Thursday, November 17, 2011

Islam and the Greco-Roman Cultural Heritage

Fjordman


The following essay by Fjordman was refused publication at the Norwegian newspaper VG. Many thanks to Cecilie for the English translation.

The original Norwegian version, which has also appeared at Snaphanen, is at the bottom of this post.



Islam and the Greco-Roman cultural heritage

by Peder Jensen, a.k.a. Fjordman

Researcher Vidar Enebakk from the University of Oslo wrote an essay for VG this autumn regarding the articles I have published on the Internet about the history of science, from astronomy and geology to quantum physics. According to him, the range of my writings is impressive, their contents “frighteningly good.” This is of course nice to hear.

I deal among other things with myths about how the Greco-Roman cultural heritage is supposedly shared by both Europeans and Muslims. The fact is that Muslims rejected most of it, from wine and theater via sculpture and visual arts to Greek democracy and secular Roman law. The only aspect of the Classical heritage that proved more compatible with Islamic culture than with European Christian culture was slavery.

The word algebra itself can be traced back to Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, but basic algebra already existed in ancient Mesopotamia. Algebraic symbolism was employed by Diophantus in Greco-Roman times. Muslims never made use of such symbols. These were developed by Europeans, from Viète to René Descartes in the 1600s who, together with Fermat, established analytical geometry. This had repercussions right up until Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1915.

It was also Descartes who established the convention in which letters at the beginning of the alphabet represent known quantities (a, b, c), whereas those towards the end of it symbolize unknown quantities (x, y, z).

Our present numerical system was introduced to Europe via the Middle East in the Middle Ages, and the numbers are therefore often known in the West as Arabic numerals, yet Arabs themselves admit that the system came from India. The zero as a proper number was probably invented by Indians (and possibly by Mayans in Central America independently of Eurasia) perhaps because the concept of “nothing” found a greater resonance in a culture dominated by Buddhism and Hinduism than in a Christian or a Muslim culture.

After praising a few thinkers such as Alhazen or the Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam, a wine lover who could at best be described as an extremely unorthodox Muslim, I conclude in my book The Curious Civilization which will be published in 2012:

“Advances made during the Middle Ages in the Islamic-ruled world were relatively modest even at the best of times and declined to almost nothing thereafter. Those contributions that did exist were made primarily by non-Arabs, generally by unorthodox Muslims who were often harassed for their freethinking ways. Their scholarly contributions were primarily based on ancient Greek or other non-Islamic works and rarely moved much beyond these conceptually. They were made predominantly during the early centuries of Islamic rule, while large non-Muslim communities still existed in these countries, and normally in centers of urban culture that predated Islam by thousands of years. The Arabian Peninsula, the cradle of Islam, has contributed next to nothing of value to human civilization throughout Islamic history. Persians, who retained a few links with their pre-Islamic heritage after the conquests, produced some decent scholars, whereas Turks, who identified almost entirely with Islam after their conversion, produced practically none of any significance. If we combine these various factors, a very clear picture emerges: The rather modest — now often exaggerated — contributions made by certain Middle Eastern scholars during the Middle Ages were generally made in spite of Islam, not because of it. Orthodox Muslims rejected the Greek heritage.”

The medieval historian Ole Jørgen Benedictow from the University of Oslo debunks the myth about Europeans’ so-called cultural debt to Arabs, pointing out that “the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire spelled the downfall of Classical civilization. It is absurd, to put it mildly, to claim that it was saved by the Arab-Muslim conquest.” Saladin’s son fortunately failed in his attempt at dismantling the Gaza Pyramid in Egypt.

Some Multiculturalists have claimed that “Santa Claus was a Turk.” The Christian Saint Nicholas, who partly inspired the tales about Santa Claus, lived in Anatolia. This area is now known as Turkey, but there were no Turks there in the fourth century. They originated in Central Asia. In the eleventh century, Anatolia was populated by Greek-speaking Christians. They have since then become victims of a brutal ethnic cleansing, a process still going on in Cyprus today.

Muslims have spent 1400 years trying to eradicate Greek societies all over the Eastern Mediterranean. Now they want to take the credit for saving the Greek cultural heritage.


På norsk:

Islam og den gresk-romerske kulturarven

Av Peder Jensen, alias Fjordman

Vitenskapsforsker Vidar Enebakk ved Universitetet i Oslo hadde i høst et innlegg i VG angående de vitenskapshistoriske artiklene jeg har publisert på internett om alt fra astronomi og geologi til kvantefysikk. I følge ham er omfanget av mine skriverier her imponerende og innholdet “skremmende bra”. Det er selvsagt hyggelig å høre.

Jeg tar blant annet for meg myter om at europeere skal ha delt den gresk-romerske kulturarven med muslimene. Faktum er at muslimer avviste det meste av denne, fra vin og teater via skulptur og billedkunst til gresk demokrati og sekulær romersk lov. Den eneste delen av Antikkens arv som passet bedre sammen med islamsk enn med europeisk kristen kultur var slaveri.

Selve ordet algebra kan spores tilbake til Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, men grunnleggende algebra fantes allerede i det gamle Mesopotamia. Algebraisk symbolikk ble brukt av Diofant i gresk-romersk tid. Muslimer hadde aldri slik symbolbruk. Dette ble utviklet av europeere, fra Viète til René Descartes på 1600-tallet, som sammen med Fermat grunnla analytisk geometri. Dette hadde konsekvenser frem til Einsteins generelle relativitetsteori i 1915.

Det var også Descartes som innførte konvensjonen der bokstaver i begynnelsen av alfabetet står for kjente størrelser (a, b, c) mens de mot slutten symboliserer ukjente størrelser (x, y, z).

Vårt nåværende tallsystem ble introdusert til Europa via Midtøsten i middelalderen og kalles derfor ofte arabiske tall i Vesten, men araberne selv innrømmer at tallsystemet kom fra India. Null som ekte tall ble sannsynligvis oppfunnet av indere, og muligens av mayaene i Mellom-Amerika uavhengig av Eurasia, kanskje fordi begrepet “ingenting” hadde større klangbunn i en kultur dominert av buddhisme og hinduisme enn i en kristen eller muslimsk kultur.

Etter å ha sagt pene ord om noen få tenkere som Alhazen eller den persiske matematikeren Omar Khayyam, en vinelsker som i beste fall var en høyst uortodoks muslim, konkluderer jeg slik i min bok The Curious Civilization (“Den nysgjerrige sivilisasjonen”), som utkommer i 2012:

Fremskritt gjort i løpet av middelalderen i områder under islamsk herredømme var relativt beskjedne selv på sitt beste og sank til nesten ingenting etterpå. De bidrag som eksisterte ble primært gjort av ikke-arabere, generelt sett av uortodokse muslimer som ofte ble trakassert for å være fritenkere. Deres vitenskapelige bidrag var hovedsakelig basert på gamle greske eller andre ikke-muslimske verk og beveget seg sjelden mye forbi disse konseptuelt sett. De ble primært gjort under de tidlige århundrene av islamsk herredømme, mens betydelige ikke-muslimske folkegrupper fremdeles eksisterte i disse landene, og vanligvis i gamle sentre for bykultur som fantes tusenvis av år før islam.

Den arabiske halvøya, islams vugge, har bidratt med bortimot ingenting av verdi til menneskelig sivilisasjon gjennom hele islams historie. Persere, som beholdt enkelte av deres før-islamske kulturelle røtter, produserte noen brukbare vitenskapsmenn, mens tyrkere, som identifiserte seg nesten totalt med islam etter at de konverterte, produserte praktisk talt ingen av betydning. Dersom vi kombinerer disse ulike faktorene trer et mønster tydelig frem: De relativt beskjedne, i dag ofte overdrevne, bidragene gjort av enkelte tenkere fra Midtøsten i middelalderen ble stort sett gjort på tross av islam, ikke på grunn av islam. Ortodokse muslimer avviste den greske kulturarven.

Middelalderhistoriker Ole Jørgen Benedictow fra Universitetet i Oslo slår hull på myter om europeeres såkalte kulturelle arv til araberne og påpeker at “den arabisk-muslimske erobring av Østromerrikets områder betydde undergangen på den antikke sivilisasjon. Da blir det mildt sagt bakvendt å hevde at den ble reddet av den muslimsk-arabiske erobring.” Saladins sønn gjorde et heldigvis mislykket forsøk på å demontere Giza-pyramidene i Egypt.

Enkelte multikulturalister hevder at “julenissen var tyrker”. Den kristne helgenen St. Nikolas, som delvis inspirerte fortellingene om julenissen, levde i Anatolia. Dette kalles nå Tyrkia, men det fantes ingen tyrkere der på 300-tallet. De kom opprinnelig fra Sentral-Asia. På 1000-tallet var Anatolia bebodd av gresktalende kristne. Disse er siden blitt brutalt etnisk renset, en prosess som fortsetter på Kypros i dag.

Muslimer har brukt 1400 år på å utslette greske samfunn i hele det østlige Middelhavet. Nå vil de ha æren for å bevare den greske kulturarven.


For a complete archive of Fjordman’s writings, see the multi-index listing in the Fjordman Files.

19 comments:

You New said...

Go Fjordman, go!

One minor point.

"... because the concept of “nothing” found a greater resonance in a culture dominated by Buddhism and Hinduism than in a Christian or a Muslim culture."

No, it doesn't represent "nothing".
The Upanishads, Vedas and Buddha himself were able to talk about things that have no phenomenal characteristics. It is natural that you would need a symbol for inconceivable phenomena, since potential exists. The Buddha clearly taught there was no "nothing." (Yes, no nothing.) Hence the need for the zero instead of nothing!

Yes, it would probably be slightly harder for a Judeo-Christian culture to come up with the a zero symbology since this topic was not discussed as frequently--but yet it was alluded to. Hebrews and Christians philosophy slightly emphasizes the form aspect of reality, Buddhists/Hindus slightly emphasize the emptiness aspect. Surprisingly, Buddha said form and emptiness are exactly the same thing and inseparable. Try making a computer work without zeros and ones.

Islam is naive realism, so Muslims have a ingrained fear of emptiness (or zero).

Anonymous said...

Fjordman, keep up the good work.

Did you get a chance to read "Islam is Fear" published here at GOV?

If you did, I solicit your comment on the theory.

Best regards
Bob Smith

Anonymous said...

There was one ingenious Muslim mechanic, Ibn al-Jazzari, who created many delightful mechanisms. Water-powered clockwork-type mechanisms. Little automata, musical chimes, that sort of thing. Unlike some of the speculative drawings of Da Vinci, for example, his devices were actually built, and actually worked. Al-Jazzari was very, very clever. But his "intellectual ouptut" was limited to making toys for the Caliph. A man of his abilities could easily have mechanized irrigation, or tackled other important work, but that isn't what his talents were turned to--or were allowed to turn to--in his culture. He was restricted to making medieval Islamic cuckoo clocks.

Hans Erling Jensen said...

Takk Peder -igen ett uslåeligt inlegg fra Fjordman!

Sagunto said...

HEJ -

said:

"Takk Peder -igen ett uslåeligt inlegg fra Fjordman!"

Could you repeat that in Dutch please?

;)

Kind regs from Amsterdam,
Sag

Chiu said...

It is always refreshing to see the focus put on the conceptual tendencies of Islam to stifle real innovation, productivity, and individual freedom. While I do not subscribe to any theory of human existence that dismisses outright the impact of genetically determined neurological function, I believe that the current state of such sciences are far too immature to serve as a source of really useful practical theory, particularly when dealing the the aggregate of large populations rather than particular medical conditions that afflict individuals.

Chiu Chun-Ling.

Pleistarchos said...

Fjordmann, you have no idea how hard the "Santa Claus was a Turk" hit me. I endured that same statement a few years ago while listening to the car radio. At the time it appeared to be the act of a lone dopey guy who had traveled to Turkey and had heard that Nicholas was from Myra. I assumed that it was his own stupidity that caused him to think that Turks were even within hundreds of miles of Myra at the time let alone living there. I did nit know that this position was actually being promukagted by others until now.

wildiris said...

It wasn’t the zero that was invented; it was the decimal numbering system. By fixating on the numeral zero, the true significance of what the Indian world gave us is missed.

The decimal numbering system is to arithmetic what the development of a phonetic alphabet was to language and writing. It did two things. First it made doing arithmetic accessible to the average person. Second, it allowed people to do with pen and paper (so to speak), what previously could only be done on a counting table.

In most ancient societies, just as writing was the realm of a privileged class of scribes, doing calculations was the realm of a privileged class of calculators. The development of the decimal numbering system tells us that there was a critical mass of average Joe Six-packs in India at that time that needed and wanted to do calculations on their own.

In other words, the appearance of the “zero” is telling us that India must have had a growing and vigorous middle class of business people at that time.

The appearance of the 0-9 numbering system happened during the Gupta Empire (320-600AD), which was a Buddhist culture. Hinduism did not experience its revival, ultimately displacing Buddhism in India, until sometime after this period.

Sagunto said...

Pleistarchos -

Do you have any kind of Dutch connection? I ask this because this time of year, the Dutch gather around one of the very last vestiges of traditional Dutch identity, which is our National Saint, Sinterklaas, the patron Saint of my city.

Even the most PC/MC leftists will defend our feast of Saint Nicholas, whenever the colourful phenomenon of "Zwarte Piet" (a.k.a. black Pete) is attacked for being an insensitive and "racist" custom. These kind of PC/MC attacks have become a permanent feat of the feast itself by now, so even children learn at an early age to defend our Black Pete against PC/MC charges of "racism", which actually is a good thing I guess, insofar as that it may serve as a model to resist PC/MC attacks later in life.

And sure enough, I also came across the ludicrous claim that somehow Nicholas of Myra kinda "pre-Turked" the Turks across time and space.

Now it is true that the Dutch are known to mock their own nationalism and that we're not the flag-waving kind (exception: football games of Dutch squad, embedded in carnivalesque Orange folklore).
But nothing can draw us closer together than some foreigner treading on our beloved Zwarte Piet and Sinterklaas.

Kind regs from Amsterdam,
Sag

Chiu said...

Actually, the use of a written zero is not such an enormous breakthrough in basic math theory. Ancient people used decimal counting boards rather than written notes to do calculation. On these boards a null value for any column was easily understood to have the value of zero for that decimal place.

Thus the introduction of zero would have no real importance in altering the basics of numerical calculation. What it did was make it possible to write numbers as a string of digits without any other overt specification of decimal place than the position of a given digit in the string. This is a very significant advance in writing, but no advance at all in calculation or number theory.

Chiu Chun-Ling.

Federale said...

Can we get a translation or a English language publication name for that?

Ray McKee said...

Fjordman, thank you so much for arming me with facts dealing with false Islamic claims. Perhaps a sprinkling of Nobel prizes will boost their self-esteem.

mace said...

Anonymous,

During the Hellenistic period, the Alexandrian Greek Cstebius and other inventors, made similar devices including automata, nearly 1000 years before Mohammed.

Fjordman,

Pleased to see the Maya reference, they're often forgotten in discussions about who 'invented' zero.

Brett Stevens said...

If anything, Greco-Romanism found parallel in Nordic Paganism and Hindu transcendentalism.

The Abrahamic religions were a deviation from that ideal to a more tangible and less transcendental form.

Chiu said...

That's an interesting statement. Are you referring to the philosophical perception of the nature of existence ("form" vs. "emptiness" of reality and so forth), the religious conceptions of divinity, or something else?

LAW Wells said...

For those curious about modern definitions of zero, allow this mathematician to enlighten.

Zero is defined as the empty set. So, 0={}
One is defined as the set containing the empty set. 1={{}}={0}
2={{},{{}}}={0,1}

And so on. It's all defined by sets these days, and zero is the first set (the zeroeth term).

Anonymous said...

zero was invented by the babylonians.

Anonymous said...

By 130 AD, Ptolemy, influenced by Hipparchus and the Babylonians, was using a symbol for zero (a small circle with a long overbar) within a sexagesimal numeral system otherwise using alphabetic Greek numerals. Because it was used alone, not just as a placeholder, this Hellenistic zero was perhaps the first documented use of a number zero in the Old World.



Another zero was used in tables alongside Roman numerals by 525 (first known use by Dionysius Exiguus), but as a word, nulla meaning "nothing", not as a symbol. When division produced zero as a remainder, nihil, also meaning "nothing", was used. These medieval zeros were used by all future medieval computists (calculators of Easter). The initial "N" was used as a zero symbol in a table of Roman numerals by Bede or his colleague around 725.

Pleistarchos said...

Sagunto, I am sorry that I did not see your question until today.

No, I am not of Dutch descent other than growing up in a New Jersey town in which, as we say, "you couldn't swing a dead cat" without hitting a Dutch-named street sign or gravestone, Dutch Reformed Church or a neighbor who had a Dutch surname.
I am happy to hear that St. Nicholas' memory is cherished in the Netherlands.
I also never checked my comment sorry for the typos.