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The Middle Ages & Islamic contibutions to the Sciences

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Image-Al-Kitab_al-muhtasar_fi_hisab_al-gabr_wa-l-muqabalaA page from al-Khwārizmī’s Algebra

When the power of Greek civilization was eclipsed by the Roman Empire, many Greek doctors began to practice medicine for the Roman elite, but sadly the physical sciences were not so well supported. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe entered the so-called Dark Ages, and almost all scientific research ground to a halt. The rise of Christianity saw the suppression and destruction of most classical Greek philosophy (along with Greek and Roman art, literature and religious iconography) as heretical and pagan. In the Middle East, however, many Greek natural philosophers were able to find support in the newly created Arab Caliphate (Empire), and the Islamic scholars built upon previous work in medicine, astronomy and mathematics while developing such new fields as alchemy (chemistry). For example, the scholar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi gave his name to what we now call an algorithm, and the word algebra is derived from al-jabr, the beginning of the name of one of his publications in which he developed a system of solving quadratic equations, thus beginning Al-gebra.

It is sometime assumed that the Islamic civilization simply preserved the older learning without any innovation. In astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics, at least, this is certainly not true.

The monk Roger Bacon conducted experiments into optics, although much of it was similar to what had been done and was being done at the time by Arab scholars. He did make a major contribution to the development of science in medieval Europe by writing to the Pope to encourage the study of natural science in university courses and compiling several volumes recording the state of scientific knowledge in many fields at the time. He described the possible construction of a telescope, but there is no strong evidence of his having made one. He recorded the manner in which he conducted his experiments in precise detail so that others could reproduce and independently test his results – a cornerstone of the scientific method.

The withdrawal of the Islamic empire from Mediterranean Europe (especially Spain) in the 15th century coincided with the dawn of the Renaissance. This “rebirth” of European culture was in part brought about by the re-discovery of those elements of ancient Greek, Indian, Chinese and Islamic culture preserved and further developed by Islam from the 8th to the 15th centuries, and translated by Christian Monks into Latin.

Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses materials from the Wikipedia.

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