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87 of 127 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read with one minor flaw, March 18, 2011
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This review is from: Civilization: The West and the Rest (Hardcover)
While the book is both instructive and as readable as any of Ferguson's books, the view on the effect of Islam and of Christianity upon science is flawed. While Christianity welcomed science as a way to understand God's creation, spurring science, Islam on the other hand did not have the influence on european science romanticized in the book. Byzantium (not Baghdad) remained the center of science in Minor Asia until it was sacked, and the texts of the Greeks found their way to the West from Byzantium translated by Jacques de Venise who spent some time in Constantinople), as well as from southern Italy, which was part of Byzantium, translated by Willem de Moerbeke. The Toledo translations which gave rise to the myth of islamic influence mainly concerned the commentaries to Aristotle by Averroes (who actually was banned by the islamic ruler for his work). I would have expected this to be known to a historian writing in 2010.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 4, 2011 11:42:53 AM PDT
Listo says:
While I would agree that Byzantine's role in the preservation of ancient Greek works is often overlooked, Muslim thinkers had a profound impact on the development of European thought, science, and mathematics in specific areas. Where would we be without the Indian-derived Arabic decimal system, algebra, or Al-Hazen? Christian thinkers also had an important impact; the risk is conflating Muslim thinkers with Islam and Christian thinkers with Christianity. If you looked at the scientific 'production' of 800-1200 in Christian states and Muslim states you might say Islam had a positive influence and Christianity a negative one; if you looked at the period 1400-1800, you might say the inverse. In short, taking a purely cultural perspective to the development of science strikes me as haphazard at best.

Posted on Jun 14, 2011 11:05:35 PM PDT
Temporary says:
Gallileo and numerous others would contest your assertion about Christianity's receptivity to science. The Church's dogmatic attachment to Aristotle was a key obstacle to the scientific method and Gallileo's treatment during the Inquisition at a minimum parallels Averroes. The enlightenment as a whole can be viewed as a reaction to both the backward-looking nature of christian thought at the time and the bloody and fruitless wars of religion that nearly consumed the continent. An assertion that so blatantly disregards the historical record should at least provide a modicum of evidence to support itself. Just assuming that Christianity must have welcomed science doesn't pass the smell test.

Posted on Nov 26, 2011 4:06:51 PM PST
Organized and state-imposed religion has been the enemy of science. According to Gibbon the Roman (Byzantine) emperor Justinian was responsible for the persecution of so-called pagan learning. When the Arabs took over Egypt and Syria people were freed from the oppression of the church and intellectual activity resumed. During that period a college (House of Wisdom) was founded in Baghdad with an initial expenditure of 200,000 pieces of gold and an annual revenue from endowment of 15,000 dinars. Interest in learning was also strong in the caliphates of Cairo and Cordoba. The royal library of the Fatimids consisted of 100,000 manuscripts while that of the Omayyads in Cordoba consisted of 600,000 manuscripts. (As per Gibbon.) It is worth remembering that the words Algebra and Algorithm are of Arabic origin. Unfortunately, when Islamic clergy organized themselves the Christian persecution of learning was revived. (In the beginning Islam had no clergy.) The persecution of Averroes marks the end of the "Arab" golden age. I put the word Arab in quotes because most of the active scholars of that period were Syrians and Persians. Many were not even Muslims but Nestorian Christians (see

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2011 7:26:54 AM PST
Artist says:
Books continue to be written about the development of science within Christendom. But how can we condemn religion in the early nation building wars of Europe when it was used as just one of their many justifications without even mentioning the horror of Hitler's war of atheism? He hated Christians as much as Jews. He had plans to exterminate later all their religious practices too. Books are written on this. Hitler called Pope Pius XII "the Jew-Pope." His was the war that nearly consumed the Continent. What about Stalin and his Far Eastern versions? Shouldn't we damn atheism equally? We can't damn religious beliefs for the evil of politicians who use them only as rallying points.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 22, 2011 6:07:55 PM PST
S. Spilka says:
Very good point, Temporary. Unfortunately, while Ferguson talks at length about the clash between Islam and science, he mentions nary a word about the church's opposition to Galileo's findings. This cherry picking approach characterizes the whole book.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2011 7:09:11 PM PST
Artist says:
But then Ferguson would have to have mentioned Copernicus' success in first proving that the earth rotated around the sun while Copernicus himself was even in the Church. Then he died and some monk or some such decided to make a name for himself and started an anti-Copernicus campaign. So he was discarded awhile. Remember part the Church, which operated much as our government does today, was supporting many of these people so it felt it had a right to meddle.

Another trouble was there was so much politics involved that Galileo was at first accepted and then not and then again. He was such an idiot himself in some ways it seems at times he must have enjoyed advancing his notoriety.
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