Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Galileo in the service of Islam

Galileo stays as the poster child for science & religion conflict model. This despite of a strong effort by historians of science to bring to attention the political, cultural, and social aspects of the Galileo Affair - and the fact that Galileo himself was religious, that there were many in the Catholic Church that supported his position, and that his prickly personality had gained him several enemies within the Church (for more science & religion misconceptions, check out this fantastic book, Galileo goes to jail and other myths about science & religion, edited by Ronald Numbers).

But what I find amusing is the use of Galileo misconceptions not in science vs religion debates - but rather by Muslims to present Islam as a superior religion to Christianity. The template goes as follows:
a) Galileo was persecuted by Christians
b) Christians didn't accept Galileo's ideas because Christianity is a corrupted doctrine
c) this caused the tension between science & religion
c) Islam is a scientific religion - thus it has no problem with Galileo or with science
d) Galileo was (of course) right - hence Islam is better than Christianity

There are numerous forums where Muslims make similar arguments (for example, see Dr. Israr Ahmed making this argument at the end of Q&A). But I like the following example as it includes not only Galileo but several other popular ideas that use and misuse science. Intriguingly, this response is part of the rejection of biological evolution:

Thing is, Darwin’s culture was of the Christian West which had persecuted people like Galileo in the past who observed the physical universe was different from the flawed teaching/understandings of the Christian church at the time. The WEST then began to develop a strained relationship with Science.

But with Islam it was different. Muslims in Cordoba/AndalucĂ­a the Maghreb embraced science – naturally. If man hadn’t yet corrupted Divine Revelation then how could science contradict religion. It was the Muslims who translated the Greek works which eventually seeded the European Renaissance which the West tries to hijack as being independent of the Muslims. Europe was in the dark ages while Islam was embraced and lifted the people from Jahilliah to success from what’s now known as Spain to parts of China.

So Islam NEVER had a problem with Science. But the European tension with science once again hijacked Science as it’s own and in effect ‘exported’ this tension to Islam when Europeans talked about Science as if it was something that rested solely in their hands.

Eventually, Europeans used science for horrific means: ways to kill and injure people: biological diseases, poison gas, nuclear weapons with an eye to plundering the resources from other countries (like Malaysian tin) without thought for the environment or without much thought for the indigenous people. The Muslims had already largely reached a level of development that was satisfactory and more in tune with the earth so it appeared the Muslims might have stalled.

I have heard these arguments many times before (and some statements in here are even somewhat correct - such as the Muslim contribution to medieval intellectual thought). But the last sentence is new to me: the linking of Muslim lack of scientific development with a concern for the environment. While the Islam and science harmony narrative was shaped in the 19th century by Muslim reformers like Afghani, this particular post-hoc environmental innovation seems to be a 21st century response.

As for Galileo, he must be twisting in his grave at Santa Croce (minus his finger - a post about his tomb coming up) by the way Muslims are dragging his name 367 years after his death - both against Christianity and against an established idea of science.


Anonymous said...

Hypothetically if he was to move to Islamic lands such as Baghdad they would have welcomed his insight and contribution since they were stagnated with diminishing wealth...Islam did not have a problem with observational innovations...

I think science was utilized in a bad way when people decided to mass produce causing toxic gases and polluting the fragile balances of this earth.

Anonymous said...

What I find amusing is your condescending attitude. When you state something, never color them with trivial bias. Now your so-called "facts" have turned into you indirectly ridiculing Muslims and using evidence to justify yourself.
All your "what I find amusing," and "[Galileo] must be twisting in his grave" are just insults aimed at creating more tension between the already tense sides. I suggest you stick to the facts and keep opinions (unless people want to hear them) to yourself.