Islam and Modern Science

QUESTION: Islam and Modern Science

ANSWER:

Although Muslim scholars agree that God is the Creator of the universe, it is also historically true that modern science did not grow out of an Islamic worldview, but instead, flourished in the soil of Biblical Christianity. If both worldviews affirm a Creator, why did modern science not develop within Islam nations as it did in Western culture?

Sociology scholar Rodney Stark suggests the answer to the above question rests with the Muslim concept of God and the role of philosophy. Regarding Muslim theology, Stark writes, “Allah is not presented as a lawful creator but has been conceived of as an extremely active God who intrudes on the world as he deems it appropriate. Consequently, there soon arose a major theological bloc within Islam that condemned all efforts to formulate natural laws as blasphemy insofar as they denied Allah’s freedom to act.”1

Islam and Science – Fundamental Assumptions
Validating this concept is a verse in the Qur’an that states, “Verily, God will cause to err whom he pleaseth, and will direct whom he pleaseth.” Although this statement refers specifically to God’s direction in the lives of individuals, it has also been interpreted more broadly. Stark continues, “if God does as he pleases, and what he pleases is variable, then the universe may not be lawful.”2 Thus, Muslim theology did not provide the necessary fundamental assumptions for erecting the concept of science based on observations leading to formulate natural laws.

In addition, devout Muslim and historian Caesar E. Farah mentions a second reason that Muslim scientific inquiry was stunted. He writes that Muslim philosophy sought “to assimilate rather than to generate, with the conscious striving to adapt the results of Greek thinking to Muslim philosophical conceptions…”3 This means that Muslim philosophers tied their understanding of reality to Greek concepts of the ideal to the point of tipping the scales toward the realm of ideas and away from experimental science. The result, Muslim science could travel only so far before stagnating, the same as the ancient Greeks. To be sure, both the Greeks and Muslims had “a theoretical collection of facts, and isolated crafts and technologies,” but “they never broke through to real science.”4

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 154.
2 Ibid., 155.
3 Cited in Stark, For the Glory of God, 155.
4 Ibid., 152.

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