Why Muslim Scientific Discovery Slow To a Trickle After Roughly 950 AD?

Last Updated on May 6, 2022 by Shaun Snapp

Executive Summary

  • Muslims make great claims around The Golden Age, however, what is difficult to explain is how Muslim science stopped progressing.

Introduction

Muslims captured a large amount of intellectual property from the Western world and destroyed most of it. However, after making very moderate advancements over a roughly 500 year period, their advancements stopped.

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How Long Did the Moderate Advancements of Muslim Scholars Continue?

While performing research for this article, it was curious to find this quotation.

Islamic astronomy reached its zenith, at least from the Western perspective, in the 13th and 14th centuries, when al-Tusi and his successors pushed against the limits of the Ptolemaic world view that had ruled for a millennium.

According to the philosophers, celestial bodies were supposed to move in circles at uniform speeds. But the beauty of Ptolemy’s attempt to explain the very ununiform motions of planets and the Sun as seen from Earth was marred by corrections like orbits within orbits, known as epicycles, and geometrical modifications.

Al-Tusi found a way to restore most of the symmetry to Ptolemy’s model by adding pairs of cleverly designed epicycles to each orbit. Following in al-Tusi’s footsteps, the 14th-century astronomer Ala al-Din Abul-Hasan ibn al-Shatir had managed to go further and construct a completely symmetrical model. – New York Times

Other accounts contradict this that Islamic discoveries had stopped by the end of the 12th century. But they greatly slowed after 950 AD. This means that the Islamic Golden Age was closer to 200 years instead of 500 years. And the decline of the Golden Age coincides with the Abbasid and Umayyed Caliphates’ decline in the ability to capture territory.

Curiously, no one has satisfactorily answered this question.

Because the answer appears quite obvious, all Islamic innovations were improvements on ideas that came to them through the lands and the cultures they conquered.

And in this time, Islamic societies extended algebra (not inventing algebra, the algebra of the Muslims had no math or symbols ) from previous work taken from the Babylonians and Indians. They extended astronomy and made improvements in the understanding of anatomy. Still, given the timescale involved and the continual discoveries that came to them through conquered civilizations, Muslims have allocated all of the contributions from non-Muslims or dhimmis that lived under Islam to Muslims. This is explained in the following quotation.

The problem with turning this list of intellectual achievements into a convincing “Islamic” golden age is that whatever flourished, did so not by reason of Islam but in spite of Islam. Moslems overran societies (Persian, Greek, Egyptian, Byzantine, Syrian, Jewish) that possessed intellectual sophistication in their own right and failed to completely destroy their cultures. To give it the credit for what the remnants of these cultures achieved is like crediting the Red Army for the survival of Chopin in Warsaw in 1970! Islam per se never encouraged science, in the sense of disinterested enquiry, because the only knowledge it accepts is religious knowledge. Serge Trifkovic

A Muslim Empire That Was Shrinking

The following quote goes on to offer up some explanations.

Among other things, the Islamic empire began to be whittled away in the 13th century by Crusaders from the West and Mongols from the East.

Christians reconquered Spain and its magnificent libraries in Córdoba and Toledo, full of Arab learning. As a result, Islamic centers of learning began to lose touch with one another and with the West, leading to a gradual erosion in two of the main pillars of science — communication and financial support. – New York Times

Why would this stop Muslims from making scientific progress? They lost land, but they still had an enormous network of cities and land. Were Cordoba and Toledo the only locations those books were copied? That is unlikely that Muslims only had one copy of these books, and the Crusaders took them when they took these cities.

The Clear Evidence That Islamic “Innovation” Dries Up When Muslims Lose Access To Capture Intellectual Property and Run Out of Dhimmis

The most likely explanation is the least politically correct explanation: This is that Islamic society was highly dependent upon its military to deliver innovations from non-Muslim countries.

The following quote touches on this topic briefly.

Further, the Ottomans, who took over the Arabic lands in the 16th century, were builders and conquerors, not thinkers, said Dr. El-Baz of Boston University, and support waned. ”You cannot expect the science to be excellent while the society is not,” he said. – New York Times

Limited in Moving Past Incremental Improvements to The Innovations of Non-Muslim Societies

However, while Islam was able to accumulate knowledge through conquest and trade, it could only add incremental improvements to what the Muslim societies could steal from other societies. As the book What Went Wrong states, paper from the Chinese, Indian numerals which they renamed to “Arabic numerals,” and the Greek classical works from Alexandria’s library. In the modern sense, this is similar to an oligopolistic corporation like Disney, which recently has simply acquired franchises combined with filming slightly different versions of the previous IP, rather than creating new IP.

It was in the Islamic Middle East that Indian numbers were for the first time incorporated in the inherited body of mathematical learning. From the Middle East they were transmitted to the West, where they are still known as Arabic numerals, honoring not those who invented them but those who first brought them to Europe. – What Went Wrong

And in this quotation.

“Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and in many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters. Its importance, which must not be underrated, is as a transmitter. Between ancient and modern European civilization, the dark ages intervened. The Mohammedans and the Byzantines, while lacking the intellectual energy required for innovation, preserved the apparatus of civilization — education, books, and learned leisure. Both stimulated the West when it emerged from barbarism — the Mohammedans chiefly in the thirteenth century, the Byzantines chiefly in the fifteenth. In each case the stimulus produced new thought better than any produced by the transmitters — in the one case scholasticism, in the other the Renaissance (which however had other causes also).” – Bertrand Russell

Muslim societies steal IP rather than creating IP. And when their militaries declined in effectiveness because they could not keep up with the West’s technological innovations and could no longer conquer, so too went their Golden Age.

The Lack of Innovation From Muslim Societies For Roughly Eight Hundred Years

And the underrepresentation of Muslims in science today is enormous, as explained by the following quotation.

Muslims are seriously underrepresented in science, accounting for fewer than 1 percent of the world’s scientists while they account for almost a fifth of the world’s population. Israel, he reports, has almost twice as many scientists as the Muslim countries put together.

Among other sociological and economic factors, like the lack of a middle class, Dr. Hoodbhoy attributes the malaise of Muslim science to an increasing emphasis over the last millennium on rote learning based on the Koran. – New York Times

This is reinforced in the following quotation.

Spain and India each contribute more of the world’s scientific literature than those countries taken together. In fact, although Spain is hardly an intellectual superpower, it translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years. “Though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West,” Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg has observed, “for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading.” –  Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science

The problem with blaming this factor is that Muslim countries did not have a middle class or non-rote learning of the Koran during the Golden Age.

”The notion that all knowledge is in the Great Text is a great disincentive to learning,” he said. ”It’s destructive if we want to create a thinking person, someone who can analyze, question and create.” Dr. Bruno Guideroni, a Muslim who is an astrophysicist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, said, ”The fundamentalists criticize science simply because it is Western.” – New York Times

Yes, exactly. This is a constant feature of Islam because Muslims are taught they are superior to all non-Muslims.

How The Golden Age Brought Down Innovation In the Western World

This video does a brilliant job of explaining how The Islamic Golden Age is what led to the decline of Europe.

Conclusion

Discoveries and innovations from the Muslim world not only slowed to a trickle after 950 but tremendously lagged the output of western societies all the way to the present day. However, this is not that unusual. There is no society that is close to European-based societies (so including countries based on European culture like the US, Canada, Australia/NZ, etc..) that are not in Europe but are birthed from that culture. Muslims tend to focus on “what happened after the Golden Age,” without considering that the Golden Age of Islamic Discovery is in great part a project by Muslims designed to build Muslim self-esteem and that fits in the Islamic supremacy mental model that is built into Islam that declares all non-believers as inferior to Muslim believers. Muslim invaders took and took credit for the inventions and intellectual property of societies they conquered though while not militarily their equal, were significantly more advanced than them culturally.

This very important topic is virtually never discussed. Two critical questions should be asked about the innovation coming from the Muslim world and its conquests.

  1. Why did Islamic scholars produce so little innovation prior to being able to conquer other societies?
  2. Why did Islam scholars stop producing advances when their societies lost the ability to conquer Western societies, or in the case of Iran, (Iran did not begin as Muslim) but societies that had access to Western innovation.