Essay on Islam and Science
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Islam and Science
The 6th century Islamic empire inherited the scientific tradition of late antiquity. They preserved it, elaborated it, and finally, passed it to Europe (Science: The Islamic Legacy 3). At this early date, the Islamic dynasty of the Umayyads showed a great interest in science. The Dark Ages for Europeans were centuries of philosophical and scientific discovery and development for Muslim scholars. The Arabs at the time assimilated the ancient wisdom of Persia and the classical heritage of Greece, as well as adapting their own ways of thinking (Hitti 363).
The Islamic ability to reconcile monotheism and science prooves to be a first time in human thought that theology, philosophy, and science…show more content…
One fallacy against the advancement of science through religion is that discrepancies between verses in the ancient manuscripts of the Qur’an and the modern ones could have been edited out, but when compared, both texts are identical. Some argue that Prophet Muhammad is the founder of Islam and is responsible for authoring the Qur’an, but “the compatibility between the statements in the Qur’an and firmly established data of modern science with regard to subjects on which nobody at the time of Muhammad—not even the Prophet himself—could have had access to the knowledge we posses today” (Bucaille 3-5). Parallels between modern science and verses in the Qur’an exist even in the origins of the universe. Modern cosmology specifies that the universe originated from a hot, high density gas, or more simply put, smoke. Scientists now observe new stars forming from the same smoke. The Qur’an states that “He [God] turned to the heaven when it was smoke…” (Qur’an 41:11). The Big Bang Theory is also supported by the Qur’an in that God asks “have not those who disbelieved known that the heavens and the earth were one connected entity, then We separated them?” (Qur’an 21:30). Dr. Alfred Kroner, one of the world’s most prominent geologists, expressed that without knowledge of nuclear physics 1400 years ago, one could not figure out that the earth and the heavens had the same
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Islam and Science
Professor Ibrahim Kalin
The debate over Islam and science covers a wide range of issues and extends from political leaders and experts to the public at large. Revealing the ever-present tensions between theory and practice, this debate takes place at two levels: practical and intellectual. At the practical level, the challenge is keeping up with the technological civilization of our age and bridging the gap between the advanced societies of the West and Muslim countries. From Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, to the Islamic Republic of Iran and poor and rich Arab countries, empowering nations through science and technology is a top priority for all governments in the Muslim world, even though not all succeed in this goal. But it is not only governments and bureaucrats who think this way; the public at large is also fascinated by the power and magic of science and technology, which has penetrated all aspects of our lives. By will or by necessity, the vast majority of Muslims use science and technology in ways indistinguishable from the rest of the world.
While the practical application of science shadows everything else, the intellectual claims surrounding it raise serious questions. As a systematic way of studying nature, science operates within a framework of philosophical assumptions that overlap with theology and philosophy. Religious, cosmological, and metaphysical ideas provide a context of justification for the scientific study of the order of nature. These ideas and presuppositions may not always be explicitly articulated, but they underlie the conceptual foundations of all scientific traditions from the classical to the modern period. Contrary to the claims of positivists and scientific purists, scientific inquiry is shaped by socio-historical circumstances and preferences. Long before the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 and the postmodernist critiques of science that followed it, a number of studies—including Edmund Burtt's The Foundations of Modern Physical Sciences—had begun to probe into the tacit and explicit presuppositions of modern natural sciences. No matter how "objective" and precise it may claim to be, no science functions in a social or conceptual void.
The Qur'an, Islam's sacred text, contains an elaborate cosmology, makes regular references to natural phenomena, and implores its readers to ponder the world of nature as God's signs (ayat Allah, vestigia Dei). It is quite telling that a verse of the Qur'an is also called an ayah, i.e., sign. It deals with issues that are also studied by the natural sciences: creation, life, heavens and earth, animals, causality, order in nature, the argument from design, and the relation between the natural and human orders. The Qur'an presents natural phenomena as both the foundations of the physical order in which we live and the marvelous work of God as the great Artisan. By giving nature a religious meaning and a metaphysical function within the great chain of being, it offers a religious view of the universe which, in turn, lays the foundation for an Islamic philosophy of science. But this is not simply a religious philosophy superimposed upon a material entity. Rather, it is an integrated and holistic notion of the universe in which man and nature are placed as complements to each other.
Islamic Worldview and Modern Science
The notion of worldview is where Islam's holistic view of the universe runs into conflict with the secular, materialistic, and reductionist notions of the natural world. The latter is not science in any proper sense of the term but what some have called "scientism," an ideological construction of science as an alternative worldview. Scientism seeks to supplant the religious view of the universe and reduce religion to ethics without a claim over the nature of reality. This explains in part why modern atheism makes frequent use of scientism to substantiate its claims against religious faith. The debate as to whether Islam and science can be reconciled is not so much about science as it is about the unsubstantiated claims of scientism and its dubious philosophical arguments.
The secularization of the world-picture has been one of the most important outcomes of the scientific revolution. The scientistic worldview that has emerged out of this process has reduced nature to dead matter and divested the natural world of any intrinsic qualities. It has rejected the creationist account of traditional religions and purged all teleology from scientific nomenclature. The Darwinian theory of evolution, for instance, has come to symbolize the epic battle between religion and science in the West and has caused considerable consternation in the Muslim world, since the majority of Muslims maintain the creation story as the explanation of life on earth.
It is therefore not easy to reconcile the philosophical assumptions of modern scientism with the religious view of the universe espoused by the Qur'an and the Islamic intellectual tradition. These two perspectives represent not just two separate domains, i.e., religion and scientism, but rather different ways of looking at reality and the universe, with radically different and often opposing premises. The world-picture that emerges out of these approaches has far-reaching consequences for the theory and practice of science in any civilization. While the advocates of modern science and technology in the Muslim world emphasize the practical applications of science and consider them essential for the advancement of Muslim societies in the twenty-first century, their critics point to the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of scientism and offer an alternative philosophy of science.
Scientism on the Attack
Scientism's frontal attack on Islam came from Ernest Renan at a lecture at the Sorbonne in 1883. A famous historian of religion and devoted positivist of his time, Renan argued that Islam was inherently irrational, militantly intolerant, and essentially incapable of producing science and philosophy. Lacking the "scientific outlook" that made the scientific revolution possible, Islam prevented the development of science and the kind of "free thinking" that is independent of all metaphysical and religious notions. When there was progress, it was despite Islam's religious dogmas, not because of them. Renan's quasi-racist attack was not an invitation for a conversation on religion and science or on Islam and Europe, but a verdict that was to generate a flurry of responses from several generations of Muslim scholars, scientists, and activists. Published in book form as L'Islam et la science, Renan's lecture was a triumphalist announcement of the final victory of Eurocentrism and its new scientistic worldview over the Muslim world and, in fact, the rest of the globe.
Spearheaded by Jamal al-Din Afghani in Persia and Namik Kemal in the Ottoman Empire, Muslim men of letters took it upon themselves to respond to what they considered to be the distortion of modern science at the hands of some anti-religious philosophers, producing a sizable discourse on modern science and how it can be reconciled with Islamic faith. Afghani epitomized the zeitgeist of his generation when he based his historical apology against Renan on the premise that there could be no clash between religion and science, be it traditional or modern, and that modern Western science was nothing other than the original true Islamic science shipped back, via the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, to the Islamic world. By the same token, there is nothing essentially wrong with modern science, and it is the reductionist and exclusivist representation of science that pits scientific facts against religious faith. Afghani also believed that the Muslim lands that were once the trailblazer of scientific advancements in the world would one day recover from their current eclipse and catch up with Europe (see also Lecture on Teaching and Learning and Answer to Renan).
The prominent Ottoman intellectual Namik Kemal joined Afghani with a rebuttal of his own in his Renan Mudafanamesi (A rebuttal of Renan), focusing this time on the scientific achievements of the Arabs (part of Renan's racism was directed at Muslim Arabs). Kemal was more nuanced in his assessment of the relations between religion and science and hinted that the Islamic intellectual tradition had produced a healthy synthesis of religious faith, philosophical investigation, and scientific discovery. Acutely aware of the daunting challenges of modern scientism but not intimidated by it, he produced an interpretation of Islam and science that has sought to strike a balance between tradition and modernity—a balance that has been attempted by numerous scholars and intellectuals since then.
Religion, Philosophy, and Science
The search for a balanced synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science remains at the center of the Islam-science debate. Philosophy is a bridge, a mediator between religious truths and scientific facts, because it provides a conceptual framework in which the religious view of the universe is related to the scientific description of physical reality. Science cannot produce a "worldview" because, as Huston Smith argues in his Beyond the Postmodern Mind, "'world' implies whole and science deals with part, an identifiable part of the whole that can be shown to be part only." Scientific knowledge is a special kind of knowledge, precise in its details but extremely restricted in its scope. The boundaries of science are drawn by itself: it is an enterprise limited to the quantitative study of the physical world, for which specific methods are needed. In this undertaking, natural sciences excel and show great prowess. Science becomes scientism and turns into poor philosophy when these boundaries are obliterated.
The premodern Muslim scientists applied this principle to their hermeneutics of science and interpreted scientific data within the worldview and cosmological outlook of Islam. A case in point is the notion of God as the "clock-maker" and why it has not caused a religious outrage among Muslims. The mechanization of the cosmos is a hallmark of the modern scientific worldview and underlies much of the new atheism today, because it dispenses with the idea of a creator and a divine agent in the universe. The explanation of the order and balance of the universe through the metaphor of a well-functioning system, however, is not an exclusively modern phenomenon. The Qur'anic concept of mizan, balance, and the philosophical notion of nizam, order, has been utilized to prove God's absolute perfection and artisanship. In fact, one of the classical proofs for the existence of God is the perfection of God's creation: the order, balance, proportionality, beauty, and harmony that we see in the universe. One can study the universe in its physical aspects and marvel at its mathematical precision without turning it into self-sustaining matter and a self-regulating entity separated from God. This is where classical Muslim theology, or kalam, joined the work of Muslim cosmologists and physicists and produced a scientifically sound and philosophically integrated view of the natural world.
The controversies surrounding faith and reason in Islam were hardly between religion and science or religious faith and rational argumentation. Many scholars of religion were also scientists, philosophers, historians, and philologists, and vice versa. When the question of the compatibility of faith and reason was raised, it was raised not by secular philosophers, as in post-medieval Europe, but by religious authorities who did not feel comfortable with particular theories and interpretations of Muslim philosophers. Most of their objections pertained to the philosophical and cosmological system developed by the Muslim Peripatetics on the basis of Aristotle's core ideas. Science per se was hardly a matter of controversy. Al-Ghazali's attack on the Muslim Aristotelians in his Tahafut al-falasifah is a case in point.
Overcoming the Boundaries
Ghazali's criticism of Peripatetic metaphysics and cosmology has been interpreted as the death knell of philosophy and science in Islam—a point still raised in the Islam-science debate today. This is a simplistic reading of the intellectual tradition of Islam and fails to do justice to the long and complex history of science in the Muslim world. Philosophical and scientific studies continued after al-Ghazali and reached a climax in terms of accumulated scientific knowledge and advanced techniques in Andalusia, the Ottoman world, and the subcontinent of India.
More importantly, al-Ghazali makes it clear in his autobiography al-Munqidh min al-dalal that his primary objections were directed not at philosophy (falsafah) as such but at the philosophers (falasifah) and their metaphysics in particular. In a Kantian move, al-Ghazali's concern was to draw the limits of speculative (and Aristotelian) philosophy vis-á-vis Islamic metaphysics. Al-Ghazali held that the Aristotelian system, which the Muslim Peripatetics endorsed, was not adequate for an Islamic metaphysics of God and the creation of the universe because it reduced God to an Unmoved Mover, which hardly did justice to God's absolute power, infinity, mercy, and love.
Diverse Views of Science in the Muslim World
With this background in mind, three main positions can be identified in the present religion-science discourse in the Muslim world. The first is that science is a cross-cultural enterprise and that it does not take an "Islamic" or "Western" form. In simple terms, science studies the world of nature and is a tool to make people's lives better. It is not a philosophical project and does not need religious justification. What the classical Islamic civilization had in the past was a scientific tradition carried out in Muslim lands, which was then transmitted to the West, preparing the ground for the rise of modern science. Thus the Muslim world should import science and technology to solve its economic and social problems without fearing their religious or ethical implications.
This view has been generally defended by such figures as Jamal al-Din Afghani and Sayyid Ahmad Khan in the nineteenth century and is held by scores of Muslim scientists and engineers today. One of its most ardent defenders was Ataturk, who said in his usual crisp tone: "We shall take science and knowledge from wherever they may be, and put them in the mind of every member of the nation. For science and for knowledge, there are no restrictions and no conditions. For a nation that insists on preserving a host of traditions and beliefs that rest on no logical proof, progress is very difficult, perhaps even impossible." Today, governments in the Muslim world follow the same approach and seek to make the most of modern scientific and technological advancements. While many Muslim countries lag behind in scientific research and publication, they share the goal of transferring and owning science and technology to empower their military, economic, and societal development.
Science as Deciphering the Signs of God
In a pious religious context, a different version of this view has been produced to show the compatibility of the Qur'an and science. The proponents of this view, such as Farid Wajdi, Said Nursi, and the latter's follower Fethullah Gulen, both of whom have popularized the study of science among their followers, assign to the natural sciences the task of deciphering the signs of God in the universe. According to them, science reveals the divinely ordained codes built into the natural order and thus helps us marvel at God's creative act. The Qur'an describes the world of nature as a book to read under its guidance, and every sign in the cosmos points to God's power and generosity. This view of science as the decoder of the sacred language of the cosmos has appealed to generations of pious believers in the Christian and Muslim worlds. It has been deployed to show the unity of the three orders of reality: the divine who has created the universe, the natural world that bears to witness to God's creation, and the human order that is attached to both and thus occupies a unique position.
This view of science has also been used as a bulwark against the anti-religious claims of aggressive scientism and atheism. Those who hold a religious view of the universe reject scientism not only on philosophical but also on scientific grounds, and assert that scientism is not verified by the objective findings of natural sciences. The world of nature, when properly studied, reveals a remarkable structure of order, balance, and proportion, all of which point to a higher principle in the universe. God's "invisible hand" is seen most clearly in the cosmos, which humans must not only use for their practical, worldly needs but also understand in order to appreciate God's grace. Thus the sciences, which study nature, God's great work of art, can only enhance one's belief in God. The scientistic critics of religion misuse scientific theories and facts and create a pseudo-religion called scientism. Far from contradicting each other, Islam and science complement each other. Thus Farid Wajdi, one of the most prolific writers of modern Islam, states in his hefty work Islam in an Age of Science, published in Arabic in the middle of the last century, that "science in all ages supports and confirms Islam and Islam helps and backs its learning."
A more recent version of this view has been popularized by the work of Harun Yahya, the pen name of Adnan Oktar, a Turkish scholar and popularizer of Islam. Through numerous publications, videos, and Internet resources, Yahya has launched a major attack against Darwinism and evolutionary theory and defended monotheistic creationism as a scientifically proven doctrine. His work is also a typical example of what some have called "the scientific exegesis of the Qur'an."
The construction of science as a way of deciphering God's signs in the cosmos has led some Muslim scholars to interpret Qur'anic verses according to the findings of modern natural sciences. In turn, scientific discoveries have been interpreted to show their compatibility with religious belief. Some have gone even further and tried to prove not only that the Qur'an is compatible with scientific facts, but that it predicted new scientific discoveries fourteen centuries ago, and that this should be seen as a miracle of the Qur'an and demonstrate that it is the word of God. From the creation of the universe and the formation of clouds to the genesis of the fetus, Qur'anic verses as well as the sayings of the Prophet of Islam have been analyzed with a view toward explaining their scientific precision and truth.
Best exemplified by the French medical doctor Maurice Bucaille's The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, published in 1976, this approach has led to what is called "scientific exegesis" (al-tafsir al-ilmi, al-tafsir al-fanni) of the Qur'an. Its primary focus is to prove the miraculous nature of the Qur'an by using recent scientific discoveries. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this view has been largely accepted by various Muslim scholars including Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Iskandarani, Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, Muhammad Abdullah Draz, and Said Nursi. Today, there are numerous publications in various languages advocating a pious interpretation of modern natural sciences.
The pietistic interpretation of modern science in the name of Islamic compatibility fails to address the deep philosophical differences between the Islamic scientific tradition and the secular outlook of modern science. As William Chittick argues in his Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul: The Pertinence of Islamic Cosmology in the Modern World, it is misleading to think that the goals of the traditional natural sciences are the same as those of modern science. It is also wrong to assume that premodern science is different from modern science only in the advancement of techniques, methods, and the accumulation of scientific data. The qualitative differences in the overall outlook of classical and modern science are too obvious to ignore. As George Saliba discusses in his Islamic Science and the Making of the European Renaissance, the rise of the Islamic scientific tradition cannot be relegated to the Muslim encounter with the Greco-Hellenistic tradition and its appropriation by successive generations of Muslim scholars and scientists. A more complex set of circumstances were at work in the formation of the Islamic scientific heritage, and they were underlined by both philosophical considerations and practical necessities, which will be examined below.
Science as a Cultural Enterprise
The second view of science in the Muslim world, which we may call the "epistemic view," takes its cue from contemporary philosophy of science and focuses on the social and historical bases of scientific theories. Its proponents criticize modern Western science on epistemological grounds and make use of the postmodern critiques of natural sciences and their philosophical claims. The epistemic view of science considers the sciences of nature like any other human enterprise: historically grounded, socially bounded, culturally situated, and economically motivated.
Led by the work of T. Kuhn, P. Feyerabend, I. Lakatos, and others, the philosophy of science has gradually become a sociology of knowledge, unearthing the social circumstances, historical prejudices, and tacit assumptions that shape the outlook and practice of science at any given time in history. There is no such thing as '"pure science"' untouched by contexts of historical formation; sciences, no matter how objective or precise they may claim to be, cannot claim immunity. The natural sciences are both cultural products and intellectual constructs that seek to understand the natural world in certain specific ways. As a result, the exclusivist claims of modern science and scientism over other forms of knowledge, including religious, philosophical, and artistic knowledge, should be discarded and the validity of different types of knowledge should be recognized.
The epistemic and methodological critique of modern science and its exclusivist claims of epistemic dominance have been fully developed by a number of Muslim scholars and intellectuals, including Ismail Faruqi, Ziauddin Sardar, Zaki Kirmani, and M. Ahmad Anees. They have also attempted to give an Islamic content to the epistemic-philosophical architecture of natural sciences. The "Islamization of knowledge" project, developed by Ismail Faruqi and his followers at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), aimed at creating a new epistemic foundation for social and natural sciences from an Islamic point of view, and adopted an interdisciplinary approach. But Faruqi, since he believed in the essential neutrality of natural sciences and thought they needed no special attention, turned to social sciences and initiated a program to '"Islamize"' the existing forms of knowledge and social disciplines as they have developed in the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Ziauddin Sardar and a number of closely associated scholars known as the "Ijmalis" and the "Aligarh School" have also addressed the issues of science and scientific knowledge from an Islamic point of view. They have adopted a largely historical-cultural approach to science and interpret it as "a basic problem-solving tool of any civilization." As Sardar argues in his Explorations in Islamic Science, the natural sciences, just like any other human enterprise, operate within a certain historical-cultural context. Their tacit philosophical assumptions and scientific programs are shaped by the socio-historical settings in which they emerge and function. As the defenders of "postmodern science" hold, all scientific data are subject to such historical readings and cannot be considered absolute truths outside their socio-cultural contexts. This does not lessen the significance and reliability of scientific discoveries. But it does limit the degree to which the natural sciences can claim universal objectivity and applicability.
The epistemic view of science has led a number of Muslim scholars, scientists, and intellectuals to produce a sizable literature on the development of methods of natural sciences according to Islamic principles in such diverse fields as physics, astronomy, and biology. Several Islamic universities in Pakistan and Malaysia have implemented these principles in their curricula and have taught natural and social sciences from an Islamic and multidisciplinary point of view. Although they have achieved some success, they have so far failed to produce an integrated and coherent body of knowledge in either social or natural sciences.
The culturalist-historical approach to science has been further developed in relation to the practice of science in the Muslim world. In his Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History, Ahmad Dallal, for instance, traces the history of scientific activity in classical Islamic civilization by analyzing the cultural forces that propelled Muslims to take up natural sciences as a primary field of study. Toby Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West provides a comparative study of the history of science in Chinese, Islamic and Western traditions and focuses on legal and institutional foundations. Huff explores why the scientific revolution did not happen in China or the Islamic world when in fact they had more advanced science than Europe until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
A Metaphysics of Science
In addition to the neutral and epistemic-cultural views of science, a third view of science has emerged with a more substantial critique of the secular-materialist outlook of modern natural sciences and the philosophical claims of scientism. Led chiefly by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and defended by Naquib al-Attas, Osman Bakar, Alparslan Açikgenç, Mahdi Golshani, and Muzaffar Iqbal, the proponents of this view aim to analyze and deconstruct the metaphysical and philosophical foundations of modern science and propose a view of science grounded in the sacred teachings of religion on nature and the cosmos. They agree with the epistemic view that every scientific activity is carried out within a certain framework of principles, ideas, and assumptions about the universe. But these are not simply methodological principles; they pertain to the very nature of scientific activity. Our basic premises about existence precede the scientific descriptions of the physical reality. Thus a proper of study of the relation between religion and science has to start with the delineation of these presiding ideas and assumptions.
The task of a proper philosophy of science is to clarify these ideas and principles as they apply to the scientific investigation of the physical world. "Islamic science" refers to the kind of science produced within a framework of reality as envisaged by the fundamental teachings of Islam about the universe. It is both a metaphysical and an ethical framework, a way of looking at physical reality as part of the great chain of being that encompasses all beings and regulates their relations. According to its defenders, the concept of Islamic science operates on the principle of a conceptual unity and a holistic view of reality whereby everything in the universe is related to everything else. The Qur'anic view of the cosmos undergirds the scientific study of the natural world not only at the level of methodology but also at the level of "fundamental metaphysics," providing a context of meaning for all philosophical investigations and scientific discoveries. As Nasr states in his Science and Civilization in Islam, "the aim of all the Islamic sciences . . . is to show the unity and interrelatedness of all that exists, so that, in contemplating the unity of the cosmos, man may be led to the unity of the Divine Principle, of which the unity of Nature is the image." Thus the doctrine of tawhid, divine unity, applies to theology as well as to science; by means of this concept, the hierarchical interconnectedness and the inherent order and intelligibility of things are unveiled.
As Muzaffar Iqbal discusses in his Islam and Science, the great achievements of Muslim scientists in classical Islamic civilization were made possible within such a framework of understanding and thus extended the Islamic Weltanschauung into the field of practical sciences and technology. While operating within the religious universe of Islam, natural sciences also responded to the practical needs of Muslim societies. These included a wide range of issues: finding the direction of the qibla; determining prayer times; devising complex tax systems; developing new surgical methods; examining and discovering different aspects of the human body; producing new drugs; applying mathematical models and geometrical patterns to architecture and plastic arts; producing complex colors and coloring techniques; researching light and its movements; advancing optical sciences for various uses; building sophisticated and efficient windmills and watermills; developing the science of cybernetics; inventing new devices for measurement; advancing map making; and so on.
History of Islamic Science
While scientists and technicians met these practical needs and advanced the material well-being of their societies, states and political leaders supported and generously funded scientific activities. In some cases, rival states competed with each other to attract the best scientists in the world, from the Byzantine lands to China. Most scientific projects in physics, astronomy, chemistry, optics, and medicine were funded through public funds but also through endowments, schools, libraries, and research centers. The famous Bayt al-Hikmah, for instance, became such a center in the ninth century and functioned as a model for other institutions in the centuries to come. It was not only a center for the translation of Greek philosophical and scientific works into Arabic. It was also a center for advanced learning, research, and study where Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs came together to pursue knowledge in the vast inventory of human learning that was available to them. It is still remembered today as a beacon of knowledge and as a memorable witness to the great achievements of Muslim scholars and scientists.
The contributions of Muslim scientists have been studied in various academic works, including those by Roshdi Rashed, N. Haq, E. Kennedy, and others. The Cambridge Journal of Arabic Sciences and Philosophy publishes scholarly articles on the history of science in the Muslim world. The journal Islam and Science, edited by Muzaffar Iqbal, engages the Islam-and-science debate through discussions on the theory and practice of science in an Islamic context.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr's Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study was the first major study of Islamic science with a view toward making it available to a general audience. Most recently, the major achievements of classical Islamic science have been presented in a major exhibition and study called 1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World. The exhibition brings together some of the important discoveries made by Muslim scientists and discusses their contributions to general knowledge.
A museum of Islamic science and technology with a similar idea has opened in Istanbul, Turkey under the direction of Fuat Sezgin. Considered one of the most prolific historians of Islamic thought and science, Sezgin's works, published in several languages, cover the major areas of Islamic science and technology. His science museum provides an engaging access to the workings of various technical devices and machines developed by Muslim scientists.
The Islam-science debate has its critics as well. The critics reject the Islamic science literature as conceptually weak, historically ungrounded, and scientifically unproductive. For instance, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Taner Edis, while taking different approaches, insist on a clear-cut distinction between the fields of religion and science, and see attempts at reconciliation or synthesis as unsound. They generally take a bifurcationist position and propose that religion and science be treated as two independent domains of study.
Issues in Physical and Biological Sciences
Today, Muslim scholars and scientists face a series of conceptual and practical challenges in the field of science and technology. The findings and application of modern science to various fields of life pose challenges to world religions including Islam. Issues in bioethics, human cloning, genetic engineering, organ transplantation, and stem-cell research have generated varying responses by Muslim scholars and scientists. This is a new area of intense debate in which Muslim jurists, biologists, and physicians have all been consulted for answers. The Darwinian theory of evolution remains a highly contentious issue, with both defenders and opponents arguing from the Islamic sources. Osman Bakar's Critique of Evolutionary Theory: A Collection of Essays brings together a number of essays that consider Darwinian evolution both unscientific and un-Islamic.
A similar set of issues has emerged in the field of physical sciences and cosmological theories. Quantum mechanics has substantially changed our concept of matter, and its philosophical implications have been applied to issues of determinism, measurement, chance, and necessity. Modern cosmological theories, the big-bang theory of creation, the anthropic principle, the argument from design, and models of the expanding and oscillating universe have also produced a sizable literature and have once again blurred the lines between religion, philosophy, and science. A number of Muslim scientists have written about modern physics and cosmology from an Islamic point of view.
Muslim thinkers and scientists have produced different perspectives on Islam and science. Their diverse responses attest to the possibility of different conceptualizations and formulations within an Islamic framework. The practical and conceptual challenges of science and technology remain pressing for Muslim societies. The debate over how to develop a coherent Islamic framework for science and technology continues with important implications for biological and environmental issues in the Muslim world. As developing Muslim nations continue to struggle with issues of science and technology, the Islam-science debate is certain to gain further momentum.
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