Friday, August 10, 2007

Why Does Islam Suck At Science?

A while back i looked at why Jews are so successful, which prompted a very interesting discussion. The corollary of this debate is currently taking place over at Catallaxy about why Islam has failed to make any contribution to modern science.

The statistics as outlined by Pakistani physicist, Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, (picture) in a fascinating article are truly shocking. Pervez Hoodbhoy begins by posing the question,

'With well over a billion Muslims and extensive material resources, why is the Islamic world disengaged from science and the process of creating new knowledge?'

  • no major invention or discovery has emerged from the Muslim world for well over seven centuries.
  • 46 Muslim countries contributed just 1.17% of the world's science literature, compared with 0.89% by Israel alone
  • Pakistan has produced only 8 patents in the past 43 years (Thomas Edison produced 1,000 alone)
  • no Islamic university made the Top 500 "Academic Ranking of World Universities"
  • there have been just 8 Muslim Nobel Prize winners, compared to 151 Jews (despite a population differential of 110x)
  • in the 1000 years since the reign of the caliph Maa'moun, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one year
As Hoodbhoy opines, 'One gets the impression that history's clock broke down somewhere during the 14th century and that plans for repair are, at best, vague.'

Why is this so? Hoodbhoy offers some suggestions.

i) 'obedience and rote learning are stressed, and the authority of the teacher is rarely challenged. Debate, analysis, and class discussions are infrequent.'

ii) 'academic and cultural freedoms on campuses are highly restricted in most Muslim countries.'

iii) 'In Pakistani universities, the veil is now ubiquitous, and the last few unveiled women students are under intense pressure to cover up. The imposition of the veil makes a difference. My colleagues and I share a common observation that over time most students—particularly veiled females—have largely lapsed into becoming silent note-takers, are increasingly timid, and are less inclined to ask questions or take part in discussions.'

iv) the inadequacy of traditional Islamic languages—Arabic, Persian, Urdu—is an important contributory reason. About 80% of the world's scientific literature appears first in English, and few traditional languages in the developing world have adequately adapted to new linguistic demands.

Hoodbhoy concludes that for Muslim nations to change this appalling state of affairs, they must

'Shrug off the dead hand of tradition, reject fatalism and absolute belief in authority, accept the legitimacy of temporal laws, value intellectual rigor and scientific honesty, and respect cultural and personal freedoms... elbow out rigid orthodoxy and bring in modern thought, arts, philosophy, democracy, and pluralism.'

Other thoughts?

initial discussion began at Steve Sailor's blog.