A tale of two scientists: Tycho Brahe and Taqi al-Din

h/t Rich Lowry at NRO

In What Went Wrong?, Lewis writes of the key role of the Middle East in the rise of science in the Middle Ages, before things went wrong:

And then, approximately from the end of the Middle Ages, there was a dramatic change. In Europe, the scientific movement advanced enormously in the era of the Renaissance, the Discoveries, the technological revolution, and the vast changes, both intellectual and material, that preceded, accompanied, and followed them. In the Muslim world, independent inquiry virtually came to an end, and science was for the most part reduced to the veneration of a corpus of approved knowledge. There were some practical innovations — thus, for example, incubators were invented in Egypt, vaccination against smallpox in Turkey. These were, however, not seen as belonging to the realm of science, but as practical devices, and we know of them primarily from Western travelers.

[. . .]

Another example of the widening gap may be seen in the fate of the great observatory built in Galata, in Istanbul, in 1577. This was due to the initiative of Taqi al-Din (ca. 1526-1585), a major figure in Muslim scientific history and the author of several books on astronomy, optics, and mechanical clocks. Born in Syria or Egypt (the sources differ), he studied in Cairo, and after a career as jurist and theologian he went to Istanbul, where in 1571 he was appointed munejjim-bash, astronomer (and astrologer) in chief to the Sultan Selim II. A few years later her persuaded the Sultan Murad III to allow him to build an observatory, comparable in its technical equipment and its specialist personnel with that of his celebrated contemporary, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. But there the comparison ends. Tycho Brahe’s observatory and the work accomplished in it opened the way to a vast new development of astronomical science. Taqi al-Din’s observatory was razed to the ground by a squad of Janissaries, by order of the sultan, on the recommendation of Chief Mufti. This observatory had many predecessors in the lands of Islam; it had no successors until the age of modernization.

The relationship between Christendom and Islam in the sciences was now reversed. Those who had been disciples now became teachers; those who had been masters became pupils, often reluctant and resentful pupils. They were willing enough to accept the products of infidel science in warfare and medicine, where they could make the difference between victory and defeat, between life and death. But the underlying philosophy and the sociopolitical context of these scientific achievements proved more difficult to accept or even recognize.

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