Course: ECON 3R03 - The History of Economic Growth
Instructor: J. Leach
Islamic scientists created increasingly detailed measurements of the stars
and their respective paths. They worked hard on the geocentric model of
the universe by constructing increasingly elaborate models and acheived a a
greater degree of coincidence between their observations and their model.
Early astronomy was about observation, prediction and measurement whereas
the goal of astronomy today is more focussed towards discovering the fun-
damental structure of the universe. The heliocentric model didn’t fare any
better at making predictions than the best geocentric models of the time.
The Copernican Revolution marked the beginning of Western domination in
science, almost all major scientiﬁc discoveries since then have been made in
the West. Among them Newtonian physics, Einstein physics, periodic table,
Modern scientists point out that the Copernican model is very similar to the
geocentric model (that is, start with the best Islamic geocentric model and
you can transform it into Copernicus’ model). Copernicus may have even
had access to the Islamic model but we are unsure if he actually did.
Islamic scientists had a very deep mathematical background/basis for their
work which was acquired primarily from the works of Euclid and the Hindus.
Trigonometry was founded by the Greeks but was taken over by Islamic
scientists who discovered much of what we know about trig today (for instance
sine, cosine, tangent).
1 Note: Brahmagupta was the person largely responsible for the introduction of
Hindu numerals to the Islamic empire which ended up becoming the Arabic
numerals we know today.
Al-Khwarizmi emphasized practical problems in his study of algebra which
he discussed in the dedication of his treatise. al-Haytham discovered the
working of the eye as we know it today making two key observations: (1)
vision occurred because of rays entering the eyes, (2) deﬁning the physical
nature of rays based on earlier ideas by geometrical optics writers. He based
his ideas on those of prominent Greek scholars including Euclid, Ptolemy,
Aristotle among others.
Decline of Islamic Science
Around the time of Copernicus the centre of scientiﬁc progress shifted from the
Islamic world to the West. The reason for this depends on whose point-of-view
Scholars in the Islamic world today say the reason for this shift was the
contraction of resources that were necessary for progress. They argue that
around this time the need arose to divert resources from science to other more
important endeavours as the empire was under attack.
In 1492 the Spanish were celebrating that the last Islamic foothold in Spain had
been eliminated which conincided with the Mediterranean Ocean becoming
a Christian ocean after having previously been controlled by the Muslims.
At the same time the Islamic world was being attacked from the east by the
Mongols who captured the capital of the Islamic world, Baghdad in the 1200s.
With the contraction of the empire, and resulting loss of trade and productivity
the resource levels declined and as a result interest and progress in science
declined as well.
2 Western Theory
Western scholars disagree with this idea countering that the West was poorer
than the Islamic world at the time of the shift so a lack of resources could
not have been the answer. They also argue that despite its success in the
Islamic world, science never gained a foothold because of the pervasive nature
of Islam throughout the empire.
The nature of Islam is such that it touches every part of one’s life. It’s most
sacred principles are obedience and divine revelation. These principles are
at odds with the scientiﬁc mind of constantly asking questions and being
skeptical of revelation. As Islam became more conservative it became more
important to be pure in your Islamic thought and the role of science diminished
as a by-product. Science was relegated to tackling a few small areas of interest
left open to it by religion.
Role of the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire precedes the birth of Mohammed. At its height the
Roman empire was roughly equivalent to the Islamic empire that came after
it. At its height the Roman Empire came under attack from a number of
tribes who moved East & South, attacking the European boundaries of the
empire. It is thought that these tribes were being pushed southward by the
ambitious Huns in the north.
At the same time the Romans were ﬁghting the Persians along their