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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Subject: The collapse of Islamic science
It seems obvious that religion retards science.  The catholic church insisted for a long time that the earth was the centre of the universe, that advances in birth control were evil.  You cannot be an open-minded scientist at the same time you're trying to prove your church's doctrines.

I found a link to a fascinating article on slashdot, lamenting the collapse of Islamic scientific advances, and linking their fall from grace to the hardline religious stance their leaders assumed.

It was not always this way. Islam's magnificent Golden Age in the 9th–13th centuries brought about major advances in mathematics, science, and medicine. The Arabic language held sway in an age that created algebra, elucidated principles of optics, established the body's circulation of blood, named stars, and created universities. But with the end of that period, science in the Islamic world essentially collapsed. No major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries now.

The article attempts to take a quantifiable approach, and presents some interesting facts.  When counting published scientific papers, "Forty-six Muslim countries contributed 1.17% of the world's science literature, whereas 1.66% came from India alone and 1.48% from Spain." 

Academic and cultural freedoms on campuses are highly restricted in most Muslim countries. At Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, where I teach, the constraints are similar to those existing in most other Pakistani public-sector institutions.

Here, as in other Pakistani public universities, films, drama, and music are frowned on, and sometimes even physical attacks by student vigilantes who believe that such pursuits violate Islamic norms take place. The campus has three mosques with a fourth one planned, but no bookstore.

As intolerance and militancy sweep across the Muslim world, personal and academic freedoms diminish with the rising pressure to conform. In Pakistani universities, the veil is now ubiquitous, and the last few unveiled women students are under intense pressure to cover up.

The imposition of the veil makes a difference. My colleagues and I share a common observation that over time most students—particularly veiled females—have largely lapsed into becoming silent note-takers, are increasingly timid, and are less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions.

Religious conservatives in the US have rallied against the teaching of Darwinian evolution. Extreme Hindu groups such as the Vishnu Hindu Parishad, which has called for ethnic cleansing of Christians and Muslims, have promoted various "temple miracles," including one in which an elephant-like God miraculously came alive and started drinking milk. Some extremist Jewish groups also derive additional political strength from antiscience movements.

It goes on to describe what we can all see: that religious fundamentalism co-opts science for its own purposes, or attempts to quash research that may contradict its teachings.  And really, when you're basing your religion on the words of frightened tribesmen from the distant past, what can modern science do that isn't going to shed uncomfortable light on the ignorant beliefs of peasants long past?
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Member since May 2011 · 2485 posts · Location: Brisbane
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In reading the article further it makes some other fantastically interesting observations.  It suggests that, on the surface, most science does not present any issues that might challenge religious beliefs.  A bridgemaker certainly doesn't need to ponder the deep questions while working out the load limits on his slide rule.  Certainly if the Islamic world built more schools and libraries and labs they could catch up, right?

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.

This is the crux of the argument I think, and puts to words far better than I've been able to the idea that religious people, by their very nature, are refusing science.  I believe that religious people who eschew tried and proven science are akin to the modern children in the Western world.  Free of exposure to legitimate hardship or war, they're making up their own petty wars, creating straw men and railing against an opposing machination that, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist. 

For lack of anything better to do, like survive, they're making shit up and creating enemies.  This gives them a sense of purpose that they otherwise lack in their lives, and this, I'm certain, is a situation that came about because our leaders have adopted a conservative, protectionist stance.  Without a forward-looking mindset, without a clear goal of progress and advancement, we find our enemies where we can find them: within.

...I've drifted from the topic at hand.  Getting back to the Islamic world:

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.
This post was edited on 2007-10-03, 15:07 by NFG.
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