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Offbeat tales from the science vs. religion market: Fake Islamic science miniatures


Also known as the “warfare thesis.” Sometimes real manuscripts are torn up to manufacture this kind of dreck for gullible tourists and museums:

As I prepared to teach my class ‘Science and Islam’ last spring, I noticed something peculiar about the book I was about to assign to my students. It wasn’t the text – a wonderful translation of a medieval Arabic encyclopaedia – but the cover. Its illustration showed scholars in turbans and medieval Middle Eastern dress, examining the starry sky through telescopes. The miniature purported to be from the premodern Middle East, but something was off.

Besides the colours being a bit too vivid, and the brushstrokes a little too clean, what perturbed me were the telescopes. The telescope was known in the Middle East after Galileo developed it in the 17th century, but almost no illustrations or miniatures ever depicted such an object. When I tracked down the full image, two more figures emerged: one also looking through a telescope, while the other jotted down notes while his hand spun a globe – another instrument that was rarely drawn. The starkest contradiction, however, was the quill in the fourth figure’s hand. Middle Eastern scholars had always used reed pens to write. By now there was no denying it: the cover illustration was a modern-day forgery, masquerading as a medieval illustration.Nir Shafir, “Forging Islamic science” at Aeon

The idea seems to be that we wouldn’t think these people had any science history at all unless it looked like what we might expect. So it’s okay to deceive us.

Here’s another example: In “The Alchemical Revolution,” Sara Reardon (Science 20 May 2011) tells us,

A growing number of science historians hold that alchemists—”chymists” is their preferred, less-loaded term—were serious scientists who kept careful lab notes and followed the scientific method as well as any modern researcher and are testing that hypothesis by recreating their experiments. If the alchemists saw what they claimed, these researchers say, then it’s high time for an “alchemical revolution” to restore them to scientific respectability. In the view of these advocates, alchemists have been unjustly ranked with witches and mountebank performers, when in fact they were educated men with limited tools for inquiring into the nature of the universe.

Further to the grudging recent admission at Nature that Christians have funded and done modern science for most of its history*, (You have to pay to read the article.)

* An admission evidently made only for the purpose of trashing Christians for refusal to believe in the latest episode of Darwin Follies – for the same reason as we always knew that Fred Flintstone is a fictional character. Oh, and refusal to believe in crackpot cosmologies, too.

(Note: Al-chemy includes the Arabic “al-”, simply meaning “the chemistry” or “the art of mixing metals.” Many early contributors to chemistry were Arabic-speaking Muslims.)

Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion by Mike Keas
Of course, fake science history is nothing new and a book has recently been written on it. As David Klinghoffer writes at Evolution News and Science Today:

Praising science as a way to implicitly, or explicitly, club religion over the head is a familiar feature of our culture. It’s not new, either. Mike Keas examines the phenomenon in a forthcoming book, out in November, Unbelievable: Seven Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion. Rob Crowther chatted with Dr. Keas, a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, at the recent Insiders Briefing down in Tacoma, a yearly event sponsored by the Center for Science & Culture. More.

But it takes time to get past all the junk.

Tom Robbins at 6, thanks for your thoughts. Scary is the fact that real manuscripts are sometimes torn up to produce this rubbish. News
I think the first commenter missed the point completly by suggesting that this is simply a case of artistic freedom, and in a very real way, showed why this practice is wrong and dangerous. If the commenter will read this again, and go to the link at Aeon https://aeon.co/essays/why-fake-miniatures-depicting-islamic-science-are-everywhere , you will understand that they are claiming this picture to be an actaul work of art from medievil times, and they are showing up everywhere in historical text. So this has become common practice. It certainly shows an attempt by revisionist historians, to paint ARAB culture in medieval times as more sophisticated than even the west. For a Historian to willfully try and make a particular people group look more enlightened is academic malpractice and is obviously agenda driven. History matters on many levels, and historians have in the past, and should be today, held to much higher standards than this. The agenda here it to try and show Arabs, a much different people group than Persians, were as advanced or even more advanced than the western tradition of Christianity sponsoring almost all early science during and after the development of the scientific method. History is extremely relevant and important to accurately portray, to correct innocent errors as more is learned/confirmed by actual documents and artwork. Artwork is at least as important as the written word in historical documents of any era, even in today's "modern" world, as the purpose of history is to understand from it,learn lessons from it, and to PRESERVE it accurately so it can be passed down to people that may read it thousands of years later. One huge reason is to not repeat past mistakes. Another huge reason is to understand today's geopolitical landscape, the motivations of cultures, especially those that remained fairly isolated from the rest of the world longer than some. But the Agenda here is particularly troubling, as historians are trying to falsely portray certain belief systems and a certain culture as enlightened and progressive from almost the beginning of their recorded history, and this is simply false. The agenda is to have their culture painted in the light of obviously always being the victims of the west, and not of their own VERY TRIBAL and very war faring nature. The truth is that that time in history, many cultures were either tribal like the Arabs, always fighting among themselves, or with other foes. The western world was also very tumultuous, and brutal for the most part in those times, but to try and portray Arabs as intellectuals and that their situation today has nothing to do with their "peaceful" belief systems, it is all the west's fault. This is sean in all forms of media today, as in the west it is now popular to demonize Christianity for it's wrongdoings, but praise the poor misunderstood Arabs that were made to be combative and treacherous by the west. If you don't see this you are most likely very young and have not been exposed to a lot of historical fact. The truth is closer to the fact that a very tribal and war driven society, could only be kept in check by dictatorship, and thus we see how the government of Saudi Arabia, is an example of getting used to treating their people horribly to maintain control, and once a dictatorship is in place, it is extremely hard to unseat. The west was more feudal, also dictatorial, and I think it is fair to say that the central authority of the Catholic Church, who would then back certain kings, and played a huge part in keeping the people of the west in line and used this power to be brutal as well. History I believe can show that this tribalism and its perpetuation can NOW, I am not in favor of applying our so-called "enlightened" sensibilities on people from so long ago. The western world was also very bloody and ugly by our standards, but mush more is expected and should be expected of cultures today. In this case trying to alter history to portray one religion like Christianity as horrible and bloody, (and with Christianity, the religion did not at all match the teachings), and MAN being a fallen creature used it to keep control, while trying to portray the other as peaceful and much more progresses than they actually were. This can and is having very nasty consequences to this day. Bottom line, history should be written as factual as possible and with as little judgement as possible, and the consumers of the history allowed to draw their own conclusions about what is the reality on the ground, vs. using history as a tool to shape world opinion, and to falsely vilify on group over another. Tribal and isolated produces dictatorships either way and in the case of Arabs, religion was also used to control the masses in a very similar way as the west. And in the case of the west, refusing to educate people, or to teach them falsehoods, and keep them controlled is produces very negative results as well. But the western world was indeed one of the first cultures to develop what are supposed to be democracies and through a lot of resistance and unfortunately war, started cultures were education of the people and freedom to practice any religion they desired. So the goal is to work with the facts, draw ones own conclusions, and thus seed the ground for a peaceful society. Today we are seeing in the US and Europe a repeat of the past, by excluding certain ideas, and banning freedom of thought and expression on college campuses, down through high-school and elementary, and producing people that use what Orwell called double speak; using the word tolerance, but its true hidden meaning is tolerance as one political entity and promoting some beliefs over others and condemning others that do not think the same way - we are repeating the past by revising history. Tom Robbins
jdk, "the heavens"?! *gasp* Looks like someone needs a trip to atheist reëducation camp. (jk) daveS
Galileo is famous for first using the telescope to look at the heavens, as opposed to distances on earth. jdk
I did not know that Galileo "developed" the telescope. The first telescope patent was by Dutchman Hans Lippershey, and many people were building them before Galileo. groovamos
Read up on Islamic history and how they turned away from reason in Reilly's fine book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind. anthropic
Shafir is reading too much into the illustration. Book covers aren't meant to be schematic diagrams, and illustrators aren't detail-minded scholars. He should be thankful that they TRIED to show the ancient Arabs as scientists instead of primitive rock-throwing "terrorists" as modern orthodoxy demands. polistra

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