Image courtesy of BiblioOdyssey
“For Science!” is one of the many catchphrases of steampunk and mad scientists everywhere. Yet I’m sure this phase must’ve been muttered long before in lands east of England—in fact, here’s a little linkfest primer on science in the Muslim world.
These examples are from the Golden Age of Islam, also known as the Islamic Renaissance, a period of history that took place roughly between the 9th and 15th centuries marked by an influx of discoveries and innovations in the arts, science, literature, technology, agriculture, and several other fields.
The Scientific Method
Many different scientists and thinkers throughout the world contributed to the development of the scientific method, but the Muslim contribution to this marks the bridge between its origin in Greece to later adjustments made by Roger Bacon and others during the European Renaissance.
Muslim thinkers preserved the original method created by the ancient Greeks and redesigned the method in a form that modern scientists recognize today.
Ibn al-Haytham, courtesy of History of Science.com
Ibn al-Haytham constructed the following statements concerning scientific experimentation:
1. State an explicit problem, based upon observation and experimentation.
2. Test or criticize a hypothesis through experimentation.
3. Interpret the data and come to a conclusion, ideally using mathematics.
4. Publish the findings
Other Muslim scholars that contributed to scientific organization:
Al-Biruni suggested the idea that because of human error, an experiment should be able to be repeated multiple times with the same results to prove its hypothesis.
Physician Al-Rahwi developed the peer review process used to vet other scholars’ work, which he wrote about in this book Ethics of the Physician.
Ibn Sina, also known by his Latin name Avicenna, proposed that the findings of science can be arrived at through two methods: induction and experimentation. His line of thinking led to the principles behind deductive reasoning.
Many religions put a great importance on lunar calendar when calculating religious holidays. Like how the Chinese developed the celestial sphere to help calculate their own, Muslim astronomers developed several sophisticated methods to adhere to their type of lunar calendar, which is based on the sighting of the crescent moon. They used the positioning of the stars and well as the moon in their calculations.
Al-Biruni, as mentioned above, also helped create a system for determining specific weights for objects and created the “science of gravity.”
Abbas Ibn Firnas was the first inventor to experience controlled flight on a hang glider in 875.
Ibn Sina also developed a theory of impetus and projectile motion. Abu-l-Barakat later expanded upon this theory. This theory was used by physicist Jean Buridan in the 14th century and became known as the Avicennan-Buridan theory, which revolutionized the science of motion and became one of the groundwork principles of classical mechanics.
Poet and polymath Ibn Bajjah (also known as Avempace) theorizes a principle that later influenced Newton’s third law of motion: that there is always a reaction force to every action.
15th-century portrait of Abu Jabir from the Italian book Codici Ashburnhamiani 1166, courtesy of Muslimheritage.com
Abu Jābir, also known as “Geber”, along with his contributions of promoting the controlled experiment used in the science method, also pulled scientific scholarship away from alchemy and towards chemistry.
More Linkspam Goodness:
A tutorial about Muslim history offered by the University of Calgary – for those interested in familiarizing themselves with the progression of history in the Muslim world and how it led to the Golden Age of Islam.
Science in the Muslim world featured on MuslimHeritage.org –
Muslimheritage.org is the website created by Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization, a UK-based organization of scientists interested in highlighting scientific contributions to the Muslim world. The FSTC have run several international conferences on the topic, have presented at the UN and have created several publications and educational materials as well.