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Lecture

SC NATS 1760 Chinese, Islamic, Science and Technology

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Department
Natural Science
Course
NATS 1760
Professor
Vera Pavri
Semester
Summer

Description
1760 Lecture 3a – Chinese and Islamic Science and Technology Part 1: Islamic Science and Technology I. Studying the development of scientific thought in non-European cultures - Today we will examine relationship between science and Islam (religion) - Medieval Islamic world considered by many to be “heir” to Greek science – leaders in most scientific fields from 800-1300 AD - Medicine, math, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, logic - Early rulers in Islamic world were open to knowledge from foreign cultures and this included Greek philosophy and science - Yet despite this fact, how has question been traditionally examined by scholars? - Islamic scholars were mere translators, imitators of Greeks who are given credit only for translating works into Arabic - In fact, historians like Alnoor Dhanani argue that Islamic scholars not only translated but expanded on work; were more critical of content - Also argues that different groups who followed Islam had different attitudes towards science - Role of Koran and science; historical cultural bias against non-Western peoples - People were studying natural philosophy in the Islamic world through religion II. Science in Early Islamic Civilization th - 7 century religion established by prophet Muhammad - Empire established by 9 century – semi-independent kingdoms - Unique civilization: language, politics, religious institutions, trade, aesthetic ideas, “Islamic values” - Islamic scholars well aware of ancient natural philosophy as evidenced in the terms they used (ancient, rational, intellectual sciences) - Quote by Abu Ya’qub al-Kindi (800-870): “we ought not to be ashamed of appreciating truth and of acquiring it wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races distant and nations different from us” (pg. 77) - Judge Ibn Khaldun (1377): “the intellectual sciences are natural to man, in as much as he is a thinking being. They are not restricted to any particular religious group. They are studied by the people of all religious groups who are equally qualified to learn them and to do research in them. They have existed (and been known) to the human species since civilization had its beginning in the world” (pg. 76) - What is the significance of these quotes? (Hint: think of traditional ideas about interplay of science and religion) - Access to resources from Muslim conquests in 7th century when many pre-Islamic centers of learning are folded into the empire - Access to Indian math, Chinese astronomy, etc… - Initially, there is change of rulers but not practice: courts and patronage - Medicine, astrology, alchemy texts translated into Arabic - Later rulers are much more interested in science - Al-Ma’mum: House of Wisdom in 815 - Mission: obtain and expand on knowledge of ancients including Aristotle (Greek, Syriac, Pahlavi, Sanskrit) - Therefore institution houses not only copyists and translators, but also scientists - By 1000 AD, most Greek texts had been translated - Focus on astronomy: Ptolemy’s Almagest - Once most texts are translated into Arabic, scientific activities are done in Arabic and language becomes absorbed in future works - Steady stream of translated texts and new scientific works appear all over 1 - Scientific learning occurs in a variety of settings: informal, self taught scholars (booksellers, private and public libraries, personal contacts), hospitals (apprenticeships), observatories and academies (i.e. House of Wisdom), left-over Christian theological schools - Hands on approach – more technically advance society - While there are no real formal educational institutions, texts are readily available and are studied, criticized and expanded upon - In addition, courts encourage scientific learning (practical and theoretical) and provide funds III. Science in Service of Islam - Problems linked to faith: how to determine inheritance shares, proper direction of Mecca for prayers; correct times for prayers - Arithmetic, algebra, trigonometric approaches - Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian worldview: God creates universe but has little active role; God creates all creatures through chain of being; Aristotle’s view that everything has it’s natural place, this idea was basis of his chain of being. He suggested that there was a hierarchy in nature of things. At the top of hierarchy was man, woman, animals, etc. These people accepted the idea of celestial versus terrestrial realms, earth centered universe; four elements on earth (air, water, earth, fire) - These kinds of ideas adopted by natural philosophers encourage an symbolic reading of Qur’an - Those who followed philosophical worldview believed the Qur’an was correct but encouraged a symbolic reading; Qur’an should not be taking literally. - Religious groups who encourage this type of reading embrace (1) philosophical worldview: Isma’ilis - PHILOSOPHICAL WORLD VIEW: was in minority with Islamic world, those who had this worldview were those who most closely accepted the writings and teachings of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. In the Islamic world there was no singular perspective to be had when trying to link natural philosophy to the Islamic religion as a whole. IV. Reconciling Science and Islam - Complex relationship that must take into account local context, politics, power struggles, religious authority, court patronage, competition, individual philosophical concerns - Those who are “for” or “against” foreign scientific knowledge differ in their views of how to evaluate natural philosophy from religious point of view - Followers of religious law (shar’ia) and philosophical theology (kalam) - Throughout Islamic history, staths of each group varies - Each movement starts in 7 century but is crystallized during time of translation movement - Local contexts, competition within in each movement a. Shar’ia followers - (2) Sharia followers studied natural philosophy but in a different way, they did not and rejected some ideas found amongst Plato and Aristotle - Shar’ia followers believe that there are “valid” sources of knowledge, invalid sources was rejected - Rules found in Qur’an should govern all aspects of life (personal, state, religious, economic affairs) It was literal and should control what one should study also - Natural philosophy was not a widely embraced discipline where everything is accepted. Only study those in natural philosophy that helps with the Qur’an. 2 - Importantly, should also be basis for intellectual pursuits - System of categories for all activities - Early scholars: encourage scientific knowledge only for practical purposes (These purposes as in when to pray and etc.) Al-Ghazali: - Two major categories knowledge sacred (acquired through prophets) or profane (reason, experience, discourse) sciences - Praiseworthy: arithmetic and medicine, Knowledge that was accepted and study; - Blameworthy: magic, talismanic, trickery *Some studies in natural philosophy - According to Al-Ghazali, Philosophy consists of four sciences: mathematical (okay as long as it does not lead to magic, etc…), logic (okay), metaphysics (not okay) and physical sciences (sometimes okay but other times not) - Opposite viewpoint: al-Biruni (critic of Al-Ghazali)(c. 1050) who criticizes this type of thinking by stating that it leads to human ignorance and is a ploy to destroy potentially competitive groups - Uses his own work on latitude and longitude which is for aiding religious pursuits, as an example of the good that comes out of pursuing knowledge - Defends astronomy (metaphysics) and claims it useful for religious rituals - Do reject all kinds of knowledge, some good can come out of it and could be of use in your pursuit of Islam b. Philosophical Theologists - Not to be confused with philosophical worldview: - Rationalism - Human beings most special of all human beings - God creates world made up of atoms and the inherent qualities which combine together to create objects we see - Humans are special combination of atoms and qualities which allow for life, will, knowledge and action - Humans obligated to God and should live in appropriate manner consistent with his laws - Only God and humans capable of causal action - Inanimate objects don’t have “natural properties” - Rejection of Aristotelian world view (Natural place and natural properties) - Much opposition to movement, especially by orthodox religious scholars - Lots of different schools within movement (al-Ash’ari who claims God is only direct cause) - Shar’ia scholars do have something in common with this group: reject philosophical worldview and believe it to be heretical - Response: Ibn Rushd (Averroes)- most famous Islamic Philosophers - Does not accept al-Ghazali’s categories of blameworthy, praiseworthy or tolerated and substitutes them with categories based on legalities: permissible knowledge, prohibited knowledge, required knowledge - Argues that philosophy best way to derive knowledge about creator - Only certain individuals should pursue this type of knowledge because most beings do not have capacity to fully understand this kind of knowledge - True nature of religion can only be accessed by philosopher - This knowledge should then be passed onto masses - THIS DIDN’T ENCOURAGE PHILOSOHPY AMONGST EVERYONE: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE STUDY CERTAIN TYPE OF KNOWLEDGE. - Philosophy does not conflict with religion but can reveal truth about creation - His work influenced men like Thomas Aquinas who relied on him for info about Aristotle 1) Philosophical world view - Not one-way to approach religion, this is 2) Sharia Followers the main idea! 3) Philosophical theologist 3 V. General Considerations - Examples highlight fact that there are a multitude of viewpoints on the relationship between science and religion in Islamic civilization - This is because the civilization has a diversity of doctrines, institutions - Spans large geographic area - Local contexts mixed with pre-Islamic ideas and institutions - Must also take into account political, social, military contexts that can influence thinking and events - Lack of hierarchical religious institutions make it hard to sustain a uniform way of thinking - Consensus therefore achieved via decline of opposing views or when one group is able to dominate another via political authority • When we talk about medieval period, we discussed that both studies in natural philosophy and technical arts were rejected in medieval area but accept and flourishing in China and Islam. • Something happed something had changed! VI. So then why did science decline in Islam? - Scientific practice in Islam does decline in later centuries - But when, where, why and how remains subject of debate - Explanations that are simplistic or rely on one factor (marginal thesis, al-Ghazali’s criticisms, Huff’s lack of intellectual spaces argument) must be reconsidered [lack of social institutions] - Must take into account that as late as 13 and 14 work substantial work being done in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and optics - Historical considerations: th th - a. Islamic empire breaking apart by 13 and 14 centuries as a result political, social and economic chaos [Chaos causes people to go in pursuit of survival rather than philosophy] - b. Arabic language (which was used in most scientific texts) displaced by local dialects like Persian and Turkish: Change in language - c. Mongol conquests create social and economic chaos - d. Money from patrons that previously went for scientific endeavors now being diverted to religious colleges which did not have scientific knowledge as part of official curriculum - e. Regional considerations - Leads to question that will again be asked in lecture on Chinese science: can explanations of a decline in Islamic science account for why there was no “scientific revolution” here or is this type of question misleading itself? - If question is misleading, why? Part 2: Chinese Science I. Asian Technology in the middle Ages - Between the 10 and 18 century china undergoing Golden Age which came with the Sung Dynasty - The “Golden Age” of Chinese science and technology came with the Sung dynasty (960- 1279 AD) - Chinese civilization developed many techniques for improving agricultural practices and increasing rice surpluses - Population rose from 50M in 800 AD to 115M by 1200AD - High level of technological achievements in China, not because of wide spread view of technology but because of government sponsoring industries. 4 - In China, science and technology were also considered to be very separate traditions done by different people in different institutions, etc… - Natural philosophers were more widely regarded than those in technical arts - Although craftsmen had a lower social status than natural philosophers, China became a world leader in technological advancement - Chinese “firsts” include the wheelbarrow, g
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