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Science In Islamic Countries 1289

Posted by kdawson
from the 700-years-of-not-much dept.
biohack sends us to Physics Today for a thought-provoking article on the status of and prospects for science in Islamic countries. The author, a Pakistani physicist, posits that 'Internal causes led to the decline of Islam's scientific greatness long before the era of mercantile imperialism. To contribute once again, Muslims must be introspective and ask what went wrong.' The author makes a few strong conclusions, many of which are relevant to the general debate between science and religion. From the article: "Science finds every soil barren in which miracles are taken literally and seriously and revelation is considered to provide authentic knowledge of the physical world. If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked."
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Science In Islamic Countries

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  • interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rucs_hack (784150) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:50PM (#20826809)
    Wow, for the first time ever, an article linked off a slashdot story that I find completely fascinating. As a scientist myself I find it utterly tragic that the past greatness of Islamic scholars is apparently largely forgotten outside of the work of science historians.

    One can only hope that this current poverty of science in the islamic world is reversed.
    • Re:interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:33PM (#20827465)
      One can only hope that this current poverty of science in the islamic world is reversed.

      It will not happen as long as the clerics, mullahs, and religious scholars are in charge. The average level of non-religious education in these countries is now so poor that many muslims call anyone who can read and write Arabic, with knowledge of the Koran and the Hadith, a great scholar even though the poor chap probably never completed the equivalent of Western grade school in other areas of non-religious study such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course, but part of the problem in the Islamic world is that the people equate religious knowledge with all the truth that is worth knowing and are suspicious or even hostile to secular ideas in general and scientific ideas, especially those which bring into question dogmatic "truths" from religion, in particular. This becomes dangerous when an "educated man" (i.e. the mullah) tells the people that they should kill all of non-believers, for example, because the people base the "truth" of the mullah's statements or interpretation of the religious texts based upon his perceived authority and scholarship, the appeal to authority [wikipedia.org] (i.e. if the mullah, an educated man, says that it is so then it must be true...end of discussion), instead of the logic of what the mullah is actually saying.

      There is a lesson here for the fundamentalists here in the United States. Hopefully we will be wise enough to learn it, but unfortunately it seems that we, as a society, are taking the same long road to stagnation in science that others have in the past.
      • Fundamentalists (Score:3, Insightful)

        by huckamania (533052)
        The US was, in part, founded by fundamentalists. Of course these same fundamentalists were escaping persecution by a religious majority and saw the need to not allow a single religion to dominate all of society.

        Even today, we get along just fine with the Amish, Mormons, Baptists, Southern Baptists, Scientologists, Wiccans, Satanists, etc. I don't see anything to suggest that this will change.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Maxo-Texas (864189)
          The most likely change I see are growth of religious values as the quasi-catholic hispanic population becomes a majority. They will have a majority of the population in the south soon. Once a population becomes the majority, it typically starts enforcing its values on the rest of the population.
          • Nonsense. (Score:5, Informative)

            by jotaeleemeese (303437) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @08:35PM (#20831637) Homepage Journal
            Mexico (the country from which most immigrants to the US come) has separated church and state for 140 years.

            In Mexico, unlike in the US, you don't pray in public schools where religious symbols are forbidden, all public servants swear their charges using the Mexican constitution, not the Bible, and many women ignore advice from the Pope regarding contraception (the Pope will not provide for my unwanted children - they say wisely).

            Most Mexicans are catholic alright, but we have learned to live and let live, so your fears are unfounded (if anything, the exaggerated religiosity in the US may erode such healthy attitudes towards religion from Hispanic immigrants).

      • Re:interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:15PM (#20828153)

        It will not happen as long as the clerics, mullahs, and religious scholars are in charge.


        In most of the "Islamic" world, the "clerics, mullahs, and religious scholars" (the second being strictly redundant with the first; a mullah is a kind of cleric) aren't in charge now.

        Iran, of course, is a theocracy, and Saudi Arabia exhibits a religion-state entanglement that might be described as a brand of caesaropapism, but most of the regimes throughout the Islamic world are secular, though often quite authoritarian, regimes. It is, I would think, the authoritarianism of the regimes in question that is the biggest factor in suppressing inquiry than the regimes' religious character.

        The relation between the external political/economic context and the religious character of society (and I do think the kind of fundamentalist religious orientation that is common throughout Islamic world does inhibit science) is complex, but my personal belief is that the external forces which promote durable authoritarian regimes in the Islamic world also are involved in maintaining the kind of religious fundamentalism seen there.
        • Re:interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Xonstantine (947614) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:26PM (#20828313)

          course, is a theocracy, and Saudi Arabia exhibits a religion-state entanglement that might be described as a brand of caesaropapism, but most of the regimes throughout the Islamic world are secular, though often quite authoritarian, regimes. It is, I would think, the authoritarianism of the regimes in question that is the biggest factor in suppressing inquiry than the regimes' religious character.
          You might think so, but you'd probably be wrong. Authoritarian regimes aren't necessarily anti-science or scientific inquiry. The Germans under Hitler, for example, were quite good at pushing the technological envelope in some areas. But then again, the Germans themselves were fairly innovative before and after Hitler. You can overlay a despot on a culture and the culture remains. The bottom line is that Islamic society, in so far as it's Islamic, is simply anti-science. The few areas you've had successes in science in Islamic countries has largely arisen in spite of, not because of, Islam. Even in Egypt, which is nominally secular, professors routinely have to flee the country in fear of their life because they say something that supposedly profanes the Prophet, Allah, or some other token feature of Islam. I suspect that Islamic societies will remain backwards until the day comes when an Islamic artist can carry out the Islamic equivilent of putting the cross in a jar of piss and not worry about getting killed in reprisal.
    • Re:interesting (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lixee (863589) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:11PM (#20828083)

      One can only hope that this current poverty of science in the islamic world is reversed.
      Until a few decades back, most of the Islamic world was still colonized. And ever since, they've all been spending all their money militarizing. Poverty of science in this case stems from poverty (with a couple of exceptions).
  • by pseudorand (603231) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:51PM (#20826815)
    > In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. ...you insensitive clod.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rucs_hack (784150)
      I believe he is referring to the 17th and 18th century European pre Darwinian 'scientific' approach (there were of course no scientists then, the name didn't exist), which was to catalog and classify, but not to investigate how or why things were the way they were.

      (dates may not be perfect).
  • by beckerist (985855) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:51PM (#20826833) Homepage
    While Charlemagne, [wikipedia.org] an illiterate barbarian was converting the masses to Christianity (and brutally, I might add,) Middle Eastern doctors were actually successfully performing neurosurgery. [globalcomment.com] Just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents...at least I learned something for the student loans I still owe!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Beetle B. (516615)
      And Charlemagne lived when? And the article is talking about when? (Hint: 20th and 21st what?).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Das Modell (969371)
      Posted by me earlier:

      Much of that "past greatness" is just historical revisionism. Islam's "Golden Age" was just a fading echo of the cultures Muslims had conquered, and the scientific achievements were mostly done by non-Muslims, heretics and unorthodox Muslims. The Golden Age existed in spite of Islam, not because of it.

      That same historical revisionism also means that anything good in Europe's history is downplayed or ignored (while Islamic culture is glorified to no end).

  • freedom of speech (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:52PM (#20826845) Homepage
    Freedom of speech and science are directly related. Both islamic and stalinist countries violently suppress free speech, consequently having almost no scientific breakthrough.

    The best scientific advancements come when someone declares "everything we know about this is wrong" and formulates, tests, and publishes some bold new idea. The tendency to question established "knowledge"--which is often backed by the church or the government--is never encouraged in non-free states.

    If you want a great example of this in western history, look at Galileo.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646)
      Both islamic and stalinist countries violently suppress free speech, consequently having almost no scientific breakthrough.

      I was about to give a counterexample, but you did it for me. The Soviet Union -- a Stalinist society, had several significant scientific breathroughs: independent discovery of the atom bomb, first orbital probe, first pictures of the far side of the moon, etc.

      Anti-free speech societies can have technological progress, as long as they "cut it out, when the truth starts to matter"[1]. T
      • Re:freedom of speech (Score:5, Informative)

        by cartman (18204) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:17PM (#20827215)

        independent discovery of the atom bomb, first orbital probe, first pictures of the far side of the moon, etc.

        Although the Soviet Union had many important scientific discoveries, the independent discovery of the atom bomb wasn't among them. The soviets made their first atom bomb by stealing US designs through espionage. The earliest soviet bombs closely resembled early US bombs.

    • Re:freedom of speech (Score:5, Informative)

      by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:12PM (#20827155) Homepage Journal
      Really? Stalin's Soviet Union launched the first satellite, and put the first man in space. Under Stalin's rule, Cerenkov and Tamm won the 1958 Nobel Prize for Physics, as did Landau in 1962 for work carried out under Stalin, and Basov and Prokhorov in 1964.

      Stalin was an evil murdering bastard, but to suggest that Soviet physical scientists were prevented from doing good work under his reign is just claptrap. Even under Stalin, scientific free thought was encouraged, it was economic and political free thought that was curtailed. You'll notice they didn't win many Nobel prizes for Economics over that time, and their most notable literary laureate (Pasternak) turned it down out of fear of his government.

      Communists have dogma that infringes artistic and economic thought, but it requires a fundamentalist theist to have dogma that infringes scientific thought.
      • Re:freedom of speech (Score:4, Informative)

        by alan_dershowitz (586542) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:55PM (#20828821)
        Even under Stalin, scientific free thought was encouraged[...]

        This is TOTALLY FALSE. First of all, you need to look up Lysenkoism [wikipedia.org].

        but to suggest that Soviet physical scientists were prevented from doing good work under his reign is just claptrap.

        Scientists were hated by politicians and because of their advanced knowledge were by default suspected of being a dangerous spy risk. It was almost impossible to do most tasks because work was broken up for security reasons so that no one could know fully what they were working on. Scientists working on secret projects were kept in distant Siberian outposts and treated nearly identically to political and criminal exiles. Scientists were routinely prevented from travelling overseas to important scientific conferences and as a matter of course were obligated to deny all politically inconvenient scientific discoveries made by state enemies.

        That any science was accomplished at all during the majority of the Soviet era is a testament to the amazing people actually doing it, the Soviet system was actively against them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by darkwhite (139802)
      Your theory is laughably incorrect. You apparently know absolutely nothing of the history of scientific accomplishment in the Soviet Union or the scientific juggernaut that China has become in the past decade. (Failing to become scientifically important? They are already important, still far behind the US and EU, but catching up fast.)

      Totalitarian elites are just as aware of the benefits of research as less restrictive elites, if not more. The relative intellectual freedom of the scientists in USSR was a co
  • Economics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by El Lobo (994537) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:53PM (#20826859)
    You don't need to be Einstein to understand that scientific advances are proportional to the economical status of the land. And I'm not talking about the economical status of the elite of the country but about the MEDIUM economical status of the population. Good economics is almost always equal to good education, good universities, quality investigations, cooperation projects, etc. I don't see any direct connection between ideology or religion and science.Many good scientific have been religious in some form ot believe in god: Newton, Einstein, Bohr, etc.
    • Re:Economics (Score:4, Informative)

      by nuzak (959558) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:56PM (#20826895) Journal
      > Many good scientific have been religious in some form ot believe in god: Newton, Einstein, Bohr, etc.

      Newton also believed in alchemy. Newton was a freaky little nut.

      Einstein was a pantheist, and specifically rejected the idea of an anthropomorphic god that intervenes directly in the universe.

      No idea about Bohr.
    • Re:Economics (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beetle B. (516615) <beetle_b AT email DOT com> on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:10PM (#20827107)
      Yes, but if you actually read the article, the author dispels the "lack of resources" argument. To address your specific point, the average person in the oil rich countries is well enough off to afford a good education. Yet those countries' output pales in comparison to much poorer places around the world.

      Frankly, I think the author is tackling too much at once. Life in Malaysia is very different from that in Pakistan, which is very different from that in Iran, which is very different from that in Saudi Arabia, which is very different from that in Turkey. It'll be hard to find unifying reasons that apply well to all those countries. Each country has different reasons for their lack of scientific output.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jason Levine (196982)

      I don't see any direct connection between ideology or religion and science.Many good scientific have been religious in some form ot believe in god: Newton, Einstein, Bohr, etc.

      Religion, when it comes to impact on Scientific Advancement, seems to have little to no effect so long as there isn't fundamentalism and intolerance. If you get those two in conjunction with religion, then the answer to "How does this happen" ceases to result in theories and experiments. Instead, the answer becomes "Because it says

  • by ErikTheRed (162431) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @02:54PM (#20826881) Homepage

    "If the scientific method is trashed, no amount of resources or loud declarations of intent to develop science can compensate. In those circumstances, scientific research becomes, at best, a kind of cataloging or 'butterfly-collecting' activity. It cannot be a creative process of genuine inquiry in which bold hypotheses are made and checked."
    For a minute there I though he was talking about Global Warming.
  • the problem is the question itself because the question involves islam. if the question had involved christianity or judaism or buddhism the problem would be the same. the problem being, to think that science and religion have anything to do with each other at all, in a negative or positive way. they are simply oil and water, science and religion. they don't mix. at all

    this in fact is not a call to abandon religion to embrace science, nor is it an assertion that there is a conflict between religion and science. they merely have nothing to do with each other. there can be no conflict between two systems that don't speak the same language or investigate the same phenomena. one has to do with fact based inquiries, the other has to do with transcendental thought. the aspect of scientific knowledge simply cannot involve, touch, comment on or otherwise involve the aspect of religious knowledge. and visa versa

    once you realize this, all of the "problems" involving science and religion disappear. problems only appear when, mistakenly, someone tries to comment on science from the point of view of religion, or someone tries to comment on religion from the point of view of science. this represents instant failure of an ability to understand the subject matter you are concerning yourself with

    • by nasor (690345) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:30PM (#20827405)
      "this in fact is not a call to abandon religion to embrace science, nor is it an assertion that there is a conflict between religion and science. they merely have nothing to do with each other. there can be no conflict between two systems that don't speak the same language or investigate the same phenomena. one has to do with fact based inquiries, the other has to do with transcendental thought."

      Regardless of what you think religion should or shouldn't be used for, a huge chunk of the world's population does use religion to explain physical phenomena. You can say "science and religion address different domains!" as much as you like, but it won't make it true.
    • evading the issue (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sentientbrendan (316150) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:46PM (#20827659)
      >this in fact is not a call to abandon religion to embrace science, nor is it an assertion
      >that there is a conflict between religion and science. they merely have nothing to do with
      >each other.

      You evade the problem by being too abstract. There is no conflict between "religion" and "science" but there is clearly a conflict between specific established scientific views and specific established religious views.

      Many sects dogmatically proclaim that the world was created in 7 days. You can say that "this is a metaphor, and so not at odds with science," but the problem, the conflict is that the people who say that don't *mean* it as a metaphor. They mean it as a factual statement about the world.

      Saying there is no conflict between something abstract like "religion" and "science" is missing there point. There are concrete conflicts between various religious dogmas many specific scientific views.

      Furthermore, it is well historically established that societies that accept dogmatic modes of thought are not conducive to scientific development. If scientists must do all of their important research in secret, for fear of public reprisal, they will get little done and their work will not be widely disseminated. This is a historical and ongoing problem in our society.

      The problem isn't that "religion is bad," although I think an argument could be made for that, but that certain social institutions, especially some hard line religious sects, do much to harm the advancement of science by establishing dogmatic views that they refuse to accept rational challenges to.
    • by hanshotfirst (851936) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:15PM (#20828151)

      And me without mod points. Mod parent up. I would have still commented, so I couldn't have modded anyway.

      You raise good points that people on both sides of the argument overlook - everyone seems to focus on the conflict of science v religion, trying to get one to meld with the other, or use one to disprove the other, when they are really tangential topics to each other. Now I come at this from the "Christian" point of view, but s/Christian/religionX/g and I think my points still work

      (As I read my own PREVIEW I realize I don't add much substance to what the parent poster said. The process of writing it was a personal epiphany for me, so I'll submit it anyway.)

      Science is about Facts. Religion is about Faith. Science, by definition, is based on observation. Faith, by definition (Hebrews 11) is based on the unobservable. Science addresses questions of WHAT? and HOW? of the world and events. It cannot assign meaning beyond physical description, laws, understanding the cause-and-effect. Science shows me "I am here. This rock is here." but cannot assign a "value" or "importance" to me or the rock - our influence on each other is irrelevant to Science other than explaining or predicting cause and effect. Religion addresses what science cannot - RIGHT and WRONG, GOOD and BAD, (and the debate rages over the definition of those terms). Morals, Spiritual understanding, things which cannot be defined or observed in the physical world. Faith is able to assign more "value" to a person than to a rock, such that I should be concerned about how my actions affect other people, and how I treat a rock only matters as it affects other people. (Or other religions do assign a value for the rock as well, such that it should influence my interactions with the rock)

      Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of my God, or any other religion's God. It does not have to. When Science leaves gaps in explanation, Religion fills them in. Science can disprove Religion's explanation - geocentric theory for example. But religion can also embolden people to explore science - If I am secure in my eternal destiny I do not have to fear engaging in scientific endeavors such as sailing to the "edge of the world" or taking a possibly-one-way-trip to mars. (Admittedly weak analogy there - many people are not deterred by "certain death" exploration)

      This brings up another point Truth is Truth and must be discovered, regardless of belief. Either geocentric theory is true or it is not, not matter what I believe - Science conveniently offers evidence to support/proove one answer in this case. God exists or God does not exist, no matter what I believe. If God does not exist, by definition, he cannot be observed. If God does exist he , again by definition, cannot be observed physically - so either way Science cannot offer the same level of proof/disproof for God that it can for physical phenomena. Therefore, Faith is the only other mechanism to discover God. Religion comes in to compare whose Faith is accurate regarding unobservable truth in the same way that Science came in to compare whose Observations were accurate regarding physical truth.

      To mix the two, as the parent mentions, is meaningless. Like using a car repair manual to find the answer to a CowboyNeal poll. *duck and cover*

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Coryoth (254751)

        Science addresses questions of WHAT? and HOW? of the world and events.

        Indeed, and philosophy addresses questions of WHY?, and religion shuffles in and treads on everyone's toes. Some people's view of religion puts it very much in conflict with science, because they see religion as answering WHAT and HOW questions. Those, like you, who wish to pare religion back to WHY questions, simply reduce it to bad philosophy.

        Religion addresses what science cannot - RIGHT and WRONG, GOOD and BAD, (and the debate rages over the definition of those terms). Morals, Spiritual understanding, things which cannot be defined or observed in the physical world.

        Questions of right and wrong, good and bad -- these are questions for ethics and moral philosophy, and there has been a great deal said in those fields that makes

  • by tyroneking (258793) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:01PM (#20826983)
    The following sentence from the article troubles me greatly: "The near-absence of democracy in Muslim countries is also not an especially important reason for slow scientific development. "

    It should be clear to any human being in this world that democracy (and the rule of secular law), though not perfect by any means, leads to a populace who have a moral investment in the country in which they live - and this leads them to think of greater things, such as science, and not the day-to-day issues like how to not be killed for wearing the wrong clothes.

    Religion and science have nothing to do with each other and anyone who even suggests that is making a grave mistake and fool out him/herself and the science s/he studies.
    • Perhaps you should read his rationale behind the statement.

      Simply put: Countries with dictators still at times do better than the countries mentioned. It's not that big a factor unless they actually shut down the universities. Few dictators actually prevent papers from being published - it's not their concern. Heck, just yesterday I was reading a research paper in my field that came from a Cuban university.

      Some of these countries, BTW, have democracies. Their scientific output still sucks.
    • by Bodrius (191265) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:13PM (#20829173) Homepage

      It should be clear to any human being in this world that democracy (and the rule of secular law), though not perfect by any means, leads to a populace who have a moral investment in the country in which they live - and this leads them to think of greater things, such as science, and not the day-to-day issues like how to not be killed for wearing the wrong clothes


      Whoa. This is a logic leap of Olympic proportions.

      Democracy is a powerful means to its ends (e.g.: those typically described in democratic constitutions), but it inherited the lamentable romantic habit of taking strong assertions for rational arguments.

      - Democracy does not, per se, lead to a moral investment of the population in politics.
      It's remarkably difficult to get even minimal participation (voting on the most important elections) on mature democracies, much less 'moral investment'.

      - Democracy does not lead the population to think of 'higher, greater things'.
      On the contrary, participatory government focuses on concrete improvements to the way of life of the constituents. That IS one its main virtues - the resources of the state are to be invested into the happiness of the population, rather than the aspirations (however idealistic) of an autocrat.

      - Democracies tend to worry, more than anything, about day-to-day issues.
      Not being killed for wearing the wrong clothes is a central preocupation of citizens and politicians on most modern democracies - personal security is expensive to maintain, and a function of prosperity, not (directly) of constitutional freedom.
      Even if the most secure and prosperous democracies, day-to-day issues are the center of popular thought and political action. People worry more about their job security, schools for their children, their parking situation, or whether there is too much fat in french fries.

      Historically, worrying about "greater things" rather than the menial day-to-day problems of life is a very aristocratic feeling, not a democratic one; and the romantic rethoric of democratic documents has a lot to do with the aristocratic antecedents of those who wrote the seminal documents, and rethorical tradition.

      Even when democratic nations do spend great effort and emotional investment in a "greater thing" (e.g.: space exploration, fundamental scientific research, solving world hunger, etc) it is typically a result of unilateral top-down leadership, whether motivated by national needs (war, foreign competition, etc) or by a strong push from a charismatic executive leadership.
      In other words, the efforts are fundamentally 'dictatorial', in the original Roman sense of the word.

      The causal chain that leads democracy to achieve 'greater things' is powerful but indirect. Leisure is the parent of such worries, and prosperity leads to leisure. The power of democratic societies lies on their capacity to best achieve and sustain prosperity, and reduce the number of worries of survival a citizen needs to deal with daily.
      But it is human nature that, for the overwhelming majority of the population, even the most menial daily worries will take a higher priority than "greater things" in their political opinion.

    • by xPsi (851544) * on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @11:32PM (#20832903)
      Religion and science have nothing to do with each other and anyone who even suggests that is making a grave mistake and fool out him/herself and the science s/he studies.


      I get the sense I misinterpreted the main message of your last statement. Based on the context of your post, I believe you are saying culturally and politically science and religion have nothing to do with each other. In this sense, I agree: religion and science are basically culturally orthogonal.


      However, one must be careful not to overstate the point with this non-overlapping Magisteria [wikipedia.org] cartoon. Tacitly and overtly, religion makes many claims about the way the world works physically. When this happens, like it or not, religion is treading in the domain of science. There is an afterlife, or there isn't. Either someone rose from the dead, or didn't. Someone turned water into wine, or didn't. Created the world in 7 days, or didn't. Born of a virgin, or wasn't. And so on. If these things happened, then there had to be a mechanism. These claims are not just symbolic abstractions for most believers but real physical claims about the way the universe works at its most fundamental level. Science has a lot to say about the physical possibilities of these claims (usually not siding with the original claim). If religion were to stick to only unfalsifiable, untestable, unphysical claims, then non-overlapping Magisteria works fine.

  • by SengirV (203400) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:06PM (#20827045)
    Yeah, yeah, I know. But this is the most concise summary. FACTS can be found elsewhere - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ghazali [wikipedia.org]

    The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna and Al-Farabi) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labeled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.


    Thanks to Al-Ghazali, REAL science has been anathema to Islam for almost a thousand years.
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:32PM (#20828405) Journal

      I haven't read al-Ghazali, but I have read quite a bit of al-Farabi. He seems to have made a valiant, though ultimately doomed, effort to justify philosophical inquiry in the face of Islam. If you're interested in reading some of his more accessible work, the "Book of Religion" (Kitaab al-Milla) is a good place to start. Very little of the literature from this time period is widely read, yet some of it is fascinating - I have several books in a (as yet unpublished, I believe) series on the origins of cryptology in the medieval Arabic world.

      Interestingly, ibn Rushd, known as Averroes in the West, wrote a reply to al-Ghazali's "Incoherence of the Philosophers" entitled "Incoherence of the Incoherence."

  • by aneeshm (862723) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:08PM (#20827079)
    When the author mentions the "extreme Hindu group", he misquotes its name as the "Vishnu Hindu Parishad". It's correct name is the "Vishwa Hindu Parishad".

    Also, as far as I am aware, it has not asked for the ethnic cleansing of anybody, though many of its members are of a very extreme bent, and may well hold such opinions.

    Thirdly, they have also not, to my knowledge, ever acted to block any piece of scientific research. It's an organisation concerned mostly with the social aspects of religion, and they don't bother with what goes on in the laboratories.

    Probably the only thing they care about in regard to science and research is that we have bigger and better nukes than the Pakistanis.
  • by dskoll (99328) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:09PM (#20827093)
    Islamic societies are horribly backward in terms of economic and scientific development. It doesn't require a genius to figure out why:
    • A society that takes away rights from 50% of its population cannot prosper. Societies that oppress women are invariably under-developed, strife-riven and backward.
    • Any system that proclaims a monopoly on truth and mandates severe punishments for those who question the system cannot produce scientific progress.
    • Any society that produces riots in response to satirical cartoons cannot progress in the modern world.
    • Any society that always blames outsiders for its troubles will forever wallow in its own backwardness.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yoprst (944706)
      A society that takes away rights from 50% of its population cannot prosper. Societies that oppress women are invariably under-developed, strife-riven and backward.
      Ancient Greece
      Any system that proclaims a monopoly on truth and mandates severe punishments for those who question the system cannot produce scientific progress.
      Soviet Union
      Any society that produces riots in response to satirical cartoons cannot progress in the modern world.
      You've got me there...
      Seriously, life is tad more complicated
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:11PM (#20827135) Homepage Journal
    (and a disclaimer, yes I know not every muslim country has vast amounts of oil, but many do and have an inordinate influence)

    Oil rich countries can buy massive amounts of technology(including advanced weaponry) without having to ever invent any of it, somewhat rare if not totally unique in the modern world. Thus for many governments, there seems to be very little need to develop technology indigenously. This seems especially true in the case of the Saudis whose legitimacy in the eyes of many in the muslim world(they oversee the holiest places in Islam) seems to be largely dependent on their hardline Islamic views which means Madrassas and knowledge of Islam, not science, is th e most important thing to them. They can defend themselves from any threats(mostly Iran) without developing the know-how to engineer weapons themselves. Very few other civilizations in history could ever get away with that....
  • Bernard Lewis (Score:4, Informative)

    by Saint Stephen (19450) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:20PM (#20827251) Homepage Journal
    Bernard Lewis wrote a book "What Went Wrong?" which described precisely (in his opinion) how Islam became the backward group when during the Dark Ages they were the advanced group and Europeans were the backwards ones.

    After the Muslims started to lose battles to Vienna, one of the caliphates ordered his advisors to come up with a report on why they were losing. The two reasons given were (1) The Mullahs refused to allow "new" science to be researched, Muslim science was pretty much based on Greek science and they considered all the major problems solved and (2) not using 50% of their resources (women).
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:29PM (#20827385)
    Here's the Iranian leaders take on science is in the Islamic world:

    Speaking as "an academic," Ahmadinejad said that from his perspective, the role of science is to serve Islam and that any science that does not serve Islamic goals is corrupt. As he put it, "Science is the light, and scientists must be pure and pious. If humanity achieves the highest level of physical and spiritual knowledge but its scholars and scientists are not pure, then this knowledge cannot serve the interests of humanity." Elaborating on this notion, he argued that Western scientists serve corrupt governments who reject the pure and pious path of Islam and therefore are used as agents for corruption.

    From a Caroline Glick [jpost.com] article on Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:29PM (#20827393) Homepage
    Religion and serious scientific discovery have always been at odds with each other and the reason boils down to "believe without evidence" or "faith." "Science" isn't always right but it's not about being right... it's about the continual pursuit of learning and understanding reality as we know it based on available evidence and the ability to prove through testing.

    Religion is simply the opposite. It is based on the idea that what you were told is the truth. "Rumor" fits this description... as does "myth" and "gossip." But the fact is, religious belief cannot be admissible in a court of law with any reasonable rules for evidence and discovery. (Unless that court of law is based on religion... and we see what happens to 'rule of law' when it's based on religion... chaos and rather unjust proceedings.)

    I think it's interesting that they are trying to make some connection between Islam and advanced knowledge. I'm probably wrong, but I believe things like advanced mathematics were developed in the "Islamic" part of the world, but predates Islam itself. It's more likely that Islam itself is responsible for the intellectual decline in that area just as it's often responsible for intellectual decline elsewhere.
  • True Words (Score:3, Funny)

    by mdarksbane (587589) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:36PM (#20827499)

    Science is fundamentally an idea-system that has grown around a sort of skeleton wire frame--the scientific method. The deliberately cultivated scientific habit of mind is mandatory for successful work in all science and related fields where critical judgment is essential. Scientific progress constantly demands that facts and hypotheses be checked and rechecked, and is unmindful of authority. But there lies the problem: The scientific method is alien to traditional, unreformed religious thought. Only the exceptional individual is able to exercise such a mindset in a society in which absolute authority comes from above, questions are asked only with difficulty, the penalties for disbelief are severe, the intellect is denigrated, and a certainty exists that all answers are already known and must only be discovered.



    That describes the fundamentalist Christian-dominated home town so well I want to hug this guy.


    The problem with fundamentalists is that they value the knowledge and beliefs of people from thousands of years ago over any progress we have made since.

  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:38PM (#20827551)
    Baghdad was the center of Islamic learning and sciences. It was utterly destroyed by Ghenghis Kahn

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Baghdad_(1258) [wikipedia.org]

    Many historical accounts detailed the cruelties of the Mongol conquerors.

            * The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river.

            * The Mongols looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals--grand buildings that had been the work of generations--were burned to the ground.

    Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries and only gradually recovered some of its former glory.

    "Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by a canal network thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them." (Steven Dutch)
  • by ChePibe (882378) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @03:54PM (#20827833)
    Much of the problem is economic, not religious.

    The prototypical state for the economic problem in this case is Saudi Arabia. Saudis obviously are not lacking for money - they pump it from the ground at alarming rates - and this is part of their problem.

    The Saudi state distributes oil wealth among its people, and these distributions are a big problem.

    When people receive fairly large amounts of money for doing nothing, they have little incentive for improving their technical skills. Subsequently, there is little reason for young Saudi men - who, incidentally, were likely raised by largely uneducated women - to go beyond what they already do and know. A great many will also not seek out employment of any kind (the CIA World Factbook puts unemployment in Saudi Arabia at between 13% and 25% - not to mention the massive hole women have left in the workforce). Living off of oil subsidies, there is little need for students to prepare to compete in the global economy - they already have a resource the rest of the world needs for survival and receive an annual cut sufficient to live quite nicely off of.

    Pakistan is another example. With the state generally unwilling to invest serious amounts of money in education - and with teachers rightfully afraid for their lives in many areas - parents are given the terrible choice of choosing to provide little to no education at all for their children or sending them to a madrasa where their child will at least learn to read, write, as well as likely learn some basic math. The religious knowledge they will acquire will also help instill positive morals (they hope) and make them a beacon in the community as they grow older (also, they hope). While the later is admirable, it is when the religion overtakes ALL subject areas - as it does in many of these schools - that it becomes a problem.

    I received my undergraduate degree at a religious university - BYU - in the U.S. Evolution was accepted as fact and discussed as such. I studied Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and other great philosophers. I took classes on deductive logic. I studied Islam and Judaism. I learned the laws of thermodynamics. Majors were offered in Biology, Chemistry, various engineering disciplines, and other quite scientific fields. There were, of course, religion classes as well, but the requirement to complete these - 12 credits - was a fairly minor part of the overall curriculum and I cannot recall any instance of religion being extensively mentioned in secular classes (the vast majority) with the exception of ethical issues - particularly in a National Security class and on the subject of war. If the Arab world could make a system like that work, it would be better than what they have now.

    I wonder how much of this divergence has to do with the embracing or refusal of logic. Christianity, after the dark ages, made various attempts to reconcile its beliefs with logic with varying and certainly debatable results. St. Thomas Acquians and Pascal are good examples. But the idea that things should conform to logic and reason has been deep seated for centuries now, even though it is certainly not universal. As Christianity embraced reason, Muslims philosophers such as Al-Ghazali sought to move away from it for whatever reason. The courses I took on logic and philosophy, although somewhat infuriating at the time (professor's fault, not the material) have been the most useful to me by far in life. I cannot imagine a life - or a culture - without these ideas.
  • printing press (Score:3, Insightful)

    by trb (8509) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @04:36PM (#20828485)

    Another myth is that the Muslim world rejects new technology. It does not. In earlier times, the orthodoxy had resisted new inventions such as the printing press, loudspeaker, and penicillin, but such rejection has all but vanished.

    The author harks back to the golden age of Islam (essentially, before 1500) and claims that Islam no longer rejects technology. The fallacy here is that Islam did reject technology like the printing press until very recently. It is not a surprise that Islamic culture did not keep up with the west when they ignored such technology for 400 years. It is true that cultures with complex writing systems, like Japan and others, also were slowed by difficulties with mechanized printing, but they have been able to assimilate western technology sooner than the Muslim cultures have.

    Muslim countries that are less entrenched in fundamentalist belief are more culturally and technically advanced. The rich oil countries have science as an effect of their wealth, not as a cause of it. Southeast Asians are geographically adjacent to high tech territories, with a different culture than the north African Arabs and other Muslims in Africa and West Asia. The lack of science in those countries probably has more to do with poverty and oppression than Islam.

    To state an obvious point, modern Islamic culture does embrace technology when it suits them - they adapt violent practices from the west when they feel it helps them to advance their goals.

  • by PtrToNull (742886) on Tuesday October 02, 2007 @05:50PM (#20829707)
    I'm an astronomer from Kuwait. Let me tell you that while many of the reasons mentioned as valid, they're overly simplified.You'll be surprised that many long held notions are utterly false.
    • Lack of Democracy: While this is indeed true, democracy will bring havoc to the middle east. We have a decent partial-democracy in Kuwait with a freely elected parliament and it's already a nightmare. If democracy ever to become wide spread in Kuwait, I'll immediately migrate! Remember that democracy can be like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In Kuwait case at least, the fanatics won the greatest number of seats, and all their legislations are geared toward making Kuwait an Islamic state. Our "dictatorship" thankfully blocked a number of bills, forcibly, like the bill to implement full Shria'a Law (think flogging and chopping hands). It would have been much worse than Saudi Arabia. The fanatics were successful in passing bills to limit freedom of speech, even to go as far as to imprison those who dare to criticize not prophet Muhammad, but his friends. They were able to pass laws to segregate the university, and now instead of one university they're building TWO next to each other DOUBLE the cost and with a small river running between them to complete separate. If you think creationists and neo-cons are fanatics, you haven't experienced the mental terrorism here, we take it to another level.
    • Suppression of women: Again, it's an over simplification. In Kuwait, 70% of university graduates are women, about half the working force are women. Most technical jobs & especially IT in the government are headed by women (our IT department has about 5 males and 17 females engineers). My boss is a woman in fact, and so is her director! Also, women, by convention, come to work half an hour late, and leave work half an hour earlier, and this applies everywhere where.

      The 'elected' parliament refused to grant women their right to vote up until 2005 where, again, the 'dictatorship' government forced the law on the parliament and threated to dissolve it if it didn't pass. My sister completely covers up her face, if somebody saw me with her, they'd think "Oh look at that Arab suppression his wife/family", while in fact, I tried many time to convince her to take it off and how ridiculous it is but with no success, she's a devout Muslim and she doesn't want to do that and she thinks hideously of any thing western. While it is true that a lot wear it forcibly, it's mostly due to culture "oh everyone is wearing it so I'll do that". On many instances, I've seen women become more conservative by their own will. What's ironic is that in the last parliamentary elections where women got the right to run for office and vote, an Islamic MP (Daif-Allah bu Ramiah) who worked so hard to devoid women of their rights by launching numerous campaigns, actually won the race mostly due to the overwhelming votes he got from women voters (Women voters represent more than 50% of the total vote, despite that fact, no women MP was elected). It's completely insane and I truly don't understand it.
    • Economy: This is a joke too, at least in my case where the whole country pretty much runs on a welfare-like system. Education, health, utilities, housing..etc if not subsidized heavily (and I do mean heavily) then they're basically free. And with the huge multi billion surpluses we've been lucky to get in the last few years, what's preventing us from advancing in science???

    The country lives in a horrendous bureaucracy, most people are so lazy to work in an ethical manner, and most scientific institutions are run by zealot Islamic creationists who are wasting research money on 'scientific miracles of the Quran' and producing more books on why 'Evolution is a lie'. Their influence is heavy in education where kids are actually taught evolution, and how to 'disapprove it', not to mention the hatred driven religious classes which, thanks aga

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