Discover Magazine has an interesting article in the July 2007 issue: Science and Islam in Conflict. It begins:
“There is no conflict between Islam and science,” Zaghloul El-Naggar declares … What people call the scientific method, he explains, is really the Islamic method: “All the wealth of knowledge in the world has actually emanated from Muslim civilization.
Yes, please stifle your laughter. This is a common refrain among Muslims trying to promote and proselytize. I’m sometimes amazed by the tripe put out by Muslims to advance this fiction. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos claiming the Koran teaches modern scientific principles – and therefore, the Koran is proven true. It’s sometimes put into the context of “Who made the universe?” (God.) “Who do you go to if you want to know how something works?” (The person who built it.) See, all that work you do to “discover” things is in vain. Muslims can just look in the Koran.
And who is accountable for the decline [of Islamic science]? El-Naggar has no doubts. “We are not behind because of Islam,” he says. “We are behind because of what the Americans and the British have done to us.” The evil West is a common refrain with El-Naggar
Because the Muslim world was a bastion of science until 1918, when the British gained control of lands formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire? Of course not. Islamic science was crippled centuries and centuries before that. A brief Neil Tyson video on the fall of Islamic science, beginning around 1200 AD:
But, Muslims constantly try to say that the Koran is verified by the “fact” that it teaches scientific principles, or the reverse – that science proves the Koran to be divine. And they end up producing stupid videos like this, this, and this.
In Treasures of the Sunnah, El-Naggar quotes scripture: “and each of them (i.e., the moon and the sun) floats along in (its own) orbit.” “The Messenger of Allah,” El-Naggar writes, “talked about all these cosmic facts in such accurate scientific style at a period of time when people thought that Earth was flat and stationary. This is definitely one of the signs, which testifies to the truthfulness of the message of Muhammad.”
Uh, wha? The Koran says the Sun travels in an orbit, and this proves the Koran anticipated the theory of solar-centrism? Sounds like geo-centrism to me. In other words, Muhammad is simply parroting the beliefs of his day – and getting his facts wrong, despite the fact that the message “came from God”.
Elsewhere, he notes the Prophet’s references to “the seven earths”; El-Naggar claims that geologists say that Earth’s crust consists of seven zones. In another passage, the Prophet said that there were 360 joints in the body, and other Islamic researchers claim that medical science backs up the figure. Such knowledge, the thinking goes, could only have been given by God.
Critics are quick to point out that Islamic scientists tend to use each other as sources, creating an illusion that the work has been validated by research. The existence of 360 joints, in fact, is not accepted in medical communities; rather, the number varies from person to person, with an average of 307. These days most geologists divide Earth’s crust into 15 major zones, or tectonic plates.
This reminds me a lot of Christian creationists. Like I said, this myth that the Koran teaches modern scientific principles (and it is validated by science) seems to be a pervasive myth among Muslims. I feel bad for the poor convert who gets sucked in by this misinformation because he failed to actually verify these empty claims.
As if we needed another testament to their intellectual flexibility:
El-Naggar even sees moral meaning in the earthquake that triggered the 2005 tsunami and washed away nearly a quarter of a million lives. Plate tectonics and global warming be damned: God had expressed his wrath over the sins of the West. Why, then, had God punished Southeast Asia rather than Los Angeles or the coast of Florida? His answer: Because the lands that were hit had tolerated the immoral behavior of tourists.
On the backwardness of Islamic science (due, of course to the British and Americans):
The Napoleonic occupation from 1798 to 1801 brought French scientists to Egypt. The arrival of the Europeans alerted Egyptians to how far behind they’d fallen; that shock set in motion a long intellectual awakening. During the 150 years that followed, institutions for higher learning in Cairo gave the city an international reputation for prestigious institutions, and the exchange of scholars went in both directions, with Egyptians going west and Americans and Europeans coming here.
Then came the 1952 coup led by Gamal Abdel Nasser that toppled King Farouk I. Nasser was the first modern leader to position himself as a spokesman for the whole Arab world. His brand of nationalism was meant to unify all Arab people, not just Egyptians, and it set them in opposition to America and Europe. “After Nasser, Arab nationalism raised suspicions about the West,” Soltan says.
What about, say, evolutionary biology or Darwinism? I ask. (Evolution is taught in Egyptian schools, although it is banned in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.) “If you are asking if Adam came from a monkey, no,” Badawy responds. “Man did not come from a monkey. If I am religious, if I agree with Islam, then I have to respect all of the ideas of Islam. And one of these ideas is the creation of the human from Adam and Eve. If I am a scientist, I have to believe that.”
But from the point of view of a scientist, is it not just a story? I ask. He tells me that if I were writing an article saying that Adam and Eve is a big lie, it will not be accepted until I can prove it.
“Nobody can just write what he thinks without proof. But we have real proof that the story of Adam as the first man is true.”
He looks at me with disbelief: “It’s written in the Koran.”
It sounds like some of the Muslim commentary in the article is just a mixture of bad philosophy and theology (God made the universe and wrote the Koran, therefore science and the Koran cannot conflict) and constant scapegoating of the West for their problems.
[Prince El Hassan bin Talal] is also candid, calling suicide bombers “social rejects” and questioning the validity of those who would take the Muslim world back to the times of the Prophet Muhammad. “Are we talking Islam or Islamism?” he asks, pointing out the difference between the religion and those extremists who use the religion to advance their own agendas. “The danger [posed by Islamists] is not only to Christians but also to Islam itself. The real problem is not the Arab-Israel issue but the rise of Islamism.”
It seems that the Islamic world is caught in a cycle of poor education and religious extremism. Education has a way of blunting religious beliefs (and the dogmatic, backwards ones in particular). You can see it even within subcultures in the US: blacks have the highest degrees of religiosity and lowest education, whites have moderate levels of religiosity and decent levels of education, and Jews have the lowest degrees of religiosity and highest education. Similarly, the “Bible Belt” in the US coincides with the nation’s lowest high school graduation rates. Being exposed to reality and thinking tends to break the small worldview of religion. I also can’t help but wonder if the Muslim world is caught in another cycle: the fact that they are behind the West in science leads them (for reasons of ego) to downplay the usefulness of science and in favor of religion (well, the West might have science, but they are morally decadent and don’t have “God’s Word”. On the other hand, we [Muslims] please God and we’ll be the ones in heaven, not them – and in the end, that’s all that matters). Heck, you could even quote Jesus in favor of that point: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
Update (Oct 2, 2007): Physics Today has an article written by a Pakistani Physicist about the state of Islamic Science.