as the ones found in the above mentioned Rhind mathematical papyrus), nor for being the first who pondered about the origins of the world though mythology and religion, nor for being the first who practiced art in a systematic way such as the static art that the Egyptians produced and maintaned for such a long period. The Greeks are famous for their original contributions inside and outside these areas. The fact that older cultures had writing, religion, math and astronomy, doesn't in any way, shape or form negate the fact that the Greeks had their own original contributions that might or might not have had some footing in past traditions such as was the case in mathematics and astronomy.

When you compare the abstract math, the philosophy or the art of the ancient Greeks to anything that the ancient Egyptians or Babylonians achieved, you have to be incredibly hardheaded not to admit that these Greek achievements were no mere afterthought or imitation of the contributions of these earlier cultures. The second quote that you included, which states that Greeks owed a lot to the ancient Egyptians, "in particular in art and religion", is rather revealing itself. Ancient Greek art is distinct from and more advanced than all the art produced by ancient Egypt and while many cultures had mythologies that took influences from older existing ones, Greeks were the first to move away from mere mythology into the field of philosophy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
First of all, while the Arabs acknowledged their indebtedness to past civilizations, they didn't go around claiming the Greeks invented everything. After all, they didn't.
Of course they didn't. I stated Indian contributions to math and Chinese inventions such as papermaking. As for the rest, well, let's just say that the Greek and Greco-Roman heritage was very dominant in fields such as administration, architecture, medicine, science, philosophy... In fact, dominant enough for it to be considered the basis on which early Islamic society developed, just as was the case with Europe. The one big difference between the Islamic world and Europe was of course the way they approached the cultural aspects of the Greco-Roman legacy. While Muslims rejected it, Europeans embraced it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
And, third, there's doubts as to whether Diophantus was even Greek. While some say he was likely Egyptian, others say he was Phoenician or Babylonian. So much for the Greek Miracle.
While we don't have his birth record, we do know enough to assume he's Greek. He was evidently part of the Greek community and culture in Alexandria. The rest is pure speculation. Not sure what the purpose of the gleeful remark on the "Greek Miracle" is supposed to mean, since I did not use that phrase...

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Muslim scholarship believe it or not ventured well beyond reverence for Greco-Romans. Hence how during this period disciplines such as chemistry, geology, anthropology, algebra, trigonometry, etc were first established. It helped that those who pursued an advanced education were encouraged to such an extent an unprecedented number of polymaths emerged. I can't be sure our modern society has produced as many polymaths.
Muslim scholars did venture beyond ancient Greeks in some disciplines, unlike you I don't have a problem acknowledging certain facts when I see them. However, even a superficial look at Wikipedia on the origins of the disciplines that you listed will reveal non-Islamic origins and a clear bias on your part. Algebra is one exception, though I've explained how that came to be and that even that was a progression from earlier non-Islamic works. For some of these disciplines, the origins lie in ancient Greece, for others it's dubious whether they at all existed in their modern form prior to the scientific revolution in Europe. As for the number of polymaths, it's hard to beat 17th-19th century Europe in that regard. However, with the increasing degree of complexity and specialization, it's not surprising that there are fewer polymaths in modern times since our brains have not evolved as fast as our collected body of scientific knowledge.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
The Library of Alexander went up flames in 389, long before the birth of Muhammad. I was addressing this faint notion that Irish Monks or Byzantine emigres were the primary drivers of medieval scholarship. Also interesting is the implication that through direct contact with the Romans, western Europeans were the rightful heirs of Greek science, when realistically all that was left after the collapse of the Roman empire was Pliny's Encylopedia and a few treatises of Boethius on logic and mathematics.
I wouldn't say that Irish or any other monks were primary driver, I'd say that the church as a whole was the primary driver in Medieval Europe.

As for being "rightful heirs", the only "rightful" heirs would in that case be the Greeks themselves. However, since we're talking about civilization and not about narrow ethnic heritage, it's more a matter of choice than lineage. I get the sense that you imply that someone (Europeans) is denying someone else (Muslims) that heritage. I wonder how you came to that conclusion. I think it's pretty obvious that Muslims themselves rejected from the start anything that they had no direct benefit from. Greek medicine, science, Greco-Roman arhitecture, etc, was adopted for obvious reasons. OTOH, the Greek language, the theaters, the art, the mythology, and much more was simply rejected due to religious objections.

In Medieval Europe, you could even find references to the Trojan wars even in the Icelandic Eddas. In the Islamic world, the millenium-long presence of Greek language was wiped out and replaced by Arabic and with it went all "useless" pagan things left by the Greeks. While there were moralist objections such as the ones against naked depictions among the Christian clergy, Europe adopted this heritage almost in its entirety. So, while both Europe and the Muslim world owe a lot to their Greco-Roman past, the Muslim world rejects this past and even calls it a period of ignorance and darkness. The same pattern can be seen today with Muslim societies accepting Western tehnology and inventions but being vehemently opposed to Western culture (not saying they should accept crap, though, such as the one that's spawned out of Hollywood ).

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
These problems weren't exactly unique. The issue is whether western Europe was inherently or uniquely positioned to come to power. I say no. More interesting are the developments of western Europe from roughly 800 to 1400 CE and the close proximity with the "east" via Al-Andalus, perhaps the most neglected aspect of historiography. The Spanish kingdoms of the north rejected Moorish scholarship, but the surrounding areas were obviously greatly effected.
The problems that Europe faced weren't perhaps all that unique but the "solutions" that Europe produced could arguably be called unique. Also, the relevant issue is IMHO not that Europe "came to power", as you put it, but rather that Euope "came to modernity", to twist your phrase somewhat. At the time when scientists in Europe were discovering the laws of gravity, the Ottomans had not even adopted the practical European invention of the printing press. Still, that didn't stop the Ottomans from besieging the capital of a European empire in the heart of Europe (Vienna in 1683).

The Ottomans were never really out of the game concerning the maritime trade with Asia either. Portugal, after circumnavigating the tip of Africa, never managed to establish a firm monopoly on the trade there like the one that the Arabs had prior to that, with the Ottomans challenging every move of the Portuguese and with both sides having to accept the reality of the other's presence in the area. Barbary Corsairs from North Africa terrorized not only European ships in the Mediterranean but also civlian population in coastal regions as far away Britain and Iceland, capturing people for the slave markets in North Africa. They remained a menace almost into modern times.

So, what I basically want to say is that there is no linear correlation between progress and power. It took some time before European progress was translated into raw military power on the ground. When Europe came into a clear position of power, these other processes were already well under way. That's why I don't consider the issue of Europe's outward power as intriguing as the internal developments within European societies (in science, economy, governance, etc) that later brought about this outward change. After all, the Muslims did not exactly lack power or wealth throughout the whole Medieval period and even beyond. Yet, their power did not produce the results that we saw in Europe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
All languages serve a purpose. My bringing up Da Vinci had more to do with access to the scholarship of the times. Not that it was anybody's fault Latin was lingua franca. But for anyone asserting science was a collective western European enterprise, the question of access is something they have to answer. A credit to his name - Alfonso "The Wise" - he chose to translate works from Arabic into Spanish vernacular, recognizing Latin was far too exclusive to middle and upper class Christians. This was hardly the norm, however, which magnifies the difference in the pursuit of science between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
The path to mastering Latin in Medieval times was the exact same path as to learn science, namely monastic schools and later secular universities. If you had an opportunity to learn science, then you also had an opportunity to learn Latin. Likewise, if you were smart enough to learn science then by all probability you were smart enough to learn basic Latin. The use of vernaculars increased later on simply because local intellectual interest and output increased. When there were few literate and learned men, during the early Middle Ages, your audience was not to be found in the nearby town but probably across the English channel or far south near the Mediterranean. In order for these pockets of intellectual activity to share ideas, a common language was vital. Latin was that common language.

What magnified the difference between European and Muslim science was for instance the fact that European science put magnification into use in eyeglasses and telescopes, while Muslim science did not despite having at hand Alhazen's/al-Haytam's work on optics. In Europe, there was a scientific culture that could make use of individual discoveries and contributions in a way that was unmatched by anything that existed in the Muslim world, which might have had individual scientists but no comparable scientific culture to that which existed in Europe.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Except for, of course, the whole rise of Christianity and diminishing of "pagan knowledge" thing. Why else do you think so many Nestorian Christian scholars were forced to flee to Egypt, Syria and Persia? The Muslims so feverishly translated and expanded on ancient knowledge precisely because they didn't require some abstract division of church and state. This was explicitly promoted both by the Qu'ran and religious leaders. Their dilemma had always been philosophical inquiry and the struggle between science and religion - not state and science. The idea that the CHURCH was the only institution in western Eurasia to offer "secular" knowledge is not only paradoxical but patently false. The Church was the political and social foundation of medieval western Europe - period. There's a reason that these changes not only came from the Church but had to be squared with the Church, which wasn't as clean a break as you lead on.
Nestorian Christianity was specific to the Byzantine Empire and there was less separation between church and state in the Byzantine Empire. Something that shaped the Byzantine Empire was its constant warfare with the Muslims, who threatened their very existence. The iconoclast issue was for instance heavily influenced by their military (mis)fortunes against Islam. The Byzantines are a special case in that they were a remnant of the old Roman Empire that refused to die despite being battered and attacked from all sides. Their approach to religion and diplomacy was heavily shaped by this and it's hard to separate their actions from this "survival narrative".

I did not say that the church was the only institution to offer "secular knowledge", secular knowledge is an extremely wide and vague term and "secular knowledge" can even be found in religious books. I said secular learning where by learning I clearly meant learning as in formal studies.

Actually, the feverish translation in the Muslim world was largely done by Christians who most likely were not inspired to do it by the Koran.

The division of church and state and the non-division of mosque and state is anything but abstract. In fact, I can't believe someone could even claim that the relation between religious and secular authorities is a strictly abstract issue given what we know in the 21st century and what we still witness in the Middle East. This difference has shaped millions of lives in the past and continues to shape millions of lives to this day and it has shaped the destiny of the whole planet.

Also, I never claimed there was absolutely no friction between religion and pagan learning in Europe. However, this opposition was never the prevailing sentiment as it was in the Islamic world.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
The majority of the earliest European universities were established between the mid-12th and 13th centuries and most of the institutions began either as cathedral schools or centers of translation, not unlike the earliest Islamic universities. Most of the translations were done by bishops and monks. The University of Naples was perhaps the only one founded with a stated purpose of separating church and state (Frederick II was a case of outright rejection of Christianity), and the school of Chartres in France which was indeed established for the purpose of secular teaching. But both these universities were dedicated to the teaching of Arab scholarship, which I would argue was the primary reason they were "secularized."
Actually, the first university founded in Bologna was dedicated to the teaching of secular Roman law, yet another feature that was radically different from the Islamic world where there was no secular law. Furthermore, while the Papacy had a role in their establishment of the earliest universities, their institutional autonomy was a safeguard for their secular character. Later on, universities were indeed also founded by kings and governments. The identity or religious affiliation of the founders was not a big issue due to their autonomous nature. You can rest assured that the secular nature of any university in Medieval Europe had nothing to do with Arab scholarship. After all, Frederick II wanted to train bureaucrats in secular Roman law, not in Arab (i.e. Muslim) Sharia law.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
"It is also often heard or read that Spain served as a bridge between Greek culture and European culture of the Middle Ages. In spite of such rhetoric, the truth is that even before the 12th century foreigners had journeyed to Muslim Seville and to other parts of al-Andalus, that vast territory below the Christian kingdoms, to translate scientific or cultural works in order to take advantage of them in their own countries. As early as the tenth century, French scholars from the school of Chartres, avid for knowledge of Arabic philosophy and science, had made use of Arabic learning. As J.M. Vallicrosa says, the culture of al-Andalus "quickly spread beyond it's own borders and shone brilliantly on the horizon among European Christians." - "The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History" - Amťrico Castro, Willard F. King, Selma Margaretten, 1985, pg 519
"Arab philosophy" can in this context only mean Greek philsophy with possible Arab commentaries (such as Averroes). Again, the issue of the 12th century translations has been dealt with several times. Christian Europe was an open-minded and curious place, far from the later 19th century construct depicting a rigid and dogmatic place with no room for free-thinking. Islam as so happened conquered huge a huge part of the Greco-Roman realm and consequently also much of the Greco-Roman literary legacy. Since Greek language was supressed, the original Greek manuscripts were lost in Islamic world and those interested had to make use of Arabic translations. Islamic Spain was one source for these Arabic translations. The only remaining source for the original Greek manuscripts was Constantinople. In the 12th century works by Aristotle were translated both from Arabic manuscripts Islamic Spain and from original Greek manuscripts from Constantinople. For whatever reason (possibly due to the European-wide interest generated by the Crusades), the Arabic manuscripts of Aristotle from Spain gained prominence while the translations from the Greek originals done at the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel, fell into obscurity.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
That wasn't to cast aspersions or minimize the Spaniards or Portuguese. The point is people often speak as if western Europe was destined to rule the world. Like yourself, for instance. It's entirely within reason to say their close proximity with Muslim Spain ultimately enabled the Spaniards and Portuguese to power. After all, where would they be without the compass? Or those Moorish and Jewish guides? Or previous innovations in weaponry? With the Inquisition afoot there was a steep decline in the quality of life for all of Spain. As Stanley Lane-Pool famously put it: "beggars, friars, and bandits took the place of scholars, merchants and knights."
You're doing a fine job yourself at minimizing everything that comes from Europe or that happens to be Christian. The dry compass was a European invention. Furthermore, I think that you're confusing my argument that European society acquired the right ingredients for developing into a modern society with the crude idea of might and power. I don't think that Europe was destined to rule the world, after all it's conceivable after all that it could have been overrun by Muslims (the Ottomans besieged Vienna as late as 1683) and in that case we most likely would not have seen the rise of the modern world.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
And I'm not so sure you can call it a "Portuguese Caravel":

"The exact origin of the caravel is a matter of some debate. There are many possibilities and theories, but no conclusive evidence to sustain them."

"Elbl reports that in the early 13th century, the term ‘caravel’ was connected to a small ship related to Muslim Algarvian and Maghrebine models of lateen-rigged craft made to suit Atlantic sailing conditions (4).This q‚rib was well equipped to travel in shallow waters and was used as a fishing boat, coaster, and light warship (5)."

"Although little is known about the technical details of this small Arab vessel, it had preferred features that allowed it to transform into progressively larger forms, much like the caravel. Because the caravel presumably had some of the same characteristics of the q‚rib, some speculate that the word ‘caravel’ is derived from q‚rib, and, therefore, the vessel is of Arabic origin."
You could just as well stopped after this:

"The exact origin of the caravel is a matter of some debate. There are many possibilities and theories, but no conclusive evidence to sustain them."

Whatever its origins, the caravel did not have a static design. what we know is that it underwent continuous development and improvement by the Portuguese. Given that, I think that the Portuguese are entitled to calling it theirs. Or should we maybe call it Arab because of an unknown and hypothetical influence of an unknown Arab ship design? This is a great example of your approach in trying to designate non-European or non-Christian roots to anything European or Christian. A highly hypothetical and highly dubious Arab origin to the Portuguese caravel? Let's call it Arab anyway. Clear Greek origins of Western philosophy? Let's minimize the Greeks, ignore Aristotle and magnify the importance of a few Muslim dissidents whose commentaries on Aristotle brought them condemnation. With such an approach it's no wonder that you reach the conclusions that you reach.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Talk about embellishment. You leap-frog long stretches of history somewhat gleefully and delve right into Leibniz and Galileo. Remarkable. Sidebar: Leibniz was a fan of Hayy ibn Yaqzan and Galileo made good use of Alhazen's Opticae Thesaurus. It's clear you haven't an inkling of understanding with respect to the innerworkings and intellectual fabric of the Mid-High Middle Ages - neither Islamic nor Christian European. You really think every discussion among Christian intellectuals was purely secular and among Muslim scholars purely theological? Or Muslim scientists hadn't commented or criticized each others scholarship? No famous rivalries? No solidarity? Are you serious?
I don't leapfrog, I'm engaged in a comparative analysis of the approach to science and progress in general by two civilizations that were not entirely contemporary (the Muslims having a headstart) but that had essentially the same foundations, namely the European/Christian and the Arab/Muslim (or however you want to call them).

Sidebar comments: There was no Leibniz or Galileo in the Muslim world, how come? Where were all those Muslim "fans" of these Muslim scientists? You're dancing around my point like a tangent line around a curve

I've made it clear that there were bright individuals in the Islamic world as well but I also mentioned that they had no comparable institutions and no comparable secular sphere where they could do science and exchange ideas in the same way as was the case in Europe. I'm quite sure that people and scientists in the Islamic world did other things than just recite the Koran. I used these examples as a demonstration of the way that science had become embedded in European society, not as a demonstration of any one particular individual's brilliance or open-mindedness.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Here I thought the story of al-Ghazali supplanting Avicenna and Al-Farabi would actually help contextualize the ramifications for later scholarship. Oh well. That a relative unknown like Ibn al-Yasamin's poems on algebra could receive so many commentaries from famous mathematicians, as far away as Egypt and Persia, isn't surprising to anyone with an understanding of the era.

Perhaps I should have began with the Almohad Creed:

"The Almohad Creed, or 'Aqlda, provides an important piece of evidence for the immense debt European scholasticism of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries owed the Almohad renaissance of the second half of the twelfth century in Islamic Spain. This is when the integration of Aristotle into the western European religious worldview helped determine the future intellectual personality of western Europe. The insertion of Aristotelian rationalism into the intellectual tissue of western Christianity prepared western Europe for later rationalist developments in both science and enlightenment philosophy."

"The Almohad Creed is of particular interest to students of thirteenth-century Europe, because we have a Latin translation completed in 1213. The lines of communication from Muslim Spain in this period were kept current as clerics in Paris awaited the latest word from Seville by way of the translators of Toledo. This same route was traversed by Averroes's well-known commentaries on Aristotle, as well as important scientific works on chemistry, pharmacology, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and agronomy."

Both Muslim and Christian societies struggled to synthesize religion and reason, but this struggle didn't prevent there being a scientific boon from the 9th-15th centuries. You can't just wish this away.
al-Ghazali was was not a tornado or natural disaster brought on by the enemies of Islam. He was a Muslim, he represented a core Muslim sentiment rooted in the literalist interpretation of scripture, which is precisely why his more rigid interpretation prevailed. I do think that indviduals can alter the course of civilization, but I also believe that dogmas and ideologies have a tenacity and life of their own. Few individuals can by themselves change the nature of a society. There is a book called "The Closing of the Muslim Mind" which deals with precisely this issue.

Aristotle was indeed vital to the 12th century Renaissance. Few individuals have shaped European thought as much as Aristotle. Among Christian theologians, Atistotle's views were second only to that of scripture. Christianity was open to Greek philosophy in a way that Islam never was. Both traditions had their opponents and proponents of Greek philosophy but the relation was inversely proportional in the two traditions. In Europe, the opponents of Greek philosophy were fighting an uphill battle while in the Islamic world it was the proponents of Greek philosophy who were the ones fighting an uphill battle.

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Old July 10th, 2011, 04:34 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Scientific academies were well-established in Baghdad, Cordoba, Toledo and Cairo, all of which boasted observatories and massive libraries.

"The observatories of Bagdad were founded about 820 A.D. and 980 A.D., and showed a sense of organization beyond any Syrian, Greek, or Babylonian predecessors. They were the first institutions of astronomical research to correlate library resources with observing facilities on a large scale. Between 760 and 1,000 A.D. they collected, translated, and edited the astronomical knowledge of the entire world, excepting China. From Bagdad after the 10th century it diffused throughout Moslem Africa, Persia, Spain; and from Spain it played its part in stimulating the beginnings of modern European astronomy." - -- Dr. M.C. Johnson, Manuscripts of the Bagdad astronomers, 760-1000 AD

What about libraries? Baghdad and Cordoba had libraries boasting nearly a half million books. The University of Paris stored just 2,000 going into the 14th century.
Absolutely, there were astronomical observatories and libraries in the Islamic world that for long were unmatched in Europe in terms of resources, and though the exact number of books is hard to verfiy there's no question that it was well beyond anything available in Europe. It's hard, though, to evalute the claim that Islamic observatories showed a greater sense of organization than their predecessors since we obviously know far less on how ancient observatories worked than is the case with Islamic observatories. In China too there was a tradition of meticulous obsevation and record-keeping of the skies, though not as theoretically advanced as the Islamic one since they lacked the Greek cosmological foundations which the Muslims benefitted from (Ptolemy's cosmological model). Observatories and libraries were arguably early focal points for scientific research, going back all the way to the Libray of Alexandria where people such as Erastothenes made important contributions to science. However, there is a qualitative difference between these observatories and libraries in the Islamic world and China on one side and the academies of science initiated during the scientific revolution in Europe on the other side. In both the Islamic world and China, observatories were closely tied to the specific task of mapping the heavens, not science in general, and they had to conform to social or religious dogma. In 17th century China where astrology and astronomy was intertwined, the Jesuit priest and court astronomer Adam Schall von Bell was sentenced to death after allegedly causing the death of the deceased emperor's wife by choosing a bad day for his funeral. As for Islamic religious dogma, refer to my previous post (best to avoid repetition, since these replies are growing bigger). The academies in Europe, first initiated in England and France were more like discussion clubs of free-thinking scientists, not limited to a specific task and devoid of religious or ceremonial duties, operating simply for the sake of science itself.

You make an excellent point in underlining the massive resources available in the Islamic world over a period stretching many centuries, compared to the comparatively meager resources available in Europe (a result of being restricted to vellum, not having either papyrus or paper). This however simply underlines the fact that Islamic attempts at science were not unsuccessful because of a lack of resources and wealth at their disposal, but on the contrary because of the lack of a well-developed scientific culture such as the one that emerged in Europe and that flourished with meager resources compared with what was available in the Islamic world.

In fact, since you've brought it up, astronomy/cosmology was indeed extremely important to the scientific revolution in Europe. A few quotes from Toby Huff's book "The Rise of Early Modern Science" that puts the activities of Islamic observatories into context with what occured in Europe in terms of cosmology:

If one takes the view of historians of science such as Edward Rosen, Herbert Butterfield, and notable others, the Copernican revolution was a major transformation in the Western conception of the universe and the individual's place in it. So viewed, the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries was a profound metaphysical revolution. At the same time, we recognize that this revolution erupted only in the West, not in Islam or China, and this fact compels many to ask what unique social and cultural factors existed in the West that enabled this great transformation to occur.

The fact that the Copernican shift was primarily a metaphysical transformation is even more dramatically accented by recalling some of the more impressive practices and achievements of Arabic science prior to the 15th century that we noted above. That is, in classical Arab science we find elements of theoretical sophistication, exacting empirical observations, occasional uses of experimental techniques, and the use of highly advanced mathematical techniques - above all, the development of the so called non-Ptolemaic planetary models of the Mar‚gha observatory in the 13th century. Considering such things, it is evident that the breakthrough to modern science, above all in astronomy, is not most usefully described either as the product of new observations or as a technical innovation within the narrow confines of mathematical astronomy. Indeed, it is now generally agreed that Copernicus's great new conception of the order of the universe was not built on any stunning new observations or new mathematical techniques that were not available to the Arabs. It was, rather, "a radical, purely intellectual shift,"[1] a sort of "transposition of the mind,"[2] which brought an old "bundle of data" into a new set of relationships. Furthermore, there is no doubt but that Copernicus borrowed heavily from the Almagest of Ptolemy, an action made easier by the advent of the printing press.
...
In short, Copernicus claimed a new reality - a new physical reality - on the basis of planetary models and observational data that were held in common with Arab astronomers. If those models and the observational data have been judged to be inadequate to support the new Copernican system,[5] we can see how radical and indeed courageoud Copernicus was in setting forth his new astronomical system. The Copernican revolution was then a purely metaphysical leap that the Arabs were either unwilling or unable to make - despite their having had nearly two centuries of previous experience with the observational problems which the planetary models posed.
From a sociological point of view, the question is not whether Copernicus's theory was true or false or whether it was strongly or poorly supported by observational and logical considerations, but whether a set of cultural institutions, a modicum of neutral space, existed within which the merits of the new system could be debated without personal danger to those who defended it. The question is what kind of social and institutional supports existed that could provide at least a fair approximation of a dispassionate evaluation of a new cosmological system that could easily be declared heretical.


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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Insanity!
Well, maybe he just preferred the climated better. Bottom line, whatever his reasons, they don't have a bearing on the scientific debate. These were still Medieval times, when Jews themselves were not known for being particularly open and receptive to science and secularism. Maimonides, while an original thinker, nevertheless remained within the boundaries of Jewish dogma. Even so, his infusion of Greek philosophy into Judaism was met with resistance from other Jews.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Nothing personal, but you really oughta listen to yourself. Openness to foreign ideas was "peculiar" to Europeans? Averroes was one of "few" Muslims to integrate foreign ideas? Pretty ridiculous.
You ought to read me a little more carefully I said European society/culture, as in the prevailing pattern. There are of course individual cases that are the opposites to the prevailing pattern in their respective culture. Islamic culture was not as open to what it perceived as foreign cultural influences (hint: the near-total dissapearance of Greco-Roman and non-Arabic culture from the Islamic world) and neither was Chinese culture with its policy of isolation.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Interesting how you've taken to this arch-secularist argument while at the same time emphasizing Thomas Aquinas as the quintessential western European philosopher. What do you think was the dispute between Aquinas and the Averroists?

The Aristotelianism of the former held theology very closely, while the latter were accused of going beyond Aristotle and denying tenets of Christianity (in fact, the Averroists were often accused of being secret Muslims). The challenge of the Averroists was freeing up philosophy from theology and submitting first to reason. But they were summarily attacked by both the church and university leaders. Averroes was hardly just another intermediary who failed to develop his own philosophical outlook. This is precisely why Averroism was viewed as a radical Aristotelianism. They figured the only logical or theological conclusion was a rejection of Christianity.

Furthermore, Averroes was excommunicated not for accepting foreign ideas but espousing them, at a time when al-Ghazali was still very influential. In fact, these ideas weren't at all new. The earlier disputes between the Asharites and Mutazilites were based upon, you guessed it, the friction between religion and reason. This was at a time when the integration of foreigners and foreign ideas was fully backed by the state and science had reached its then highest level of sophistication. Have you forgotten the same sort of friction led to Galileo's banishment and Bruno being torched at the stake?
Aquinas was not a secularist, he was after all a Christian theologian. However, neither was Averroes. What I stated concerned, as in the previous quote, European society/culture as a whole. With the exception of the occasional revisionist view, there is no real dispute that secularism was a European development that had nothing to do with the inherently anti-secular Islamic culture and society. I'm perfectly aware of al-Ghazali's role in tightening the screws, like I've already stated. However, like I've also stated, there is no need to pretend that he was not some kind of tornado arriving from nowhere and not being an authentic Muslim voice and in fact a clear majority voice. It's like with some Muslim apologists today who wash their hands from Islamic fundamentalism by claiming that this is not "true Islam". Well, hello, the fundamentalism that we see is one natively Muslim expression of the faith. It's not a foreign import or Christian or Zionist conspiracy to stain the image of Islam. Neither was al-Ghazali and the many "footsoldiers" who shared his views and made sure that they prevailed anything foreign that invaded the body of Islam. You have to take the good with the bad, whatever you're dealing with.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Can't knock the google. It still depends on how you research. That's actually a very frank and sensible reference, especially as it pertains to the Greeks. Hard to see how any recent scholarship can contradict those particular passages. Here's a couple more:

"I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has continued to put out of sight our obligations to the Muhammadans. Surely they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever. The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe. He has indelibly written it on the heavens as any one may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe." -- John W. Draper, "History of the Intellectual Development of Europe", 1876

"No historical student of the culture of Western Europe can ever reconstruct for himself the intellectual values of the later Middle Ages unless he possesses a vivid awareness of Islam looming in the background." -- Pierce Butler, "Fifteenth Century of Arabic Authors in Latin Translation, in the McDonald Presentation Volume; Freeport, N.Y., 1933; p.63

"Because Europe was reacting against Islam it belittled the influence of Saracens and exaggerated its dependence on its Greek and Roman heritage. So today an important task for us is to correct this false emphasis and to acknowledge fully our debt to the Arab and Islamic world" -- W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Surveys: The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe; Edinburgh, England; 1972; p.84
It was an observation. You have a tendency to pick sources that purposely belittle anything European or Christian. It's a kind of systematic approach that you take in any debate on this forum. But nevermind this little "observation" of mine, you are of course free to pick your whatever sources you want... I can't help but notice the irony, though, how the last quote above mentions the alleged past "belittlement" of Islamic contributions by Europeans, yet most of your sources that exaggerate Islamic contributions are old pre-WW2 sources such as the two quotes right above this last quote. I would disagree with the claim of this quote. The 19th century saw the culmination of a process started with the French Revolution (during which churches were destroyed and priests imprisoned by Napoleon) with secular and anti-Christian sentiments seeking to denigrate and belittle anything that was perceived as Christian. During this time, many of the persistant myths that we face today about the Medieval Church promoting a "flat Earth" concept or causing the "Dark Ages" were coined. One of the consequences of this anti-Christian sentiment were also exaggerated claims of Islamic contributions versus the contributions of Christianity, precisely in line with the two quotes above the last one.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
The above does doesn't jibe with any serious scholarship.

1. Nobody cares about the European feudal system.
2. Banking, credit and capitalism were by no means invented in Italy:
"Historians also can point to the sophisticated banking system of medieval Islam, which assumed the principle of private property and introduced for the first time bills of exchange, check writing, limited partnerships, and corporations. This system worked primarily because, although interest was forbidden, selling at a profit was not."
3. The "ingredients" which made up medieval Europe were highly infused with Arab culture.
4. The "scientific revolution" began in 11th century Baghdad and Egypt - not 17th century western Christian Europe.
5. Sarton liked to criticize those who "will glibly say 'The Arabs simply translated Greek writings, they were industrious imitators...' This is not absolutely untrue, but is such a small part of the truth, that when it is allowed to stand alone, it is worse than a lie" -- A Guide to the History of Science, pp.27-28)
6.Hasan al-Rammah's The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices shows that explosive gunpowder was first developed and weaponized by Muslim chemists and engineers. The Chinese were responsible for introducing saltpeter. Now who's the intermediary?
7. Alhazen, Al-Khwarizmi and Ibn Rushd were all widely read in the lands of Islam. While Alhazen and Al-Khwarizmi were standard giants, the reception of Ibn Rushd in western Christian Europe does nothing but corroborate my argument. Averroes was only one of many.
8. And trust I'm familiar with Huff's feel good narrative, as I am with David Landes. Since I lack the room to respond with this post, I'll get to that later tomorrow.
1. Oh, I'm quite sure somebody cares about the fact that the Magna Carta came to be through pressure by the English feudal class as well as that the plurailty that emerged in Medieval Germany likewise was the result of the strength of the German feudal class. Not to mention the important role that feudal classes had in the Investiture Crisis between Popes and monarchs. It's absurd to suggest that the feudal system was irrelevant. The feudal system put limits on monarchs and made them far more docile than the absolutist emperors and caliphs of the East. Here's a comparative analysis that may shed some light for you: The Feudal Revolution and Europe’s Rise - Institutional Divergence in the Christian and Muslim World

2. Modern banking was invented in Italy. You're right though that rudimentary banking services and credits were not, that's why I clearly stated "modern banking" in order to avoid any confusion on the subject. Italian banks were the first ones that freed the flow of capital in a hitherto unprecedented way by allowing and developing the loaning of money that they did not actually have in terms of deposit. A simple but revolutionary concept which has survived (and of course has been further improved upon) to this day. Capitalism? Capitalism is a wide term. I'm sure that you could find traces of capitalism way back in time. However, with capitalism being highly dependant on the free flow of both merchandise and money, there's no doubt that the banking system in the Italian city states represented a major step in the development of the modern capitalism that we see today.

3. No, they absolutely were not. I've already made that clear. Like I've already stated, feudalism, secular division of power, universities and modern banking, were not a product of Muslim society. Neither was Aristotelian philosophy though Islamic Spain was one (but not the only) intermediary source for Aristotle's works.

4. Nope. Sorry, that simply won't pass outside your narrow anti-European worldview. If you want to interpolate backwards, then we might as well go back to ancient Greece and Aristotle as the starting point of science. But if we are to speak of the modern science that we see today, then it's clear to anyone unbiased that the burst of scientific activity was started in 16th century Europe and was accelerated in the 17th century is the direct source of modern science.

5. Huh? I never said that Muslims only contributed with translations. I've mentioned for instance contributions in the fields of algebra and optics. However, I would also never say that Muslims were the ones doing the translation because that would ignore the role of non-Arab non-Muslim Christians who were a major force in these translation activities. I've also stated before that I don't find the translations themselves particularly admirable, since I would have preferred if the Arab Muslims had simply left the Greek language untouched (like the Romans did), because then more ancient Greek literature would have survived.

6. I'm actually caught in between a crossfire on this issue. Months ago I was corrected on an earlier thread by another anti-Eurocentric (Lord of Gauda) for stating that Chinese never developed explosive gunpowder. Now you correct me for stating that they did. I guess you finally have something to bicker about with your fellow anti-Eurocentrics There is indeed a lot of speculation concerning the invention and transmission of gunpowder. The conventional approach is that the Chinese invented gunpowder (one of the so called big 4 inventions of China), but others state that gunpowder in its explosive form was developed in Muslim or European lands. Given the size of my reply, I won't waste any more time on this though.

7. They were so widely read that optics never progressed to the point of creating eyeglasses, not to mention the telescope. Maybe the audience was in need of eyeglasses themselves? Or perhaps this after all is a case in point regarding the lack of scientific culture in Islamic lands versus that which existed in Europe from the 12th century onwards? It's easy to claim that someone was widely read, but in one place we see that the science of optics and Aristotelian philosophy took root, while in the other place it didn't.

8. You want feel-good narratives? Look no further than the authors and quotes that you have referred to. Huff writes long analytical passages, frequently referring to earlier statements and the works of historians of science. He's not just somebody who throws in a few sweeping feel-good assessments and then moves on, without delving into details and assessing available scholarly work. Huff's books on the history of science are definitely not easy "quoting material", as you can see by the dots in between the quoted passages I've had to butcher his writing quite a bit in order to make it as short as possible but still readable and to the point. If I was interested in simple feel-good narratives, they are not that hard to find on Google.

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Old July 10th, 2011, 04:36 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Huff: "The achievement of the modern scientific revolution, most elegantly put forth in the work of Sir Isaac Newton, was the outcome of a joint European adventure."

Putting his hagiography and rank triumphalism aside, Huff takes the route of positing specific transformative occurrences of science and from this derives a rather contrived sociological determinism, all based on the premise that western Europeans were innately/culturally/religiously/geographically/uniquely suited to piggyback off of these exceptional discoveries. It's been said before, but remains unconvincing.
Well, that's your assessment. Any impartial reader would notice that he makes an effort at analyzing the issue that goes beyond your "hagiography" ridicule of his works.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
"The sheer institutional density of Islamic science accounts for some of its achievements and characteristics. Scholars and scientists staffed schools, libraries, mosques, hospitals, and especially observatories with their teams of astronomers and mathematicians. The opportunities these institutions offered men of science produced a remarkable upsurge of scientific activity, as measured by the number of Islamic scientists which surpassed by an order of magnitude the handful of Europeans pursuing science before 1100 CE." - James Edward McClellan, Harold Dorn, "Science and Technology in World History" (2006)

McClellan and Dorn consider all the theories as to why there was a decline in Islamic science, noting them all to be external and social. At the same time they challenge the idea that knowledge of the sciences following this "decline" was no longer pursued in mosques or madrasas: "for nothing in the internal logic of scientific ideas can account for the loss of vigor of Islamic science."
So, are you suggesting that they agree that social and religious restraints hindered progress in the Islamic world? That's the only logical conclusion I can draw from this summary. In that case, I would hardly object to that suggestion and it seems to fit in quite nicely with what Tony Huff has written. In that case, you're guilty of contradicting yourself since you on many places reject the very idea that the problem with Islamic science was in the Islamic society and religion. Of course, the problem is rarely with scientists hemselves. As flawed as they were, in an ideal society over a long stretch of time there is no way to ascertain for sure that certain ideas and concepts cannot be improved. That almost goes without saying. If that were not the case, i.e. if society, religion and culture had no impact on science and progress, then the field of history would be reduced to differential equations and other mathematical formulas devoid of any wider considerations of the way people lived and the way societies worked.

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I find it foolish to say any scientific revolution arising centuries later was the result of inherent cultural curiosity or freedom on the part of those who pursued the sciences and a dearth of curiosity among those who either didn't reach the same conclusions or hadn't immediately moved to appropriate these often subtle nuances. This is an overly simplistic model. Why?
Any model is by definition a simplification of a more complex issue, there's no way around it. The real issue is whether the model serves a purpose in explaining some or all of characteristics of whatever it serves to define. I believe it does.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
First of all, the scientific boon of the High Middle Ages, from Baghdad to Cairo to Fez to Cordoba, was fully backed by the state and in many respects, religion. But even if this were not the case, there's no causative correlation between state/religious freedom and scientific development. Saliba's review of The Rise of Early Modern Science makes the point that the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union made significant strides in the sciences yet hardly promoted freedom of expression. I find it hard to believe that cultures which not long before were staging trial by ordeals are now claiming modern science evolved out of their sophisticated legal systems.
There was a lot of state backing in imperial China as well. The issue is not as much the lack of state backing as it is about overly suffocating state control. For radical leaps to take place, less state/religious control is usually preferred over more state backing (if one can't have backing without control), as we could see in Europe with the scientific revolution.

Saliba seems to be ignorant of clear cases of scientific regression. Has he not heard of the Nazi purge of so called "Jewish physics" from German universities? Einstein's revolutionary new theories for instance. Germany was a powerhouse of mathematical research prior to WW2, but by the time WW2 had starte the leading German mathematician of the time (David Hilbert) frankly stated to a German newspaper that there was no more mathematics done in Germany. Germany suffered an enormous brain-drain and apart from military research, it's hard to make a claim that Nazi rule was beneficial to science. If we want to make a historical comparison, the Ottomans even while falling ever more behind Europe in almost every aspect, remained fairly competitive for some time in terms of military technology. Finally, when the sheer force of the science discoveries in Europe materialized in the military field as well, the game was up for the "sick man of Europe".

Also, Saliba seems to have missed the story on how Soviet science regressed with ideologically charged experiments such as Lysenkoism. He's probably also not taken note of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in China. Looking back at imperial China there are many more examples of how absolutism, while leaaving room for technological improvements, did hinder scientific progress. But I agree that engineering and basic tinkering of existing knnowledge and inventions can thrive in absolutist societies as we see today in the Middle East, which has an abysmal scentific record but has no problem educating basic engineers. Same goes with China to a lesser degree which has a great engineering skill but still has an issue of innovation and relies on the occasional industrial espionage in order to make up for the lack of it. Just, for instance, like the Soviet union made progress with the atomic bomb through espionage.

The are of course remarkable examples of one-man think-tanks in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (Werner von Braun and Sergey Korolyov come to mind). But it's hard to overlook the wider longterm negative consequences for scientific and technological research. In fact, the Soviet Union and the whole Eastern Bloc suffered from a continuous technological deficit versus the West. The Soviet Union relied heavily on Western technology transfers and technological copying throughout their industrial development (read "Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1945 to 1965", summaries available here).

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Second - The exact sciences of today were a development of medieval intervention. In that respect it's useless describing science as Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Ionian, Roman, Indian, Chinese, Islamic, European, etc. The proto-science of the past was usurped by the exact sciences of the mid-1000s. This was a very important transition which led not only to scientific cultures within cultures, but provided the basis for pre-modern and modern advancement. The trouble people have in distinguishing "modern" science from medieval science stems from framing and framing alone.
That's a view that you apparently stick to. I see only two truly defining moments in the history of science: The point in time when mythology turned into philosophy (i.e. Aristotle) and the point in time when the scientific revolution took off in Europe. In terms of time, 300BC and 1600AD would be those rough points in time. Everything else deserves an mention but these were the two main events that altered the course of science.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Third - The division between the invention of exact and modern science is dubious for the fact that you can't have one revolution without the other. As we know earlier thinkers articulated the heliocentric view long before Copernicus but bear in mind they didn't have any exact method. Huff earlier claimed that by European universities integrating Aristotle and Arab scholarship, the Copernican model was a "unique" product of western Europeans. The circuitous logic of this is apparent, because those who espouse this view are forced to relativize on the one hand an existing culture of science and on the other hand a medieval, premodern and modern perception of science. (He also claims the Muslims outright rejected all study of natural science, which is false.) I already discussed the harsh reception of the Averroists in western European universities. And their only crime was to emphasize not only the unity of reason, but, in it's most radical sense, reason over theology. How then could Huff claim the educational system was "above all" especially primed for some secular scientific revolution? Moreover, going over passages of The Reception of Copernicus' Heliocentric Theory, I can't help but notice it was hardly a case of universal acceptance, and the long slog to acceptance was met with much resistance, particularly by government officials. It isn't actually important if some took a piecemeal theological approach or certain states sought to suppress the publication of his books. But it begs the question: how was western European culture uniquely positioned to not only produce science but carry it even further? Just by some individuals being somewhat interested? Huff is your essential essentialist, in the traditions of Weber, Landes, et al.
I've quoted Huff's views on Copernicus role above, so I suggest that you take a look since I'm not sure that you've interpreted him properly. He states, citing several historians of science, that Copernicus's main contribution was his new approach to old observational data that also was available in the Islamic world. In short, he asks how come that the Islamic observatories, that you yourself mentioned were so advanced for their time, never gave rise to this heliocentric model with their several centuries long headstart [me: compared to Europeans who only recently had acquired Ptolemy's Almagest]. Huff reasons that the fact that this radical proposal never came about in the Islamic world, even though they were battling with the exact same deficiencies of the geocentric model(s), indicates that European society had the sort of institutional framework and "neutral ground" necessary for people to contemplate, discuss and disseminate even outright heretical ideas. It should be noted that what Huff doesn't do is give easy one-sentence answers where there are none. But I think it can be inferred from his reasoning in other passages that the Aristotelian tradtion of inquiry embedded in universities from the 12th century onwards played a part in promoting this rational and non-dogmatic approach that gave rise to an entirely new cosmology in Europe. Huff does of course not sugarcoat the issue of heresy (which was a risk in Europe, the Islamic world and China), but makes it instead a part of his comparative analysis.

As for Averroes, with the risk of repeating myself, let's make a few things clear... Namely, the term Averroist was coined in the 19th century and it is used for those, who inspired in part by Averroes, proposed a secular approach to Christian theology. Averroes was not a secularist himself and the ambiguous term "Averroist" does not do these Christian theologians/philosophera justice because unlike Averroes who believed that religion and philosophy lead to the same truth revealed in the Koran and who also believed that those incapable of interpreting philosophy should revert to reading the Koran literally, these Christian "Averroists" maintained that religion and philosophy led to two separate truths, one revealed by scripture and the other reached through philosophy and reason. These Christian "Averroists" were perhaps the forerunners of the Enlightenment secularism, but Averroes himself was definitely not. To quote from Averroism:

Siger tried to claim that there existed a "double truth": a factual or "hard" truth that is reached through science and philosophy, and a "religious" truth that is reached through religion. This idea differed from that of AverroŽs; his idea was that there was one truth reached in different ways, not two truths. He did however believe that Scripture sometimes uses metaphorical language, but that those without the philosophical training to appreciate the true meaning of the passages in question were obliged to believe the literal meaning.The later philosophical concept of Averroism was the idea that the philosophical and religious worlds are separate entities. However, upon scrutinizing the 219 theses condemned by Tempier, it was obvious that not many of them originated in AverroŽs. Radical Aristotelianism and heterodox Aristotelianism were the terms commonly used for a while to refer to the actual philosophical movement started by Siger and BoŽthius and differentiate it from Averroism; nowadays most scholars just call it Averroism as well.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Fourth - The printing press. This made scholarship more widely available. Often you hear that the Ottoman's early rejection of the printing press signified the primacy of religious zealotry, that a disinterest in translating the latest scholarship from Latin into Arabic was a signal of sheer Islamic arrogance or the rejection of scientific development. It would be easy to chalk this up as propaganda, but Kemal gave a similar assessment:

"Think of the Turkish victory of 1453, the conquest of Constantinople, and it's place in the course of world history. That same might and power which, in defiance of a whole world, made Istanbul forever the property of the Turkish people, was too weak to overcome the ill-omened resistance of the men of law and to receive in Turkey the printing press, which had been invented about the same time. Three centuries of observation and hesitation were needed, of effort and energy expended for and against, before antiquated laws and their exponents would permit the entry of printing into our country." (From Bernard Lewis' "What Went Wrong?")

I feel it doesn't matter the causes, because the rapid dissemination of information appears to have had long term consequences. The question is this: does the rejection of a singular device by virtue of decree or adherence really mean a pluralistic culture such as Islam was or is inherently anti-science? Some would say yes. I find this an unfair assessment, however, since, at its height, great emphasis was put on scientific accomplishments, by states and institutions alike, that any perceived "decline" would have to be attributed to external, even radical, changes of environment. No society that produced as many polymaths could ever be accused of being incurious or inhospitable to new ideas. I can't pretend to know why religious elders rejected the printing press for as long as they did, but it isn't as if Spanish royalty, for instance, weren't themselves alarmed by this powerful new tool.
Sure, the printing press made a difference, but let's not kid ourselves, we're talking about a period stretching from 700AD to 1500AD prior to the invention of the printing press when Europeans were writing on expensive vellum while Muslims had both papyrus and later paper. Not to mention the headstart that they had access to Aristotle's and many other works almost from day one. al-Ghazali did not come about as a result of the lack of the printing press nor was Averroes branded an apostate because of the printing press. The science of optics did not stand still in the Islamic world while it lead to eyeglasses and the telescope in Europe, becauce of the printing press. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

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Originally Posted by jehosafats View Post
Fifth - And, finally, the truth. Notice these days, thanks to neuroscience, Western philosophers no longer distinguish between reasons and emotions? Notice the newfound rejection of "pure freedom"? Notice evolutionists deplore the stipulationism of Skinner and question Mendalian "fitness"? There's a reason why Islamic culture showed such antipathy towards exotic social theories from the very beginning, not only because to them the Qu'ran is the highest truth, but because often times they found this impractical and therefore less interesting. None of this has anything do with some sharp divide of intellectual curiosity. To them science should be practical, repeatable, and ultimately beneficial. Hence their excellence in medicine. That some nuanced advances in 16th-17th century western Europe led to an upsurge in scientific development is all well and good. But none of this was necessarily the result of some peculiar institutional milieu.

Social changes with Islam seem to come entirely predicated on internal measures. To subject social order to philosophical whimsy is to them quite dangerous (though its clear modern Muslims have had it with closed societies). Consider the fact that among professional evolutionary psychologists most are fully aware they're hardly doing science. The American Anthropology Association recently revealed a shift from scientific investigation to "public understanding." Even physics, the mother of all sciences, has reached an impasse where the dominating field of string theory remains untraceable and untestable. For a scientist this is damn near a loss of identity. Saliba was right to caution Professor Huff, a sociologist, that science and technology is hardly a panacea of social development. If not Saliba, at least heed Mumford: "It would be a gross mistake to seek wholly within the field of technics for an answer to all the problems that have been raised by technics."
The social freedom and freedom of information that exists today means that it's far easier to promote, exchange and confront ideas in a non-hazardous way. Societal and religious dogma, views, and trends are therefore also less relevant today than they were until recently in history. Today, it's absolutely right, much of the specialization in sciences involves ever finer tinkering and analysis that might not always have much to do with the overall scientific cobcept that one is dealing with. All this does however not in any way mean, as Saliba seems to suggest, that society in the past always has been open and free, and that we in the past always had these sofisticated and "self-sufficient" scientific departments where everyone just shows up and does the part of the work and out comes science. In fact, to use today's free and open westernized societies function and today's modern highly organized and specialized science as an argument to refute the realities of past times and past societies is a classical example of an invalid anachronistic approach to historical subjects. Obviously, you can't simply equate today's society with the societies of the past in that way.

I definitely agree that Islamic society had an aversion towards things that were already "explained" in the Koran and I've made that point several times. Your views seemed far less certain up to this last quote, but you seem to agree at least in principle that there is such a negative side of Islam.

I do think it's obvious that what happened in Europe did not occur anywhere else and I'm not the least convinced by the attempts that want to portray it either as a product of geography or as an afterthought to the a handful of scholars in the Islamic world that operated over the period of several centuries. It's pretty obvious that Europe was uniquely receptive and prepared for what was to become the scientific revolution, in a way that the only other place of any type of advanced systematic inquiry (the Islamic world) simply was not.

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Old July 10th, 2011, 05:48 PM   #4

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The exact sciences of today were a development of medieval intervention. In that respect it's useless describing science as Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Ionian, Roman, Indian, Chinese, Islamic, European, etc. The proto-science of the past was usurped by the exact sciences of the mid-1000s. This was a very important transition which led not only to scientific cultures within cultures, but provided the basis for pre-modern and modern advancement. The trouble people have in distinguishing "modern" science from medieval science stems from framing and framing alone.
I did some research on this, and I continue opposing yoir statement that the exact sciences are an invention of the Arab Golden Age - the exact scences were defined by the Greeks long ago, in like 4th century BC http://home.uchicago.edu/~wwtx/plato.pdf
Only in Arab/Muslim resourse sites like this one The Institute of Ismaili Studies - Mathematics vs. Physics: Ibn al-Haytham’s Geometrical Conception of Space and the Refutation of Aristotle’s Physical Definition of Place the origin point for the exact sciences are placed in the works of 11 century Muslim scholars.

This seems to me like a very carefully orchestrated way of seeing what is science and what is not in order to give the whole credit for the accomplishments of it to one particular culture, that was no the first one by any standards in creating science. In doing that I can see a real danger for who people will react to it and the reputation of the real accomplishments of the Muslim scholars may suffer, in the same way in which Afrocentrism hurts the image of the real accomplishments of the African peoples along the timeline.

Besides, I cannot in any way define Aristotel, the Greek medical school, etc. as "proto-science", and I gave examples of that earlier.

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Old July 10th, 2011, 09:41 PM   #5

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"The sheer institutional density of Islamic science accounts for some of its achievements and characteristics. Scholars and scientists staffed schools, libraries, mosques, hospitals, and especially observatories with their teams of astronomers and mathematicians. The opportunities these institutions offered men of science produced a remarkable upsurge of scientific activity, as measured by the number of Islamic scientists which surpassed by an order of magnitude the handful of Europeans pursuing science before 1100 CE." - James Edward McClellan, Harold Dorn, "Science and Technology in World History" (2006)
McClellan and Dorn consider all the theories as to why there was a decline in Islamic science, noting them all to be external and social. At the same time they challenge the idea that knowledge of the sciences following this "decline" was no longer pursued in mosques or madrasas: "for nothing in the internal logic of scientific ideas can account for the loss of vigor of Islamic science."
Well, let's compare the curriculum in the medieva/ European universities and the Muslim madrasas:
1. European universities:
- trivium /the first 3 years/ - grammar, logic an rhetoric
- quadrivium - arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy - 4 exact sciences /music was perceived as very akin to math, and studying music theory is like doing math; I suspect that this is the reason for the high quality of the late medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music/.
- philosophy

2. Muslim madrasas:
- depended on whoever founded the school, but in general logic, mathematics and philosophy - 1 exact science
- some madrasas had - poetry, history, politics, ethics, music, methaphysics, medicine, astronomy and chemistry - 3 exact sciences /I will suppose that the Muslim teaching of music was like a exact science, event though I haven't read anything on the subject/

So, I don't see much difference as to the number of the exact sciences taught, chemistry the only one that differed in the madrasas curriculum. However, alchemy was taught clandestinely from teacher to pupils; also, Thomas Aquinas was taught alchemistry in university before the church forbade it. So, I don't see mcuh difference between the both curriculums.

However, while the European university system was secular and due to it's structure was allowed to enrich and develop, including more subjects, the madrasas went on forbidding philosophy and the natural sciences. Also, the academic disputation so integral to the university life doesn't have an equivalent in the madrasas - academic disputes were something fit for the ruler's court. So, the very ferment from which the new ideas appear was foreign to the medieval madrasas; instead, knowledge of the Quran, and the deeds of Mohammed were more respected areas of research.

This work http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/c...and_modern.pdf claims that the medieval madrasas had no set curriculum, so while we can be relatively sure what classes exactly an European graduate, there is no such standartization in the madrasas; so the 4 exact sciences I mentioned may not have been every student's fare by any means. Then, no regular examinations, so we cannot be sure even how much the Muslim students actually knew about the subject-matter they studied. So much for the quality of those "schools, libraries, mosques," etc, that are so praised in the quote you provided - we cannot be sure in it at all.

This is one of the reasons why Berkley says that while several decades ago the historians considered that the madrasas were the base for the so called Sunni Renaissance, "...now this explanation is probably not tenable, at least not in such stark form..."pg, 8 in the link I posted. The madrasas followed the needs of whoever funded the particular madrasa, "...but the institutions themselves, and the academic activities they supported were not subjected to systematic government control..." pg. 9, Ibid.

Also, the same guy continues, the madrasas were inherently conservative, didn't welcome change by any means, and didn't encourage research, to put it mildly. Now, such an educational institution, in which the governing maxim is "A good teacher hands what he was given", can hardly be any progress-pushing organization, no? That's why I suppose, say, optics stagnated in the Muslim countries and brought constant new implements to the West, as abvgd mentioned.

All in all, the historical value of the quote you provided here is quite dubious, because if gives the impression of a bustling intellectual life, while in fact a closer look into the realities of the medieval Muslim education can only disappoint a careful reader. I haven't read Dorn or McClellan, but so far, thinking with my own head, I can see why the Islamic science declined - no matter what other political and external reasons there may have been, the organization of the medieval madrasas didn't make them hubs of discovery, but swamps of self- and Quran-content.

Again, I'm disappointed by the misleading-ness of the info and the source you posted, and even more by the conclusions you draw form them, and have to say that your case doesn't stand a scrutiny.
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Old July 11th, 2011, 11:08 PM   #6

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Originally Posted by abvgd View Post
Fascinated? The Byzantine influence on Islamic architecture was more than just a mere source of fascination (below quote from Byzantine architecture):
Perhaps you misunderstood my use of "fascinating." It was me who pointed out the Byzantine had two types of students (Goths and Arabs). The point is while they adapted Roman/Byzantine building practices, the Muslims introduced the pointed and four-centered archs which allowed them to build bigger structures than the Romans. Don't take my remarks out of context and ignore the underlying argument. At any rate, Islamic architecture was more influenced by Persian styles:

"These two Genera, Parthian and Roman, evolved independently, but the Parthian was the one that impressed its seal on most of the Muhammadan world. However, one group of Muslims, the Turks, moving from an area where the Parthian tradition prevailed, Iran, into Byzantine lands, clashed with the practitioners of the styles of the Roman Genus and became gradually overpowered by their patterns of building."

"Islamic architecture began as a partial regression from the Roman and Parthian arcuate traditions to the trabeate styles of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. It's Parthianiztion was initiated in Iraq and Iran and spread over the Muhammadan world. But Rome conquered Parthia when the Ottomans abandoned their traditional styles." - Jose Pereira, "The Sacred Architecture of Islam" (2004)


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I never claimed that Greek culture and science was created in an absolute vacuum. No culture is. What I reacted against was the obfuscation and belittling of ancient Greek achievements.
Oh really?

You: "Arab Muslim scholars had no problem acknowledging the Greek origins of the science, medicine and philosophy that they encountered and built upon."

Seems like you'd like to emphasize "original contributions" but usually end up saying what sounds to me like the Greeks originated science, medicine and philosophy, etc. I guess disputing this is to you a "belittling" of the Greeks. Interesting how you seem to belittle all the "original contributions" - even inventions - of medieval Islamic scholars and credit them either to Greco-Romans or western Europeans.

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When you compare the abstract math, the philosophy or the art of the ancient Greeks to anything that the ancient Egyptians or Babylonians achieved, you have to be incredibly hardheaded not to admit that these Greek achievements were no mere afterthought or imitation of the contributions of these earlier cultures. The second quote that you included, which states that Greeks owed a lot to the ancient Egyptians, "in particular in art and religion", is rather revealing itself. Ancient Greek art is distinct from and more advanced than all the art produced by ancient Egypt and while many cultures had mythologies that took influences from older existing ones, Greeks were the first to move away from mere mythology into the field of philosophy.
"It is not, of course, to be supposed that these coastmen and islanders of the ∆gean were without some rudimentary notions of art of their own. [...] But architecture, sculpture, and original decorative art, we may be sure they had none.

And the proof that they had none is found in the fact that the earliest known vestiges of Greek architecture, Greek sculpture, and Greek decorative art are copied from Egyptian sources.
" - (Link)


Your second point concerning mythology to philosophy is what we call the "Greek Miracle." This remains a questionable characterization because it neglects the myriad approaches to philosophical problems and almost naively presupposes that philosophy proper can only be reduced to the sort of impromptu binaries of the Ancient Greeks. To characterize the philosophy of Egyptians, Babylonians, Indians, Chinese, etc as "pre-rational" or purely grounded in myth is to engage in the sort of patronizing either or attitudes we like to think constitute the basis of philosophy - invariably failing to heed how myths are symbolic and often times moral. What distinguished Aristotle from Plato? And thus those who came before him? He dropped, amongst other things, the format of dialogue for a more straightforward style. Does this mean Aristotle invented philosophy as such? Of course not. What he did was inaugurate a style of philosophizing, which is nothing like inventing philosophy.

"As for my own rapid tour d' horizon of what might be said, for the archaic and classical periods, about Greek philosophy and science, I would now observe that the perspective from which I discussed philosophy was very much a Greek one, as, for example, when I wrote (p. 297) that philosophical inquiry as such is a Greek invention. That is true of the style of philosophy we inherited from the Greeks - and the points I made concerning the differences between that style of inquiry, and myth, hold subject to that qualification. But of course if I had taken a wider perspective and considered modes of philosophizing that take different forms, the claim concerning the Greeks rapidly becomes transparently absurd." - G.E.R Lloyd, "Methods and Problems in Greek Science"; Cambridge University Press, 1993

Moreover, if religion indeed beget philosophy as we know it, does it not matter that, again, quoting Martin Thomas: "Greek mythology, the stories that the Greeks told themselves about their deepest origins and their relations to the gods, was infused with stories and motifs of Near Eastern origin. The clearest evidence of the influence of Egyptian culture in Greek is the store of seminal religious ideas that flowed from Egypt to Greece: the geography of the underworld, the weighing of the souls of the dead in scales, the life-giving properties of fire as commemorated in the initiation ceremonies of the international cult of the goddess Semeter of Eleusis (a famous site in Athenian territory), and much more." ???

If philosophical inquiry as such amounts to a symbolic or moral framework to address past or existing problems, then not much took place other than various augmentations of style. Consider that we view Descartes as the father of "modern philosophy," despite his first philosophical priority being to validate the existence of God via reason (and not surprisingly never got to that treatise on the mechanics of animal generation) - hardly a major break with the past.


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The one big difference between the Islamic world and Europe was of course the way they approached the cultural aspects of the Greco-Roman legacy. While Muslims rejected it, Europeans embraced it.
As much as I hear the argument that Islamic society developed from Greco-Roman society, I have to say it remains unconvincing. Your assertion seems to be early Islamic society evolved out of Greco-Roman society, yet, as you say, they rejected Greco-Roman culture, which doesn't make any sense. Perhaps Islamic society hadn't developed that way in the first place. I suspect a lack of appreciation for just how radical Islam was in rejecting Christianity and Judaism, and how this very much informed their approach to the vestiges of ancient civilizations. Islamic society was highly pluralistic and encompassed places Greeks and Romans weren't so dominate; you know, like, er, uh, Arabia Felix.


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While we don't have his birth record, we do know enough to assume he's Greek. He was evidently part of the Greek community and culture in Alexandria. The rest is pure speculation. Not sure what the purpose of the gleeful remark on the "Greek Miracle" is supposed to mean, since I did not use that phrase...
We can only assume he spoke and wrote in Greek. Being apart of the “Greek community and culture in Alexandria” could mean just about anything. There’s a reason why a number of scholars believe Diophantus was non-Greek, and this interestingly ties in with the Arabs:

“…attempts have long been made to connect the “Alexandrian” Diophantus directly with the Egyptian tradition and even to understand the whole of Diophantine technique as a development of the Egyptian Hau (“heap”) calculations. In contrast to this, Neugebauer has recently fitted Diophantus’ work into a far more extensive context. He sees in him the last offshoot primarily of the Babylonian “algebraic” tradition, a tradition which the Arabs later continue directly on the basis of direct oriental sources and not only through Greek mediation. That the science of Diophantus exhibits certain non-Greek traits can hardly be denied.” – Jacob Klein, “Greek Mathematics and the Origin of Algebra”; 1992

So not only is it more likely Diophantus was either a Hellenized Egyptian or Babylonian, the Arabs built upon a tradition which preceded him, on the basis of not just a diffusion of Greek and later Indian scholarship, but “direct oriental sources.” In other words, if Diophantus wasn't Greek and the Arabs furthered non-Greek analysis, wouldn’t you say that weakens your argument?

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Muslim scholars did venture beyond ancient Greeks in some disciplines, unlike you I don't have a problem acknowledging certain facts when I see them. However, even a superficial look at Wikipedia on the origins of the disciplines that you listed will reveal non-Islamic origins and a clear bias on your part. Algebra is one exception, though I've explained how that came to be and that even that was a progression from earlier non-Islamic works. For some of these disciplines, the origins lie in ancient Greece, for others it's dubious whether they at all existed in their modern form prior to the scientific revolution in Europe. As for the number of polymaths, it's hard to beat 17th-19th century Europe in that regard. However, with the increasing degree of complexity and specialization, it's not surprising that there are fewer polymaths in modern times since our brains have not evolved as fast as our collected body of scientific knowledge.
It isn’t some major leap to say medieval Islamic scholarship established our pre-modern and modern approaches to experimentation, engineering, algebra, arithmetic, astronomy, geology, economics, historiography, and number of other disciplines like sociology, anthropology and zoology. All you seem willing to admit is algebra (and of course even that as a discipline cannot be attributed to Islamic scholarship). What were the crucial Grecian contributions to al-Kimya - chemistry, which was established in the 8th century? Or was chemistry magically discovered in 17th century western Europe? Your biases are wickedly obvious.

"The Saracens themselves were the originators not only of algebra, chemistry and geology, but of many of the so-called improvements or refinements of civilization, such as street lamps, window-panes, fireworks, stringed instruments, cultivated fruits, perfumes, spices, etc." - Fielding Hudson Garrison, “An Introduction to the History of Medicine”

(Street lamps … think any sane Roman citizen traveled about after nightfall? I think not.)

As far as polymaths are concerned there was a surge of them from the 9th-15th centuries, thousands, perhaps, many of which made significant contributions. I doubt seriously two centuries of scholarship from the 17th to 19th centuries came anywhere close. I agree it is unlikely today, considering the degree to which we specialize, we’ll ever see an upsurge of polymaths as the rule, ever again. Perhaps this is a flaw of the western European approach to the sciences? After all, as Proctor and Schiebinger put it with agnotology theory, “something is lost when people specialize.”

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As for being "rightful heirs", the only "rightful" heirs would in that case be the Greeks themselves. However, since we're talking about civilization and not about narrow ethnic heritage, it's more a matter of choice than lineage. I get the sense that you imply that someone (Europeans) is denying someone else (Muslims) that heritage. I wonder how you came to that conclusion.
I made specific reference to the sciences because the Greco-Romans were then the stewards of the sciences. It makes no difference if the Trojan Wars were mentioned in some Icelandic codex. You’ve spent most of the debate describing medieval Muslims as mere mediators between Ancient Greeks and western Europeans, as if to say the latter were the rightful heirs of ancient wisdom. Of course, anyone who believes the scholarship they received through the 12th-16th centuries in any way resembled that of the Ancient Greeks is fooling themselves.


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The path to mastering Latin in Medieval times was the exact same path as to learn science, namely monastic schools and later secular universities. If you had an opportunity to learn science, then you also had an opportunity to learn Latin. Likewise, if you were smart enough to learn science then by all probability you were smart enough to learn basic Latin.
I think you’re missing the point. If there was this bustling collectivist scientific culture you previously described, they would have translated works into vernacular languages much, much earlier. You made a rather specious claim:

“…the pursuit of science was a collective effort of the whole society, not something death of these individuals also meant the end to their intellectual pursuits. There was nothing similar in the Islamic world to that which took place in Europe.”

Which is why I responded by noting the limited access to Latin and the wide use of Arabic amongst Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. Hence, Pedesern framed science of medieval Islamic society as the “hobby of the masses, paupers and kings competing to obtain knowledge; why Menocal suggested to the Christan populace, in “The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain”:It must have at times appeared that wealth and comfort went hand in hand with the ability to read Arabic.There was no comparable culture, as you assert, in Christian Europe.

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What magnified the difference between European and Muslim science was for instance the fact that European science put magnification into use in eyeglasses and telescopes, while Muslim science did not despite having at hand Alhazen's/al-Haytam's work on optics. In Europe, there was a scientific culture that could make use of individual discoveries and contributions in a way that was unmatched by anything that existed in the Muslim world, which might have had individual scientists but no comparable scientific culture to that which existed in Europe.
You continue with this grandiose fiction of a unique scientific culture, but it remains just that, fiction. I felt I demonstrated that with the reliance on Latin. And you continue to confuse universities with madrasas and swear there were no institutions or furtherance of scientific research. This might explain your gross mischaracterizations of both medieval Christian and Islamic scholarship.

We have no idea who invented eyeglasses. I’ve seen artificial and corrective lenses (ie: eyeglasses) credited to Abbas Ibn Firnas, who lived nearly a century before Alhazen and 400 years before Pisa and D’Armate - the supposed inventors of eyeglasses. And while optics very much declined immediately following the Alhazenian synthesis, this didn’t mean science declined or that the School of Illumination of 13th-14th Iran, with Al-Sahrizi and Al-Farabi, didn’t resuscitate the works of Alhazen. They extended his formulation for rainbows and established our current rules of reflection and refraction.

What your argument hinges upon is a matter of synthesis which, if we’re being serious about it, is no small thing. Making such far-reaching claims based first on a lack of understanding of the institutions and then on the basis of scientific synthesis isn’t at all credible. And that’s being nice about it.

I have Discover’s special issue on Einstein right in front of me, where Leo Smolin poses a daunting question: How many professional physicists today are Einsteinians? Subtitled: “Surprisingly few theorists have the courage to emulate the master of modern physics.”

I think a sober assessment is that up till now, almost all of us who work in theoretical physics have failed to live up to Einstein’s legacy. […] In my whole career as a theoretical physicist, I have known only a handful of colleagues who truly can be said to follow Einstein’s path. […] Let us be frank and admit that most of us have neither the courage nor the patience to emulate Einstein.” (2009)

Therefore, you can't assume because the telescope wasn’t invented in 1136 or 1278 there was a lack of interests or institutional framework for scientists to expand on previous discoveries.

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Nestorian Christianity was specific to the Byzantine Empire and there was less separation between church and state in the Byzantine Empire.
I brought up the Nestorian Christians for the simple fact that even in learned Byzantium there was a backlash against “secular” knowledge. Conditions weren’t any more accommodating in western Christendom.

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I did not say that the church was the only institution to offer "secular knowledge", secular knowledge is an extremely wide and vague term and "secular knowledge" can even be found in religious books. I said secular learning where by learning I clearly meant learning as in formal studies.

Actually, the feverish translation in the Muslim world was largely done by Christians who most likely were not inspired to do it by the Koran.
You can play this semantic game with “knowledge” and “learning” all you want. Your claim was: “The church was never against secular learning, the church was in fact the only institution in Western Eurasia to offer secular learning (and the only institution in the world to grant these schools autonomy).”

Now you’re saying the Church was the only body in all of western Eurasia to offer “formal studies” on non-religious subjects? This is - in a word - ahistorical. The question is why you even think you can get away with these clearly outlandish claims.

While obviously Grecian ťmigrťs and Syrian Christians were instrumental in translating works from Greek into Arabic during the early period of Islam, you seem to forget that several translation waves occurred well after the 8th-10th centuries. Specifically, the translation/scientific surges of the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the former having lead to very original works in astronomy. It would be erroneous to suggest this was all done by Christians.

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The division of church and state and the non-division of mosque and state is anything but abstract.

...

Also, I never claimed there was absolutely no friction between religion and pagan learning in Europe. However, this opposition was never the prevailing sentiment as it was in the Islamic world.
Well we already established your failure to distinguish between a madrasa and jamia (university). Why you think a division between church and state matters in this context is anybody’s guess. But if the state sponsors not only schools but scientific research, it matters very little if the state is religious.

As far as your second point, I would say the treatment of humanist precepts in western academia (as presented by the Averroists) contradicts your assessment.


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Actually, the first university founded in Bologna was dedicated to the teaching of secular Roman law, yet another feature that was radically different from the Islamic world where there was no secular law. Furthermore, while the Papacy had a role in their establishment of the earliest universities, their institutional autonomy was a safeguard for their secular character. Later on, universities were indeed also founded by kings and governments. The identity or religious affiliation of the founders was not a big issue due to their autonomous nature. You can rest assured that the secular nature of any university in Medieval Europe had nothing to do with Arab scholarship. After all, Frederick II wanted to train bureaucrats in secular Roman law, not in Arab (i.e. Muslim) Sharia law.
You act as if these cathedral and monastic schools discovering the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian left no room for religious teachings, as if they weren’t primarily ran by clergy and nuns, or didn't require the recognition of the Pope. Madrasas are centered on law as well, which is by no means a mere abstract domain of religious reinforcement. They encompass everything from inheritance to economics.

The Church oversaw these universities. Following the transmission of Aristotle and Averroes into the western syllabus, at the behest of the Church and the condemnation of 1277 (which was followed by investigations), both Paris and Oxford were themselves forced to condemn many humanistic theses as heretical. Much of Thomas Aquinas work was dedicated to making Aristotle palpable to religious sensibilities. In short, this idea of a pure autonomy is at best exaggerated. (Frederick II was less interested in religion and Roman law and more interested integrating eastern philosophies and sciences into the Sicilian curriculum: “The combination of the ‘local imperialism’ of the Normans with the high principles of Roman civil law was a powerful one. Paradoxically, it enabled Frederick to leave Roman law behind him, when he felt that it, or any other law code, could not achieve the practical objectives for which a law had been created, or that its moral perspective was in some way lacking.” – David Abulaifa, “Frederick II: A Medieval Emperor”; pg 211)

And I suggest you read this article on medieval western European universities, particularly as it pertained to the teaching of the sciences: “We should not get the impression from this list that the program was only updated every 150 years but the fact that the same books were studied for hundreds of years does not suggest a rapidly changing body of knowledge.”

Meanwhile:

The Bayt al-Hikmah founded in Baghdad was not a place but a model for an institution that was widely replicated. This development was not only important for its role in promoting translations, it also promoted an effective science policy, the development of experimental science as well as providing a forum where scientists met. Attached to the Bayt al-Hikmah were two astronomical observatories, one in Baghdad the other in Damascus. Soon a network of observatories spread throughout Muslim lands.” – Ziauddin Sardar, Merryl Wyn Davies



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"Arab philosophy" can in this context only mean Greek philsophy with possible Arab commentaries (such as Averroes). Again, the issue of the 12th century translations has been dealt with several times. Christian Europe was an open-minded and curious place, far from the later 19th century construct depicting a rigid and dogmatic place with no room for free-thinking.
It would be wrong to say Islamic philosophers hadn’t developed their own distinct philosophies. It would also be wrong to suggest western Christendom was nearly as pluralistic as Islamic society, or as a whole completely open to either Greek, Arab, or any other non-Roman Catholic ideals. They certainly weren't all that open to Jews or Muslims. A single Passion Play could spell death for scores of Jewish inhabitants.


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You're doing a fine job yourself at minimizing everything that comes from Europe or that happens to be Christian. The dry compass was a European invention.
On the contrary, I have nothing against Europeans, Christians or Greeks. I take issue with these bald-faced attempts to leap from 500 to 1500 and portray medieval Muslims as little more than “mediators.” Not to mention veiled attempts to clam virtually everything of consequence as some singular European invention. For instance, there exists no evidence the dry compass was a “European invention.” The evidentiary standards regarding so-called European inventions are obviously far less stringent than those for the inventions and contributions of others.


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Whatever its origins, the caravel did not have a static design. what we know is that it underwent continuous development and improvement by the Portuguese. Given that, I think that the Portuguese are entitled to calling it theirs.
Apparently the caravel underwent "continuous development" from the outset, allowing Maghrebian shipbuilders to make them progressively larger. What’s “highly dubious” is crediting the caravel solely to the “superior shipbuilding” traditions of the Portuguese who before the 15th century weren't known as being particularly adept as seafarers. Your dismissal of perfectly reasonable analysis that happens to contradict your beliefs is more along the lines of minimizing than my googling and sharing information.


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I don't leapfrog, I'm engaged in a comparative analysis of the approach to science and progress in general by two civilizations that were not entirely contemporary (the Muslims having a headstart) but that had essentially the same foundations, namely the European/Christian and the Arab/Muslim (or however you want to call them).

Sidebar comments: There was no Leibniz or Galileo in the Muslim world, how come? Where were all those Muslim "fans" of these Muslim scientists? You're dancing around my point like a tangent line around a curve

I've made it clear that there were bright individuals in the Islamic world as well but I also mentioned that they had no comparable institutions and no comparable secular sphere where they could do science and exchange ideas in the same way as was the case in Europe. I'm quite sure that people and scientists in the Islamic world did other things than just recite the Koran. I used these examples as a demonstration of the way that science had become embedded in European society, not as a demonstration of any one particular individual's brilliance or open-mindedness.
You’re engaged in obfuscation, frankly. From “there was no Leibniz or Galileo in the Muslim world” to “there were bright individuals in the Islamic world” - to your persistent belief there were no institutions dedicated to the sciences - its clear - you don't have a point. Why has the west failed to produce polymaths comparable to al-Biruni or al-Kindi? Why ignore how science was firmly embedded in Islamic society?

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al-Ghazali was was not a tornado or natural disaster brought on by the enemies of Islam.
Nowhere did I equate al-Ghazali to some outside influence thrust upon the Muslim world. The point is he was very influential to a longstanding philosophical debate (Averroes was once a strong disciple). In fact: "Al-Ghaz‚lÓ's approach to resolving apparent contradictions between reason and revelation was accepted by almost all later Muslim theologians and had, via the works of Averroes (Ibn Rushd, 1126–98) and Jewish authors a significant influence on Latin medieval thinking."

And of which 12th century Renaissance do you speak? Perhaps the Almohad renaissance which transformed western Christendom forever? Ernst Renan was right to say “Albert, the Great, is indebted to Ibn-e-Sina and San Thoma owes it all to Ibn-e-Rushd." You see your basic belief is Muslims are quite naturally anti-science, while European Christians are naturally pro-science. Unfortunately, history doesn't support this view. That might be hard to swallow given your obvious confirmation biases.

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Aristotle was indeed vital to the 12th century Renaissance. Few individuals have shaped European thought as much as Aristotle. Among Christian theologians, Atistotle's views were second only to that of scripture. Christianity was open to Greek philosophy in a way that Islam never was. Both traditions had their opponents and proponents of Greek philosophy but the relation was inversely proportional in the two traditions. In Europe, the opponents of Greek philosophy were fighting an uphill battle while in the Islamic world it was the proponents of Greek philosophy who were the ones fighting an uphill battle.
Aristotle came to western Europe in a Arabized package. Your simplistic characterization as to the influence of Greek philosophy makes little sense in light of its early and rapid integration. Either you’re arguing from ignorance, have little interest in this area, or both. Whatever the case, like most of your responses, it’s demonstrably false.

I’ll get to the rest of your remarks later.

Last edited by jehosafats; July 12th, 2011 at 12:40 AM.
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Old July 11th, 2011, 11:49 PM   #7

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Aristotle came to western Europe in a Arabized package.
This is not excatly right - many of the works or Aristotel came first during the Middle Ages in Arabic translation, because it was easier to translate it to Latin through Arabic that to translate it from the original Greek, the situation with which in this time in Europe was "Greka sunt, non leguntur". However, many Greeks came to Italy after the fall of Constantinople this was fast corrected, since most scholars preferred them translated from Greek, rather than Arabic.

I wouldn't call this "Arabized package" by any means, just using whatever translations were available. On the other hand, whatever the Muslim scholars thought and wrote on Aristotel doesn't seem to have done them much good on a long run, since the academic disputations weren't part of the Islamic intellectual life.

Also, Byzantinian works and discourses on Aristotel were known and used in the West, like Eustratius's commentaries on Aristotel's "Ethics". So, it's very deceptive to present Aristotel's impact on the Western philosophy as some by-product of the view of the Muslim scholars on him. The original works of Aristotel were the ones to have a profound influence, not the Muslim commentaries on him.
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Old July 12th, 2011, 12:01 AM   #8

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This is not excatly right - many of the works or Aristotel came first during the Middle Ages in Arabic translation, because it was easier to translate it to Latin through Arabic that to translate it from the original Greek, the situation with which in this time in Europe was "Greka sunt, non leguntur". However, many Greeks came to Italy after the fall of Constantinople this was fast corrected, since most scholars preferred them translated from Greek, rather than Arabic.

I wouldn't call this "Arabized package" by any means, just using whatever translations were available. On the other hand, whatever the Muslim scholars thought and wrote on Aristotel doesn't seem to have done them much good on a long run, since the academic disputations weren't part of the Islamic intellectual life.

Also, Byzantinian works and discourses on Aristotel were known and used in the West, like Eustratius's commentaries on Aristotel's "Ethics". So, it's very deceptive to present Aristotel's impact on the Western philosophy as some by-product of the view of the Muslim scholars on him. The original works of Aristotel were the ones to have a profound influence, not the Muslim commentaries on him.
If you say so
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Old July 12th, 2011, 12:11 AM   #9

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If you say so
Well, if you claim that the Arabic commentaries on Aristotel had more profound impact of the Western philosophy that the original Aristotel's works, I suppose you can prove this quoting original Western philosophers who used the commentaries more they use Aristotel himself, and said that they were more useful to them that Aristotel himself.

Besides, some works of Aristotel were translated directly from Greek:
"...Among translations from Arabic and Greek, those of the texts of Aristotle are especially important, he being one of the most influential figures of philosophic auctoritas in the Middle Ages thanks to the fact that some of his logical works were already known, he so-called Logica vetus. The first works to be translated into Latin were the rest of his works from the Organon. The translations from Greek were completed by James of Venice (the Posterior Analytics; a part of the Elenchi sophistici; the Physics, the De anima; a part of the Metaphysics and the Parva naturalia), by Henricus Aristippus and by a group of anonymous translators from Italy (Prior Analytics; Topics; De generatione et corruptione; Ethica vetus; and almost the entire Metaphysics)....

Those were translated from Arabic translations:
"...Instead, it was Gerard of Cremona who translated from Arabic the Posterior Analytics, the Physics, the De caelo, the De generatione et corruptione, the Meterologica and the most important of the writings attributed to Aristotle which circulated in the Middle Ages, the Liber de causis, a compilation of the Elementatio theologica of Proclus completed in the philosophical circle of al-Kindi. The interest in completing the translation of the Organon was bound to the development of logic in the schools, which in turn aroused new interest in the fields of epistemology and the techniques of argumentation. The books of the Physics were at the center of the debate on the idea of nature, renewing its methods and contents. As a whole the Aristotelian corpus gave impetus to the transformation of philosophy, changing it from a generic notion to a systematic discipline subdivided into three branches, physics, metaphysics, and ethics: this concept of philosophy constituted the basis for teaching in the Faculty of Arts within the new universities. In the second half of the 13th c., the Aristotelian translations underwent a detailed process of revision and in some cases were completely redone by the Dominican friar, William of Moerbeke, a collaborator of Thomas Aquinas. These translations became the standard for reading Aristotle until new translations from the Greek were produced by the humanists...."

Those were translations of Arabic scholars, mistakenly thought to have been Aristotel's:
"... Alongside the authentic Aristotelian texts, several texts of Arabic origin were also attributed to him: the Liber de causis and the Theologia Aristotelis, completed in the circle of al-Kindi; the Secretum secretorum, a treatise in which the Greek philosopher appears as a teacher of Alexander the Great: this text not only constituted an important example of political treatises (specula principis), but also contributed to the diffusion of astrology and alchemy...."http://www.unisi.it/ricerca/prog/fil-med-online/manuale_eng/filosofia_medioevo/htm/fonti/corpus.htm

So, the Aristotetel's logic book were already know, never being lost, and the Posterior Analitycs, the Physics, the De Anima, the Metaphysics, the Prior Analitycs, the Topics were translated from Greek, not from Arabic. It seems that the Posterior Analitycs and the Physics were circulating both in translation form Greek and Arabic. Anyway, this doesn't look like the West didn't know a single work of Aristotel before they took it in what you called "Arabic package". Besides, the "Politics" couldn't have been translated from Arabic since the Arabs didn't translate it at all, having distaste for political science. So, which were the works of Aristotel that reached the West only in Arabic transaltion first - the "Meteorologica" and works of others that were attributed to Aristotel. so, your sweeping "Aristotel reached the West in Arabic package" is simply a wrong statement, and this is not because I said so, but because the sources http://maritain.nd.edu/jmc/etext/homp.htm, http://www.unisi.it/ricerca/prog/fil...nti/corpus.htm say so.

Last edited by Anna James; July 12th, 2011 at 12:38 AM.
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Old July 12th, 2011, 02:36 AM   #10

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Look...that didn't mean the only knowledge of Aristotle came purely from Arabic sources. The point is Aristotle was very much apart of the academic debates of medieval Islam and the transmission of Aristotelian naturalism into the Latin West included the comprehensive commentary of the Muslims, especially Averroes. Averroism was a radical Aristotelianism which spawned not only many debates and controversies but several schools - both in France and Renaissance Italy. In short, the commentators had a significant impact themselves.
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