Posts Tagged 'Arabic'

Christianity and Science

It is commonly believed that there is a war between modern science and Christianity, but such a view has long been discredited by historians and sociologists. No less a figure than Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, notes that

In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the “warfare between science and religion” and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.

Moreover, Gary Ferngren, a professor of history at Oregon State University, adds that

Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour.

It is certain that there is a war between Christianity and atheism, but to portray the Christian faith as being at war with science is nonsense, because the Christian faith pursues, embraces and delights in all truth, since it teaches that all truth is from God. Natural science is simply one aspect of the universe of truth: the truth about the natural world, which God created and upholds. Accordingly, there can never be any truth or fact found by natural science that is inimical to the Christian faith. Neither is there, strictly speaking, such a thing as ‘Christian science’ because such a term implies that truth can be institutionalized, whereas truth is universal, and should be universally disseminated and applied.

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Arabic Myths

It was once mistakenly thought that the Arabs invented ‘Arabic’ numerals, including the number ‘0’ (zero), a great improvement over Roman numerals for algebra, another supposed Arabic invention. That’s complete nonsense. For example, Cajori’s A History of Mathematics (Fifth edition, 1991) informs us:

The grandest achievement of the Hindus, and the one which, of all mathematical inventions, has contributed most to the progress of intelligence, is the perfecting of the so-called “Arabic Notation.” That this notation did not originate with the Arabs is now admitted by everyone.

What we call ‘Arabic’ numerals are not the characters that appear in Arabic script. Even the Arabs themselves don’t call these signs Arabic numerals but Western numerals, or Hindu numerals, which was their actual source around 200 BC. By the fifth century AD the Indians were using decimal notation and had developed the use of zero from an earlier concept of it in Babylonian mathematics.

Through the writings of Gerbert D’Aurillac (c.946-1003) these numerals became known in Western ‘Latin’ Europe. In 1202, the mathematician Fibonacci in his Liber Abaci [The Book of the Abacus] describes the notation and calculation method that he learned from his youth thus:

…following my introduction…to the nine digits of the Hindus, the knowledge of the art very much appealed to me before all others…Therefore, embracing more stringently that method of the Hindus [Modus Indorum], and taking stricter pains in its study…I have striven to compose this book. The nine Indian figures are: 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. With these nine figures, and with the sign 0… any number may be written…

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Islam and Science

Scholars always have to come up with some new thing, and currently in vogue is the alleged contribution of Islam to modern science. This myth is based on a historical prejudice against the western Middle Ages (a very old term, originally coined as a term of deprecation) and the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, in order to introduce such terms as Renaissance (from the moribund or dead) and Enlightenment (from the benighted and dark). The use of such value-laden terms is part of the propaganda, or ‘narrative’, as the Postmodernists would have it, but having written off the period from AD 500 to 1500 as one of profound darkness and ignorance, it is embarrassing and inconvenient for historians to find increasing evidence that there were significant scientific and technological advances in Christendom during this period. For those who wish to keep up the pretence of the narrative, it has become necessary to invent an external agent as the source of learning, and as Islam arose during this period it is easiest and most convenient to hitch the wagon to that.

That, however, is a perversion of history. It is true that there was development of astronomy, medicine, mathematics and chemistry in the so-called Golden Age of Islam (another loaded descriptor); the question is, what had these to do with Islam, and what did Islam do with such disciplines? The answer is that they had practically nothing to do with Islam, and Islam ultimately destroyed them. The rise and fall of ‘Islamic science’ is closely mirrored by the rise of ‘atheistic science’ in our own day. Atheistic materialism has done a smash-and-grab raid on everything nurtured on Christian foundations, and claims to be the only ‘real’ science, yet is in the process of destroying science, as did Islam. Neither atheism nor Islam have a satisfactory philosophical basis for science, and they develop authority structures against ‘heterodox’ thinkers and practitioners. How Islam destroyed science will be dealt with in a future post.

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