Videos of the third and final episode of the BBC series Science and Islam have now been posted (see Science & Islam for discussion of episodes 1 and 2).
Episode 3 is entitled The Power of Doubt. It covers mainly the advances in astronomy made by medieval Islamic scientists. This includes accurate measurements of the length of the year, the size of the earth and the tilt of the earth’s axis. The presenter, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, describes how the work of these astronomers was vital for the revolution Copernicus brought to astronomy. In fact, he describes Copernicus as the last of the last astronomer of the Islamic tradition, rather than the first in the new European tradition.
A theme of this episode is that doubt is the engine that drives science forward. And doubts was a theme applied by the Islamic thinkers during their translation of Greek classical astronomy.
Jim Al-Khalili finishes the series by speculating on the reasons for the fact that science in the Islamic world fell behind that in Europe during the 1500s. He attributes this partly to the rejection of printing, because of the difficulty in handling Arabic, and hence the unavailability of the creative surge this generated in Europe. He also considers the influence of colonialism – both in encouraging the European scientific revolution and in underestimating the progress made during the medieval Islamic period.
I feel that this underestimation of the scientific progress made during that period is still widespread today in the West. It must be a source of irritation to people from those old Islamic cultures.
A great documentary.
Science & Islam
Islam and the Transformation of Greek Science Lecture by George Saliba
from Hampshire College Science and Religion Lecture series
Why did science founder in the Islamic world? (A discussion of aspects not covered in the documentary)