Why the Islamic world turned away from science and rationalism

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  1. Post
    #1

    Why the Islamic world turned away from science and rationalism

    Since this is a topic/line of questioning that is quite often raised and people often seem to be perplexed as to how/why the Islam in the modern era seems generally slow to "get with the times" in contrast to the way that, for example, Christianity or Judaism has experienced secularization and modernization over time - a possible explanation may lie in the way that Islamic philosophy/theology developed historically. It's an interesting and pertinent question, after all, we often hear that the Islamic world at one point in time experienced a "Golden Age" of intellectual flourishing in the medieval period of history, wherein many significant discoveries, inventions and advancements in the progress and understanding of early science were made.

    So what happened?

    An interesting and thorough article here titled 'Why the Arabic world turned away from science' examines the issue in-depth.

    During the medieval era there were actually schools of thought in the Islamic world devoted to rationalist philosophy and intellectual inquiry known as Kalām (roughly translated as "science of discourse") - a form of rationalist theology deeply influenced by the Greek rationalist philosophical tradition (Aristotle and Plato and the corresponding philosophical traditions deriving from them; Aristotelianism, neo-Platonism, ect.) - much as it had been in the Christian medieval world with the slew of Christian philosophers influenced by the Hellenistic rationalist philosophical tradition. One of these was the known as the Muʿtazila school, a movement which retained some popularity for some time.

    The Persian philosopher and polymath, Ibn Sina was one of the most well known of the proponents of the Kalām methodology, he was so influential that was he even highly praised and often cited as an authority among many later Christian philosophers when his works were translated and transmitted to Western Europe; hence he was and is widely known in the Western world by the latinized name Avicenna. He regarded reason as the highest faculty of man granted by God to grasp not only scientific and philosophical matters but also matters of theology, possessed an extremely sophisticated grasp of Aristotelian and Neo-Platonist philosophy and was adept at articulating well-reasoned arguments and defenses of his views.

    "Avicenna's views on Islamic theology (and philosophy) were enormously influential, forming part of the core of the curriculum at Islamic religious schools until the 19th century" - wiki
    But then along came Al-Ghazali, another prominent figure in the history of Islamic philosophy, who was certainly no intellectual lightweight in his own right - and the Ash'arites, an opposing school of thought that developed largely around his works. Al-Ghazali was opposed to the rationalism as espoused by Avicenna and others - he wrote a book called the The Incoherence of the Philosophers, in which he was deeply mistrustful of and criticizes the reliance on Greek philosophers and rationalists of the past, since in his view - and that of the Ash'arites and other Islamic scholars of the time - they were pagans/not Muslims - thus essentially infidels - and their views potentially heretical at worst, or at the least having the potential to sway a practitioner from piousness by mere virtue of the fact.

    The greatest and most influential voice of the Ash’arites was the medieval theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (also known as Algazel; died 1111). In his book The Incoherence of the Philosophers, al-Ghazali vigorously attacked philosophy and philosophers — both the Greek philosophers themselves and their followers in the Muslim world (such as al-Farabi and Avicenna). Al-Ghazali was worried that when people become favorably influenced by philosophical arguments, they will also come to trust the philosophers on matters of religion, thus making Muslims less pious. Reason, because it teaches us to discover, question, and innovate, was the enemy; al-Ghazali argued that in assuming necessity in nature, philosophy was incompatible with Islamic teaching, which recognizes that nature is entirely subject to God’s will: “Nothing in nature,” he wrote, “can act spontaneously and apart from God.” While al-Ghazali did defend logic, he did so only to the extent that it could be used to ask theological questions and wielded as a tool to undermine philosophy.
    One key aspect of Al-Ghazali's and the Ash'arite's theological arguments that is important to understand and is still relevant due to it's prevailing influence upon Islamic society is Occassionalism - a deterministic theological view that argues that all causes and events in the natural world are solely attributable to God and that no cause can ever be independent of God's will. As such, it denies the ascription of any causal power to finite beings - and is thus a denial of or rejection of free-will and humans possessing causal agency.

    In its place arose the anti-rationalist Ash’ari school whose increasing dominance is linked to the decline of Arabic science. With the rise of the Ash’arites, the ethos in the Islamic world was increasingly opposed to original scholarship and any scientific inquiry that did not directly aid in religious regulation of private and public life. While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable.

    At the heart of Ash’ari metaphysics is the idea of occasionalism, a doctrine that denies natural causality. Put simply, it suggests natural necessity cannot exist because God’s will is completely free. Ash’arites believed that God is the only cause, so that the world is a series of discrete physical events each willed by God.

    As Maimonides described it in The Guide for the Perplexed, this view sees natural things that appear to be permanent as merely following habit. Heat follows fire and hunger follows lack of food as a matter of habit, not necessity, “just as the king generally rides on horseback through the streets of the city, and is never found departing from this habit; but reason does not find it impossible that he should walk on foot through the place.” According to the occasionalist view, tomorrow coldness might follow fire, and satiety might follow lack of food. God wills every single atomic event and God’s will is not bound up with reason. This amounts to a denial of the coherence and comprehensibility of the natural world. In his controversial 2006 University of Regensburg address, Pope Benedict XVI described this idea by quoting the philosopher Ibn Hazm (died 1064) as saying, “Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.” It is not difficult to see how this doctrine could lead to dogma and eventually to the end of free inquiry in science and philosophy.
    This is likely why that when Muslim's today speak about death or martyrdom, they will often talk about it being "God's will" - because that is the prevalent philosophical underpinning that has carried through to the majority of Muslim's today: that God/Allah is the cause of EVERYTHING; including individual human destiny. A theological view that was debated extensively among medieval Christian and scholastic philosophers, and echoed by the Cartesian philosophers, but ultimately rejected in the majority of Orthodox thinking today.

    Avicenna attempted to rebut al-Ghazali in his somewhat amusingly titled polemical work The Incoherence of the Incoherence but sadly, for whatever reason, the majority of popular Muslim opinion of the time fell on the side of al-Ghazali, and Avicenna and his reasoned and rationalist approach to philosophy and theology largely fell out of favor.

    Sunnis embraced al-Ghazali as the winner of the debate with the Hellenistic rationalists, and opposition to philosophy gradually ossified, even to the extent that independent inquiry became a tainted enterprise, sometimes to the point of criminality. It is an exaggeration to say, as Steven Weinberg claimed in the Times of London, that after al-Ghazali “there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries”; in some places, especially Central Asia, Arabic work in science continued for some time, and philosophy was still studied somewhat under Shi’ite rule. (In the Sunni world, philosophy turned into mysticism.) But the fact is, Arab contributions to science became increasingly sporadic as the anti-rationalism sank in.

  2. Post
    #2
    So, long story short and to try to summarize; the Islamic world - in particular Sunni's who form the majority of adherents within Islam, historically adopted and were largely influenced by the Ash'arite school of philosophy which is inherently anti-rationalist in it's nature (based in part on a skepticism of and rejection of ancient Greek philosophers and their rationalist tradition), theologically fatalistic/deterministic, and in favor of a highly literal interpretation of religious text, viewing the Koran as the literal and incontestable spoken or "living" word of God.

    Contrast this to Christianity historically, which despite going through phases where Hellenistic philosophy and science were also looked upon highly skeptically (take the Galileo affair as one example, perhaps) but ultimately ended up wholeheartedly embracing the rationalist traditions derived from the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, influencing and shaping the arguments of a multitude of medieval Christian philosophers and theologians like St. Augustine, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas to name just a few (and in the case of Judaism largely through the highly influential medieval philosopher Maimonides) to the point that it had a profound impact upon the historical development of Orthodox Christianity through to the modern day and is perhaps, arguably, a large part of the reason it has adapted to modernization and secularization in a way that Islam has not.

    This is opinion/conjecture of course, but with a fairly solidly based historical foundation. Also my own personal opinion that Mohammed was and is, quite simply, a very poor role model for any kind of civilized society, let alone as a religious prophet and the basis of/spearhead figure of a religious movement.... but that's probably beside the particular relevancy of this thread, perhaps

    Is there any solution? I have no idea... notwithstanding perhaps a hugely significant and massively sweeping reformation of some sort; but also the fact that religion and politics are so closely intertwined in Islam means that any idea of secularization is almost anathema by default and likely makes the possibility of any significant reformations, philosophical or otherwise, difficult at best.

    Not sure if we happen have any Muslims here (I think there may be one or two guys around, but no idea how active they are or are not) who might like to weigh in the topic, but would certainly be interesting to hear their thoughts on the matter too?

  3. Post
    #3
    well the worm has turned in the Western universities and schools now, the current trend is towards regressive anti science and intersectionalism.

  4. Post
    #4
    Bloody wrote:
    well the worm has turned in the Western universities and schools now, the current trend is towards regressive anti science and intersectionalism.
    Very true - I suspect that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish though I'm afraid (*cough* Marxism *cough* postmodernism *cough* critical theory)

    Who knows, maybe one day my follow-up thread will have to be: Why the Western world turned away from science and rationalism

  5. Post
    #5
    Basileus wrote:
    Contrast this to Christianity historically, which despite going through phases where Hellenistic philosophy and science were also looked upon highly skeptically (take the Galileo affair as one example, perhaps) but ultimately ended up wholeheartedly embracing the rationalist traditions derived from the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, influencing and shaping the arguments of a multitude of medieval Christian philosophers and theologians like St. Augustine, Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas to name just a few (and in the case of Judaism largely through the highly influential medieval philosopher Maimonides) to the point that it had a profound impact upon the historical development of Orthodox Christianity through to the modern day and is perhaps, arguably, a large part of the reason it has adapted to modernization and secularization in a way that Islam has not.
    that's a bit of a rosy view. We have anti-rationalist Christian groups/sects around today that hold enormous political influence (in some of the largest countries), no need to look to Galieleo.

    also Orthodox Christianity is almost as far from modern/secular as you can get, in most of the eastern orthodox countries the church is a part of the national identity, inseparable from the state/culture.

  6. Post
    #6
    Pure science doesn't flourish alongside religion in any form. Most scientists in the last 100 years have paid only lip service to religions of any type.

    At a certain point it becomes obvious that there's two incompatible views of the universe, a rational one and an irrational one, you can't have both at the same time.

    Anyway, it's the Islamic world's loss.

  7. Post
    #7
    Zarkov wrote:
    Pure science doesn't flourish alongside religion in any form. Most scientists in the last 100 years have paid only lip service to religions of any type.

    At a certain point it becomes obvious that there's two incompatible views of the universe, a rational one and an irrational one, you can't have both at the same time.

    Anyway, it's the Islamic world's loss.
    Hmmm
    https://www.newscientist.com/article...cience-growth/

  8. Post
    #8
    Zarkov wrote:
    At a certain point it becomes obvious that there's two incompatible views of the universe, a rational one and an irrational one, you can't have both at the same time.
    I don't have as many years on me as you, but I've come to learn there are basically two types of people that fall into that same camp. How much religion influences people in that regard is hard to say, you could argue that religion gives an irrational type a framework to try and live like closer to reality than whatever personal fantasy land they occupy.

  9. Post
    #9
    sorceror wrote:
    that's a bit of a rosy view. We have anti-rationalist Christian groups/sects around today that hold enormous political influence (in some of the largest countries), no need to look to Galieleo.
    Ehhh yeah, don't disagree necessarily. Although we are talking comparatively speaking (to Islam), right.


    sorceror wrote:
    also Orthodox Christianity is almost as far from modern/secular as you can get, in most of the eastern orthodox countries the church is a part of the national identity, inseparable from the state/culture.
    Yeah... haven't really traveled to or have great knowledge any of the countries where Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority practiced religion, so couldn't really comment. Take your word for it I guess... though I am aware of how nationalistic they can be in many of the eastern European countries... so the fact that religion gets closely intertwined with it probably isn't all that surprising.

  10. Post
    #10
    Yeah read the link, it's not really a measure of much at all.

  11. Post
    #11
    Bloody wrote:
    well the worm has turned in the Western universities and schools now, the current trend is towards regressive anti science and intersectionalism.
    I don't see how intersectionality is mutually exclusive with science?

    You seem to swallow, bait and hook, all the talking points from [insert "intellectual" dark web talking head]

  12. Post
    #12
    Bullion wrote:
    I don't see how intersectionality is mutually exclusive with science?

    You seem to swallow, bait and hook, all the talking points from [insert "intellectual" dark web talking head]
    you do understand Intersectionality is based on theories of race , gender, identity etc right? You do also realize that there is little or no science involved in most of these identities right? Like how Gender is social construct, Race is a privilege etc ..

    so how exactly why are you confused again? Is this your feelings just like the above constructs?

  13. Post
    #13
    Bloody wrote:
    you do understand Intersectionality is based on theories of race , gender, identity etc right? You do also realize that there is little or no science involved in most of these identities right? Like how Gender is social construct, Race is a privilege etc ..

    so how exactly why are you confused again? Is this your feelings just like the above constructs?
    Intersectionality is one way of seeing how others are perceived by society/situation.

    If people want to study and improve our understanding of XYZ following the scientific method - who am I to stop them?

    I also read it that people who consider themselves to use intersectional principles, are anti-science.

  14. Post
    #14
    well that is all good and well but Intersectionality is not a scientific method, is a theory of rationalized observations based on a viewers perception of relationships between identities and social constructs. There is some science in this , where observable phenomena is seen, hypotheses is formed , duplicated, tested and proven for example Does a baby behave differently if the person skin color is dark or light etc .

    but the whole concept of intersectionality has little science involved. You strictly cannot call how someone feels as science, the gender for example where how you feel is how you wake up this morning etc.

  15. Post
    #15
    Vulcan wrote:
    Yeah read the link, it's not really a measure of much at all.
    This...quantity does not mean quality.

    I stumbled across this gem recently from that part of the world - I can't believe they could write so much dribble https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/ful...91241619834662