Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Frank Tipler on Muslim Contributions to Physics and Astronomy

Frank Tipler is a world-class mathematician, physicist, and cosmologist. Here are his thoughts on some popular claims about Islamic contributions to physics and astronomy.

PJ MEDIA--In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, President Barack Obama claimed: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar University — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing.”

Obama is not much of a “student of history” if he believes this. Almost every advance he attributes to the Muslims was due to someone else.

The non-Muslim Chinese invented the magnetic compass and printing (Gutenberg invented not printing, but movable type). The non-Muslim Hindu Indians invented algebra and the decimal numbering system. The non-Muslim European Christians invented the university.

I can’t address advances in medicine, but I have studied the history of astronomy and physics. The Muslims contributed nothing.

All modern physics descends from Galileo (1564 -1642); all modern astronomy from Copernicus (1473-1543). If you study Galileo’s works carefully, as I have, you see that he started with the achievements of the Greek mathematical physicist Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC). If you study Copernicus’ works carefully, as I have, you will see that Copernicus’ great book On the Revolutions is essentially a heliocentric re-working of the geocentric astronomy textbook by the Greek Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – 168 AD). Copernicus mostly used even Ptolemy’s data for the positions of the planets. Note the dates for Archimedes/Galileo and Ptolemy/Copernicus. It is as if the Muslim world never existed. As far as their fundamental contributions to physics and astronomy, it did not.

If one reads history of science textbooks prior to about 1980, one will find very little mention of Muslim “contributions” to physics and astronomy. This is reasonable, because there weren’t any. In the past generation, however, political correctness has dictated that Muslims be given credit for discoveries they did not make.

Certainly, the Muslims were a conduit for the discoveries of others. The word “algebra” is indeed derived from an Arabic word. The books of Archimedes and Ptolemy used by Galileo and Copernicus were indeed translations into Latin from the Arabic. But let us never forget that Archimedes and Ptolemy wrote their books in Greek, not Arabic. They were Greeks, not Muslims.

Most of the names for the brightest stars are of Arabic origin, because the names of these stars given in Ptolemy’s textbook were never translated from the Arabic. But do you think that the Arabs were the first humans to observe Rigel and Betelguese, the first and second brightest stars in Orion?

The reason Muslims never developed fundamental physics is because the leading Muslim theologians declared the idea of fixed physical laws to be heretical. The Qur’an (verse 6:64) states: “The Jews have said, ‘God’s hand is fettered.’ Fettered are their hands, and they are cursed for what they have said. Nay, but His hands are outspread; He expends how He will.” The standard Muslim interpretation of this passage has been that there cannot be unchanging physical laws because Allah may change the laws at any moment. In 1982, the Institute for Policy Studies in Islamabad, Pakistan, criticized a chemistry textbook by saying: “There is latent poison present in the subheading Energy Causes Changes because it gives the impression that energy is the true cause rather than Allah. Similarly it is unIslamic to teach that mixing hydrogen and oxygen automatically produces water. The Islamic way is this: when atoms of hydrogen approach atoms of oxygen, then by the Will of Allah water is produced.” The implication is clear: next week, Allah may change his mind about water being a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. With this sort of worldview, how could one possibly be a scientist?

The cosmology of the Qur’an is obviously geocentric, and as a consequence, Al-Azhar University, which Obama singles out for praise in his speech, still teaches Ptolemaic astronomy.

There was one truly great “Muslim” physicist, the Nobel Prize winning Pakistani, Mohammed Abdus Salam. I put “Muslim” in quotes, because Salam belonged to the Ahmadi sect of Islam, a sect that accepts modern science. But in 1974, the Pakistani parliament declared the Ahmadi sect heretical, and its members are currently being persecuted in Pakistan. Contemporary Muslim historians generally do not list Salam as an important Muslim scientist. Had he remained in Pakistan, he quite possibly would have been killed.

During the Cold War, it was commonplace for leftist academics to attribute many discoveries to scientists in Communist countries, discoveries that had actually been made in the West. So now leftist academics attribute to Muslims discoveries that had actually been made by others.

I never expected to hear a president of the United States do so. (Source)


Traeh said...

Wow, I missed that article when it first appeared. What an outstanding article! Thank you David Wood! Bookmarking that one for wide distribution.

Anonymous said...

What's obama's email?

GreekAsianPanda said...

You'd be surprised that high school students are taught this stuff. For example, I learned last school year from my history textbook that the Greeks invented the astrolabe, but when the question of who invented it came up on a test (I don't remember if this was in the actual AP exam or if it was only in an in-class test), Greeks was not an answer. Arabs was the "correct" answer, even though they did not invent it but only developed it. Sometimes I think courses deliberately pad the Islamic world's reputation. In fact, before we started our unit on the Islamic world, our teacher lectured us about how we shouldn't have a negative opinion of Islam just because of terrorists--"that would be like judging Christianity based on the KKK"--and the regular. It's pretty transparent.

With that said, some of the stuff Tipler asserts is correct, but the reader should take his word with a grain of salt. He's a little bit of a crackpot. Has anyone here ever read The Physics of Christianity? He thinks he can explain the Resurrection and other miracles of Jesus through the laws of physics. And besides, to say Muslims contributed "nothing" to the fields of astronomy and physics is taking the opposite extreme as President Obama. They took the ideas and inventions of conquered peoples, of course--they clearly would have been lost without them--but they did develop them further.

Billy said...

David or others who are familiar with the philosophy of science.
The Islamic view reminds me of Hume’s and Kant’s view of empirical observations:

Islamic view:
The implication is clear: next week, Allah may change his mind about water being a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. With this sort of worldview, how could one possibly be a scientist?
Hume’s View (generally accepted in western science):
Into the first class fall statements such as "2 + 2 = 4", "all bachelors are unmarried", and truths of mathematics and logic. Into the second class fall statements like "the sun rises in the morning", "the Earth has precisely one moon", and "water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit".
Hume wants to prove that certainty does not exist in science.
First, Hume notes that statements of the second type can never be entirely certain, due to the fallibility of our senses, the possibility of deception (see e.g. the modern brain in a vat theory) and other arguments made by philosophical skeptics. It is always logically possible that any given statement about the world is false.
Second, Hume claims that our belief in cause-and-effect relationships between events is not grounded on reason, but rather arises merely by habit or custom. Suppose one states: "Whenever someone on earth lets go of a stone it falls." While we can grant that in every instance thus far when a rock was dropped on Earth it went down, this does not make it logically necessary that in the future rocks will fall when in the same circumstances. Things of this nature rely upon the future conforming to the same principles which governed the past. But that isn't something that we can know based on past experience—all past experience could tell us is that in the past, the future has resembled the past. (Wikipedia)
Any comments?

David Wood said...

GAP said: "He's a little bit of a crackpot."

He's definitely not a crackpot when it comes to physics or cosmology. (Since that's one of the first claims that comes up in Google, I'm assuming you copied that after a Google search.) Some critics call him a "crackpot" for connecting scientific findings to religious beliefs (e.g. for saying that, because the universe came from a singularity, God is the singularity). But his application of science to religion is quite different from him being a crackpot scientist. (BTW, Tipler used to be an atheist. He says that his scientific findings led him to believe in God, then in an afterlife, and finally in Christianity.)

Baron Eddie said...

It is foolish trying to credit science to Arabian Deseret people ...

When Muslims invaded other countries whom they were scientifically
more advanced than those desert pirates ... for example the Syriac
They helped translate knowledge into Arabic ...

I have to give credit when credit is due

The Prophet! did invent toilet paper but used stones instead ...
That is why I use an odd number of sheets when I go .....
acknowledging his contribution ...

Joe Daniels said...

@Billy, Hume's view could be said to have contributed to Karl Popper's philosophy of falsification, which says that for a scientific doctrine to be true, it needs to be upheld with every experiment; however, if just one experiment disproves it, that doctrine has been falsified. Until very recently, falsification has been the cornerstone of all science.

So it's a shame that the very education system that is awarding Muslims the credit for discoveries they never made is sidelining falsificationism because fashionable statements on, for example, the causes of climate change are neither verifiable nor falsifiable in the laboratory. yet you'd think falsificationism to be the friend of the Islamist, as it allows the statement that "water is made from hydrogen and oxygen" to be falsifed should water be found made from other substances just once.

But one consequence of our schools being readied for the Islamicisation of the West is that they no longer teach pupils to think for themselves; rather, they promote compliance (submission?) which is, in many ways, the very opposite of intelligence.

JP Prasad said...

Today become yesterday, Yesterday becomes history, History becomes epic, Epic becomes Myth; In Time by Time.
This website is focused on Answering Muslims, so i must maintain certain limits on Analysis of facts on Origins of Greeks, Jews, Arabs etc.

In ancient Bharat the intention to discover truth was so consuming, that in the process, they discovered perhaps the most perfect tool for fulfilling such a search that the world has ever known -- the Sanskrit language, Sanskrit was also suggested as the best language for use in Computational Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence by NASA. It is the only language in the world which is scientifically precise as was discovered by the NASA scientist Rick Briggs as published in the Artificial Intelligence Magazine.
"As we shall see, there was a language spoken among an ancient scientific community that has a deviation of zero. This language is Sanskrit."
Modern scientists hail the ancient language of the gods as the only unambiguous natural language on the planet.--- In Spring of 1985 written by NASA researcher, Rick Briggs;
Roacs, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffet Field,California.

Facts on contributions to science & technology:
Around 2700 years ago, as early as 700 BCE there existed
a giant University at Takshashila, located in the northwest region of Bharat,Not only Aryans(Citizens of Bharat) but also students from as far as Babylonia,Greece, Syria, Arabia and China came to study. 68 different streams of knowledge were on the syllabus.The university offered courses spanning a period of more than eight years. The students were admitted after graduating from their own countries. Aspiring students opted for elective subjects going for in depth studies in specialized branches of learning. After graduating from the university, the students are recognized as the best scholars in the subcontinent. It became a cultural heritage as time passed. Taxila was the junction where people of different origins mingled with each other and exchanged knowledge of their countries
Experienced masters taught a wide range of subjects: Vedas, Language, Grammar, Philosophy, Medicine, Surgery, Archery, Politics, Warfare, Astronomy,Astrology,Geography, Accounts, commerce,Futurology, Documentation, Occult, Music, Dance, The art of discovering hidden treasures, etc
The minimum entrance age was 16 and there were 10,500
The university also used to conduct researches on various subjects.

If we go on searching roots of Science,, then we may find more details..I think those details are irrelevant to comment on this topic.

Joe Bradley said...

It is unreasonable to suggest that Islam has not contributed to the scientific community! In the blog posting immediately preceding this one, Egyptian Cleric Abd Al-Rahman Mansour gives a powerful essay on the psychological effect of pain compliance when torture is administered to one's spouse. This is Islamic science at it's finest and certainly deserves a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

He certainly is more deserving than the Muslim who was recently awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing more than getting elected to office.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear Obama just Crossed the Anger Aaron line. This is why i never trusted a politicians. THE Compass was made in China it is the 4 great inventions that every child knows. he is not a student of history more like a student of political correctness

Varma said...

Obama'a a big jerk. Who cares what he thinks?

Cristo Te Ama said...

Brother David, i know it's really off topic, but i saw today in the news that a 10 years old Christian girl was raped by a 60 years old muslim man, but what makes it even worse is that it's the family the one being harassed, they tell the family to shut up or die.. here is the article but it's in spanish, it horrible to think that they can not see this girl even as a child because Aisha had sex even younger, so 9 is already ok, also they can't consider it rape because this is just a kafir girl,allah (satan) doesn't change the human heart into something better as Jesus(GOD) does, it's all about religion, this rapist who had a porn movie on while he was raping her will just have to do Ramadan, and some prays, and it will be ok, NO WAIT it's not even a sin, Allah's soldier used to this all the time with Muhamamd....

Cristo Te Ama said...

I forgot the LInk ...


The headline says: A 10 years Chirstian girl raped by a 60 years old muslim in Pakistan.
She and her sister (8years) were tricked to go to his house since he said he didn't have the money on him to buy some junk they were selling(since they are really poor), but when they got to the man house, only the 10 years girl was allowed to enter, after many minutes her sister went in wondering why it was taking so long, and when she got in, she saw her sister on the floor crying and bleeding since he was brutal, she called her father and when he came he found her daughter inconcious and bleeding, and it seems to be a porn movie was being playing on the tv..

That os the resume of the article, rapist are not only Muslims, but Muslims are the only one who protect rapist for being Muslims raping Kafirs....

solomani said...


Historically science is the product of Christianity (or specifically a Christian culture - Christendom). No Christianity no science.

GreekAsianPanda said...

@ David,

I didn't deliberately copy someone else's claim about him (though I think I may have heard it from someone a few years ago, so the word "crackpot" came to my mind first). I say he's a crackpot (or whatever) based on reading his book. To say the miracles of Jesus can be explained with the laws of physics is a bit nutty, even to most Christians.

موسي ابراهيم السيوطي said...

Excellent article, GOD bless

ElenaG said...

And few give credit to monks in Europe for preserving Greco-Roman books during the Middle Ages. Few consider the strain under which Europe survived during the Middle Ages - invasions fm the islamic world, fm the viking world, fm the mongol world, plus plagues and cold weather.

Christendom actually did pretty well all things considered!

The islamic hordes are more like Star Trek's Borg -- suck a civilization dry of its innovations and enslave its peoples.

DEWDDS said...

Modern Muslims today continuously harp about their religion's contributions to antiquity. As spelled out by the writer, this is mostly false. One example of a Muslim who contributed some innovations to Science was Ali Sina, but he was declared apostate by Al Ghazali, because his innovative thinking denied resurrection after death.

One only need read Al Ghazali to appreciate the tremendous effect and damage his religious views of Islam has had on subsequent generations even to this day. Let us not forget the Taliban banned weather forecasts, because meteorology dares to predict that which Allah controls (an extension from Al Ghazali's ideas).

Jacob van Maerlant said...

Dear sir for more information on medicine and science in the Islamic world
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) [Paperback]
by Robert Spencer is worth reading as is the Pirenne Thesis on Islam and the fall of the roman empire.
Pirenne is a Belgium historian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Pirenne#Thesis_on_the_formation_of_European_towns
He stated in his pathumus book Charlemagne and Muhammed that up to the the Islamic expansion into the Mediterranean it was business and trade as under the Romans.
Lots of coastal areas, and irrigation works, were destroyed by Muslim raiders. Hence destroying intra Mediterranean trade and it's culture.

Anonymous said...

The amount of hate and Islamophobia throughout this whole post is disturbing.

Joe Bradley said...


Not half as disturbing as the hate and Judeo-Christophobia in the Muslim world.