Sunday, July 11, 2010

NASA and the 'Muslim science' fiction

There were other stories of inventors from the early Islamic world who had their inventions dashed in the sand, for being un-Islamic. And even today Islam remains inward looking, in order for the Saudis to have a university which resembles something of what we would call a university in the west, it had to be built in an enclosed protected area. The clerics were railing against it and before long, someone would be blowing themselves up at the gate. I think Islamic science is a pipe dream. Most of the science came from the conquered lands ~ with only 15% coming from Arabia or Arabs. It is as though Islam needs to conquer in order to develop. And then as in every case, the Islamic religious restrictions, quickly bring whatever spark of genius to a halt. Think about these people, their whole life would have been controlled, you have appear in the mosque five times a day, if you don't show up, someone is out to kill you, or a knock on the door to find out why you have been absent. How could these guys think! Most of the west's thinkers were wealthy but pulled away from normal life, to devote time to their discoveries. This Islamic slave or submissive mentality drove some of the early Muslim thinkers to denounce the religion ~ because of the restrictions on what they could say or think.

What has changed in the Islamic world? Many Muslims see the west as ripe for conquest, no doubt so that they can claim western advancement as Islamic. Almost all of Islamic advancements came after a major conquest. They translated selected the Greek manuscripts [leaving out those on poetry and philosophy] and sold them back to Europe ~ when Muslim attacks made Eastern Europe inaccessible. Further, there could have been no Arabian tribe with an illiterate leader, that was going to take over Persia and not learn something from it ~ even though they destroyed most of the books. Even Egypt was much more advanced than Arabia ~ armed only with its famous stone of worship. Here are the descendants of those who built the pyramids.

The main emphasis for Muslims today is centered around building bigger mosques ~ so sure they are of the superiority of Islam and its knowledge. For the most part there is no room for reality or historic fact ~ they live in a dream world and they want us all to come in there with them!

See above: Algeria multi-billion $$ mosque, whereas the country's budget $63 billion 2010 and the average income $7,000/yr.

In the 16th century, astrono mer Taqi al-Din built one of the world's great observato ries in Istanbul. It rivaled that of pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe -- while it lasted.

"Taqi al-Din's observatory was razed to the ground by a squad of Janissaries, by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti," Bernard Lewis writes in his book "What Went Wrong?" "This observatory had many predecessors in the lands of Islam; it had no successors until the age of modernization."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden caused a furor when he revealed that President Obama had directed him "to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science . . . and math and engineering."

This shouldn't be hard to do, so long as Bolden is well-versed in accomplishments rising out of the Middle East many centuries ago. It gave us what we know as Arabic numerals, although they originated in India. It gave us algebra and the rudiments of trigonometry. It gave us medical pioneers in the 10th and 11th centuries. (A significant proportion of these scientists and physicians were Christians and Jews, Lewis notes -- a fact Bolden had best keep to himself.)

It's wonderful to feel good about the work of Ibn Sina of Bukhara, who compiled an indispensable medical encyclopedia before his death in 1037, but it raises the question of what Muslim science has done for us over the last millennium or so.

The Muslim world would be better served by a frank discussion of how so much of it came to be sunk in backwardness and ignorance, although NASA's administrator is not the natural person to lead it (nor, if he's as smart as advertised, will he volunteer for the task).

Historian David Landes puts it starkly: "The vast bulk of modern science was of Europe's making, especially that breakthrough of the 17th and 18th centuries that goes by the name 'scientific revolution.' Not only did non-Western science contribute just about nothing (though there was more there than Europeans knew), but at that point it was incapable of participating, so far had it fallen behind or taken the wrong turning."

The short version of the story is that in the battle between science and religious obscurantism in the Islamic world, obscurantism won in a rout. Landes recounts that when the Muslims conquered Persia in the seventh century, the commander on the ground was forbidden to distribute the vast collection of captured books and scientific papers. Word came down from on high: "Throw them in the water. If what they contain is right guidance, God has given us better guidance. If it is error, God has protected us against it."

The West had its own incurious religious authorities, as Galileo can attest. But in the West, the material world slowly became disenchanted, creating an expanded space for rationality. Worldly rulers and the church separated, creating an expanded space for freedom. The countries that were most open to technological advance -- primarily England at first -- became the most powerful in a virtuous circle.

"Astonishingly, the regime in which oppression and dogmatism prevailed was not merely wicked, but actually weaker than societies which were freer and more tolerant!" the social scientist Ernest Gellner explained. "This was the essence of the Enlightenment."

How to react to the Enlightenment's absence from parts of the Muslim world is one line of division between George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Bush's freedom agenda aimed to create the predicate for future success in stagnant Muslim countries; Obama's outreach agenda is much more accepting of the Muslim status quo.

Perhaps Bush was too ambitious, or Obama is too complacent. All we can know is that without embracing the essence of the Enlightenment, too much of the Muslim world will remain sunk in failure, pitied by the foreign bureaucrats who come to tell it bedtime stories about past glories.

New York Post

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