He starts with the idea of conflict between science & religion, but then correctly (though reluctantly) demphasizes a bit (its not that there has not been any conflict, but rather that this may not be the only or even the dominant mode):
The idea of a conflict between science and religion has a long pedigree. According to Edward Gibbon, it was the view of the Byzantine church that "the study of nature was the surest symptom of an unbelieving mind." Perhaps the best-known portrayal of this conflict is a book published in 1896 by Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, with the title A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. In recent times there has been a reaction against talk of warfare between science and religion. White's "conflict thesis" was attacked in a 1986 paper by Bruce Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, both well-known historians of science, who pointed out many flaws in White's scholarship.A quick point here: It is too dangerous to apply a single definition of "science" and "religion" throughout history or for that matter, a single line of relationship between the two. It becomes too easy to cherry-pick evidence in one's support and/or to ignore counter-arguments and other contextual factors. This is the reason why Andrew White's history, while influential in popularizing the current conflict thesis, also had serious problems as were pointed out, among others, by Lindberg & Numbers.
But if the direct conflict between scientific knowledge and specific religious beliefs has not been so important in itself, there are at least four sources of tension between science and religion that have been important.Here are his 4 points (I have added numbers to Weinberg's text). I will mostly comment on the 3rd one, as Weinberg attributes that tension specifically to Islam:
1) The first source of tension arises from the fact that religion originally gained much of its strength from the observation of mysterious phenomena—thunder, earthquakes, disease—that seemed to require the intervention of some divine being.This is an excellent point. Indeed, the domain of understanding nature now rests solely with science. Even with unexplained phenomena, we know that these are problems for science. The Dark Matter problem is not going to be resolved by religion. Perhaps we can use the analogy of astrology. Up until the 17th century, astrology was used for weather predictions, fires in the city (yes, cities like Baghdad and London had horoscopes based on the date their foundation was laid and astrology predicted when fires would break out), and of course on personal matters. It is all about the illusion of control in an unpredictable world. Now we have much better ways to determine weather and fires are relatively rare, so we have astrology predominantly for personal matters. Thus, the domain of astrology has been reduced dramatically. The same argument can be made for religion.
Of course, not everything has been explained, nor will it ever be. The important thing is that we have not observed anything that seems to require supernatural intervention for its explanation. There are some today who cling to the remaining gaps in our understanding (such as our ignorance about the origin of life) as evidence for God. But as time passes and more and more of these gaps are filled in, their position gives an impression of people desperately holding on to outmoded opinions.
2) There is a second source of tension: that these explanations have cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God to play a starring part in a great cosmic drama of sin and salvation. We have had to accept that our home, the earth, is just another planet circling the sun; our sun is just one of a hundred billion stars in a galaxy that is just one of billions of visible galaxies; and it may be that the whole expanding cloud of galaxies is just a small part of a much larger multiverse, most of whose parts are utterly inhospitable to life. As Richard Feynman has said, "The theory that it's all arranged as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems inadequate." Most important so far has been the discovery by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace that humans arose from earlier animals through natural selection acting on random heritable variations, with no need for a divine plan to explain the advent of humanity.Another excellent point. Astronomy is really good for this - once you appreciate the vastness of the universe, it becomes really hard to argue any specialness for humans. And biology provides the final nail in the coffin.
3) A third source of tension between science and religious belief has been more important in Islam than in Christianity. Around 1100, the Sufi philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali argued against the very idea of laws of nature, on the grounds that any such law would put God's hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smolder because of the heat of the flame, but because God wants it to darken and smolder. Laws of nature could have been reconciled with Islam, as a summary of what God usually wants to happen, but al-Ghazzali did not take that path.
Al-Ghazzali is often described as the most influential Islamic philosopher. I wish I knew enough to judge how great was the impact on Islam of his rejection of science. At any rate, science in Muslim countries, which had led the world in the ninth and tenth centuries, went into a decline in the century or two after al-Ghazzali. As a portent of this decline, in 1194 the Ulama of Córdoba burned all scientific and medical texts.
Couple of comments here. First, yes, al-Ghazali's points definitely create problems for scientific thinking and I don't want to defend his arguments (he didn't much care for philosophers/scientists or mathematicians). However, I should say that his comments were grounded in a radical form of atomistic philosophy (Occasionalism) which argued that not only all matter can be reduced to fundamental units of atoms (not the modern view of electron, proton, neutron, but rather the view of pre-Socratic philosophers such as Epicurus and Democritus), but that time is also discreet. Thus, every instant, the world is destroyed and new one is created by God - and that leaves God responsible for every action in the world, including the direct source of fire for the burning cotton.
Second, yes, the impact of al-Ghazali is not clear. Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) in al-Andalus, wrote a devastating critique of Al-Ghazali only a few decades after Ghazali's death. But Rushd's work had a bigger impact on the philosophical discourse in Europe (especially on Aquinas) than in the Islamic world. Ghazali, on the other hand, did have big influence in shaping the direction of sufism - but I don't know about the case of understanding events in the natural world.
We do know one thing: contrary to Weinberg's claim, science in the Muslim world did not die out a "century or two after al-Ghazali." There is strong evidence now, based on the discovery of manuscripts in the past 20-30 years, that science in the Muslim world continued to flourish at least well into the 14th century and may be into the 15th century. In fact, the golden age of Islamic astronomy is now attributed to 13th and 14th centuries (check out George Saliba's lecture on Islam and the transformation of Greek science - and his book, A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories during the Golden Age of Islam). The decline of sciences in the Muslim world is an unsolved and complicated matter. It would make things much easier if we could all blame al-Ghazzali's anti-science attitude for the decline. But evidence doesn't seem to support this idea.
All that said, I agree with Weinberg that if one has a worldview that includes an intervening God, then such a view will fundamentally be in opposition to science. I feel that the constant use of "Inshallah" (God-willing) by contemporary Muslims must have some impact on scientific reasoning.
Nor has science revived in the Islamic world. There are talented scientists who have come to the West from Islamic countries and do work of great value here, among them the Pakistani Muslim physicist Abdus Mohammed Salam, who in 1979 became the first Muslim scientist to be awarded a Nobel Prize, for work he did in England and Italy. But in the past forty years I have not seen any paper in the areas of physics or astronomy that I follow that was written in an Islamic country and was worth reading. Thousands of scientific papers are turned out in these countries, and perhaps I missed something. Still, in 2002 the periodical Nature carried out a survey of science in Islamic countries, and found just three areas in which the Islamic world produced excellent science, all three directed toward applications rather than basic science. They were desalination, falconry, and camel breeding.
He is absolutely correct about this. And I should also mention that even Abdus Salam doesn't officially make the Pakistani official list of a Muslim Nobel prize winner, as he belonged to the Ahmaddiya sect - who were constitutionally declared to be non-Muslims by Pakistan government in 1974. The joke was that the government wanted to keep the record of Muslims clean in terms of science Nobel prizes.
4) here is a fourth source of tension between science and religion that may be the most important of all. Traditional religions generally rely on authority, whether the authority is an infallible leader, such as a prophet or a pope or an imam, or a body of sacred writings, a Bible or a Koran. Perhaps Galileo did not get into trouble solely because he was expressing views contrary to scripture, but because he was doing so independently, rather than as a theologian acting within the Church.
Of course, scientists rely on authorities, but of a very different sort. If I want to understand some fine point about the general theory of relativity, I might look up a recent paper by an expert in the field. But I would know that the expert might be wrong. One thing I probably would not do is to look up the original papers of Einstein, because today any good graduate student understands general relativity better than Einstein did. We progress. Indeed, in the form in which Einstein described his theory it is today generally regarded as only what is known in the trade as an effective field theory; that is, it is an approximation, valid for the large scales of distance for which it has been tested, but not under very cramped conditions, as in the early big bang.
This is a fantastic point - and his Einstein example is a great illustration of the workings of science. The same is true of Darwin's work - and critics of evolution keep on commenting on his books and his life.
This is not the end of his article, but I think his first topic can have this excellent ending:
We have our heroes in science, like Einstein, who was certainly the greatest physicist of the past century, but for us they are not infallible prophets. For those who in everyday life respect independence of mind and openness to contradiction, traits that Emerson admired—especially when it came to religion—the example of science casts an unfavorable light on the deference to authority of traditional religion. The world can always use heroes, but could do with fewer prophets.